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Even on a quick drive past 1000 Grove St. the change is noticeable. Gone is the familiar black-and-red YMCA logo that has graced the building’s entrance and interior for the past four decades. In its place stands a new “word-mark” launched last summer by YMCA of the USA.
The colors and shape have changed, and it no longer includes just a “Y” symbol. The new word mark reads, “the Y.”
Although “the Y” and “the YMCA” can be interchangeable, in communities like Evanston, referring to “the Y” invariably requires clarification, and for good reason.
“We are so incredibly fortunate to be in a community that has long been served by two strong, thriving Ys,” says Bill Geiger, president and CEO of Evanston’s McGaw YMCA, which just celebrated its 125th anniversary.
“While our roots, histories and missions differ, the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore and the McGaw YMCA have long worked side by side to help keep the people of this community safe, strong, healthy and empowered.”
Karen Singer, CEO of the YWCA of Evanston/North Shore, says she agrees. In her mind, in Evanston it is not “the Y,” it is “the Ys.”
For 75 years the YWCA has been helping empower women and girls; promoting violence-free homes, schools, families and communities; and fostering racial, gender and economic justice in Evanston and along the North Shore.
Understandably, she is not ready to give up her organization’s connection with the letter “Y.”
“While much about our organizations is unique, what we have in common is a deep commitment to helping our community thrive,” says Ms. Singer.
“We do this independently through our respective programs, and we also collaborate on issues of common concern. We both rely heavily on the support of those in our community, and together, both Ys help make Evanston a better community in which to live and work,” she adds.
Misconceptions about the two organizations abound, from the idea that they are die-hard rivals to the belief that they are but two halves of one national entity. The truth: The YMCA and YWCA are cooperative yet completely separate, their histories as distinct as the organizations themselves.
Founded in London in 1844 by George Williams, a farmer turned department-store worker, the Young Men’s Christian Association was originally established to serve as a refuge of bible study and prayer for young men seeking relief from life on the streets.
The first YMCA in the United States was established in Boston in 1851. The Evanston YMCA was founded in 1885 to promote mental, moral, physical and social welfare, and was renamed the McGaw YMCA in 1984. The Emerson Street Y, a vital organization for Evanston’s African American community, closed in 1969, and its membership merged with the McGaw YMCA.
The YWCA, first known as the Ladies Christian Association, originally appeared in 1858 in New York City, with a mission to establish racial justice and women’s economic empowerment at a time when neither was widely accepted.
The YWCA Evanston/North Shore began in 1931 as a branch of the Chicago YWCA to provide housing, support, and programs for women, many of whom had left their rural homes to find jobs in the city. It was independently incorporated in 1947.
While the membership, services and programs offered by both organizations have changed over the last 150 years to adapt to changing community needs, each has carved its own important nonprofit niche in Evanston.
The new YMCA word-mark is part of the revitalized brand strategy intended to bring greater clarity to the work the YMCA does throughout the country in the areas of youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
It marks the first time since 1967 that the logo has changed, and while it does indicate that the organization is now known nationally as “the Y,” the national office has given local YMCAs the flexibility to refer to themselves as either “the Y” or “the YMCA.”
It is an option Mr. Geiger and his staff say they are grateful to embrace.
“Although it may sound counter-intuitive,” says Mr. Geiger, “in Evanston, if someone asks, ‘Where is the Y?’ we want to make sure people keep asking, ‘Which Y?’”