The Penobscot Bay YMCA celebrated its 100th birthday in 2015. Papers were submitted to create the original YMCA in October 1915. It first opened in Camden, where it remained until 2002, when it moved to Union Street in Rockport. Since that time, the organization has grown and evolved into a large and important part of the mid-coast community. Today, it serves all ages and provides a hub for many activities extending beyond basic fitness to include child care, a summer camp for youth, heart health programs, a climbing wall and many other activities. It has further extended its programs to include the Teen Center in Camden and fitness centers on North Haven and in Rockland. It now serves more than 24,000 people per year and employs 165 full-time and part-time employees.
At one time, there were individual Ys in Camden, Rockport and Rockland. The Camden YMCA opened its doors on April 10, 1916 on Chestnut Street where it would operate for more than 86 years. The Chestnut Street building was never big enough to accommodate all of the dreams and ideas of the community, despite multiple expansions. The first capital campaign raised $242,000 to construct a swimming pool.
In 1979, the next campaign, with a goal of $750,000, improved the pool, built racquetball/squash courts, a larger gym, and other rooms. At the end of its tenure, the Camden Area YMCA on Chestnut Street serviced 2,160 members with little space available for new or expanded offerings. The 29,500 square foot facility had serious problems including: overcrowding of the four-lane pool, small gym, unsafe on-street only parking, lack of ADA compliance, no outdoor play area, limited multipurpose program space and antiquated ventilation and operating systems.
During 1998-2003, the Board's single highest priority was to implement a new service vision: to meet the needs of a wider service area and expand programs for teens, seniors and the disabled population. A decision was made to embark on a $7 million capital campaign to construct a facility that would service our members and community for the next 50 years. After careful review of the initial plans for a 62,000 square foot facility and needs of the community, the capital campaign was increased to $10.5 million. On November 11, 2002, the Penobscot Bay YMCA opened its new 62,000 square foot facility in Rockport. Since opening, membership has grown to over 5,000. Service goals are on track with expanded programming for teens, seniors and those with specific needs. In 2010, the Penobscot Bay YMCA opened an outreach facility on the island of North Haven and also acquired the Teen Center in Camden.
In 2015, the Y opened the Rockland Harbor YMCA, a branch of the Penobscot Bay YMCA to better serve our Southern Knox County neighbors. Simply put, the Y is a place where children discover themselves; an outreach post for teens; a gathering spot for families and a social center for seniors.
Volunteer founded and volunteer led, the YMCA was established in London, England, in 1844 by George Williams, a draper shop assistant, to give young men an alternative to life on the streets. In 1851, Thomas Sullivan, a retired sea captain and lay missionary, started the first U.S. YMCA in Boston .From there, YMCAs spread rapidly across America. Some were started to serve specific groups such as railroad and factory workers, as well as African Americans, Native Americans and recent immigrants. After World War II, women and girls were admitted to full membership and participation.
YMCA's strength is in the people they bring together. Today about half of YMCA members are female and about half are under 18, with members ranging in age from infants to elders. All faiths are represented. Moreover, YMCA financial assistance policies ensure that no one is turned away for inability to pay. YMCAs have been so successful because they are driven by community needs and guided by community volunteers. Each YMCA uniquely reflects the community it serves, doing its part to nurture the potential of kids, promote healthy living and foster a sense of social responsibility.