When you think of the YMCA of Greater Charleston, you think of Lowcountry history. Headquartered at the Cannon Street Y, the iconic organization dates back to the emancipation of Charleston’s African Americans in 1866. Even today, the YMCA of Greater Charleston is making history with services in three counties that will surprise you.
The YMCA of Greater Charleston is the Mother Emmanuel of community organizations—an iconic institution formed to serve Black residents at the end of the Civil War. The Y is perhaps best known for the Cannon Street All-Stars, an all-black Little League team in the 1950s that was denied the chance to play in the Little League World Series by racism and ignorance. The surviving members of that team, a group of men accomplished far beyond the baseball diamond, were later honored for their courage and resolve. That is, in part, because the Y serves the spirit and mind as well as the body.
Here are four ways that the Cannon Street Y continues to make history and delight the Lowcountry:
1. The YMCA Is Inclusive
Though based at 61 Cannon Street on the Charleston peninsula, the Y serves people of all races and ethnicities—from downtown to Moncks Corner and Summerville’s Cane Bay development. The state-of-the-art Olympic-sized pool at Cane Bay serves 6,000 members with a host of services for children, teens, and adults of all ages.
2. The YMCA Is Way Beyond “Swim and Gym”
Swimming is a cornerstone of the Y, in part because drowning is the No. 1 cause of death in kids under 14, in part because 70% of African Americans can’t swim, and in part, because we are a maritime community. The youth sports of all types offered by the Y teach teamwork, give youth a productive outlet and develop the third leg of the triangle—body. Even then, you would be surprised at the breadth of services: teaching children with disabilities how to swim; providing a fitness program for individuals with Parkinson’s; organizing soccer, basketball, and volleyball; and more.
Best yet, notes Paul Stoney, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Charleston for the past 16 years, “I’m proud to say that in my 38 years with the Y, no one has been denied service because of an inability to pay. “Donations make that possible.”
3. The YMCA Develops Minds
A host of college and workplace preparatory programs through the Y aim to level the playing field for youth from underprivileged communities. One of these programs includes Y-Achievers, a college prep program that takes middle and high school students on college tours. “Because many of the children we serve are not going to get packed up in the station wagon and ferried out to UofSC, Clemson, or even SC State,” Stoney says.
The YMCA also offers afterschool programs, summer camp, and child care. Another special program at the Y introduces youth to culture and career choices in partnership with the downtown Rotary Club. Its World of Work tours bring underserved students to Rotary members’ workplaces to see the diversity of career opportunities.
The Y operates a Youth in Government program that mimics the South Carolina state government and takes the students to Columbia and Washington D.C. to meet legislators and see their lessons in action.
4. The YMCA Is a Community Meeting Place
The oldest continuously operating heritage Y in the nation, (i.e., formed specifically to serve African Americans), the Cannon Street Y, helped form such luminaries as civil rights hero Harvey Gantt, Congressman Jim Clyburn, and Herbert DeCosta, Jr., the architect of the Cannon Street Y’s building. The Y is also where James Naismith invented basketball and where William Morgan invented volleyball! Today, it serves as a place where people of diverse backgrounds can come together for activities they need and love. “I can’t think of a time in our history when we needed that more,” says Stoney.
For more information on the YMCA of Greater Charleston, to inquire about programs, memberships, or donations, visit YMCAGC.org or call 843-719-9622.
For youth development, For healthy living, For social responsibility.