Take a Boy and Rise Him a Man – the YMCA as a Pioneer of Youth Work
University of Joensuu, Finland
Many forms of youth work (clubs, camps, concerts, youth houses, etc. are self evident today – at least in the western world. However, there has been a time when these forms of activity were new and sometimes radical. One aspect of third sector is its function as a laboratory of new organisational innovations. A small association can experiment new ideas more freely than either public or commercial organisations because it is not a catastrophe if a few hundred member association breaks down in the case that the new idea fails. On the other hand, once the idea is tested, it diffuses to the rest of the society.
The Young Men’s Christian Association has been a pioneer of youth work for 150 years. It emerged both as a youth club and a Christian revival movement in the beginning of 19th century industrialism. Along industrialism, the YMCA was a child of 18th and 19th century revivalism, The Great Awakening in Anglo-Saxon world and Pietism in European continent. The World’s Alliance of YMCAs is a result of merging these two traditions. The German Jünglingsvereine were heirs of the Lediger Verein founded in Basle in 1787 (re-established in 1825). After some failed attepts of Christian youth organisations in Britain, the London YMCA was founded in 1844 and, after it took root, it gave its name to the new movement. In 1855, delegates of 7 national YMCAs founded the World’s Alliance in Paris and accepted the Paris Basis as the bond of the movement. In 1878, the World’s Alliance got it’s headquarters in Geneva, forming, along with the Red Cross, the nucleus of the becoming ‘Geneva international society’.
Although the context and constituency has changed over the years, the mission of the YMCA, expressed in the Paris Basis, has remained the same: helping young people to help themselves on the basis of Christian frame of life. Along the way, it developed, along above mentioned, such activities as basketball and volleyball, international youth conferences and –camps, work for victims of war, etc.
Today the YMCA is an International Nongovernmental Organisation with 45 million members with 14,000 local associations in 124 countries. This makes it – along with its ‘foster child’, the Scouts – as world’s largest youth organisation.
In this paper, I focus on one aspect of the YMCA youth work: the work among boys, which in the old YMCA terminology meant work with 7 to 17 year old males. First, I start from the emergence of the YMCA and the formation of its mission in the midst of the 19th century. Then I focus on the development of the special YMCA boy’s work from 1920’s up to 1950’s. Third, I look the diffusion process when the idea and methodology diffused to other organisations, like churches and other youth organisations. Finally, I discuss on the theoretical lessons that the YMCA provides to the third sector theory. My main question is how an organisational youth activity emerges, develops and diffuses to the wider use.
Date received: October 10, 2007
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