Our Y began with three businessmen who strongly believed that something should be done for the welfare of youth and adults in the local community; so on April 27, 1927, the organization of a Young Men's Christian Association - to serve all groups, races and nationalities - became an official act. Cresci Hall was rented and became the center for all activities. This location boasted Vineland's first public gymnasium, which served three hundred forty-seven boys and men. A substantial increase of memberships in 1940 was the result of females being welcomed into the ranks with full membership and participation privileges. Under the watchful eyes of the Board of Directors, Cresci Hall withstood many additions, special events and community gatherings. It remained the Y's location until 1951.
In early 1951, the Y moved from Cresci Hall. The Board of Directors selected the old Presbyterian Manse for a new home, a new program, a new building, and a silver anniversary campaign to make it all possible. Gifts and subscriptions funded the purchase of the building, as well as the addition of an all-purpose room and an exercise room.
A gift from Edward and Dorothy Campbell enabled the purchase of fifty-five acres of wooded land on Garden Road, which was named "Camp Merrywood". This new site became the permanent home of the Y's expanding day camp program, which had been established in 1940. Back at the Manse, space was not so abundant. Although several improvements were made, these facilities were never adequate for the growing population. By 1960, the demand for services simply outgrew the ability of the improvised building. It was time again for the Board members to think in terms of more appropriate facilities.
In April of 1960, the Board of Directors authorized $36,500 for the purchase of a new building site at 1159 East Landis Avenue. This property consisted of three acres of land with a brick house situated near the street. While blueprints for a new facility were being drawn and a Capital Campaign to raise $406,000 was underway, the YMCA moved into the old brick house. Cognizant of the fact that they were building for the present generation of young people as well as for several generations to come, planners from the National YMCA designed a structure which would be practical for programming, low maintenance, and durable to withstand wear and tear.
Limited funds demanded a long-range building plan which could be completed in stages, beginning with the immediate construction of a physical facility. As the plans were assembled and needs made known, dedicated people came forth to carry them out. The new scientifically designed and beautifully constructed facility was completed in 1964, at a cost of $370,000. It included Vineland's first indoor swimming pool, a modern gymnasium and general locker rooms. The Campbell Natatorium and Cunningham-Durand Gymnasium were second to none in New Jersey.
In 1969, land adjacent to the East Landis property was donated to the Y; and Camp Merrywood received improvements totaling $20,000. By 1970, the urgent need for a complete facility could not be denied. The Board of Directors launched Phase Two and set a fund-raising goal of $400,000. Campaigns were organized, money was raised, pace-setting gifts were received and prayers were answered. At a cost of $575,000, the addition was completed in 1972. The new building was joined to the front of the existing physical department; housing administrative offices, a general-purpose room, a kitchen, clubrooms, a game room, lobby area, exercise rooms, essential storage and service areas and room for an adult health club. At long last, the YMCA had a large, well-designed facility to call home.
In 1980, the Fitness Center expanded by $100,000 to include a whirlpool, a steam room and an enlarged exercise area. Major improvements to Camp Merrywood in 1983 included the addition of a soccer field, an asphalt basketball court, a play field, rowboats and a new bulkhead. The later 1980's saw the addition of a handicapped-changing area on the main level, a miniature golf course added to Camp Merrywood, and a stairway elevator donated by the Gannett Foundation.
Despite the improvements, by 1995 it was obvious that a new addition was necessary. The Board of Directors undertook a Capital Campaign for $1,500,000 to expand the facility by 9,000 square feet. Again talented and generous individuals rallied round the cause and addressed the financial demands. Completed in 1998, this Campaign included a second indoor swimming pool, expanded locker rooms and the installation of an elevator. The following year, the full facility workout area was relocated to the Riggins Workout Room, and included new state-of-the art equipment, additional workout stations, and television viewing opportunities.
In 2007, a new Capital Campaign raised over 500,000 to open the first Family Fitness Center. The doors to this one-of-a-kind fitness center were opened in January, 2008. The Y's Family Fitness Center has an exclusive area for parent-child exercise, as well as equipment for all ages and fitness levels.
The Y reached a milestone in 2010 by serving over 6,000 members in its facility. In July 2010, the Y movement changed its logo and branding to focus on the Y's cause-driven programs through the nation. In 2014, the YMCA celebrated fifty years at its current location. Former and present members enjoyed remembrances of the organizations rich traditions.
The year 2015 brought two exciting projects to the YMCA. Existing space was redesigned to meet the ever evolving interests and needs of our members. The opening of Milam Family Multipurpose Center, completed in April, was followed several months later by the dedication of the new Family Health and Adventure Center. These facilities comprise approximately 7,000 square feet and offer a myriad of possibilities, from basketball to Pickleball to wall climbing. The year also brought a milestone of sixty years of Camp Merrywood providing a traditional day camp experience -- and lifetime memories -- for kids aged nine to fifteen.
During the 2015-2016 school year, our afterschool participants were involved in over 1,000,000 minutes of vigorous activity, thanks to the Healthy U program. This comprehensive program serves over 4,000 children in Vineland, Atlantic City, and Millville.
Recent years have brought still more strategies to improve the overall health of our community. The free YMCA Diabetes Prevention Program addresses a true need in our area. It is offered in partnership with Bottino’s Shop-Rite and the Vineland City Hall. Participants unanimously report that they are able to improve their overall health through this project. Another impressive partnership is the Healthy Living Initiative. This began with investment by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and an affiliation with the Vineland Health Department which helped to bring a CDC grant for total funds of over one million dollars. The goal is to build a culture of health where we live, work, and play. For details and updates, please check www.healthylivingvineland.org.
This year (2017) marks the proud 90th anniversary of our YMCA.