KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Thousands of YMCA employees and volunteers are in the metro this weekend for their national conference. The "Y" has a rich history in Kansas City, dating back to 1860. The Kansas City YMCA was the seventh to open in the country.
What started as affordable lodging for young men moving into the city has definitely evolved. There are now 10,000 centers across the country, 14 in the metro. The mission has always been to meet the spiritual, mental and physical needs of the community, but over the last 150 years, the need has changed and thus, the programs.
This morning a steady beat broke over the heart of the city as conference-goers began their day with a mixed marshal arts workout in Barney Allis Plaza.
"Exercise is a wonder drug," said Dr. Matt Longjohn, the first ever executive MD employed by the Y. "It gets the blood flowing. It's good for the brain. Exercise reduces insulin resistance and just getting up and moving reduces the risk for diabetes."
During the Industrial Revolution in the heartland, the YMCA met the need for affordable housing.
By the end of the 20th century, as more women joined the workforce, the charity provided affordable childcare and sports programs. Today, as the population ages, the need has become disease management and prevention. Dr. Longjohn is in place to help the YMCA meet that need.
"Doctors are sending people to the Y for diabetes prevention, cancer survivorship, arthritis management, and falls prevention," Longjohn explained.
Walk into any YMCA in the metro and you will still see weight training, swimming, and programs for the kids. It's a sense of community that drives employees at the Y to keep meeting the need.
Lynn Skeels-Flynn started working for the YMCA 40 years ago as a camp counselor. She still loves coming to work every morning.
"There's so much loneliness and disparity in the world, and people walk through the doors of the Y, and you can see the energy and spirit about it. It translates to the staff. That is what makes it so special," Skeel-Flynn said.
As inevitable changes come, the holistic mission is the same, and according to Chief Operating Officer Joh Mikos, one thing is constant.
"Regardless of your race, ethnic origin, or financial circumstance, we raise money every year to make sure everyone -- children, families, and seniors -- have access to all the programs and services that the Y has," Mikso said. He said no one is turned away, and that is a long history worth repeating.