What began in 1960 as a recommendation to the Evanston Y that Kenneth A. Thiel be permitted to extend the work of the YMCA in the Village of Northbrook, grew into a Y that has directly and indirectly touched the lives of countless individuals.
The first office for the Northbrook YMCA was located in the basement of the Thiel's home. With only one desk, chair, and telephone, the work of the Y took root through the mobilization of key individuals and guidance of community groups like the Deerfield-Northbrook Rotary. On January 4, 1962 the first meeting of the Northbrook Y Affiliated Committee was held. Mr. Walter Johnson was elected President. By the year's end, the Y had an income of $3,952.00 and expenditures of $454.86. Total membership at the end of the first year was 171.
The Early Sixties...
In the early 1960's, when the national media was imprinting black and white images of tragedy and uncertainty on our memories, the North Suburban YMCA's scrapbook began to fill its pages with stories and pictures of growth and direction for the future. The Northbrook Y formally approved the proposed donation of land by the Covenant Church of America in April 1963. During that same year, our Y Indian-Guide program was started and the first Y community service project took place when 27 boys and girls from our Y community helped the Northbrook Garden Club clean up our local River Bank. Summer swim programs for Y members were held at Glenbrook North High School. The Northbrook Y officially changed its name to the North Suburban YMCA and moved its office to 1852 Shermer Road, where it had the complete use of basement facilities donated by Drs. Albert Nischke and Henry Diettrich.
The fundraising campaign to build the Y's present facility started in the fall of 1966. Mr. James Otis, Jr. served as the general campaign chairman. Through commitment to the community and the Y mission, the goal became reality when the Y family moved into its new home on March 19, 1969. Later years saw the addition and renovation of facilities to meet our changing needs. This resulted in the current 85,000 square ft. building which our community and members call home.
A History of Serving Our Community...
Since the late 1960s, the North Suburban YMCA has been the heart of its community through good times and hard times. Founded by Ken and Alta Thiel in a home basement office in 1960, the NSYMCA organization launched a variety of youth and family programs held at various sites around Northbrook. A multiyear fundraising effort culminated in the construction of the Y’s home building at 2705 Techny Road, which opened in 1969.
From its earliest days through the start of the 21st century, generations of local residents relied on the NSYMCA, learning to swim in the pool, shooting hoops in the gym, and practicing ballet positions in the dance studios. Various additions over the years transformed the original building into an 80,000 square foot facility to keep up with changing needs. Children who grew up at the Y in the 1970s and ‘80s now bring their own kids to enjoy the benefits of nurturing, enriching Y programs.
Four decades into its mission, the Y faced challenging times as its building required significant updates and the economy placed hardships on many Y member families. Despite these challenges, the Y community was galvanized to strengthen the Y and affirm its role as a source of support and connection for everyone. Led by CEO Howard Schultz and an active volunteer Board of Directors, the Y raised funds through capital campaigns to pay off the Y’s mortgage and undertake a massive renovation project to make the building more welcoming, safe, energy efficient, and accessible for individuals with disabilities. Upgrades completed since 2008 include:
- Installation of a passenger elevator
- Creation of a wheelchair-accessible playground
- Complete renovation of locker rooms, lobby lounges, strength training center and track, childcare centers, dance studios, and other spaces
- Replacement of outdated lighting, HVAC, phone, and security systems
- Updates to fitness and cardio equipment
During the same period, the Y re-dedicated itself to making its programs available to all, including those in financial need. The Strong Kids Fund was established to offset program and membership costs for families and individuals who could not otherwise afford to participate. This need was exacerbated by the recession and has continued to be a vital source of support: in most years, one out of five people using the Y are receiving some level of aid from the Strong Kids Fund. The Y community has embraced this mission wholeheartedly. Since its launch in 2007, the annual Ken & Alta Thiel Strong Kids Dinner has been attended by hundreds of members and friends and has raised over $2.5 million.
Today’s NSYMCA is a charitable organization that supports the health and well-being of families and individuals from 15 of Chicago’s northern suburbs. Thousands of individuals participate in NSYMCA programs every year and even more attend special community-wide events held throughout the year.
- Its indoor pool supports one of the area’s largest and most successful aquatic education programs, with multi-lingual instruction to ensure that children from all backgrounds have the chance to learn water safety and the benefits of swimming. The Y’s pool is also home to a youth Special Olympics swim team, water aerobics, adult lap swimming, community events, and pool parties.
- Sports programs provide year-round recreation for all ages, including basketball, racquetball, soccer, t-ball, pickleball, gymnastics, and martial arts. Youth sports promote sportsmanship, teamwork, and confidence along with physical fitness.
- The Y’s North Suburban School of Dance combines artistic expression with physical well-being for students age three to adult, with an emphasis on nurturing confidence, persistence, and the joy of dance.
- Summer day camps, afterschool programs, early childhood education classes, and school break mini-camps offer fun, rewarding experiences for children that promote learning and social skills in a safe, welcoming environment.
- Visual arts classes run the gamut from pre-school playtime to advanced digital media and adult technique programs, enhancing each individual’s self-expression and skill development.
- Highly qualified fitness instructors and personal trainers are dedicated to helping participants meet their wellness goals, using top-notch equipment and exciting, motivating strategies.
- Specialized programs bring active older adults together for physical exercise, social engagement, and intellectual stimulation.
- Individuals with special needs learn and grow in structured, inclusive programs in wellness, dance, art, and aquatics, achieving better health, social connectedness, and self-esteem.
The NSYMCA also partners with a variety of community organizations for mutual support and joint events. The Village of Northbrook’s Community Relations Committee, the Northbrook Family Network, the Glenbrook United Special Olympics Teams, and many other local groups utilize the Y’s facility and expertise to enhance their programs and connect with the community. Expanded services to the special needs community are made possible by partnerships with organizations like Lekotek, TotalLink2 Community, and Exercise Connection.
A central pillar of the Y’s mission is social responsibility, a mandate to support the entire community far beyond the walls of our building. This mission is the basis for the NSYMCA’s Strong Communities initiative, a program of diverse monthly projects that unite Y staff, members, and community partners in volunteer service. In its first year alone, the program collected vases and created floral arrangements for hospitals and nursing homes; planted and distributed rose milkweed plants to support monarch butterfly populations; hosted a wheelchair football exhibition game; and delivered thousands of toys, donated by Toys R Us of Highland Park and ConTech Lighting, to 13 social service organizations supporting children throughout the northern suburbs. These were just a few of the projects in the first full year of the Strong Communities program, which earned the 2017 Advancing Our Cause Award from the YMCA of the USA’s Executive Conference of Small to Midsize YMCAs.
The Y has withstood the challenges of economic downturns and social uncertainty, providing constant support to all families no matter what difficulties they face through enriching, nurturing programs. All these programs are available to all at reasonable rates, with special discounts and benefits given to those who become YMCA members. Thanks to the Strong Kids Fund, no one is turned away from programs due to an inability to pay. The generous and consistent support of our community, and the importance of our driving missions, sustains the NSYMCA as a vibrant, vital center for youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility.