How to Volunteer for the YMCA

The YMCA is one of the largest providers of health and well-being services in the U.S.
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The inevitable song is probably already in your head, so let's get it out of the way now. All together: "Young man, there's no need to feel down..."

If you're interested in volunteering for the YMCA, the only accurate part of that line is "there's no need to feel down." To volunteer at the Y, as it's affectionately known, you don't have to be young, and you don't have to be a man. You just have to be interested in the mission of the organization: "to put Christian principles into practice in ways that help build healthy spirit, body, and mind for all" [source: YMCA of the USA].


The YMCA -- or Young Men's Christian Association -- is a large nonprofit with international reach and several thousand local branches. You're likely familiar with the organization as a fitness center -- it runs gyms and pools across the country and is one of the largest providers of health and well-being services in the U.S. You might know that it collaborates with hospitals, courts, libraries, museums, public housing agencies and other organizations to help them strengthen their offerings [source: YMCA of the USA]. You may also know it as a place where those who are down on their luck can get a meal and a cheap bed for the night.

The YMCA believes in strengthening local communities -- both by providing assistance and by drawing on the resources that are already there. So it works with local volunteers. Volunteers teach classes, coach athletic teams, lead groups and provide mentoring. They help out with administration, organization, development (fundraising) and management. They offer pro bono professional services and serve on the organization's boards or committees [source: YMCA of the USA].

The YMCA coordinates volunteer work on the local level, and each YMCA facility operates autonomously, so specific opportunities may differ in your community [source: YMCA of the USA]. But you can be sure that -- as the Village People sang -- there's a place for you at the Y.

In this article, we'll look at some of the volunteer opportunities available, as well as the benefits of being a YMCA volunteer. Young man (and the rest of you), click on to the next page.


Becoming a YMCA Volunteer

If you have a skill -- or just some time on your hands -- the YMCA can probably help you use it for good. The Y works with five broad classes of volunteers:

  • Program volunteers - This group is the largest. It consists of the people who directly help the YMCA carry out its programming. They include teachers, tutors, workshop leaders, mentors, group facilitators, athletic coaches and trainers, bus drivers, nursery school staff, event hosts and staff, referees and other game officials, lifeguards and equipment maintenance workers. There are many other program-specific positions.
  • Support volunteers - This group consists of the administrators and office workers who help the programs run smoothly, including the registrars, receptionists, schedule planners and resource managers who help the organization coordinate its many different activities.
  • Fundraising volunteers - As a nonprofit, the YMCA relies on donations, so it needs plenty of fundraisers and grant writers. Development volunteers may be enlisted for staffing phone banks or stuffing envelopes. They may help coordinate fundraising events. Those with extensive experience in writing or development may be interested in helping the organization apply for grants or set development strategy.
  • Policy volunteers - This group includes board members and committee members (all must enter a longer-term relationship with the organization governed by its bylaws). A policy volunteer not only gives time and effort to the organization but also helps guide its direction and determine its programming and priorities.
  • Managerial volunteers - This group applies to trained professionals -- including accountants, lawyers, executives, designers and IT workers -- who donate their services pro bono.

[sources: YMCA Marin, YMCA Triangle Area]


To volunteer, you'll need to complete an application in which you describe your skills and experience. You'll be asked about your agreement with the YMCA's mission and your ability to uphold the mission through your work. You may need to provide references. You may also be asked to consent to a criminal background check, especially if you are applying for a volunteer position that would put you in contact with children [source: YMCA Triangle Area].

On the next page, we'll look at the benefits of volunteering.


Benefits of Being a YMCA Volunteer

One of the simplest and best reasons to volunteer is to become a fully participating member of your community -- to meet people and build new friendships and connections. Few things can compare to knowing you have worked to help your community.

Many people also appreciate the intersection of the YMCA's values with the values of their churches. Not every church has the resources to provide an extensive volunteer program, but the Y's Christian mission -- in conjunction with its collaborative relationships -- can fill the gap.


The wide variety of programs at the YMCA allows volunteers to help their communities in the ways in which they are best prepared to serve. Visual and performing artists can find ways to excite and engage children in the arts. Athletes can help young team participants discover the joys of sports. Teachers and tutors know they are making a difference in literacy and other skills -- abilities that will help people in their communities go on to live more productive and positive lives. Many YMCAs also work with veterans; volunteering in these programs offers a lovely opportunity to give to the community in tribute to a friend or family member who has served in the military.

Volunteering can strengthen, expand or polish your skills -- a boon for those who are hoping to change careers or find greater opportunities. Volunteering for office work can give you experience with software and procedures that will ultimately make you more employable. And teaching a class at the Y can be a great way to refresh your own skills. It might give you an excuse to get up to date in your field. Many teachers readily acknowledge that they learn as much as from their students as their students learn from them.

If you believe in the mission of the YMCA, they're waiting to hear from you. It's remarkably easy to make a difference.

To learn more, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Fettig, Erin. "Making a difference: Elise Hieshetter, YMCA volunteer." Grand Rapids Press. May 17, 2009. (Accessed 5/21/09)
  • Jenkins, Amy. "Two residents recognized as outstanding volunteers." The Cupertino Courier. May 1, 2002. (Accessed 5/21/09)
  • Sidney YMCA. "40th Anniversary Press Release." (Accessed 5/21/09)
  • YMCA Marin. "Volunteers." 2009. (Accessed 5/21/09)
  • YMCA Triangle Area. "Helping Others," Program Volunteer Application. 2009. (Accessed 5/21/09)
  • YMCA of the USA. "About the YMCA." 2009. (Accessed 5/21/09)
  • YMCA of the USA. "FAQs." 2009. (Accessed 5/21/09)
  • YMCA of the USA. "Get Involved." 2009. (Accessed 5/21/09)