A significant landmark of New York City African-American culture, the Harlem YMCA is sometimes referred to as the "living room of the Harlem Renaissance." Established in 1901, the Harlem YMCA has remained a cultural steward of Northern Manhattan and continues to serve the area's multicultural neighborhoods and communities with innovative programs and services that meet the unique needs of the individuals and families that call Harlem home.
In the generations since it was established, the Harlem Y has been one of New York City's most vibrant cultural hubs. This historic institution has hosted and housed renowned American writers including Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Richard Wright; mounted theatrical productions starring legendary actors including Paul Robeson, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Cicely Tyson; and provided a forum for religious and civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to preach his vision of equality and social justice.
The national fight for desegregation turned the branch's eye towards poverty and urban issues that were affecting its membership and service population. Programs such as the Youth Enrichment Program, which dealt with drug abuse prevention and basketball programs all were different methods for producing role models for African-American children to look up to and real methods to equip them with the tools to succeed in life.
In 1971, financial consultant Dr. Leo B. Marsh initiated the Black Achievers program we know today: a volunteer adult mentoring model that helps youth to raise their academic standards and develop a positive sense of self. The program later expanded to support all teens of color.
In response to increasing numbers of immigrants settling in West Harlem, Central Harlem, and Hamilton Heights, in 2008 the Harlem Y established a New Americans Welcome Center (NAWC)-- one of six such centers owned and operated by the Y across New York City.
The Harlem Y has offered English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes since 2007, with the program expanding to include instruction in advanced English, citizenship preparation, computer literacy, and job readiness. Building upon this momentum, in 2011 the YMCA of Greater New York won a grant in the amount of $325,000 per year over the course of three years from the New York State Education Department to create a "Literacy Zone" at the Harlem Y's NAWC.
In March 2012, the Harlem Y received the Janice Reals Ellig YMCA Transformational Leadership Award for exceeding its fundraising goals, maintaining exemplary management of facility and staff, and strengthening and serving the community in meaningful ways.
In April 2012, the Harlem Y won the prestigious American Dreamer Award in the "Community Builder" category from the NYC Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs (MOIA). The American Dreamer Awards recognize individuals or organizations that are making a profound impact on the lives of immigrant New Yorkers.
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