YMCA celebrates 170 years

By WEEK Producer

June 6, 2014 Updated Jun 9, 2014 at 3:08 PM CDT

PEORIA, Ill. -- Jackson Boerckel has been a regular at the Greater Peoria Family YMCA since he was 5 years old.

"I have some friends that I work out with," said Boerckel, during a break in his work out. "Its a good place to get strong and healthy and just have a good time."

Were he alive today Englishman George Williams would be thrilled to hear such talk. You see, it was it was 170 years ago Friday that Williams founded the first YMCA in London.

Williams wanted a place where young men could exercise and socialize away from work during the industrial revolution.

"It gave them a place that everybody could (go), where all people were considered equal," explained Don Chonowski, president of the Greater Peoria Family YMCA. "It began as sort of a melting pot of our country."

In fact, Dr. James Naismith was a YMCA instructor when he invented the game of basketball.

Today there are YMCA's in over 10,000 communities in the United States and in 119 countries.

Programs like 'School's Out' give children a chance to stay physically active during the summer.

And for a college kid like lifeguard Adam Kiel its an opportunity to make a buck on a summer job.

"It teaches you the value of money and you have to mature. It teaches you how to deal with people," Kiel said.

Those growing experiences are part of what the YMCA is all about.

"One of the presidents was quoted when he was on Grandview Drive," recalled Chonowski, "I think it was Roosevelt when he came through, he said a town without a YMCA is not a good strong community."