1001 S. Wright St., Champaign, IL 61820 | Summer Hours: Mon-Fri 10:00-4:00 | hello.ymca@universityymca.org  |  (217) 337-1500

Our History

Leading change since 1873. The University YMCA is one of the oldest independent non-profits in the area and among the first campus YMCAs in the U.S. We engage college students, faculty, staff and community members in creating lasting, positive change. Learn more about our journey.

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A Brief History

The YMCA of the University of Illinois was founded in 1873. The first President (Regent) of the University was a Baptist minister, John Milton Gregory. President Gregory led a daily chapel service that all the students were required to attend; but students wanted a religious organization of their own, thus began the University YMCA.

In the early 20th Century, there were nearly 750 campus YMCAs across the country. As of 2023, there are only six. The University YMCA is one of only two independent campus associations - meaning we are a separate non-profit organization that focuses on serving and engaging the university community; however, we receive no dedicated financial support from the University.

In total, the University Y has had 5 different locations--all on Wright Street. In 1938 the University YMCA moved to its current building on the corner of Wright and Chalmers, in the heart of campus. The University Y began with Bible studies and service projects. One was the "Student Handbook", later called the "I Book". The Y provided this free service to students until 1955 when the I Book was taken over by the University.

The University YMCA helped students find housing from the earliest years. In 1908 the Y provided the first dormitory on campus for 88  students in its building, which was later purchased by the University and named Illini Hall (it was demolished in 2023).

In 1918, the University YMCA began organized services to International students. At that time there were 201 students from 31 countries. Now there are over 10,000 international students at the U of I. The University Y continues to have cooperative programs for these students.

We built and moved to our current home in 1937. Over time we have worked to become a more inclusive, justice-focused organization, that is willing to tackle the toughest challenges facing our local and global communities.  

The Y serves as the home to different student organizations focused on social justice, environmental protection, faith in action and global engagement. More information about these groups is available by clicking here.

Explore more of our History