Why the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago Has Stood the Test of Time

YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago's early learning programs

The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago has a long history — 159 years to be exact — of making a positive impact on the people and communities in the city it calls home. The organization’s mission of developing strong youth, families and communities across Chicagoland has allowed the Y to expand its reach and align its focus with key factors that contribute to an individual’s lifelong success.

But just what is it about the Y’s mission that stands out? What keeps its members, volunteers and supporters so excited and dedicated to the cause? What is it that so many people of different ages and backgrounds can relate to? Why the Y?

Each year at their annual Recognition Dinner, the YMCA honors those who have been steadfast supporters of its mission and vision. In honor of the organization’s fourth annual Recognition Dinner on Oct. 26, we took a closer look at this year’s honorees to see why they care about the Y’s mission and how they’re helping to increase its impact across the city and surrounding suburbs.

David Vitale

Recipient: So Much More Than a Leader Award

YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago: David Vitale

David Vitale

With his extensive and longstanding leadership roles throughout the city, it’s easy to see why David Vitale is this year’s recipient of the Y’s So Much More Than a Leader Award. Over the years, Vitale has served as the president and CEO of the Chicago Board of Trade, president of Leadership Greater Chicago, president of the Chicago Board of Education, and is currently the chairman of the Urban Partnership Bank.

Adding to this impressive resume, Vitale also brought his leadership skills and financial acumen to the table for the YMCA by serving on its board of managers from 1985-2012, holding the position of chairman of the board from 1995-2001. Noting his tenure with the Y and incredible support of the work the organization has done over the years, many are curious just what it is about the Y’s mission that keeps Vitale so engaged and involved to this day.

“The Y has always placed a significant focus on education and ensuring that all Chicago youth, regardless of their race, economic background, or available resources, are prepared to take the next step in their academic careers, and it’s something I strongly believe in,” says Vitale. “Knowing the challenges that so many youth face in our city today, it’s more important than ever to put accessible, quality education at the forefront of our efforts in youth development.”

The Y’s focus on academic readiness includes innovative educational programming for youth ages 0-5, as well as tutoring and personal development sessions for school-age youth and teens both inside and outside of the classroom.

Vitale’s knowledge and passion for the education field is what keeps him connected to the Y, but the organization’s efforts to provide quality education for all youth and teens is what continues to garner his admiration and support. “Every child deserves to be as prepared as they can be; for high school, for college, for a career; and the Y is out there every day finding new ways to make that happen.”

Allstate Insurance Company

Recipient: So Much More Than a Partner Award

YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago: Allstate

Allstate has been an avid supporter of the YMCA for more than 30 years. Most recently, they have generously contributed to the Y’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention Programming (YSVP), like Urban Warriors, which pairs post-9/11 veterans with youth exposed to violence and trauma in Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods. But why YSVP? Why the Y?

YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago: Urban Warriors

Urban Warriors

“Having six kids who learned from many of the YMCA’s youth-focused programs, I’ve experienced firsthand the incredible work this organization is doing to help our next generation of leaders thrive,” says Steve Sorenson, YMCA board member and Allstate’s executive vice president of brand operations.

Over the years, the Y’s partnership with Allstate has contributed to new, innovative ideas and positive advancements in the realm of violence prevention programming for Chicago. In fact, Urban Warriors recently launched its very first female cohort, which would not be possible without the support of Allstate.

“Between Allstate and the Y, I’m proud to be a part of two organizations that put such an emphasis on empowering children, families and communities across Chicagoland and the country,” Sorenson says.

Dr. David McLone

Recipient: So Much More Than a Volunteer Award

YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago: David McLone

Dr. David McLone

Each year there is a special award reserved for an individual who so willingly contributes their time and talents to advancing the Y’s mission through volunteerism. Dr. David McLone, a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon, is this year’s recipient of the Y’s So Much More Than a Volunteer Award.

Practicing for more than 50 years, renowned pediatric neurosurgeon McLone works with children and young adults born with neurological disorders, with a special focus on spina bifida. He was previously the co-director of the spina bifida program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago and has pioneered several medical advances that have drastically improved the survival rates for children born with the condition. With this full plate and incredibly successful career, it’s easy to wonder how he came to join forces with the YMCA.

Coupling his professional talents in the neurology field with his passion and dedication for helping youth with disabilities find their independence, McLone partnered with the YMCA to establish YMCA Camp Independence, a resident camp that helps children and young adults with spina bifida build their confidence and character to become more self-sufficient. Since its inception in 2010, Dr. McLone has served on the board of directors and has been a regular volunteer and visitor to Camp Independence, especially as many of the children at camp are still under his care.

YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago: Camp Independence

Camp Independence

“The Y and the staff at Camp Independence have played a huge role in establishing an atmosphere that helps children build the confidence and sense of freedom they need to become independent,” McLone says. “Seeing the joy and the positive change in each individual when they’ve achieved that sense of self is what makes me honored to be involved with this initiative; it’s what makes me know we have something very special here.”

A place — and a program — for everyone

While each of these honorees has their own answer to the question “Why the Y?,” they all have one thing in common: steadfast support of an organization that has stood the test of time amidst Chicago’s ever-changing landscape. From those folks who have known it for years to those who just found the Y; from inner-city families to those in the farthest reaches of the suburbs; and from cradle to career, there’s a place, and a program, for everyone at the YMCA.

On Thursday, Oct. 26, the Y will showcase and celebrate its legacy of preparing youth and families for lifelong success at the 4th annual The Y. So Much More Recognition Dinner. With a variety of youth speakers, three highly respected honorees, and some special looks into the stories of individuals whose lives have been transformed by the Y’s work, it’s safe to say that no one will be leaving this event asking themselves “Why the Y?”

For more information and to purchase tickets for the Y’s Recognition Dinner, please visit ymcachicago.org/Dinner17.