The YMCA has had a presence in Evanston since shortly after the city’s inception. The Evanston Y was founded in 1885 to “promote mental, moral, physical and social welfare.” Over the course of the past 134 years, McGaw’s mission and who has been involved has reflected the local and national social norms. One of the biggest moments of change in these norms over time is evident in the closing of the Emerson Street YMCA in 1969. Founded in 1909, the Emerson Street YMCA was one of Evanston’s physical examples of a progressive community living in segregation.
Since the height of the Civil Rights movement, the YMCA in Evanston has worked to build connections across racial, gender, and cultural divides to be a resource, a place of comfort and belonging, for the entire Evanston population. A turning point in this work was in 2003 when Bill Geiger, then the incoming YMCA President and CEO, elevated the work of historian Morris “Dino” Robinson Jr. to capture and document the history of the Emerson Street YMCA. Their collaboration resulted in publishing Gatherings, the creation of Unforgettable, documenting the complete history of the YMCA in Evanston for its 125th Anniversary celebration and the start of a culture shift within the organization with a focus on equity and inclusion.
At its annual fundraising event on Jan. 25, 2020, McGaw YMCA is bringing together the Evanston community to celebrate the impact of the work Dino Robinson and Bill Geiger started over a decade ago. Through the YMCA, their partnership served as a catalyst for how the organization moved to welcome all people in its buildings and programs. The event supports McGaw’s $2 million fundraising goal to underwrite fees and programs across the organization that provide each member of the community the opportunity to grow in mind, body, and spirit.
Named for Reverend James Talley, the first leader of the Emerson Street Y, and Robert Reece, the first African American Board Chair, Dino will be receiving the Talley-Reece Leadership and Service Award.
Morris “Dino” Robinson, Jr. is the founder of Shorefront Legacy Center and an Evanston historian. Dino has researched, preserved, and presented on the important role the Emerson Street Y plays in McGaw’s history as well as on the City of Evanston. McGaw is thrilled to honor Dino for the role he has played in building bridges to connect history with the future of McGaw and Evanston.
The second award presented at McGaw’s Gala is the Lorraine H. Morton Award, McGaw’s Committed to Community Award. This year’s recipient is McGaw’s President/CEO from 2003-2014, Bill Geiger. Bill’s long-standing dedication to the Evanston community and commitment to building relationships during his tenure at McGaw was crucial to defining McGaw as a community center for all of Evanston. Bill’s legacy at McGaw can be seen today through the community relationships he built to help provide programming across every age range.
Together, Dino and Bill are the essence of collaboration for creating a stronger Evanston community and propelling the McGaw YMCA to serve the needs of the community now and in the future. While reflecting on the past and how the Y has impacted the community is important, the foundation Dino and Bill have helped create will lead McGaw to be a place where every member of Evanston can feel they belong.
McGaw YMCA strives to use its history as a means for progress. This helps broaden the capacity to serve, amplifies collaboration, and inspires creativity. It is important to McGaw to meet the community’s ever-evolving needs. Just as it did in the past, it will continue to do so in the future. The McGaw Y has been, and will be, a place of belonging for all people at every stage of life.
Bringing people together, listening to the community, responding to needs with intention, and providing opportunity and connection at the Y is how McGaw strives to make Evanston a better and stronger community. There is a place for everyone at McGaw, and know that if you live in the area or are ever visiting, you are always welcome at the YMCA.
More on McGaw YMCA
Better Chicago has long been a proud partner and supporter of the McGaw YMCA. Here’s where to read more about this fantastic organization: