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YMCA work with special populations records

Identifier: Y.USA.61


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, instructional exercise charts, program manuals, timelines, journal and newspaper articles, and other records of the YMCA of the USA’s Office of Special Populations and predecessor programs, in large part from the files of Grace Demmery Reynolds. The collection documents Demmery’s work in the Longview YMCA of Southwest Washington as the director of Operation Waterbug through her advancement to director of special services for the YMCA of Southwest Washington, especially Project Aquatics and the possibility and importance of mainstreaming for people with disabilities. The collection also touches on the YMCA of the USA’s general history of special service programs as well as the Longview YMCA of Southwest Washington’s work with Washington State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council to develop programs geared towards special populations.

Operation Waterbug, Camp Goodtimes, the Goodtimes Enrichment Program and PAM (Project Aquatics Mainstreaming) are major projects mentioned, as is MAY (Mainstreaming Activities for Youth) as they tended to coordinate with each other. IMAY (International Mainstreaming Activities for Youth) is also discussed within the collection with the IYDP/ NYDP (International/ National Year for Disabled Persons) as international work began to focus on people with disabilities. Project FIT (Physical Activities/Fitness for Teens with Disabilities) is also mentioned a great deal. Many other projects are less focused on, but mentioned, including but not limited to, Project ALLIANCE (the Alliance of Specialized Outdoor Recreation Programs), IEP (Individualized Education Plan), RAP (Reaching Among People), PAR (Prescriptive Administered Recreation), HAP (Health Activities Project), LEAP (Leadership Education for All Professionals) and the Plan for the Decade of Disability (1983-1992).

The Special Olympics are mentioned a great deal within the collection as well, as they supported much of the original Camp Goodtimes program along with the AAHPER (American Alliance for Health, Physical Education and Recreation,) the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. The Special Olympics is also mentioned in regards to the Cowlitz County YMCA of Southwest Washington running the first YMCA sponsored Special Olympics. Other agencies and organizations mentioned throughout the collection are the APD (Association of Professional Directors of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of the United States), Boy Scouts of America, March of Dimes, UNICEF, NICHCY (National Information Center for Children and Youth with Handicaps), WAR (Washington Association of Rehabilitation Industries), NOD (National Organization on Disability), PVA (Paralyzed Veterans of America), ARAPC (Association for Research, Administration and Professional Council), SPRCS (Special Populations Resource Centers), and CWOIH (Council of World Organizations Interested in the Handicapped.)

The discussion of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) of 1990 and the effect that it could have on individual YMCAs and their programs is also mentioned within the collection as is the APD’s EAF (Emergency Assistance Fund) which was set up to assist all employed, retired and potential members of APD, surviving spouses of employed or retired directors in times of financial difficulties due to disabilities, serious family illness and other misfortunes.


  • Creation: 1959-1995


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The YMCA of the USA’s work with what is referred to as "special populations" officially began on a national level when representatives of international organizations serving youth with disabilities came together as a part of a larger meeting in Geneva Switzerland during the International Year of the Disabled Person (IYDP) in 1981.The same year, the YMCA of the USA formed a program division subcommittee on work with special populations. The World Alliance of YMCAs was represented at the meeting in Geneva by Grace Demmery Reynolds, director of special services for the YMCA of Southwest Washington. In 1977 Grace D. Reynolds had begun working with the National Board of YMCAs Urban Action and Program Division staff for program implementation. That same year the National Council of the Young Men’s Christian Association had a meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota approving a resolution presented by the Committee on Programs for the Handicapped, agreeing that handicappism (in later years referred to as ableism) ranked equally with racism and sexism as an area of vital social concern and that work with the handicapped fit naturally into the objectives, organization and operation of the YMCA.

In 1982 the World Alliance of YMCAs invited representatives of international agencies dealing with youth and disability to meet. From the recommendations of this meeting the Ad Hoc Committee on Youth and Disability was formed as part of the Council of World Organizations Interested in the Handicapped (CWOIH.) In 1985 a task force on Project Fit (Physical Activities/Fitness for teens with Disabilities) met and the Project FIT pilot project began in the Dutchess County YMCA in Poughkeepsie, NY.

Other projects focused on special populations began earlier in the YMCA’s history. Autonomous YMCAs during the 1950s initiated short term programs of this sort, but in 1955 the Longview YMCA of Southwest Washington began an aquatic program for people with mental and physical disabilities, Operation Waterbug, and it began a long term aquatics themed special populations project with the assistance of Grace D. Reynolds, director of Operation Waterbug of the Southwest Washington YMCA as of 1959.

In 1960 the Longview, Washington YMCA printed their first manual Swimming for the Handicappedand shared it at the annual meeting of the Pacific Northwest Area Council of YMCAs in Spokane, Washington. In 1962 the Southwest YMCA at Longview organized the first of ten regional and national workshops on Physical Activities and Recreation for the Handicapped. They also developed a year round program to supplement the original Operation Waterbug swimming program, Camp Goodtimes. In 1967 the YMCA of Longview joined the AAHPER as well as the Council for National Cooperation in Aquatics (CNCA.) The following year the first YMCA sponsored Special Olympics was held in Cowlitz County Washington following the inauguration of a special Olympics program by the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation and the Chicago Park District in Chicago. In 1970 the first national workshop titled Physical Activities for the Handicapped, sponsored by the Longview YMCA and Seattle YMCA took place in Seattle, preceding the national AAHPER convention.

A US Office of Education project entitled Project Aquatics was began in 1974,in collaboration with the National Board of YMCAs of the USA, the YMCA of Southwest Washington, Longview and a grant received from the Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (BEH.) The National Board of YMCAs Health and Physical Education Director worked with the local Director of Special Services along with several other organizations interested in the National Aquatics Programs. In 1976 Project Aquatics Mainstreaming (PAM) was developed to provide a continuum of services model for mainstreaming special populations through aquatic programs. In 1979 the project Mainstreaming Activities for Youth (MAY) of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, was also designed to assist national youth serving agencies in mainstreaming youth with disabilities into regular programs.

In the 21st century the YMCA of the USA continued to demonstrate assistance to those with special needs through swimming, camp, and afterschool special needs programs. These programs maintained adaptive structures, keeping in mind the social needs as well as the developmental needs of the youth involved and their families. These programs maintained an inclusive attitude. Diversity and inclusion practices at the Y fostered a high-performing learning environment for those with special needs. In 2004 Grace Demmery Reynolds was proclaimed a foremost world leader of aquatics and recreation for special populations of the 20th century at the ATRI (Aquatic Therapy and Rehab Institute) Symposium.

Historical Information largely adapted and quoted from Therapeutic Recreation Directory “Therapeutic Recreation News and Articles- 2004, News Archives” (, 2004; retrieved 11/05/2013); The YMCA, (, 2013; retrieved 11/05/2013); and from the collection.


7.2 Cubic Feet (8 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, pamphlets, instructional exercise charts, program manuals, timelines, journal and newspaper articles, and other records from the YMCA's Office of Special Populations and predecessor programs, which served people with disabilities, in large part from the files of Grace Demmery Reynolds.

Digitized Materials

The majority of the contents of this collection have been digitized and are available through UMedia at

Links to the digitized contents are included in each folder listing in this archival collection guide.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, August 2009, as collection FP78. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 9973941702001701

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Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
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