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Records of YMCA international work in Venezuela

Identifier: Y.USA.9-2-19


Includes correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, maps, development plans, pamphlets, magazine and newspaper articles, and other records of the American YMCA's international work in Venezuela. A large portion of the records consist of correspondence involving Clair H. Johnson, the Venezuelan YMCA’s executive secretary. There is extensive mention of Roman Catholic opposition on the YMCA’s existence in Venezuela. Also in this collection are documents concerning the eighty-four thousand dollar loan taken out from the YMCA central committee in 1966 for the construction of the central building in Caracas and the history of payments made up until the year 1979. The files also focus on the importance of programs surrounding the underprivileged youth in areas in and around Caracas, the desire to hire employees from within the Venezuelan population and the excitement created by the national soap-box derby program initiated in multiple Venezuelan cities.


  • 1931-1986.


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

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Beginning in 1931 officials from the rapidly expanding petroleum industry of Venezuela, some being Venezuelan and some active members of United States YMCAs, began to prepare the way and to urge the YMCA international committee to begin work in Venezuela. In June, 1940 Walter C. Taylor made a survey of Venezuela in order to establish the nation’s level of need, and in February, 1946 Mr. Clair H. Johnson arrived in Caracas as a representative of the international board. On April 9th 1946 Venezuela became the 69th nation to have a YMCA.

A constitution for the new association was established on May 23rd 1946 and a five point program was defined; to obtain a building near the center of Caracas, a sports field in the city, to establish a late afternoon sports and training program for underprivileged boys, to request a loan of a physical director for two years, and to inaugurate a leadership training program. Judson Wood, Eligio Alcega, Luis Vaamonde, and Clair H. Johnson were established as the President, Secretary, Treasurer, and Secretary of the International Committee, respectively.

A public warning against the YMCA was issued by the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church in Venezuela almost immediately upon its arrival. Johnson responded by developing recreational, cultural and social program activities in each of several economically deprived areas of the city, rather than to first establish a central operation. This atypical approach provided a greatly needed service otherwise unavailable to large numbers of children and adults in the poorer sections of the city. It gained the approval of the dominant church and the willing support of the influential business leaders of Caracas. By 1955 the Caracas YMCA operated twenty-one branches.

The disadvantages of establishing its branches before developing a central Caracas location became apparent throughout the years. The middle classes were insufficiently involved in the life of the association as participants, so they did not grow up in the YMCA programs. This limited the professional leadership and non-professional experience that the YMCA could have drawn on throughout this local community. The YMCA turned to building a “Central” operation in the late 1950s. It was intended that this building be financed entirely from Venezuelan resources but in 1966 the Caracas YMCA took out a eighty-four thousand dollar loan to complete construction. This loan was extended due to an earthquake in 1967.

The Venezuelan YMCA experienced rapid expansion between 1963 and 1967, partially due to the assistance of the U S Peace Corps. In addition to Caracas, which had six neighborhood centers, three resident camps, an industrial recreation program, and one large central building, YMCA branches were opened in the cities of Maracaibo, Punto Fijo, Punto Cardon, Puerto Cabello, Valencia, Maracay, Puerto La Cruz, and Anaco. These were varied sized YMCAs in poor economic areas. A national soap-box derby program was also initiated throughout Venezuela. This program took place in all of the YMCA established cities and also in the cities of Maturin, Puerto Adaz, San Cristobal and Barquisemeto.

By the end of the twentieth century the YMCA programs in Venezuela focused on social service to underprivileged children and some adults, Hi-Y and Gra-Y clubs, industrial recreation, soap-box derby and athletic sports including, volleyball, basketball, football, baseball and swimming. An intercambio (cultural exchange) program between Venezuela and Tennessee was also started, outlining youth exchange, training among professional staff, sports and cultural exchange and leadership dialogue among community and national leaders involving hemispheric human issues.

The following is a list of individuals who served as YMCA secretaries in Venezuela along with their dates of service:

Bender, Robert Vincent (1972- ?) LaRosa, Peter (1956-1965)
Cannon, Douglas W. (1961-1964) Marks, Donald Thomas (1963-1970)
Dow, Leslie M, Jr. (1972) Rodrigues, Joseph Ignacio (1954-1955)
Hutchinson, Richard L. (1961-1962) Royal, Nicholas N. (1959-1960)
Johnson, Clair Harvey (1945-1962, 1970-1974) Sayre, James Stephen (1974-1976)
Historical information largely adapted and quoted from World Service: A History of the Foreign Work and World Service of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of the United States and Canada, (New York: Association Press, 1957) by Kenneth Scott Latourette, and from the collection.


1.3 Cubic Feet (4 boxes)


Correspondence, minutes, reports, financial documents, maps, development plans, pamphlets, magazine and newspaper articles, and other records of the international YMCA movement in Venezuela..

Physical Location

See Detailed Description section for box listing.


Biographical information on many of the secretaries involved YMCA work in Venezuela (see list of individuals in the historical note) is available in the YMCA Biographical Files, separately cataloged in the Kautz Family YMCA Archives.

Processing Information:

Processed as part of Fast Processing Project II, February 2009, as collection FP044. Material has been minimally processed. Folder descriptions may be general and material has not been grouped into series.

Catalog Record ID number: 6305760

An Inventory of Its Records
Finding aid prepared by Lara Friedman-Shedlov and Melanie Doherty.
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area