Worldwide WFYR Zoom set for May 29

Lantorina Rakotomalala, General Secretary of the African Alliance of YMCAs (photo right), will be the headliner of a World Fellowship of YMCA Retirees (WFYR) worldwide Zoom video event Wednesday, May 29, 2024 at 9 a.m. EDT. Theme of the program is “YMCAs in Africa: Opportunities and Challenges.”


Rakotomalala, based in Nairobi, Kenya, is a trailblazer in youth empowerment and social justice across Africa. She has led the African YMCA Alliance, the umbrella organization of 24 National YMCAs in Africa, since 2019.


All WFYR members across the globe are invited to join in the Zoom event, says Franco Savoie of Canada YMCA Alumni, a member of the organizing team that also includes Bonnie Mairs (USA); Guenter Ozdyk (Germany) and Alicia Sanjurjo (Argentina).


The agenda includes updates on the World YMCA with Carlos Sanvee, Secretary-General; the Global Retirement Initiative with Kohei Yamada, WFYR Chair and more. Click the button below to register for the call. 

Register for WFYR Zoom

EDITOR'S NOTE: Prior to the pandemic, WFYR was exploring options for an “Ambassador” Program with designated greeters in all areas of the world. More information on developing this concept will be discussed on the May 29 WFYR Zoom gathering.

Official Newsletter of

The World Fellowship Of YMCA Retirees

April 2024 * View as Webpage

Notes from the chair...

By Kohei Yamada, WFYR Chair

Hello Craig,

Our New Year celebration was not the same this year. A New Year Holiday started January 1 when we had a terrible earthquake in the Noto Peninsula, which is the middle of the Western Coast of Japan. The big earthquake and Tsunami hit the remote areas of the Peninsula.

Due to the remote area and the effect of the earthquake and Tsunami, it became so difficult to send help to the victims. The access to the area was/is very limited, therefore volunteers were not able to go there yet.

Within a few years, we have had big news in Myanmar, and the Ukraine-Russia War, then next was the Middle East, between Gaza and Israel which could involve more countries nearby. I feel we are facing a transition of our global morals, post WWII peace promoting organizations, and our views of nature as a protector. 

This could be a year of considering our meanings of our peace and happiness. YMCAs in the world also have been seeking their ways to react to worldly issues. YMCA Vision 2030 is the way to see the role of the YMCA movement in the world. I hope we WFYR and our members of YMCA retirees pray and act for the best of our world.

I do hope you all have a truly happy year the rest of 2024.

Kohei Yamada

WFYR Chair, 2022-2026


Koji Owada is new JFYR Chair

The Annual Conference of the Japan Fellowship of YMCA Retirees (JFYR) was held in Kyoto Nov. 16-17, 2023. All the JFYR cabinet members were elected and Koji Owada (photo right) was newly appointed as a JFYR chair for two-year term.

The rest of the cabinet members were younger members of the fellowship and we hope the activities will be stronger and active. For the fellowship guest, we were happy to have Kevin Ryu, former Vice General Secretary of Tainan YMCA, Taiwan. Our intent is to start organizing our East Asia Regions.

We have about 120 members in JFYR and we aim to increase the newly retired members. For that reason, we want to let the current leadership of YMCAs in Japan know the value and objectives of JFYR. We also have WFYR leaders from our group, Kohei Yamada as Chair and Shigeru Shimada as a vice chair of WFYR. We need to keep stronger ties with WFYR and also let all the YMCA staff members know our vision and purposes.

Thoughts from the editors...

By Len and Joyce Wilson

Despite concerns about increasing world violence, environmental degradation and political polarization, we who have connections to the YMCA can see reasons to be hopeful about the future. We are grateful that YMCAs in our various countries continue to find ways to engage young persons and families in constructive and healthy programs as well as bring comfort to those less fortunate in our midst. 

There are reasons to feel optimistic about WFYR. Our retiree organizations are engaged in service projects that are directly connected to local YMCAs. A new retiree group is forming in Paraguay. WFYR leaders are constantly engaged with several countries that are seeking to initiate a stable retirement plan for their staff.

Bridges continues to highlight heroes of our movement that helped shape the course of the Y during their careers. In this edition, thanks to help from our friends in Canada as they collect more historical data, we have discovered a hero amidst our own membership.

This edition highlights the remarkable career of Ghassan Sayah who rose from errand boy to Chairman of the YMCA board in Lebanon. During his decades of service as a YMCA director, the Y developed several outreach programs funded by various organizations. That outreach has grown into a wide network of medical and other vital community services that reach out across the entire country. 

Those services have become a lifeline for thousands of persons directly impacted by the violence that continues to impact the country. Readers are encouraged to access the tab that provides more details and accounts of Ghassan’s leadership over the decades.

There is optimism for the continued growth of WFYR and for the YMCAs where we served as they seek to develop a cadre of young leaders determined to bring peace, stability, and progress to their communities. Bridges looks forward to reporting on new heroes and continuing growth of the fellowship provided in WFYR.

(Photo: Len and Joyce on Washington, D.C.visit.)


YMCA history project

moves toward publication

Many Canadian YMCA Alumni will have read Murray Ross’ The YMCA in Canada. He outlined the first 100 years of the Canada YMCA. To note the obvious, Canada and the YMCA have undergone major changes over the past seven decades. 

There have been many local initiatives to document timelines and local Y histories over this time period. However there has been no overall coordinated effort to record the history of the Y overall.

The Canadian YMCA Alumni Executive discussed the feasibility of a YMCA History Project in 2022. It formed a committee in January 2023 to begin the planning of the project. The committee concluded that a great deal of the Y’s history is in the hearts and minds of the alumni who lived and experienced the dramatic changes over the past 75 years. 

Top photo: Fracois Savoie. Above: Historical postcards in collection show (L-R) swim dock at Halifax Y Camp (circa 1960); Sioux Lookout, Ontario and kids at camp.

In collaboration with YMCA Canada, the committee in February 2023 began to schedule virtual visits with retired YMCA volunteers and staff. As many of these colleagues and fellow alumni are aging there has been some urgency to get to them. To date 60 visits have been recorded and stored in the YMCA cloud. This is an ongoing effort to visit with more Y volunteers and staff are identified.

We are so thankful to these former Y leaders for making time to contribute to this project. The process has been gratifying as the visits have brought back memories of the successes and challenges faced by YMCAs over the past 75 years. This qualitative research will be critical input into a publication that can be shared with Canadians and the world at large.

It is our hope that we could release this publication during the 2026 World Alliance that will be held in Toronto. In addition, some of the input will be shared in a retrospective in May 2024 in preparation of the national conference of YMCAs in Canada to be held in Halifax in June 2024.

The YMCA Alumni History Committee is also developing an archiving framework that could be considered by YMCAs.

For more information, please email Franco Savoie.

JerusalJerusalem International YMCA:

100 days of war

As we look back over the past 100 days, it’s hard to believe how quickly our lives have been turned upside down. The war, breaking out in an instant, altered the course of our plans and activities at the Jerusalem International YMCA.

Just as we were gearing up for a busy end-of-year season, filled with visitors at our hotel, sports events, holiday preparations, and expansion plans, including the hydrotherapy pool and renovations to our historic building, everything came to an abrupt halt. The war forced us to reevaluate and take a different route.

Immediate Actions and Community Support: Our first step was to suspend all day-to-day operations. We had to close our preschool and sports center, prioritizing the safety and well-being of our community. We then focused our efforts on supporting our guests, ensuring their safe return to their respective countries. This included assisting YMCA members from abroad, especially those from the United States and Scandinavia, in their safe travels back home.

A Gradual Return to Normalcy: The hotel, once bustling with life, stood eerily empty. We felt a profound sense of sadness at the sight of our beloved YMCA in such a state. However, we began to rebound, starting with the reopening of the preschool for limited hours, eventually resuming full activities. The same gradual approach was taken with our sports center. During that time, we began thinking how to harness the power of our community to help those affected by the war and emerge as an island of sanity for all who need it.

Our Commitment to Peace and Unity: In his 1933 dedication speech, General Allenby referred to the Jerusalem International YMCA as a place “where political and religious jealousies can be forgotten, and international unity be fostered and developed.”

Today more than ever, we stand by this vision. The YMCA remains a beacon of hope and peace for all the diverse communities in Jerusalem — Christians, Muslims, and Jews, We continue to symbolize, peace coexistence and respect in the face of adversity.

Some of what we did during the past 100 days: (Left photo): We Gave home to activist groups that sent more than 2,000 food parcels to marginalized communities in the unrecognized Bedouin villages, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.(Right photo): In an effort to uplift spirits during these challenging times, we hosted musical performances in our auditorium. In addition to modest events for Christmas and Hanukkah, we initiated and held “Playing Together," a musical concert of Jews and Palestinians coexisting through music.


By Phill Morgan, President

There was a time growing up when I remember long distance phone calls cost money. It was quite a bit of money that depended on how long a person talked. How do I know this?

I overheard my parents talking about it. When the bill came in there would be ‘discussions’ about the cost. That is why my parents switched to calling their parents between 2 and 5 p.m. Sundays. Long distance calling was at a ‘reduced rate’ during those times.

Even as a young married couple, my wife Marti and I experienced the same circumstances of Sunday calls to our parents.

Today, with land line and cell phone plans, long distance calling (domestic calls), are free. But we do pay a monthly fee. Today, we can connect with one another on a phone call, video chat (Facetime) and even Zoom. We have no excuse not to connect with our family and friends.

Most YMCA Alumni members live in large chapter geographic areas. Members drive many hours to attend a chapter gathering or even a luncheon. Why would they do this? It is because they want to see their friends. It is that important to them. Yes, the attraction of the agenda, the tour of the museum and having meals together is great. However, the main reason for attending is to see our friends.

Wouldn’t it be great to visit with our YMCA friends closer to our home over lunch? But who would organize it? Who would contact our friends/other YMCA retirees living in our area an hour drive or less away? Who would contact the restaurant and make reservations for 8 to 10? Friends, we worked for the YMCA and planning is what we do! Who wants to step up and make it happen? Your first call/text or email would be to your chapter president. Long-distance charges do not apply.

If I could speak with my parents today on this topic, I think they would say, "I wish I would have heard my parents voices on the phone more often." Marti and I agree.

Here's more news from U.S. YMCA Alumni...


The longtime “gold standard” of chapter service efforts — the New England Chapter’s Homebuilding Project in the YMCA Village in Don Gregorio, Dominican Republic — has ambitious plans for their 13th trip to that humble village May 15-22, 2024. “We’re going to build two homes— our 2Oth and 21st — this time,” says Project Chair Lou Falk. “We can do it if we raise enough money.”

NATIONAL SERVICE PROJECT ON SIOUX RESERVATION: YMCA Alumni in partnership with the YMCA of the Seven Council Fires is making significant progress in building a village of four Tiny Homes on the YMCA site in Dupree, South Dakota to help alleviate the severe housing insecurity on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation. The project also includes building and placing two “twigs” (small YMCA program centers created from recycled shipping containers) in remote communities on the nearly 5,000 square-mile Reservation.


Making history in São Paulo



Group formed by colleagues

By Myriam Pedrozo Corrales

Our group was formed thanks to the initiative, above all, of a group of colleagues, María Josefina Rios, Sicilia Espinola and Felicia Marecos, who participated in the Regional Meeting, in Montevideo Uruguay

(2016) and then the World Council in Thailand.

They were so enthusiastic that they managed to convey to us their desire to form the YMCA Paraguay Retirees Group. Despite being retired from the YMCA, we have always remained united, in permanent communication and managed to strengthen a strong bond of friendship, keeping the philosophy and values of the YMCA alive in our hearts. It was difficult, we cannot deny that. Some of us were still working in institutions and others were collaborating in institutions with a high social content.

But we managed to form a group of 12 people at the beginning. Then it was reduced to 8, in which several meetings were held as we already had a draft of the Statute. Then, with the pandemic, it was put on standby. During this time, we lost three great leaders from our Association.

In 2021, we resumed our contact with virtual and in-person meetings, where we had the support of other colleagues: Pablo Enrique Segovia and Julio Fernández, who helped us to complete the final draft of our Statute, which we presented to the Regional and World Fraternity in September 2023.

After the participation of three of us in the XX YMCA World Council and the World Council of Retirees of the YMCA “YFWR” in Denmark, we returned with more energy to strengthen our Group, and now we are in the final process of drafting our Statute so that other colleagues also have the opportunity to participate in these international meetings to live and feel the YMCA movement experience that is always present within us; getting in touch with other colleagues and finding out what other YMCAs around the world are doing in their respective communities.

The YMCA of Paraguay Retirees Group is currently made up of 10 colleagues and 4 collaborators, and we continue to make contact calls to recruit more colleagues, and we are already receiving confirmation from some of them who want to join the group.

The activities carried out were to celebrate birthdays, special dates such as Friend’s Day, the end of the year, fundraising activities or spiritual, emotional, or economic support, as far as possible, for some colleagues who were going through difficult times. We plan to support other projects that arise.

Finally, I must mention two people, Jerry Prado Shaw and Alicia Sanjurjo, who have always given us their unconditional support in the formation of our group. To them: our gratitude forever.


History through my eyes

By Ghassan Sayah

This is the significant recent history of the YMCA in Lebanon, from the perspective of a YMCA retiree -- Ghassan Sayah -- who lived the Experience. From a Small Youth Club to a National Lead Agency in sustainable development and medical aid; from office boy to chairman of the board.

Phase I: 1960 – 1975 YMCA of Lebanon Camping Program Makes an Impact

In the summer of 1963, as I completed my studies at Ittihad High School, serving Palestinian refugees and underprivileged Lebanese students, in Tyre, South Lebanon, the future seemed uncertain. I learned about the YMCA Leadership Program offering two weeks of training and was accepted.

The training program changed my life. I was approached by Harry Brunger, Fraternal Secretary from the YMCA of USA in Lebanon, who hired me as an administrative assistant.

Click the button below to read Ghassan's article.

Read Ghassan's Article


Elections held for officers

Mr. Vincent George, the President of the national Council of YMCAs of India, is elected as the Vice-President of Asia Pacific Alliance of YMCAs for the Quadrennium 2023-27 at the 21st General Assembly held during September at Chennai, India. The Fellowship of YMCA Retirees wish him all the best. Congratulations to him.

We are glad that Mr. Joseph A Benjamin is unanimously elected as the President of the New Delhi YMCA. It is definitely a prestigious post and an honor for him to become the President after retiring as the Chief Executive officer of the YMCA. Congratulations to him.

(Photo: Mr. Vincent George, National President, NCYI, inaugurating the IFYR Annual Conference 2023.)

World Basketball Celebrated

On 21 December, YMCAs joined sports clubs, teams, and schools from around the world in celebration of the first World Basketball Day. Dr. James Naismith created the first basketball game on that day in 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts, USA, at a YMCA. In August 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/Res/77/324 proclaiming 21 December as World Basketball Day.

Editors’ Note: March play-offs among college basketball teams is a major event in the USA. In 2024 the women’s college basketball play-offs garnered more attention than the men’s.

WFYR Leaders

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BRIDGES is published with the support of YMCA Alumni of the USA. Editors: Len and Joyce Wilson. Mailing lists by Ken White. Production by Craig Altschul + Associates, Tucson, Arizona, USA