The Berlin YWCA was founded at Zion Church, Weber Street, Berlin (now Kitchener), on 14 April 1905. The first president was Mary Ratz Kaufman. Classes were offered for women in German conversation, Bible study, cooking, and sewing. Room and board were offered to single young women coming to Berlin to work in the factories. In its first years, the YW rented space on Frederick and Queen Streets.
Eventually, these programs grew to such an extent that the YW needed its own space. The current site at 84 Frederick Street was chosen for a new building, and construction began in 1914.
The new YW building opened on 17 May 1915. There were rooms for 45 to 50 women, a 60-seat dining room, and several meeting rooms.
In 1937, the YW again required more space, and a new wing, donated by Mary Ratz Kaufman, was added to the 84 Frederick Street building. It included a gymnasium, stage, club and meeting rooms, and 13 new bedrooms. This expansion allowed the YW to expand its program offerings, as well. Classes from auto mechanics to money management were offered.
After World War II, the YW assisted dozens of young women and immigrants from refugee camps, helping them to learn English, find jobs, and lead new lives in Canada.
The residence at 84 Frederick Street became an emergency shelter in the 1970s, after the federal government deinstitutionalized programs in favour of community care.
Services were expanded again in 1985, as the YW responded to the needs of young parents in the downtown community by introducing an after-school care program at Suddaby Public School. This was the first of many similar programs that the YW continues to run today.
During 1987, the International Year of Shelter for the Homeless, the YW embarked on two major initiatives: upgrading the emergency shelter and building new, permanent, affordable housing. This $1.1 million project improved access, mobility, and fire safety in the shelter and enabled the construction of a new 45 unit supportive housing apartment building on YW-owned land on Lincoln Road in Waterloo.
Also during this time, the Ministry of Community and Social Services issued a statement about the need for quality, affordable, and accessible childcare. The YW responded to this by unveiling plans for a new, 50-space infant, toddler, and preschool childcare centre at 84 Frederick Street.
By the end of 1988, most of the shelter renovations were complete, and construction was well under way for both the Lincoln Road building and the new childcare centre. A major fundraising strategy was also launched that year in an effort to keep up with the costs of these ongoing projects.
1989 saw the completion of these new projects. Both were open by the fall and filled to capacity by the end of the year. The year was a high growth year across the organization, as expansions to other programs, as well as the new projects, nearly doubled the YW’s staff and budget. The year also saw the launch of the Strawberry Gala and Auction and the raising of nearly $250,000 for the capital campaign.
A few years later, the YW was given another opportunity to expand its childcare programs. Space for a childcare centre was planned for Kitchener’s new city hall. YW City Kids Daycare opened its doors on 1 September 1993, with 41 spaces for children in our community.
With the continued successes of City Kids and Downtown childcare centres, the YW was approached again in 1994 to consider taking over another childcare centre. YW Bridgeport Childcare Centre opened its doors to 56 preschool and school-age children in 1994.
In 2001, the YW was given a wonderful gift. The Kitchener-Conestoga Rotary Club gave its Rotary Community Resource Village building at 151-153 Frederick Street to the YW. This building is now home to the YW’s administrative offices, as well as to several other nonprofit organizations and charities.
As its hundredth anniversary approached, the YW launched a $2.5 million capital campaign to renovate the emergency shelter. This was to accommodate the growing number of families experiencing homelessness. Prior to the renovations, the shelter was unable to take in men or male children over 10, and there was no facility in the Region that could take in families.
Today, YW Kitchener-Waterloo operates about two dozen programs at nearly as many sites across the Region. It offers services in the areas of early learning and child care and summer camp; girls’ recreation and leadership; emergency and supportive housing; and employment training.