Jim Hinterlong of the University YMCA

The University YMCA – better known as the University Y – develops campus and community leaders committed to social justice, environmental protection, interfaith cooperation and global engagement by fostering dialogue, reflection and action. It’s located on the University of Illinois campus on S. Wright Street. We sat down with Jim Hinterlong, executive director, to learn more about their services.


Can you tell me a bit about yourself ?

I grew up about two hours north of here in a little farm town called Grand Ridge. I had grown up in YMCAs back home and was very familiar with the swim and gym Y. When I came here, and I saw that there was a YMCA campus I thought great, but it turned out that this is a completely different kind of YMCA.

I was very active here for the four years that I was on campus. I was a student leader here and I ended up on the board of governors, which is like the operating board. I had a great set of experiences that really set me on the path for life decisions and things I did professionally in my life.

This YMCA is committed to developing student, campus, and community leaders who are interested in and focused on issues ranging from social justice causes to the environment, interfaith work, and global engagement. That kind of diversity of programs and initiatives was really attractive to me. I was very involved in starting up the, what we call the Alternative Spring Break program. This work ultimately took me into the Peace Corps for two and half years after graduating and I served in Malawi, Africa. I came back to the states to do graduate work in social work and eventually became a professor for about 20 years.


Can you share more about the University Y and its role in the community?

This Y was founded in 1873, five years after the university was founded. We are the oldest nonprofit in Champaign County. Its mission has evolved, but it has always been here to support students, faculty and members of the community. We are one of fewer than a dozen university affiliated YMCAs left in the country. Our role is to do things that complement what the university offers. Often, student organizations at the university who are looking for additional support, whose mission is consistent with our mission, become affiliated with us. We have programs here reaching from the Philippine Student Association, Visa V, Red Bison, and some independent offerings unique to the University Y, like local artist exhibitions, Interfaith Action, and our speaker series called Friday Forum.


The New American Welcome Center is housed at the University Y, too. Can you share more about its programs and services?

We launched the New American Welcome Center a few years ago. Our team works in partnership with Urbana and Champaign city governments and other public and private entities to make Champaign County a welcoming place for immigrants. It provides a range of services from legal assistance to case management services, educational programs, and direct financial assistance. This fall, we’re hoping to launch our “Welcoming Plan” with both the Champaign and Urbana city governments, which will be a comprehensive plan covering healthcare, safety, and education, as it relates to immigrants in the community. We’re really proud of the work that’s happening here!


How can somebody get involved with the University YMCA?

We have people who are involved in many different ways, we have some people who are specifically interested in just participating in some of these programs that we offer like Friday forum or Tai Chi classes. We have other community organizations interested in partnering with the Y. We have people who come in and serve on our boards, too. So I think there’s a lot of opportunities for folks here, from attending events to launching initiatives in the community. We also have a number of community based organizations and university organizations or offices that are housed here at the Y, as well as a residence hall on the third floor.


How is the COVID pandemic affected the university wise program services and day to day operations?

A lot of our programming and our staff have gone to virtual work. For example, Friday Forum is typically held in a beautiful space we have called Lasser Hall, which can seat a few hundred people., but now we have a solid group of individuals who come each week. We have a number of our tenants who aren’t actively using their space, because they’re working from home as well. A lot of what we do is student centered and those students have not been on campus, so we’ve had to modify our programs to offer them virtually.


What do you look forward to most with the University Y and New American Welcome Center after the pandemic?

Personally, I look forward most to the ability for people to be back in our space for us to welcome students, community members, faculty and staff back into the building and to work together and get in to learn together. We have this gorgeous space, and I think we’re really proud of it. And not to have it full of people, like it normally, is difficult.


Is there anything you would like to tell the community?

I would just encourage everyone to come down and check out what we have happening. I think the range of things that we have happening and the opportunities that we have to get connected would surprise them. We’re a hidden gem in the Champaign and Urbana communities and it’s a great place filled with great people. So I think if folks are looking to make those connections and to be involved in meaningful work, we have a wealth of opportunities.


For more information visit the University YMCA website!

Photo by Darrell Hoemann Photography.