In 2015, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there were an estimated 88,000 deaths from alcohol abuse in our country. This is the third leading cause of preventable death. These are even more yearly deaths than caused by the opioid crisis.
This is nothing new under the sun. In the 1800s, drunkenness contributed to poverty, crime, homelessness and abandoned children in England. George Williams in 1844 began in London an organization to combat the excessive alcohol use of young men. He called it the Young Men’s Christian Association. He offered an alternative to escape the popular culture of intoxication. He began a movement of Bible study, physical fitness, an openness to all economic classes and a community to meet social needs.
The YMCA has become a worldwide movement. It is unique because it encourages health in body, mind and spirit. It was never identified with one Christian denomination. It promotes abiding spiritual values in the “house rules” to practice caring, honesty, responsibility and respect.
There are persuasive influences in TV and movies which portray heavy drinking as the way to show success. The advertisements for alcohol consumption falsely picture people young, successful, attractive, happy and physically fit. Binge drinking produces just the opposite outcomes. Decisions made when faculties are impaired by booze lead to risky sexual behaviors and abusive relationships. Heavy drinking makes people fat, not fit. Inebriation does not bring success but folly. Advertising sells the lie that every holiday, sports event or personal celebration can only be complete if we get inebriated. The advertisement world promotes the illusion that alcohol abuse is harmless fun. Instead, it poisons mental and physical health. Responsible moderation and self-control are mocked as old-fashioned and unnecessary.
The YMCA offered a positive alternative to people tempted in the 1840s and is needed now. The YMCA shows we can find personal disciplines to achieve true wellness. It invites us to be a part of an inclusive community of people committed to being their best self. Where we choose to spend our time makes a difference. The influence of the YMCA can be infectious to make wellness a practice. It is not enough just to “say no,” as the anti-drug campaign slogan popularized in the 1980s. We do need to say no to peer pressures and advertising lies. Then we need a positive “Yes” to invest our energy in a community which encourages health of mind, body and spirit.
We are blessed to have the influence of the YMCA. It teaches children the joys of team sports and staying active. The YMCA supports prime time before and after school. Summer day camp keeps kids healthy. It helps families of all economic levels.
We are benefited when we practice the vision of George Williams back in 1844. The YMCA is more than an exercise gym and swimming pool. It is a cause worthy of our support.
Cliff Rawley lives in Springfield.
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