Our History

ABOUT YW Kitchener-Waterloo


With over a century of dedication to women and their families, the YW Kitchener-Waterloo serves the community as one of our region’s largest non-profit organizations. Over the years we’ve developed our programming to meet the changing needs of local women and remain committed to gender equality.

Today we advocate for system level changes while working to provide shelter, supportive and affordable housing, improved education and training, and better childcare services. Learn more about our work on a national level from YWCA Canada, celebrating 150 years in 2020.

Why are we called the Young Women’s Christian Association?

The YWCA was founded by devoted Christian women who were troubled about housing and community supports for local young women.

Today, we’ve expanded our focus. In 2017, after a community consultation we refreshed our brand to become the YW, a simple representation of the unique organization that we are. Our legal name remains YWCA because it’s a part of our legacy, but we remain committed to inclusion and support regardless of race, religion, age or gender.


14 April 1905 – The Berlin YWCA was founded at Zion Church, Weber Street, Berlin (now Kitchener) with our first president, Mary Ratz Kaufman. Classes for women were offered 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.

1914 – Construction began on a new building at 84 Frederick Street, opening the following year with rooms for 40 to 50 women, a dining room and meeting rooms.

1924 – The YW sent its first campers, 120 girls, to Camp Tinawatawa.

1937 – A new wing, donated by Mary Ratz Kaufman, was added to the 84 Frederick Street building featuring a gymnasium, a stage, club and meeting rooms, and 13 new bedrooms. This expansion allowed the YW to expand its program offerings, as well—among them, classes in auto mechanics and money management.

The YW’s first day camp, Camp Clover, was founded.

1940s – 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.

1970s – The residence at 84 Frederick Street became an emergency shelter, after the federal government deinstitutionalized programs in favour of community care.

1980 – Club 84, a giving circle of donors committed to giving $84 or more every year, was founded by Heather Lackner.

1985 – The YW opened its first after-school program at Suddaby Public School.

1987 – During 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.

The YW also unveiled plans for a new, 50-space infant, toddler, and preschool childcare centre at 84 Frederick Street.

1988 – A capital campaign was launched in support of the shelter renovations and the construction of both the supportive housing apartment building on Lincoln Road and the new childcare centre at 84 Frederick Street, both opening the following year.

1 September 1993 – YW Childcare Centre, Duke Street, opened its doors, with spaces for 41 children.

1994 – YW Childcare Centre, Bridge Street, opened its doors to 56 preschool and school-age children.

2001 – The Kitchener-Conestoga Rotary Club gave its Rotary Community Resource Village building at 151-153 Frederick Street to the YW. This building became home to the YW’s administrative offices, as well as to several other nonprofit organizations and charities.

2005 – The YW celebrated its 100th anniversary.

2006 – The YW launched a $2.5 million capital campaign to renovate the emergency shelter in order to accommodate the growing number of families experiencing homelessness. Before 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. The campaign raised more than $3 million.

The YW opened its first program for newcomer children in partnership with Conestoga College.

September 2009 – The YW opened a supportive housing program at 84 Frederick Street for women fleeing domestic violence, in partnership with Women’s Crisis Services of Waterloo Region and the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.

2016 – The YW converted nine rooms in the emergency shelter into supportive housing units for women with complex needs experiencing homelessness.

2017 – The YW completed the construction of an affordable housing project on its property at Lincoln Road—an apartment building with four four-bedroom units for large families living with low incomes.

2018 – Tenants moved into the fourplex.

The YW opened its first entrepreneurship and employment training program for women with barriers to employment—In Her Shoes, a vintage shoe, bag, and accessories store.

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 childcare; summer camp; youth recreation and leadership; emergency, supportive, and affordable housing; and employment and entrepreneurship training.

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