The Employed Officers’ Relief Fund began as a kernel of an idea in 1904, when E. E. Sheldon, the secretary of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad YMCA, came down with inflammatory rheumatism. Sheldon had put in 22 years of service with the YMCA and was a valued friend and colleague. When his illness incapacitated him and left him unable to work or pay his bills, W. H. Morriss, secretary of the Baltimore YMCA, got an idea. He sent a letter to 100 YMCA secretaries from around the country, asking each to contribute $3 per year towards Sheldon’s expenses. The Baltimore YMCA would match donations dollar for dollar. The appeal worked and provided Sheldon and his family $50 per month for the rest of his life.
In 1903, one of our older secretaries, a railroad man, was laid aside by a long and incurable illness. One hundred of his brother secretaries agreed to give $3 a year each, as long as this veteran should live. In this way was established what is now known as the Employed Officers’ Relief Fund.” – W.H Morris, Treas. Relief Fund, Association Forum, 1920
Morriss’ idea took root, and in a meeting of the Conference of Employed Officers in Omaha, Nebraska on June 5, 1909, the Employed Officers’ Relief Fund was created and a committee was appointed to oversee its operations. The fund operated on a voluntary basis, with secretaries contributing what they could, generally on an annual basis. Special appeals were sent out to raise additional money in times when the fund ran low. In 1941, 254 secretaries and 119 retired secretaries contributed to the fund, with an average subscription of $5.18. The system worked well, providing monthly allowances to incapacitated secretaries. Between 1904 and 1941, 67 secretaries received allowances from the fund, ranging from $15 to $50 per month, depending upon the individual’s needs.
A 1942 report by Jean Read notes that “[i]n order to receive aid from the Fund a secretary shall have been in Y.M.C.A. service for a reasonable number of years and an active secretary or on a recognized retired list at the time his case is presented for consideration. Cases are reported to the Employed Officers’ Relief Fund Committee by secretaries who discover the need, and the Committee checks the eligibility and need before deciding whether the Fund is warranted in helping.”
A secretary identified only as E. E. S. (likely E. E. Sheldon) provided the following testimonial in 1910: “I often wonder what I should have done if the Association brothers had not come to my help. They certainly are as noble-hearted and generous a brotherhood as has ever been seen. The good they have done just in my case cannot be told.”
In 1913, Nova Scotian secretary W. T. Robb wrote to express his gratitude for the payment made during his struggle with tuberculosis: “I cannot adequately express the deep debt of gratitude I feel to the members of the Relief Fund for continuing this monthly payment for such a long period. The aid has made it possible for me to live, and cheered and encouraged me wonderfully from month to month. I am always hoping that in a month or so I will be able to take up my work again, but time passes, and my hope is not realized. If you can thank the members of the Relief Fund, please do so for me, for indeed, I am grateful.”
A 1932 report discusses the case of L. A. P., a former Boys Work Secretary in Massachusetts who suffered a long illness that left him unable to use his limbs. A fellow Boys Work Secretary noted that “it is difficult to over-estimate the value of your help for it is about all they have to depend on.”
Stories like these abound, giving voice to the many secretaries and families whose survival depended on financial assistance from the YMCA. Through very modest annual subscriptions, the fund was able to provide much-needed support to secretaries and their families in times of distress.
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110 years later, The Emergency Assistance Fund of the Association of YMCA Professionals is still providing grants to Y professionals in their time of need. In 2013 alone we awarded 33 grants totaling $206,018.53. This assistance would not be possible without the support of AYP members. As long as there is a need, EAF will be there, but we need you.