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Celebrating 50 Years of Seekers

ability 50th anniversary
June 13, 2024

YMCA of Bucks and Hunterdon Counties celebrated 50 years of Seekers, the longest-running active program in the association’s history, on Monday June 10 at the Doylestown branch. Seekers is a twice-weekly program for adults with disabilities for socialization, movement and community involvement.  

bill and zane

The celebration, a party for participants, volunteers and staff, ran from 4-7PM at the Teen Center, and featured food, music, activities and dancing.

“Back in the beginning, participants would come in with their boxes of 45 records to play, listen and dance to music,” said Bill Smith, the YMCA Seekers leader since 1974. “Dancing has been a priority for us since day one. Seekers love music and dancing.”

Seekers has been running at the Y since 1973, when Louise Peters, the first executive director, partnered with the Lenape Valley Foundation to provide a welcoming, active and appropriate environment for adults with special needs. The program originally ran weekly in Doyle Elementary School’s cafeteria and gymnasium before moving to the YMCA branch in Doylestown.  

ability 50th anniversary

“In the 70s, when we began, it was a revolutionary idea to provide this group of the population with services in a place to gather socially,” Smith continued. “Early on there were so many misconceptions of who the abilities-adult community was. They are not so different from the rest of us, and they need the same things we do: connection, wellness, love and joy. They need to be with each other.”

The typical Seekers evening begins with a brown bag dinner, followed by a physical activity. When the weather is clement, Seekers play basketball on the outdoor YMCA courts, or soccer or wiffle ball in the adjacent field. During the colder, wet months the Seekers have access to the gymnasium. Swimming is also available on a biweekly basis. Since building the Teen Center on the Doylestown YMCA campus in 2001, Seekers meet there for games, crafts, celebrations and meals.

The program is led by YMCA professionals who supervise Seekers as they move through activities. Kaitlyn Stevens, associate director of ability programs and camp, directs the Seekers program with Bill Smith. Volunteers Glenn Rile and Janice O’Donnell have also helped the Seekers program for over 40 years.
“We call Seekers the hidden gem at the Y because not all our members know we are here,” explained Stevens, who began working with Seekers as a volunteer in 2018, prior to taking a full time position at the Y in 2022. “When new participants come in and begin to get to know each other, they’re hooked. 

ability 50th anniversary

“Seekers is more than just a program,” Stevens continued. “The relationships Seekers build here are lifelong. As part of the YMCA, they connect with the larger community and find belonging at the Y as a community recreation center for all. I am so proud to be involved in leading the program and celebrating 50 years at the Y.”

“I have so many friends here,” said long-time Seeker Rebecca Brown. “Some of them I went to high school with at Central Bucks West. I come here for friends and people I can talk to, like Eric. We have cookies and popcorn, and do arts and crafts to make nice things for Christmas and Halloween.” Holiday crafts are a popular Seekers activity.

Seekers operates on Monday and Wednesday nights from 4 PM-7 PM at the Doylestown branch. Sessions run from September-December, January-June, and on a modified summer schedule. Each night incorporates a different theme, and each session requires a participation fee. Quakertown and Fairless Hills branches are now running Seekers once a month. Participants can register for one or more programs and each night has a different activity. Participants need not be members of the YMCA to join the program but must be 18 years or older. For more information and to register for Seekers, please visit our special needs webpage, or call Kaitlyn Stevens at (215) 348-8131, ext. 1168.