The Y has been a pioneering force in the United States for nearly 160 years. Numerous sports, such as basketball, volleyball and racquetball were invented at the Y, therefore impacting the way people defined healthy and fun activity. Other enjoyable, healthy activities that started at the Y include camping, physical fitness and swim lessons. Through Y programming, the USO, Boy Scouts of America and Camp Fire Girls were all founded, and YMCA volunteers provided support and services to millions of soldiers in many major wars, including the Civil War, World War I and World War II.

Locally, the YMCA got its start in 1856 with the first facility located in Portsmouth, Virginia. In 1885, the first YMCA in Norfolk opened. Over the next 20 years, pools, gymnasiums and fitness facilities brought forth new construction and additional programming. Opportunities for youth to build confidence, families to learn together and adults to stay fit and healthy through activities such as basketball, bible study, baseball, track and football flourished.

Mt. Trashmore was then built in the 70's, followed by Greenbrier, Suffolk and Effingham in the late 80's. The 90's, when Indian River, Greenbrier North and Hilltop were formed, were dedicated to broadening the YMCA's mission and services. To meet the needs of the at-risk population, the YMCA developed the Community Services branch. The next few years the YMCA extended its boundaries to include serving the needs of the Eastern Shore, Outer Banks, Elizabeth City and Franklin communities.

With the support of the Landmark Foundation, the Hampton Roads Community Foundation, City of Norfolk and area civic leagues, the Y has continued to promote healthy activity and programming in our region by complementing our Blocker Norfolk Family YMCA with The Y on Granby. This fully-equipped 32,000 square foot family center will soon sponsor a five-star early childhood development center where children will be exposed to the life skills necessary to make good choices and develop into contributing members of our community. The YMCA on Granby opened its doors May 31, 2013 and is located at W. 30th Street and Granby, two blocks from the Virginia Zoo.

In 2016 the YMCA of South Hampton Roads celebrated the opening of its 18th location, the Princess Anne Family YMCA. Through a partnership with Tide Swimming and the City of Virginia Beach, the Princess Anne YMCA hosts the only 50-meter Olympic-sized swimming pool in the South Hampton Roads area. With 40,000 additional square-feet of recreational space full of cardio and strength equipment, group exercise classes, and childcare areas, the Y is happy to serve the growing Princess Anne community.

In 2017, the Y partnered with Sentara to open the YMCA at Edinburgh in Chesapeake, VA serving a growing community with a wellness center, group exercise space and drop-in child care. In 2018, the YMCA of Town Center opened with wellness and group exercise serving the professional community of Virginia Beach Town Center, YMCA JT's Camp Grom, a day retreat developed especially for wounded veterans and their families, the families of fallen war heroes and children and adults with differing abilities, began operations and the YMCA of South Boston/Halifax County and YMCA of Portsmouth joined the YMCA of South Hampton Roads family, continuing a long tradition of service to their communities. Looking to the future, the Y is excited to continue serving individuals and families in our communities through programs that nurture the potential of every child and teen, improve our health and well-being and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors in need.