An Unshakeable Belief in Helping Others
Blog by Charlie Davis
President and CEO
YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties
I have been extremely fortunate to have been guided by so many great people throughout my Y career; I know it likely would have been a different journey had I not received that guidance. In fact, I may have veered off the path entirely had it not been for the firm hand I needed from time to time. I remember, on multiple occasions, hearing the words: “Working in the Y is the best place for you; focusing on others will prove to be the most precious gift in your life.” Looking back, I believe those words turned out to be prophetic.
When I was just starting out, Don Pilkey was one of those people who took me under his wing. He had served on our Y’s association board of directors, and was someone who cared deeply about the Y. He would take me out to lunch from time to time, just to check in. At that point in my life, I was not entirely sure the Y would be long term for me, but Don’s voice in my life definitely helped me appreciate how rewarding being part of the Y was. Even towards the end of his life as his health was failing, he would take time to meet with me. He liked to remind me how valuable the work of the Y was for the community, and how fulfilling it was to be part of something bigger than myself. He told me that his service on the board was the most meaningful time of his life because he could see the direct good it had on other people.
Don would come into the Tacoma Center YMCA every night to do his back exercises, and he would ask to hear about someone I had seen impacted by the Y. I was always prepared with a story and Don would light up. A number of times, Don referred people to me because he believed the Y would be a good place for them. Not everyone worked out, but Don loved that the Y was always a place for someone in need.
One day, Don introduced me to a young man named Tracy. He was a pretty good basketball player, but had difficulty playing with others. In fact, most of his games erupted into brawls, and Tracy was always in the middle of it. Don even offered Tracy a job, but he was not very dependable and it did not last very long.
Tracy helped me run the evening basketball league. While he was a good player, I was never at ease with him on the court. I got pretty good at diffusing his anger, anticipating when it might escalate. There were a number of members who were good at that as well, so together we were able to help him progress as a player and a person.
Don would show up at some of the games to check in on Tracy. Unfortunately, that often meant witnessing Tracy get into an argument with another player that came close to blows. It was not a perfectly smooth road for Tracy, but I saw his potential. I know I was more persistent than I may have been otherwise because of his connection to Don, but I also learned a great deal from working with Tracy. As I spent more time with him, I began to uncover the pieces to his life that defined him. He had lost both his parents at a young age and, except for a brother and an uncle, he had been on his own most of his life.
The anger and fight-first behavior was a protective armor; underneath, there was a lot of pain. As he learned to trust those around him, his ability to get along with others improved. But it was never easy. Being around Tracy, I developed patience and came to understand that undoing past hurt takes time.
Tracy moved on from the Y after a few months. I told Don I thought the Y had been good for Tracy. It seemed he was beginning to believe that people did care about him. I know he appreciated the time with the Y, and so did Don.
A few months ago, I ran into Tracy. He saw me from across the street and ran over to say hi and tell me that he was now coaching his two boys in a basketball league. He shared with me that one of his boys was always in trouble for fighting, then looked at me a little sheepishly. He tried to stay close to his son to show him how much he loved him, something he’d learned from members at the Y. He told me he was forever grateful for all the people at the Y who cared about him, especially Don Pilkey. Having people care about him was unfamiliar, and he didn’t realize how much that had meant to him until many years later.
Tracy was trying his best to be a good dad. Being separated from his boys’ mother was difficult, but he was determined to stay connected to them. He knew from his own experience how hard it was to not have a parent. He also knew how important it was to have people around you who care about you. He learned that at the Y.It felt great to see Tracy and hear how much his Y experience impacted his life. After he left, I thought about Don and how he had taken an interest in my life. Don showed me the way so I could take an interest in Tracy and help show him the way. It’s funny – Tracy is now doing the same with his own children. It all started with Don – his love for the Y and unshakeable belief that helping others makes us all better.