Charlie Davis

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Day 140: I have made a habit of setting aside Sunday afternoons to collect my thoughts and write my weekly message. It allows me time to reflect on the previous week, and to look ahead as to what may be in store for our Y. It also allows me the time to reassess and adjust, a process that has become a bigger part of my way, and our Y’s way, of work; circumstances have dictated that we be more fluid in our collective strategizing. Writing my weekly message also gives me the space to consolidate my thoughts and keep all of you connected to what is going on, as well as inviting additional thinking from anyone who might be so inclined. I am not ashamed to say that I am throwing everything against the wall, hoping for something, anything, to stick. I know there are many of you who can interject or add to a thought, and build onto something in order to make it even better. There is no playbook written for this, and it will take all of us, and more, to engage in an effort to rebuild our Y. In her work with the community café design, Janele Nelson has invited people from the community to be part of a think tank to help design what this concept of small group cafés could be. It is really fun and exciting to be a part of that group and to engage in a process that encourages people to freely play off one another, building something new that will benefit our Y and the greater community. It is thrilling to see it in action.

The other exciting thing to see in action is the work of Brian Flattum. Brian is at his best aligning people and getting them to work as one. Recently, I created a new group of staff to work on the strategic priorities. This new group is comprised of Brian (operations), Bruce Caudill (technology), Michelle LaRue (marketing/communications and Y360), Janele (community café/small groups), Michael Marquez (virtual programming), Tara Bywater (member experience and member engagement), Tara Harkness (child care and connection with education), and Amber Evans-Wynn (equity and greater access for kids in under-resourced communities). I created this group because I wanted a small team focused and working together on the priorities. It is a new way of work, one that is agile and fast-moving. This is not meant to be exclusive, it was meant to adapt to the circumstances quickly. It also needs to be connected to the greater continuity team, and the group may change as the circumstances change. I rely on Brian a great deal to keep the group aligned and cohesive. It is evident how we evolved operationally over time – as we grew as an organization, we grew apart. It is also apparent in this current climate how critical it is that we stay close in our work, and our thinking, if we want to survive and thrive. This is a new day for our Y, and the pieces need to fit together and support one another if we are to be successful.

For months, I kept thinking we just needed to open our facility branches and everything would be OK. I no longer see that as the answer, at least unto itself. Yes, we need to reopen our facilities, but they are only part of the solution. This pandemic profoundly altered our way of life – our facilities will no longer be packed with people as they once were. Sure, with a vaccine, people will find their way back into our branches, but it may not be at the level it once was; human behavior will not be as comfortable inside as they once were. We have to shift in what we see our Y becoming. Yes, people will swim and will work out, and kids will participate in activities, but the virtual experience is a critical part of the vision moving forward. We have to shift in how we see people accessing their health plans (this trend started years ago). The younger generations had already begun to find their lifestyles through their phones, using an app for nearly everything. The new Y has to adapt to the shift in lifestyle, and it already has. The virtual is here to stay, but face-to-face will be a part of the future as well. We are in a position to help people find a new path of total health for themselves and their families. People need social, emotional well-being, and they need to be connected to other people. Community is still vital to our lives.

Our new Y will continue to help people find health and community. We will need to help people access the various opportunities, to find the virtual classes, be connected in person, and discover small groups online. We will tailor the programs to the individual, being able to participate in a live, interactive class, or draw upon a library of on-demand programs. In this new Y, the online capacity allows us to connect with expertise in other states, and allows people who are in remote areas to engage in community. It is very exciting to think about having that kind of connection and reach. Ronn McMahon told me about a woman who was using YMCA 360 from a very remote part of Arkansas, where there is no physical presence of a Y, and she emailed him to let him know how grateful she was to be able to access an exercise program. She was isolated by the virus, and because of YMCA 360, she discovered a pathway for her health. Wow, what impact – and think about the possibilities.

Last week, we had a very significant breakthrough in our effort to move toward a new Y. Lynn Wilmot-Stenehjem and her arts team rolled out the new virtual arts camp. It is a program-for-fee and there was a great response. It is a tribute to Lynn and her team, and it is a great indication that our members are willing to engage and pay for service virtually. This is extremely exciting for us and the future of our Y. Think about how we can offer more programs, as well as how this can create a different utilization plan for our facilities? With YMCA 360, we can connect to expertise around the country – or even the world. The possibilities are incredible, but we will need to coordinate all the moving parts so our members can access the opportunities and understand how they are connected to the bigger picture. The integration of YMCA Child Care and the YMCA Center for Community Impact is essential to the picture. It is crucial that our members understand that they are part of the well-being of their community, and that their health, as well as their family’s is connected to the big picture.

It is also our opportunity to ensure that we are true to our intent to serving all. Equity is a critical part of the equation. The Y is in position to have great impact on the health and well-being of all kids and families. Our community faces a huge challenge in educating its kids and getting back to work. This is not a childcare issue, it is one for our entire Y if we want to help solve the problem. It will require a different way of work, one that changes what or how we have done things for many years. We will need to adapt quickly, be agile, and be in lock-step with each other. Our alignment will be crucial in guiding our community to find safety, security, and confidence in a path to a healthy life for themselves, their families, and their community. It is also critical that we recognize that we cannot do this alone; that we need to be partners with other organizations. This is our opportunity to connect the dots and reset our organizational blueprint. This is really exciting and daunting at the same time, but I am confident in where we are going, even if I cannot see it clearly yet, because of the group of all of you. You are who drives our future as an organization, and who will play a key role in the health and well-being of our Y and our community. I am grateful for all of you.