Ryan Bean

Begin interview. Today is September 28, 2014, and the time is 5 o’clock. This is Ryan Bean from the Kautz Family YMCA Archives interviewing Norris Lineweaver. Mr. Lineweaver, thank you for agreeing to share your story with me today.

Mr. Lineweaver

Thank you, Ryan.


My first question for you is what was your first YMCA experience?

Ryan Bean

Mr. Lineweaver

Well, do I remember when it was. At that time, I had my first Y experience was actually in Qingdao, China, mainland China, before Mao Zedong came down from the hills. My father was commander of the Marine Corps Military Police, and it was an assignment that allowed him to bring his family. There were no billets, no housing for families, but there was an Armed Services YMCA. As the commander of the military police, he was also assigned as the special services officer, which means he arranged and coordinated recreation, which also meant he was the liaison of the Marine Corps on their Armed Services YMCA board. So I do remember going out on the beach of the Yellow Sea with a dog and enjoying the sand, but I was really only three years old at the time.

The real significant event, which was something I do remember vividly, is Mao Zedong’s forces began to get traction after 20 years of guerilla warfare in the mountains, and it was time to evacuate. My father, being military police, he’s the guy who turns out the lights. So, I do remember walking out on the tarmac and it was dark, it was midnight, and we boarded a flying boxcar. It’s what they called it at the time. It was a cargo plane, had no seats in it, and I was harnessed inside the fuselage. I remember my dad sitting across from me and smiling, I thought, “Well, this is just another ride with Dad,” and we were actually quickly leaving China. So, after the Marine Corps and after World War II, we settled in Springfield, Massachusetts, where my dad used his military benefit scholarship to go to Springfield College. He decided that's what he wanted to do after the military, was work for the Y.


Mm-hmm.

Ryan Bean

Mr. Lineweaver

So, I was actually going to some of the classes, because there was no child care back then, and so it was dad’s turn to take care of me. He took me with him to classes there at Springfield and I’d sit in one of the chairs, listen to the lectures. I’m not a child prodigy. There was nothing else he could do with me. But that was my first experience with the Y.


So you were literally brought up to work in the YMCA.

Ryan Bean

Mr. Lineweaver

As some would say, my mother dropped me off at the doorsteps of the Y and never came back to pick me up.


So then the follow-up to that is when did you start working for the Y? And if you could kind of just briefly sketch out your YMCA career.

Ryan Bean

 

Well, I started working part time. In the previous paradigm of the Y, the ‘50s and ‘60s, where you had a game room and in the game room, were pool tables, and ping pong tables, I was the game room supervisor. I was a high school kid, part-time, and my skill sets were how to repair a Q-tip on a pool stick. I was pretty darn good at it. How to repair ping pong ball paddles, which is to say our equipment was roughly used in the game room. I just enjoyed being at the Y and decided in my senior year of high school that this was what I want to do with my life. I wanted to go to the best school preparing for that work and I was looking at schools there in Texas. But at that time, schools of social work were not that progressive. In fact, they pretty much imaged the times of segregation, and a divided society, and I decided that was not the paradigm I wanted to be educated in, so I decided to go to George Williams College in south side Chicago. So, that cemented my interest in the Y. because it was a congregation of men and women, who decided this is what they want to do for the rest of their lives, and met really some remarkable people.

In fact, we’re here at the Charlotte YMCA retiree reunion, and there are guys here I went to school with at George Williams College, during that time. There was a student there at George Williams by the name of Desta Girma who was from Ethiopia, and I was very fascinated with him. He invited me to come to Ethiopia. There was a group going my junior year, as a service project to Africa, and we decided to spend all of our time in Ethiopia. I was invited to consider enrolling as applying to be a world service worker after graduation.

Right after George Williams College, I’m on my way to Ethiopia, and I was there for two years. Tremendous experience. At that time, two years was the max. It’s a pretty intensive engagement. I came home to Texas, worked for the southwest area council as a consultant for all the student YMCAs, during the late ‘60s and ‘70s during the days of the student unrest. And at the Dallas YMCA, I met with the student leaders of SMU here in Dallas, and somehow the leadership of Dallas Y found out about it. They called me and said, “Mr. Lineweaver, don’t call us. We’ll call you,” which is to say I was to disengage from any further consulting with the student leaders. It was a very sensitive time. Student Y was in the front page of the headlines, and it was creating some controversy. So I respected that. Well, next the call I get is from the Dallas Y, “Would you become a director of our university branch Y?”

That’s when I joined the Dallas association, and then from there, after doing it for some time and had a great experience with the Dallas Y, applied for the John R. Mott Fellowship. I was awarded the John R. Mott Fellowship to go to University of Texas School of Urban and Regional Planning. During that time, I was invited to be on staff of the Dallas Alliance, which was a subsidiary of the Dallas Chamber. I did that for a couple of years, and then I get a call from Bev Laws in Houston, would I come down be their Director of Financial Development. This was a time when there weren’t that many full-time development staff. In fact, there are probably only 12 in the nation. It was during that watch in Houston that I got to know Paul Netzel, Steve Burns, Dick Stoll, the greats that were in fundraising at the time. There weren’t that many of us. There were 12 that gathered regularly that became what is today called NAYDO. When you now have over a thousand guys and gals coming that have full-time jobs and fundraising for the Y.

From Houston, I went out to Los Angeles, executive of the Hollywood Y. When I finished my assignment in Hollywood after eight years, I thought there just couldn’t possibly be a more complicated, challenging assignment and went back to Houston second time working for Bev Laws. Bill Phillips reminded me that there are only two guys in history that ever went back to work with Bev Laws a second time, and he said, “You and me.” So it was a terrific experience to usher in Bill Phillips after Bev and then decided to take the great leap and become a CEO.

Indianapolis asked me to come and be their CEO, and it was a great 11 years in Indianapolis. I’d like to talk about that more in this interview about what I’m most proud of during that time. Then I get a call one late Friday evening from Dr. Ken Gladish, national CEO, would I go to Jerusalem. I said, “I’d love to go to Jerusalem.” He says, “No, I don’t want you to go. I want you to go and stay,” to be the new director general following Glen Wilson. So I ended my career in Jerusalem and retired from Jerusalem. So I like to say that I started my Y career in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the end cap was Jerusalem in Israel.

Mr. Lineweaver


That’s great, it’s wonderful. So you’ve been very active at the local, the national, the international level. What are any insights you have and you can share on the dynamics between those levels, the interplay between the local Y, a national experience, and international experience?

Ryan Bean

Well, early on in the ‘60s, our communications was by mail. It would take six weeks often. The earliest response you would get would be about six weeks, unless you sent a telegram. Well, telegram, you had to be very, very brief. But really, in terms of any engaging conversation, it would take six weeks to complete the circle of inquiry, questions, and so forth and so on. So, a lot of written reports were shared, but often times you’re reading about a discussion that took place two months ago, whereas today I just completed a global telephone conference call with leaders around the world who are retired, the World Fellowship of YMCA Retirees. We had our global conference call, get everybody online, and we follow up with email, instant feedback and communication and evaluation of our discussion. So, for those who wished to be engaged in that there’s just a far greater opportunity today with the application of new technology to have that connection. I think the difference today though is one attitude.

What is your mindset and attitude about your desire to be connected beyond your, wherever home is? I think for me, personally, the YMCA was the institution even more than the church, who got me to imagine something that there’s a kid my age living in Africa, there’s a kid my age living in Japan, and we’re all going to the Y. I thought that was kind of cool. We all go to school, we all go to a place of worship, but we were involved in a worldwide organization. We were members of the Y and that for me as a kid growing up was really special. It might’ve been because I was a Marine Corps brat that happened to live overseas.

That might have set my intuitive mind to be interested and open to that. But even in this world of nanosecond communications with people overseas, nanosecond awareness of what the headlines are in all parts of the world, one has to have a mindset, an attitude that I want to be a global citizen. If that’s what you want to be, the YMCA is the perfect medium to have an informal relationship with people who share the same feeling for international understanding and world peace.

 

Mr. Lineweaver


That’s very great. Thank you. So kind of pulling on some of those themes a little bit more, what does the YMCA mean to you?

Ryan Bean

That’s a good question, and it’s a very simple question. But the answer is complex because we’re not just young. We’re no longer just men. A long time ago, we were. There are women than girls involved in the Y than men and boys. Here’s a sensitive one. We’re not Christian. We are open to all faiths. I would always say that we are a community-based organization responsive to greater human need with a Christian purpose. In order to be open to people of all faith, we do not apologize for our Christian mission and purpose, but that doesn’t require us to be Christian. It’s a 21st century discussion, and I know this is a very sensitive topic. But I arrived as the director general in Jerusalem who had a mission statement that had no faith-based clause in it because they couldn’t agree, because the only model they had was to put Christian principles into practice.  

Christians in Israel are less than 2 percent minority on both sides of the fence, and so how do we create then a discussion, a faith-based discussion and empower that? So, when we revisited the mission statement, I offered a phrase “To put principles of faith into practice.” So when I was challenged by members of the board, “What do you mean by principles of faith?” I said, “If you’re asking me, you’re asking me as a Christian.” For me, a principle of faith is to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. So we leave it to the believer to answer that question. I will not answer that for you.


Mr. Lineweaver


That’s pretty good. What is something that all new YMCA employees should know?

Ryan Bean

Oh my gosh! Everybody I guess on the corporate staff, hour or two on the staff orientation, and each one has their answer. Then it’s up to that young employee to work through all that complexity and say, “Oh my gosh, what have I joined?” There’s just so much to the organization. It’s a complex enterprise. I would try to work with our staff to say, “Look,” I would ask that same question, “What’s the most important thing for them to know?” Sometimes the answer is to ask the young staff person, “How did you connect with the Y? What was your first connection?” “Well, I learned how to swim at the Y.” “Well let’s talk about that. What was it about learning how to swim that connected you with the Y? Was it learning how to swim or was there something else going on there?” When we ferreted out, we talk about the first time we overcame fear.

People, when you learn how to swim, often times it’s overcoming fear of going in the water. But what was it that the swim instructor did for you to help you overcome that fear? So that’s what we talk about is how do we take a moment of truth in the life of a young person and make a difference. It’s not just learning how to swim; it’s learning how to overcome fear. Because we may not be swimmers for the rest of our life. You can use that as a paradigm and say, “If I get up and make a speech in front of 500 people for the first time and learn to overcome the fear of butterflies in my stomach, what’s my first reference?” and when I remembered overcoming fear, and so what I want to, when a young staff person or someone asks me what do we want young staff to know about the Y, it’s going beyond the obvious.

We don’t teach kids how to sail a small sailboat. That’s this stage. We teach them to tiller, we teach them about how to steer and get the main sail and the jib aligned with the wind and so forth. But how do we use that as a teachable moment? I get tears in my eyes when I think about this. That kid got his hand on the tiller for the first time in his life, and all he has is the vibration of the hand on that tiller is the power of God hitting that main sail. That’s a teachable moment. This is what we wanted to bring young people in to, young staff in to.

We put too much technology out there. We put too much policy and you got to know this about our personnel policy and this is how we sign you up on the payroll and all this stuff. Those are necessities. But let’s get that out of the way as quickly as we can because we got to get to why are we here. That’s what turns young staff on is to get to that why are we here. What is it about the way in which we teach swimming that’s intuitive for us to understand what we’re really doing to make a difference in the kid’s life?

Mr. Lineweaver


So on the other end of that org chart is what is something you believe YMCA leaders should be aware of?

Ryan Bean

On the work chart?

Mr. Lineweaver


We had just done been talking about what staff should know, what is something that a YMCA leader should know?

Ryan Bean

Mr. Lineweaver

Yeah.


So what is something that a YMCA leader should know?

Ryan Bean

Well, it’s interesting. You put a work chart, and I never believed in putting out a work chart, Norris Lineweaver is the CEO of the Indianapolis YMCA or the Jerusalem Y or a branch whatever. I never issued an organization chart because it’s a false chart in terms of the culture of the Y. I’ve never known anybody whose name is at the bottom of an organization chart feel empowered.

That’s not what we’re about. If I send a camp counselor out with a group of 12 kids on a canoe trip in the wilderness of Canada, he is a CEO of that group because I’m not there with him. I can’t tell that camp counselor all the conditions that they’re going to face for 10 days. That staff person has to feel empowered. Now, they have to be trained, they have to be certified and all that good stuff, and have the experience and the good judgment to make decisions to keep those kids safe and have good time and bring them back home safely. But that counselor is the CEO of that wilderness trip. He can’t even call me. He’s in a place where he can’t be connected. I feel as much about the counselor is leading that canoe trip, as the day camp counselor is right under my same roof. I want them to know, and what leaders need to know, is how do we empower staff to make good decisions.

Mr. Lineweaver


That’s good. So going back to some of the earlier pieces you talked about, you were in Indianapolis for 11 years?

Ryan Bean

Mr. Lineweaver

Yes.


Could you tell a little bit more about the experience? You called it the great leap into…

Ryan Bean

Well, I was branch exec and program director and was associate vice president on corporate staffs. All great experiences, terrific. But when you reach, I mean you’re about 30 years into the association work, and when do you decide that it’s time to be, if you will, the fleet commander where you are creating a vision and leading staffing of the board and an entire staff team and executing a strategic plan based on a vision? I was a good staff support guy. I was loyal. I marched to the tune of whatever those signals were. I grew up in the military. I was good at that. But there comes a time when you decide do I continue doing that for the rest of my career, or do I take the great leap and just say, “I want all the pain as well as the opportunity to be the guy who is the last to speak, and whose name is in the lower right-hand corner of everybody’s paycheck, and who’s totally responsible for what goes on in the life of the organization?” So I decided to make that leap and I wouldn’t have selected Indianapolis at the top my list, because it had a bad reputation. I found out after checking my homework that I had very dated information. I was misled. When I got there I just saw nothing but opportunity. It was just a terrific experience.

There was strong board leadership. We actually had a staff team that was very talented. They weren’t just empowered. We worked on the culture, changing the culture. Part of that was, let’s authorize the branch execs to have fax machines. Let’s start right there, instead of having them come down to the corporate office bringing in all the paperwork. That’s crazy and so it was just all the above in terms of transforming the life of the organization, so it could grow and serve more people and get more people the opportunity to experience the Y. The proudest thing the YMCA built a new building and so forth, and that’s what you do when you grow the Y.

The thing I’m most proud of is we were wrestling with what is the future, what is the future for YMCA Health and Physical Education? Are we just going to continue building these large, big box fitness centers and cram a lot of the equipment in there and state-of-the-art this, that, the other? What are we doing to change the lives of people? What are we doing to change the needle of public health in the right direction? Do you see all these kids who can barely waddle in to the classroom at schools and after school? What is it that we haven’t been doing that we’ve had the largest increase of obesity among youth, an epidemic of diabetes, which by the way is a lifestyle disease? It’s about making healthy choices about what you eat and finding more time in your life to exercise. After all, the origin of human species, we were designed to be upright and gatherers and hunters. How often are we upright? We’re certainly not gatherers and hunters.

The human body was not designed for 21st century activity, so we’re suffering the consequences. Staff was struggling with this. We were working with one of the healthy pioneering YMCAs and meeting with people from Harvard and Centers on Disease Control and read it for three years, and finally, staff came into my office said, “We are demoralized. We’ve been working on this for three years, been struggling with these questions that we need to be different than what we are, but there’s nothing tangible yet about what we’re supposed to be doing.” They were almost in tears.

Mr. Lineweaver


Because their efforts weren’t making impact or they didn’t even know what efforts they should make?

Ryan Bean

What is this new role?

Mr. Lineweaver


Sure.

Ryan Bean

What is it that we need to be doing differently to respond to people who join and quit before six months and don’t come back? How do we show up for them in a way that they decide, “This is not my world. They don’t answer to my needs?"

My mother was very particular about things like sugar, aspirin. She was a farm girl, and she grew up on natural food. So she was very careful about how much sugar we had in our diets. Somebody would always ask my mom, because we were surrounded by soda pop and all this stuff, “What’s the deal?” and she would talk to us about diabetes. This was back in the ‘50s. She lost a sister to diabetes. Diabetes to me, it was worse than communism as a word. I thought it was just a horrible. It sounds horrible, and so people didn’t talk about it. If you had diabetes, you didn’t talk about it. You didn’t say that to anybody. So I told my staff I said, “How many members do you think are showing up that quit before six months?” More than likely had a conversation with a doctor that if you don’t change your life, make better choices about what you eat and put more exercise into your lifestyle, how many of them do you think have just been diagnosed with diabetes and if they don’t do these things they begin a life sentence of death? Staff said, “We don’t know.” I said, “That’s a problem. We don’t know. But I bet you that we have a lot people walking into our doors who have been diagnosed with diabetes and know that they have to do something different and we don’t show up for them. So what if we look into that? Let’s take something specific, tangible, and look into it.”

Now, by that time, it was 2002, and there was a national, I didn’t know this at the time but Tommy Thompson was then the Secretary of Health and Health Services, and he was the first cabinet member in the White House to raise the question about pre-diabetes that we could diagnose it and we could help people do something about the early markers and prevent diabetes. Not knowing that discussion took place, I asked our nominating committee, we need somebody on our board, a practicing physician who thinks about this kind of stuff to help us figure how do we move the needle of public health in a positive direction. My board, they were asking me, “What do you think?” I said, “You know what? I don’t know.” I need to say I don’t know. I know I’m the CEO, I’m supposed to have the answers, but on this one, I’m going to say I don’t know. We need somebody knowledgeable who’s thinking about this to help us move in that direction.

So we went out and recruited Dr. Bob McDonald, who was the medical director for Anthem, which is the umbrella for Blue Cross Blue Shield. His job is, how to save the insurance company money. He and I would have breakfast meetings, and this guy, it turned out he grew up in the Y. He’s got more trophies. He still has them. He’s so proud of them. But he was tough on me. He was grilling me for six meetings, and I thought, “I don’t know if I can push this rock over the mountain.” He finally after about the sixth meeting, he said, “Well, I haven’t told you this, but I happen to be the research associate at IU Medical. It’s the medical research arm of IU Medical right there in Indianapolis. You mentioned that you had a hunch that of all the epidemics taking place now in our nation that diabetes is something that you think we can do something about, and you’ve answered it correctly so far. You don’t know, but that’s your hunch. And why?” When you go to all the popular books at that time in Borders, I’d go through the health fitness area and I’d look at all the books on diabetes and I’d read through them, collected them, and every one of them said that the treatment for diabetes is self-managed. Part of it is medical, but 95 percent of it is self-managed. Guess what it is? Making healthier choices of what we eat and more time in exercise. I thought to myself, “If there’s anybody out there who can help people learn to how swim again,” in other words how to live, how to go in to a grocery store and make healthy choices and how to get their exercise taken care of, and at the same time, we were doing studies with Dr. James Anessi who used to be a sports medicine guru.

He would work with coaches about how to take their athletes to the next level of performance, and he just got tired of doing that. He noticed going to commercial fitness centers that there were people coming in who did not look like athletes at all but were there for a reason, and then they would leave and never come back. He said, “That’s what I need to look at.” He developed studies around social inhibition to exercise and that spoke to me and spoke to my staff. They said, “Maybe this is the DNA. That 40 percent who leave and never come back, the social inhibition to exercise.”

Something traumatic happened in their life as a kid at a PE class or whatever that turned them against exercise. It’s like having a bad experience with spinach and never have spinach again in your life, although it’s one of the almost healthy foods you can have. So, this is where we began to talk with staff. We did a study, and it tested the medical efficacy.

The research was to test the medical efficacy of a community-based diabetes prevention program through the YMCA based on the YMCA program model, and that discussion started in 2002. We did the collaborative studies with IU Medical through our practice, and it was not published until 2008 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It was at that point that YMCA of the USA finally began to pay attention and we did a replication study with our neighboring YMCA Kentucky and Louisville. It tested the same significant results in terms of reducing the markers for the risk of advancing diabetes among those diagnosed with pre-diabetes. It demonstrated again using the same methodology adapted to the YMCA’s program, which basically says, “We’re not going to use clinical psychologists and we’re not going to use master’s degree social workers,” I said, “If you want to look at IU Medical, if you want to look at taking this to scale that’s affordable, it has to be affordable.”

This was a discussion about affordable health care before Obama, by the way. We have to look at then the culture of paraprofessionals that we use in the Y. They’re under the supervision and have been certified for a specific protocol, but it’s delivered by paraprofessionals. IU Medical said that’s possible, but we need to check the medical efficacy of that. That’s what we tested. It was a medical research study custom to the business model of the YMCA, and it turned out to be we weren’t looking at this thing a landmark study but it’s now considered in the world of public health a landmark study in terms of what they call a deploy study, deployed through a community-based organization.

For the first time now, we have language in public health, and in third-party reimbursement of the health insurance and doctors saying there’s a role to play for community accountable care. And the YMCA is a pioneer in that. We’re changing the language of health and physical education in the YMCA. We have a physician, full time, on the staff of YMCA of the USA. The healthy living strategies team speaks a different language that we’ve never heard before from YMCA of the USA, and it’s going to scale. We have now over a hundred YMCAs across the country offering diabetes prevention. It’s going to save the country billions of dollars, and it’s going to save millions of lives. That’s what I’m most proud of.

Mr. Lineweaver


That’s pretty impressive. I can see why. A little bit of more time left, and one of the things I’d like to hear more about is your experiences in Jerusalem. One thing that struck me is this negotiating the mission statement. And so, maybe start off just exploring the role that the Jerusalem YMCA plays in that community towards peace.

Ryan Bean

 

 

Well, the Christian population in the Middle East and in particular Jerusalem, Palestine, it was Palestine, by the way, before Israel. Israel’s a country that’s in contemporary times. Well, now 65 years old. That’s a very young country, although they claim biblical history going back 2,000, 5,000 years. We have to honor and respect that. When the Jerusalem Y building was built, conceived, there was already a recognized reality for the Y and the role it would play. It was built into the architecture of the Y.

This was all decided back in the 1920s in working with the architect Arthur Harmon, who was an architect from New York City. He was absolutely thrilled to be a part of this project. The culture of the YMCA began to take on this appreciation for interfaith relationship, interfaith dialogue. And I just don’t know of a YMCA anywhere else in the world that has an architectural stone sculptured religious symbols of the three great faiths in one building. It’s truly a sermon in stone.

Some people grow up in Sunday 11 o’clock service in a Protestant or Catholic tradition, really are thrilled and inspired by this presence of Christian hospitality acknowledging that there are two other monotheistic faiths and honor their traditions in the sculpture of the building itself. It’s part of the culture of the YMCA. Well, it’s easy to hire stonemasons to sculpt those religious symbols into a building to have lasting, enduring presence. It’s another thing to create a dialogue, a consistent dialogue in creating a culture of peace and understanding, interfaith understanding as well. There’s just a lot of background noise. It’s very difficult for the Y to compete with. It’s not just the local newspaper. There are newspapers that claim to be newspapers that are electronic blogs, and they put stuff in there that is based on a particular event. But then they conjure up their own narrative about what that event means.

We had an attack on a YMCA in Qalqilya, which is a Palestinian village that is right at the scene of the wall between the occupied territories in Israel. When Qalqilya existed, where there’s open exchange between Israeli and Palestinian farmers, there was peace. But as soon as the wall went up, it isolated the Palestinians from the Israelis, and over time, in the absence of dialogue, created conflict. And so there was a YMCA in Qalqilya and there was a rogue mosque.

When I say rogue mosque, they were not really mainstream Islamic theology. I wouldn’t say they were ISIS or Al Qaeda, but they were pretty darn close. They were very violent in their impressions that if you’re not Muslim then you’re an infidel. Even though 60 percent of the personnel of the Palestinian YMCA are Muslim in the corporate structure, on the board, and local leadership reflects the population that they’re serving.

The word “Christian” shows up in our corporate name, and so this rogue mosque decided that the YMCA was promoting the religion of infidels in the village. We didn’t need them so they attacked and set fire to the Y and so forth, and then it became worldwide news in the fundamentalist Christian media. I had good relations with the Palestinian Y. We met quite often. Our role was to find out what happened, what was the root cause of it. It’s interesting that Hamas, at that time, had leadership both in the occupied territories around Ramallah but also in Gaza. Now they’re pretty much isolated in Gaza. But that time they had leadership in Gaza and also in Palestine. Gaza is still Palestine, but when I say Palestine, the Jordan side, and Hamas came out and said, “Why are you attacking the YMCA? They are our friends.” Now, what was going on in the United States at that time, Congress is saying they weren’t going to be providing any funds to the organization that has any relationship with Hamas because an extremist group of Hamas came out and said, “Israel should not exist. They should be destroyed and wiped off the face of the earth.” Not all of Hamas felt that way. In terms of myself being on the ground, yeah, we had a person who was of the Hamas party on the board of the Jerusalem National YMCA. He resigned voluntarily because he did not want to in any way harm the YMCA. We had a lot of friends,—Why? Because we had this culture that invites people of all faith. Not just invite, we create programs that bring together children of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish tradition.

The Peace Kindergarten has 33 faith events, parents bringing in food and celebrating 33 religious holidays. Plus, there are 140 kids in having 140 birthdays. So count it up. Half the year we’re having a beautiful, fun time, and kids learn how to speak Arabic, Jewish kids are learning how to speak Arabic. The Arabs are learning how to speak Hebrew, and then the other language is English. Then you had international expatriates who were learning to speak Hebrew and Arabic. What are they learning it from? They’re learning it from the songs, folk songs that children sing and their favorite folk tales. The folk tales talk about character, heroes and heroines, and values in terms of getting to know each other. It’s creating a culture of peace from the very beginning, and it’s the culture of the Y. It’s not like we just woke up one day and said, “Let’s do this.” It was inculcated in the culture of that YMCA from the very beginning.

And my job was to go there and be a part of that and enhance it, but I couldn’t help but make the observation that somehow, when the mission statement was rewritten, it avoided any faith-based clause. It’s because they just didn’t have the language. So, we revisited that. We had on our board the secretariat of Baha’i, Baha’i International. Baha’i as a religion reflects on the best of all worlds. They adopt the prophets of Muslim and Christian and Jewish, the great prophets, and they borrow from the best. I asked if he would chair the mission statement committee task force, and we had Muslims, Christians, and Jews on that task force. I must say that the Christians on the task force probably had the greatest difficulty. It’s almost as if it’s better not to have any faith-based clause unless we declare that we’re here because we’re Christian.

That’s where I first learned, when I do these workshops in my retirement with the staff, they invite me to come and I do it pro bono. Is the YMCA a Christian organization? Let me ask the question first. Is the United States of America a Christian nation? And of course some hands go up. Yes, we are a Christian nation. I said, “Where in the Constitution of the United States of America does it say we’re a Christian nation?” How about it if we’re a nation under God that we are a nation that invites people of all faith and that we happen to have a strong presence of Christians? We happen to have a heritage that is Christian, but are we really a Christian nation? Then I ask, “Is the YMCA really a Christian organization?”

Now, we’re not talking about is that a good thing or a bad thing, but what does the 21st century require of us as an institution who knows how to practice Christian hospitality and prepare a place at the table, if you will, of men and women of faith? That’s the question I think the Y is grappling with. But to say it’s better not to say anything at all in a faith-based and avoid it altogether and have mission statements that don’t reflect any faith-based clause, I think that is abdicating our responsibility.

Mr. Lineweaver


That’s a really great story. Final question for you is, is there anything that I have not asked you about today that you’d like to share.

Ryan Bean

Well, I would say to whoever is listening, the Y that I experienced as a kid doesn’t exist anymore, and the Y that they’re experiencing now 25 years from today will not exist anymore. That’s the genius and the beauty of the Y is changing because it’s listening. Some Ys listen better than others. Some Ys are listening, and some Ys are even better at transforming their program because they listen to what they heard. And there are early adopters. There are Ys that are leading the pack, and if you’re in a YMCA that you don’t feel is responsive to greater human need and I’ve been in those Ys, be patient. Open yourself up to opportunities, but don’t make any geographic restrictions. The Y is a global network. It’s a national network, and there are unbelievable opportunities. Just don’t restrict yourself geographically. There is opportunities out there to make a difference, and I can’t think of a better organization to do that than the YMCA.

Mr. Lineweaver


That’s terrific. Well, thank you for sharing your time, and thank you for sharing your story. 

Ryan Bean