March 24, 2017
Today is Thursday, March 24, and the time is 2:30 pm. This is Adam Shilling from YMCA of the USA, interviewing Rig Riggins. Rig, thank you for agreeing to share your life story with me today.
So, can we begin just, you know, maybe share some thoughts about your career with me?
Yeah, I’d be happy, and I really appreciate the opportunity to do this. I have been giving it a lot of thought and there are a lot of memories that come on when I think about it, but this is actually my 48th year as a Y professional, and when you count the time I’ve worked part-time with the Y, I’ve been with the Y for 53 years in all, and when I look back on it it’s kind of scary, but it’s been six decades of time, and when you put it that way I notice that I’ve worked for approximately one-third of the US YMCA history.
So, I do have a little bit of track record in terms of time, and during that time I have worked at seven different YMCAs, so I’m going to talk about each one if that’s okay, and then I’ve also worked under seven different national YMCA CEOs, and since there has only been 14, that’s half of those, too, so it’s kind of fun when I think back on that. My first Y CEO was James Bunting, and most people today wouldn’t know that name, but I still remember it and still remember the others that I’ve worked under.
I think through that whole time I’ve really had the opportunity to work with some great staff and some great volunteers, and it’s one of the real pleasures of working for the Y is having that opportunity, but I’ve also seen a lot of logo changes, I’ve seen a lot of title changes. When I started at the Y, the title for the CEO was called General Secretary, and now it’s called President CEO, but throughout it all I’ve always seen a consistent ability to be part of putting my mission into action, and the Y’s mission impacting lives, changing lives, and even saving lives is really, really critical, and that’s the constant thread that goes through in my entire career.
I started my exposure to the Y in a literal way when my parents took me to the YMCA in Kansas City, Kansas back in 1956. I learned to swim, and I went through all the levels of swimming and all of the progressive program. I actually became a lifeguard for the Y a little later, and that was at a time where it seems kind of weird now, but that was at a time where all the little boys in the Y swam in the nude because the Y was just for boys, boys and men; it wasn’t for girls.
I made note that I remember the aquatic director’s name back then. His name was Ed Bead, and I make note of that because all through my career I can remember thinking of people that really influenced my life and in many cases that was a Y director. Now, I may not remember who won best picture or who won the Nobel Prize, but I’ll always remember the Y director, and that shows you really the powerful impact that they can have on a kid’s life.
Could I ask just about that? Swimming in the nude; what was that like? Was that awkward at all as a kid, or was it just like—was it the norm back then? How did you feel about that?
Yeah, it was awkward, yes, but it was also the norm. I mean even in my high school we swam in the nude in PE classes, so that was a norm back then. It seems weird now. I think at the time they said something about the strings from swim suits would clog up the drain. It was some feeble reason why it didn’t happen, but yeah, I thought it was kind of strange and still do to some degree, but it was the norm.
After I finished all my swimming lessons and stuff like that, a good friend of mine named Rod Farmer, became a mentor to me. He was the Physical Director of that Y, and he asked me to be a Junior Leader, and that was probably the life-changing moment of my life. A kid that’s age 12 and someone’s asking him to be a Junior Leader, and it really, really changed my life. He was a great mentor. He really worked with a whole group of kids. I think there were about 20 of us, and he really, really taught us how to assist in the classes and really be a leader. It was really, really great, and our group got to be very close.
As it turns out, later in life, people went on to be doctors, businessmen. In fact one of my best friends is Chairman of the Board of American Century Investments in Kansas City, and also Chairman of the Board of the STAR Medical Research Institute for Cancer, so I mean there are some quality, quality kids in this program, and Rod just recently developed Parkinson’s, he lives in Nebraska and so my friend and I decided we’d go back and see him this past summer.
My friend has access to private jets, so we took one of his private jets and flew over to Nebraska and saw him, and that was a great moment to relive all of our memories and what it meant to us, and to be able to tell him before he passed away a few months later what he meant in our lives.
So, being a Junior Leader was a high point of my youth. I went on to be in Hi-Y in school. I was the head of my Hi-Y Club in my local high school, and it was a really large club, and I remember as a kid seeing the General Secretary, back then again the CEO, he was in the coffee shop every day and just chatting with people. I actually thought he was pretty lazy, you know, why aren’t you doing your job, and only later in life did I realize that building relationships is a key part of what a CEO does, and he was definitely doing that in his own way at that time.
I later became a part-time lifeguard, was actually at age 18 named Aquatic Director for the Kansas City, Kansas Y while I attended the local community college there, so I really got involved early, but I never thought I was going to make it a career. That Y had a residence, my first exposure to Y having a residence. It was an older Y.
It had a billiard room. It was also during my tenure as Aquatic Director that we made the transition to swimsuits from going swimming in the nude, and that was an interesting challenge because most of the men resisted that because they had done this for years and years and years, but as a precursor to having women in the Y it happened, and I helped make it happen.
I just, in a moment of consciousness, remember the theme that was on all their letterhead back then, and it was “Building boys is better than mending men,” and I thought that was pretty cool, actually, and loved that.
From Kansas City, I decided—my high school counselor and my counselor at the community college knew I was really good at math and really enjoyed math, and they told me that I really ought to consider becoming an actuary. I didn’t know what an actuary was, but it’s mathematics and insurance basically, but I took their advice. They said that, “Not only will you be good at it, but you’ll make a lot of money.” Well, okay, well that was a good combination for me, and there was only two schools in the Midwest where I lived that had actuarial science schools and one was in Des Moines, Iowa, Drake University, and the other was Denver University.
Well, I decided to go to Drake for multiple reasons. First of all, my mentor, Rod Farmer, moved from the Kansas City, Kansas Y to the Des Moines Y as Physical Director. Secondly, it was only a four-hour drive from Kansas City, whereas Denver would have been more like an eight to ten-hour drive and it would allow me to come home, and then thirdly, they had 27 national headquarters of insurance companies there, so my logic figured, “If I’m going to be in the insurance business, why wouldn’t I work in Des Moines where I would have access to that, maybe some internship?”
So, I actually went to school at Drake and while I was at school I worked—they said part-time, but I remember it being more like full-time hours while I was doing my work, so I didn’t have much time between working and school to get in a lot of trouble, then. This was my first full-fledged professional assignment, because once I finished college I was offered a job, and I took it because I love the Y. I went through all my school training, after a semester and a half of taking courses in calculus I decided that I didn’t want to be an actuary, but I loved the school and I got a business administration degree, which actually has served me very well, so as I started my professional career I was impressed by the leadership that was there.
There was a guy named Sam Edgar that was the CEO of the Y there and went on to be the CEO of the St. Louis Y, Rod was there. A whole list of people, just quality people around, so it was a great opportunity.
They had a magnificent facility. It was about 200,000 square feet. It sits there on my wall, at the top of the wall is where I started my career at that Y, and they just imploded that building about a month ago, so it no longer exists as we know it, but it was a great building and a lot of great memories. I jokingly think that I began my career looking at a river, which that Y did, and I’m going to end my career looking on a river, which I’m doing right now out of my office.
Two hundred thousand square feet; that’s a really large facility. What were some of the things within that facility at the time when you started?
Well, it had a big physical education facility. It had two gyms, it had eight racquetball and handball courts, it had a nice pool, it had a lot of workout spaces, so it was large, but the biggest thing that took the space, I think, was it had 198 resident rooms, and it was like a college dorm, but that really took the space. It was eight stories high, but both the PE facility and the residence facility were really large, and like I said it was a great building.
I started my career as the Assistant Physical Director. I taught kids’ classes. We had a large Physical Education Department. Back then I think there were five Physical Directors; I was low man on the totem pole, but basically over time that I was in Des Moines, which was for like 11 years or so, I worked my way through the ranks and ended my time in Des Moines after serving a few years as being Executive Director of that branch.
Having a residence as a part of my job assignment really taught me a lot of things, and one of the things practically it taught me is when I’m knocking on the door to collect the rent I do it from the side so I don’t get shot through the door, and things like that, the little life skills that you don’t think of when you start out to be a Y Director.
So, did that happen? Like were there shootings in the Y?
Well, there weren’t there, but there was the threat of it, and so that was kind of a precaution, but at the same time we did catch one of the FBI’s top ten fugitives, who was staying at the Y, and the FBI got me involved and we staged it in such a way that he could be captured in the game room at a time that we wouldn’t have other people exposed, and that was an interesting process, and then one day I was looking out my window doing some thinking and this body came flying down in front of me in the window, and it was one of our residents attempting to commit suicide. The resident landed in a bunch of bushes, got up and walked away, but the point is it was very, very different.
So, working for the Y—you know, when you go in every day at work you don’t always know what you’re going to get. Volunteers were impressive; anyone who was anyone belonged to the Y. Just to give you a few examples, I had the head of the US Olympic Committee was one of my volunteers, I had an NFL official, I had some top athletes, I had a Fortune 500 CEO, I had a whole host of multi-millionaires that were on my board, the governor was involved, the lieutenant governor, famous football coaches, and on and on, including a general in the army.
At that time the draft numbers were just starting to come out, and drafting for Viet Nam was kind of a big threat, and so I decided to enlist, proactively enlist, in the Iowa National Guard, and the general was able to help me get in that, and then I went on to become an officer. I commanded a tank company and then ultimately at the end of my six years I was his aide.
He was the top general in the state of Iowa, so that was an interesting experience, but Iowa as you know, even now, is kind of the first stop for all the presidential candidates, and I remember sitting in my office and former President George H. W. Bush, 41, Bush 41, came in my office and he had just been jogging on the track, and he came down just to sit and just talk, and just thanked me for letting him use the track, and we probably talked for 20, 25 minutes just about things in general, how he had his son, George, involved in the Y Indian Guide program in Midland Texas, and we started talking about all kinds of things, so being a Y director, in the Executive Director role, it just gives you an opportunity for experiences that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
The Y was big on athletics. The biggest sports there were handball and volleyball. The gym was designed so it was multiple stories high for volleyball because there was a big volleyball component to it. We had the official that always officiated the finals of the Olympics on our staff there, and then we had an Olympic player that also played volleyball there, so I got to play a lot of volleyball with really a lot of competent people. We traveled competitively throughout the country and even Hawaii for some tournaments.
Also handball. The manufacturer of Champion handball gloves was located in Des Moines, and so they had a large presence. We would have the top players in the country come and play in our annual tournament, and I got consumed with the game and at a young age and became pretty good at it, and for five years I was the state champion in handball in the state of Iowa for five years in a row, and so I played a lot of competitive handball there. It was a lot of fun.
We had about 300 active handball players, which formed a club called the Hinder Club, and I have to tell you, when you match that up with knowing that women were just starting to come into the Y—in fact, we had to, we didn’t have any women’s locker rooms because the Y wasn’t built with women in mind in the 60s. It was built—after that that women started participating at the Y, but we started getting a pretty good level of participation, so it was pretty much a given that we were going to have to do something with the locker rooms, so like many Ys of that age we took over some of the youth locker rooms and reconverted them to women’s locker rooms, and really made it nice, and our women’s membership just jumped through the roof.
This was true in Des Moines, but I think it was also true nationally, that with the growth of female participation in the Y, that also signaled the start of racquetball, because handball wasn’t something that was easy to learn. It was a tough sport, but there was a clash between handball players and racquetball players.
The handball players didn’t like it because they were taking court times, the racquetball players didn’t like it because they wanted to get involved and do something for exercise, so I was wearing that fine line between being a hard core handball player, but also being a staff person that had to make sure that everyone got a chance to participate, and there were times where it caused me to need to play racquetball with some of our members, but I do remember coming up the stairs to the courts with the racquet stuffed under my shirt in case any of the handball players saw me walking by they wouldn’t necessarily see the racquet, so that was kind of fun.
Another big program we had, which seems kind of simple, but in Des Moines it had pretty harsh winters, and so we had an indoor running track that surrounded the gym, but we ended up with about 600 active runners, and the reason they stayed active is because we developed this little chart that we actually marked off miles of people that ran so when they finished their miles they’d turn in a little slip of paper, one of our support staff would go out and real neatly mark it on the board, and this thing just took off like gangbusters, so I had this one whole wall that was just charts, running charts, of people talking about how they’re progressing in their running.
In fact, one of our members saw it as an entrepreneurial opportunity and actually developed that product and sold it to YMCAs all over the country. He gave them to us because he stole the idea from us.
What was that called?
It was just a jogging chart. It was just a chart that recorded miles, but this became such a big deal that we always had big luncheons, big recognitions for how many miles people ran and we always brought in big name speakers. I think our inaugural speaker was Dr. Ken Cooper, who was very famous at that time for a book and the work on aerobics, so that was fun.
I remember that we had a large number of participants in our class and when I was in the Physical Department I always would teach some of the classes along with the other Physical Directors, and it wouldn’t be uncommon that we’d have 100, 100 plus, 120 in the class. We had to take over the whole gym, and they were pretty tough workouts, but then we could also see the running track above, and one day there was a guy that went down on the running track and was having some heart issues, and so I ran upstairs, started doing CPR on him. The good news is he was revived, and it worked out well. As I completed that process there was a doctor up on the track that was running, and he congratulated me on how I did the CPR and all of that.
The next day—this was on a Friday—on that Saturday I’m attending a football game at Iowa State University, a Big Eight game, and sitting next to me this guy keels over, I have to do CPR on this guy, two days in a row now, and finally the support staff, the medical staff at the football stadium gets up there, and I turn around when I’m done and I look up and it’s that same doctor standing there again, and of course my question to him was, “Where are you going to be tomorrow, because I’m not going to be there.”
That’s amazing. That’s like saving two lives.
Oh, I know, I know, but of course CPR was a skill you learned as a Y staff person. Just don’t ever expect to use it and especially two days in a row.
Scuba was a big program. We probably had one of the biggest programs in the country on that. Early on we had a cardiac rehab program that was kind of second to none. We had some fun things we did at Thanksgiving time where we did turkey tournaments. Every sport we had in the Y, whether it be badminton, whether it be swimming, whatever it is, we had a way you could compete and get turkeys, so as a low level Physical Director I’d be out going to stores and buying turkeys and organizing these events, but the funny thing when I was remembering it was trying to collect the dollar to two dollar entry fees we had on these things from these people that were very wealthy, and I’m over here trying to collect this dollar, two dollars. It taught me about the need for collections, but it was kind of a fun memory on that.
Can I ask you something here? I’ve noticed a theme of, you know, you mentioning competitiveness within the Y, whether it be with handball or racquetball, these turkey tournaments as you were talking about with the other things you were doing, traveling around, volleyball. What is that spark with some of those competitive programs that really seems to tick with members and why that is?
Yeah, you know this was true, more so back in this day, but it just became a way for people to find their excellence, I think really, and you could support each other, you could get better, it was a team thing, I mean it was all the right things. I just think it became something that became really important and you could derive excellence from it and obviously recognition I would think.
We had a very strong Physical Director Society in the state. They were some of the best Y professionals ever and very strong. I was named Rookie of the Year one year. I also was named Fitness Commissioner for the Mid-America Region, and worked with a lot of great fitness folks in the Midwest.
The other thing I did—today we call it career development and principles and practices and things like that. Back in my day it was called APPD, and back when I went through this there was—black-white issues were big. There was a lot of distrust from blacks and whites, so in our session, different than they do today, but they had a sensitivity training session, and they would do marathon sessions. They would keep you up all night long to wear down your defenses so you’d be, I guess, be more honest, and I never will forget another Y director from Minneapolis, a black guy, pulls out a gun and lays it on the table, and he says, “Now let’s have some serious discussion,” and it just showed you the depth and the pain that was going on at that time with the black-white issues.
I cannot see even having a gun in a Y facility, let alone brandishing it at a meeting like that nowadays.
Well, this wasn’t a Y facility, but it was in Lake Geneva but it was a conference facility, but yeah, and the sensitivity training I think that was discontinued by the Y. There were a couple other things I went through that were discontinued, and right now it’s a lot more professional, but back then it was almost like the Wild West, I mean, it was a little different.
But I do remember that our Y in Des Moines really attempted to do some good work in the inner city and started what’s called a Soul Village, and I can certainly understand when I’m the only white guy in a room of about 300 people, I can see how that feels on the other side, so it was really an eye-opening experience for me.
Then I completed my time in Des Moines, I get offered a job from the Los Angeles Y to run the Hollywood branch. Now, that’s quite a change; to go from Des Moines to Hollywood, right? And at that time the Hollywood branch was the largest in the Los Angeles system, and there was a lot of great Y leaders, many of which the names will be familiar to Y people. John Aloya was the CEO, Charlie Jacobson was the outgoing CEO, Jim Chappelle, Rich Collato, Bob Billette, Bev C, Liz Stroh, Larry Rosen, Paul Netzel, Steve Burns, Lauren Bell, Gary Kuenzli, and Jim Looney were all on the staff together.
So, you can imaging our staff meetings if you know any of these guys, the level of quality but also discussion that would have taken place. The reason I was hired there, I think, was because I had large membership experience. They had a residence and also a youth hostel, so I had resident experience, and had experience in both, plus being accomplished in handball helped me with the 300 handball players that they had also, which was part of the decision.
It was my first opportunity to be exposed to gay staff and gay constituencies, which I’m really glad I got early on in my Y career. It would never happen in Des Moines, but in Hollywood it was very prevalent and I really appreciated that I had that opportunity.
But in Hollywood, I’d have to say there was never a dull moment. I mean, you really didn’t know what to expect every day. My first day on the job I walked up to the front door and standing in front of the door were about six or seven prostitutes hitting on my members going into the Y, and I’m thinking, “What did I get myself into?” So, I go upstairs and I talk with my executive assistant, and I said, “What’s happening with this?” “Oh, Mr. Riggins, we’ve tried to take care of this and—they just—there’s nothing that could be done.”
A little later that morning staff were coming by and introducing themselves, and there was one guy that came by that was the head of the boxing program. Boxing was a huge program at the Hollywood Y, and the reason is that most of the constituency at that Y were actors that were in and out of work, and they wanted to learn how to box so they could audition for parts that had fight scenes in them, basically, so it was a huge class, and this guy was a true boxer, and he did the typical, “If there’s anything I can ever do for you,” and I said, “Well, there really is.” I told him about the situation that morning.
He said, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it,” and that night he and some of the class members came out and moved the prostitutes and the pimps away from our Y, never to be seen again, and that was a great example of thinking outside the box because for weeks before no one was able to accomplish anything, and well, in a way they thought I walked on water because I solved this problem in a day, but all I did was open my mind up to do something a little different. I didn’t ask a lot of questions how or what they did, but they got it done and our members are the ones that benefited for it.
Plausible deniability. The less you know, the better.
Yeah, and that’s the first day, so later on in the first day my Aquatic Director comes up and says, “Well, I’ve got a lot of contacts in town; what is it you’ve always wanted to do?” and I’m half serious and half joking, but I said, “Well, I’ve always wanted to see the Johnny Carson Show.” “Okay, I’ll pick you up at three-thirty and we’ll go.” So she comes by, she picks me up at three-thirty, she waves herself through all the gates at NBC and we go back, we go into—she introduces me to Johnny and Doc and Ed, and go sit in the director’s booth because her dad’s good friends with the director, and I sat there and watched the Tonight Show live from the director’s booth my first day on the job in Hollywood, so I mean that’s just a couple examples of what a different exposure that that was coming from Des Moines, Iowa.
You’re not in Des Moines anymore.
No, we’re not in Des Moines, and I’m not in Kansas anymore, as they say. A lot of our people I recognize a lot of them on the screen, many of them in commercials. Dick Enberg was probably the most famous person that worked out there every day with NBC Sports. We had—Johnny Mathis was our largest contributor, because he really appreciated what the Y did for him in the Bay Area.
In Los Angeles at that time they were renowned for annual campaign, annual fundraising campaign, and they developed what was called the Red Book, that later was adopted by the national YMCA, but they were just so serious about that and at the time the guru of this book was a guy named Lauren Bell, and he was actually my coach for the first year. They actually put a coach with you for that entire campaign to make sure—they didn’t want anyone to fail in their system on campaign, so that gave me a whole different discipline about thinking about annual campaign.
Hollywood isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot of social issues in Hollywood. Even though it’s got this glamorous image, there’s a real seedy side to it, and case in point the Y responded—we had nine full-time counselors on staff, and it’s dealing with all the runaways that come from Pittsburgh or Ohio or anywhere else, they’re going to be famous and end up caught up in a lot of vice without any money or support.
We did have a residence. It was probably eight to ten miles from the ocean, but every once in a while we’d get a letter from someone that wanted to stay in our residence and they wanted a room facing the ocean, so we put them on the west side of the building. I don’t think they could see it, but anyway we took care of their needs that way.
I was also in charge of the international program, and that was a lot of fun. A great experience to show that the Y was so much more than just a local Y, and it was during that time I was there that we also actually developed the Strong Kids Strong Family Strong Communities mantra, so to speak, or the tag line I guess is a better word, and that was actually invented at LA during my time there. Our staff used to call it the KFC logo, and they didn’t mean Kentucky Fried Chicken; they meant the kids, family, community.
From LA, my next stop was in San Diego, and a few months before I went there Rich Collato, who was my neighboring branch Executive Director, was hired to do the CEO job, and it was a tough, tough Y. It was on the verge of bankruptcy, it really was, and Rich went down there and through some real tough management, some turnaround management, and some strong leadership, really was the catalyst to get this thing turned around.
Today, it’s probably one of the most successful Ys in the country; one of the largest, probably the least debt, and very successful, but when I went down there it wasn’t that way. It was very close to bankruptcy.
That was a time when I started in the Y and my birth name was George, but I changed my name to Rig, which was my college nickname, when I went to San Diego, because there were other people on the staff named George and it became very confusing, and I thought, “Well, here’s a chance I can change it.” So, I changed it to Rig, so if someone calls me and says ‘George’, I know it’s back before San Diego. If someone says ‘Rig’, I know it’s after San Diego, and then shortly thereafter I legally changed my name so that my name is really Rig Riggins.
During my first year, which he hired me as Chief Operating Officer, I think I really got the brunt of it because what we quickly realized was we needed a little stronger leadership than we had in our branch executive ranks, and at that time we had 13 branch executives and 11 of the 13 we had to make staff changes within a year, so you can just imagine the chaos that would have ensued with that because you’re not only doing that, but you’re working with each local branch board.
In LA they were very, very strong, but Rich supported me, we got it done, and I think that was the catalyst to making this Y a strong Y; getting the right leadership in place. It shows you the power of good leadership, frankly.
I think he’s probably built the strongest volunteer board in San Diego. Again, many Fortune 500 CEOs. It was really fun to work with him and be able to learn from him.
Not everything is rosy, and I’ll tell you about two examples that were not the brightest day. One, I have to go back to Des Moines. It was when I just first started in the Y and this was at Christmas time, and I was in Kansas City. I wasn’t even up there, but a resident abducted a young girl from a wrestling tournament that they held there, actually ended up killing her, and it became a major, major case in the state of Iowa, and it challenged Miranda Rights and everything else, so it became a very major case.
That set back our youth program for years, and it really points out the need for safety and security, so that was a bad thing and it was a tough one to live through. Even though I wasn’t there directly dealing with it, I certainly dealt with the aftermath of it.
Secondly, when I was in San Diego we had a drowning at one of our pools. Again, there’s nothing worse than losing a child’s life in any of your programs, and so I think I’ve always been a stickler for safety ever since just because of those two examples of things, and so they come with the territory but they’re never any fun.
So, when something like that happens, I mean, there’s nothing more serious than the loss of a life in the program. What’s it like to—you know, what’s the process that you go about rebuilding the trust with the community that newer Y programs are going to be strengthened now to prevent that in the future?
Yeah, there’s no short answer. You just have to pull out all the stops to ensure that you’re putting the processes together that will save that from ever happening again. I mean, there’s no simple answer to this thing other than show good faith in how you can make this thing work, and it’s true of any Y that would have a problem. You’ve got to really fix it and make sure it never happens again. Knock on wood, that hasn’t happened again, but it was a tough, tough thing to go through.
Shifting on a little more with San Diego, I can remember the first time we started the Martin Luther King Breakfast there. Rich wanted to make sure that we did a better job of relating with the African-American community in San Diego, and so I hired a new Executive Director at our Jackie Robinson Y. His name was Jock Johnson, and we decided we’d have this breakfast at the Y, so I can remember him and me out with hammers and nails and wood, building a stage to house the first meeting at his gymnasium.
We had 200 people there, and then you fast-forward to today and it’s one of the biggest draws in town in San Diego with Michael Brunker doing it now, and there’s about 1500 that come to that, so it’s turned out to be a great recognition event for the Y in recognizing that holiday.
I know, and that’s a great example of serve at leadership, you know, that the COO, you’re out there with a hammer and a nail helping to build the stage.
And I remember that very clearly, and I think that made a big impression on the people at the branch. I was also very active in the Latino community and was in charge of a Tijuana Task Force that we worked in supporting that Y and raised a lot of money for them, and then the results just started showing. Once we had the right leadership in place we started doing the right things, membership group, program group, fundraising group, and the proof is what it is today, which is a really, really strong Y.
From there I went to Long Beach, California, just up the road, and it was my first CEO assignment, and that was back in 1989, and it was another turnaround situation. I don’t know why I am drawn to turnaround situations, because they’re not a lot of fun and they’re not all that rewarding except to you, that you know you helped turn the thing around, but this was certainly one of those.
Long Beach is probably still today the most diverse city in the United States. It has an Anglo population less than 50 percent, it has a large Latino population about 30 percent, and there is also large Cambodian and African-American population there, and when I looked at my staff, you could count on both hands the number of diverse staff I had in terms of ethnicity, and I could just see that was a recipe for disaster, because how in the world could you ever relate with the community and be able to operate a Y without that, so the fact that we wanted to become relevant that way, and the fact that we were hemorrhaging financially with a downtown Y operation, made me reach out to find what I thought would be the best Latino leadership I could find at the time.
I ended up hiring Raul Furtado from the Bay Area, and then he ultimately hired Bob Cabeza, who is still on the staff there and doing a great job with the program. In fact, he’s almost looked at now, I think, as being a rock star there, but they came in and almost overnight turned things around for me. I told Ralph when I hired him, I said, “I’m losing a lot of money at this branch. I’d feel a lot better if I was losing this money but I could see a lot of kids in this branch, and I’m not seeing them now,” and he certainly solved that problem for me, and to me the proof was a couple years later when some LA riots hit and Long Beach is adjacent to LA, so anything that happens in LA happens in Long Beach, and there were riots in Long Beach, too, but they ransacked the McDonald’s next door to our Y, they ransacked a store on the other side of our Y, but they went around our Y and our Y was unscathed, and it showed to me like we’re getting it, we’re relating. In a crazy sort of way it showed to me that we had some value in the community and viewed it that way in the kids’ eyes.
By the time I left Long Beach, 30 percent of our staff was Latino. I’m very proud of that. I’m proud of the work that they’re able to do. I mentioned before, I’ll probably continue to mention, that we have great volunteers, and there is one family in Long Beach that’s just renowned. They’re extremely wealthy. It’s the Walker family. They actually received the first national Y award at the general assembly that was held in Anaheim for their service. They founded F&M Bank, which is probably the strongest bank in the nation; they carry four times the reserves that any bank would in the country.
They are generation after generation, four generations were involved with the Y, very strong emphasis on personal leadership, so they were big supporters of CLCs or Christian Leadership Conferences throughout the country and also the local Good Friday breakfast, so having them on my side was really uplifting and very helpful through a really tough turnaround situation.
I was fortunate to be able to build, I think, one of the strongest boards in Long Beach at the time, and there’s one story that came to mind. Long Beach is the home of Cal State Long Beach, the California system, Cal State system. It has 23 campuses, but their headquartered in Long Beach, and they just hired a new chancellor, and I read the article in the paper about how they hired the chancellor and he came from—he ran all the universities in Florida, but he was coming to California and one of the statements he said was, “The thing I’ll miss most is I’ll lose my racquetball partner.”
So, I jotted him a note, that’s before email was totally prevalent, but I jotted him a note and I said, “Charlie, when you get in town I’d love to meet you. We’ve got racquetball courts at the Y and I’d love to be able to play with you.”
Boy, as soon as he got that he called me, and when he came to town we did get together. He’s a great player. We played very even, it was a lot of fun, and ultimately I asked him to come on my board and he did. People in town were amazed that he would have joined my board, and they had no clue the recruitment length I went to to get him involved with my Y, but it’s a story about creative board recruitment and it’s really reaching out to people, meeting their needs, deciding where they are and how they can be helpful, and he was a big help to me.
Probably the biggest challenge I had was the fact that we had a $400,000 debt on our downtown Y, and there is no less compelling a story than trying to raise money to retire past sins. You just can’t do it, but as I was making the rounds and visiting with people, I visited with a state legislator that was from Long Beach, his name was Dave Elder, and he said, “Anything I can do to help,” kind of like the boxing guy, “Anything I can do to help, let me know,” and I said, “Well, my biggest problem,” and I told him about the downtown debt.
He said, “Well, why don’t we just hold a dinner and solve it?” and I’m thinking, “Sure, let’s just hold another dinner. That’s all we need to raise $400,000.” He said, “No, I’m serious. I will promise you if you can raise $200,000, I can raise the other $200,000,” so then the talk got a little more serious, and I said, “Okay,” so that night I was playing racquetball with Ken Walker, the President of F&M Bank that I just talked about, and during the break between one of our games I said, “Well, Ken, I got this situation that I can retire the debt on a downtown branch,” and I said, “I know you’ve written this thing off years ago anyway, but I can generate another $200,000 on this if you’ll forgive the first $200,000.” Well, he said, “Absolutely, I’ll do that.”
So, I called Dave up the next morning and said, “Why raise my $200,000? Now it’s on you.” So, he said, “Okay,” so he said, “I’ve got the month of December off from the legislature.” He said, “Give me an office and give me a secretary, and I’ll do it,” so I said, “Okay,” so I gave him my secretary, my board chair gave him office space at his company, and he did the most creative thing I think I’ve ever seen in event fundraising. His plan—his desire was to invite people to be co-chairs of the event, and he invited, one by one, over lunch, coffee, whatever, 200 people to be co-chairs of this event, asking each of them to be responsible for getting a table that would raise $1,000, and he did that.
In fact, it became the talk of the town. I would start getting calls from people pretty upset, “Well, why hasn’t Dave called me yet?” and I thought that was so unique, so he did get about 240 co-chairs for this event, and we had an event that was at the Spruce Goose that had about 750 people in attendance.
We oversubscribed what we needed to burn the mortgage, and the entertainment for the evening was having a fire pit where we had the mortgage and the chairman of the board of the bank was there along with the fire chief, because this was the first fire they’d ever allowed inside the Spruce Goose, which is a plane made out of wood, and they had a fire chief standing there with a fire extinguisher, and we burned the mortgage in front of the Spruce Goose, which was pretty creative, but I thought, “You know what? That isn’t a bad idea.”
I’ve never seen it replicated, but it was an interesting experience that I had to solve one problem, which also gave me some notoriety in the community because now I had 240 people that were substantial in their own right that were kind of friendly to the Y, so that really catapulted us in a whole new way as we built our board.
We had a strong Y’s Men Club in town. I’ve always valued them even though they’re somewhat dying off. The ones that are strong are strong, and it was in Long Beach. We had a situation where we were targeted by a New York deaf agency to—we ended up having to fire a lifeguard that was deaf because we were concerned that she couldn’t hear what was going on around her, and we got sued because they wanted a test case for this, and so being next to LA I had all the national media at my door.
When we got into the litigation side of it or the settlement side of it, so to speak, I went to do a deposition and the attorney for the opposing side—they hired an attorney from LA, who had extensive media background and connections because they wanted this to be a media story more than they wanted to solve the problem, and it turned out that that attorney was a former board member of mine at the Hollywood Y, and he said, “Is this your Y?” and I said, “Yeah,” and he went real easy on us. It turned out to be great, and I know our national Y, the legal staff, couldn’t believe how lightly I got off on this thing until I told them that he was actually a friend of mine and it was kind of fun.
I think the thing in Long Beach I’m most proud of, though, was our urban programming, and this just fulfills what we needed to be about doing in that community, and so I talked about Ralph and Bob earlier. Another person, Dr. Julie O’Donnell from Cal State Long Beach, really worked with us and we got millions and millions of dollars from foundation and government grants. We started a community school, really became renowned in Southern California for the work we did, and it’s still quite a program to this day.
And then finally, had a relationship with a young lady that was involved with our Y on my board, and the bottom line is I started talking to her about legacy giving and she ended up putting us in her will and a few years later she passed away and left the Y about $5 million, and they’ve actually used that to build their new Lakewood YMCA that’s there now.
Then I went from Long Beach, California to Spokane, Washington in the year 2001. I met my wife actually many, many years before that, but she came back into my life, we decided we were going to get married. This was the year that they installed metal detectors in the Long Beach school district. She said, “If I have a choice between raising my family in Long Beach or raising them in Spokane, Washington,” where she grew up, she was going to do it in Spokane, and I understood that.
So, I knew that for the first time in my life and my career I was facing the possibility of leaving the Y, and this is where the good Lord works wonders and works miracles, because not too long after that Rich Wallace, who was the CO of a Y in Spokane, got hired as a Senior Resource Director for Y of the USA, so all of a sudden that CEO position opened up. To make a long story short, I got the job and it was just a really smooth transition and I just couldn’t believe that it worked out that way.
Great community, very family-focused, had a great Y. My first board chair was Bill Gates’ sister, so obviously I had a lot of connections. The same situation that I had in Long Beach I had there in that we had an aging Y that was deteriorating in the middle of a park in downtown Spokane that really no one knew was even there. Bottom line is we ended up selling the building; we ended up relocating the branch a few blocks away. It’s a brand new sparkling Y that people are really, really proud of, and it was really the highlight of what turned out to be a $40 million capital campaign, which is large by any nature, but it’s especially large for Spokane.
It was the largest non-profit campaign ever conducted in Spokane, and we did it in connection with the YWCA, which also needed to find new space, so we co-located in our central branch, and then we built a new YM in the north part of town, so it was the largest campaign ever. It was very successful. We got unbelievable support, so we funded it by the sale of our facility, through new market tax credits, state capital funds, big time gifts from businesses, individuals, and foundations. We even got a couple national foundations; Gates, for one, but also Kresge Foundation funded this, so it was really nice to see that pull together.
What it did was it allowed us to triple our membership almost overnight, and today the Spokane Y serves one out of six people in the community, so it’s great involvement, it’s almost all families. What a strong legacy that I think I was able to leave there.
Every Y I’ve been in has had strong resident camp programs, and the one in Spokane was as strong as any. It was Camp Reed, and they had a funny but good tradition. They never used their names. They used their camp names, and they have this big naming ceremony for everyone that comes into camp that’s on leadership, and they spend hours doing this, but every person on their board has a camp name, so when they talk to each other they’ll say, “Well, Tamale, will you talk to Sneaker and get Dinghy to do this?” and so my camp name was Ranger, and so when I engage in those discussions I have to talk to people in their camp names. You don’t talk to them by their name, and that’s the way the culture was established for that Y.
So you—you mentioned that at each Y that you had been at, that there was a strong resident camp. People who’ve been within the Y for a long time talk about like the secret sauce of resident camp. It is just a special place. Could you talk to some of—you know, what makes resident camp such a special experience?
Well, first of all you have people for an extended period of time. I mean, most of the other programs you have them for an hour or two, but to have kids and you’re with a mentor for a week, you can make a tremendous difference, and I think that was the biggest thing, but you’re also doing it in a God-given setting, you’re away from the hustle and bustle.
You take away electronics, you’re back to nature, now you’re focused just on relationships, so it seems to me that it’s got all the right ingredients there, but the key to all these things is the quality of your staff and their ability to mentor and influence, and all of that, so I think that’s the key. You get away from the normal stuff, you have a week with them, some kids spend a lot longer than a week at camp, but to me that—it all—the secret sauce is a good example, it all blends together with the ingredients to make it work.
And then where did your career go from there?
From Spokane, where did your career go?
From Spokane I came to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I think a lot of people were surprised with that move. The truth is I had made my place in Spokane. There was probably no one in town I couldn’t just pick up the phone and call because of that major capital campaign, so I felt I could have just almost put my feet up on the desk, but that’s not me. I felt like I needed one more challenge, so the fact that I made this move, I think, surprised a lot of people, but I learned something about myself; that I was ready for one more challenge, and you know the funny thing is, Adam, when you start at a new Y, you’re starting from ground zero again.
You have zero credibility. I could have credibility in every Y I’ve been at, but I have zero credibility in Pittsburgh when I start, so for me it was really important to connect with funders, which in our case was both the United Way and major foundations.
The Pittsburgh community—most people may not know—but the Pittsburgh community is just blessed with a foundation community that’s second to none. They’re unbelievable. They’re very supportive, but they’re big, and to get a seven-figure grant from a foundation here is not uncommon as long as you can paint the right compelling vision, and even an eight-figure gift is a real possibility on one they’re working with right now.
The Pittsburgh Y has a 160 year tradition. When I was in Spokane there were 125 years, so obviously our Y in Pittsburgh started a few years after the Y in Boston started.
Again, part of the secret sauce is that we have three strong resident camps and one of those camps is called Deer Valley. Deer Valley is a family camp and it’s one of the few family camps. That’s all they serve all summer long is families, and by the end of the year it’s booked for the next summer; you can’t get in. It’s quite a phenomenon, and one I’ve never seen before.
We also do some notable urban work, and the work we do with urban branch, I think, is second to none, but in my plight to come to turnaround Ys, I also come into ones which are having financial difficulties, mostly resting in cash flow, so I think we’ve been able to make some pretty significant decisions where I think now that’s finally a thing of the past, but it’s taken a long time to get there.
Pittsburgh as a community, I think, is very slow to change. The majority of staff that—when I came here the majority of staff had been from Pittsburgh, so it wasn’t like there was a lot of people that had come from other Ys with new ideas. It was kind of done one way, but we’ve been really focusing on reorganizing and core service, and I think in our case we’re better off centralizing some of those services than we are to let them—every branch do it a different way, so that’s what we’ve really been working at.
It’s just taken a while to do that and raise the bar, but I think our business model doing it that way has been pretty effective, and we also have a business model here that our resource branches, those that make money, help fund the Ys that don’t make money, and the challenge of that is you’ve got to make sure that you bring on enough resource branches to fund the under-resourced ones.
When I first came I think that was a little out of synch here, and so now we’ve been working pretty hard to get our resource branches open. I think we opened one a year ago, we’re opening one—starting construction next week, and another one’s probably a year out that we’re doing that, so I think we’re finally getting that back in balance.
United Way came to support us with $1 million grant for some of our programs. RK Millen supported us about $2.25 million until we could get our resourced Ys back online, but I think every year I’ve been here we’ve either opened a new branch or a remodeled branch, so we really are growing with the community. Like I said earlier, the thing I’m really proud of is what we do in our urban communities and we have one branch in our Homewood-Brushton area that we were actually going to re-purpose into a different way and to create a youth center, and this is going to be a national model in my view, using media arts to really bring kids into the fold and making sure that they’re successful.
The kids in our program go to high schools that graduate less than 50 percent. The kids that are in our program, 100 percent of them graduate and go on to college, so it’s just a real success story, and to be able to do this we’re going to invest about $6 million into re-purposing our Homewood branch and one of our local foundations, the Heinz Endowments, which is the second largest foundation in town, is funding the first $1.5 million for the first phase which is under construction right now, so pretty excited about what that’s going to mean.
As true with many large Ys in the country, membership is a major focus of ours. We’ve totally reorganized it, and for all the right reasons just having some major success right now. We just completed a new vibrant strategic plan called One Y For All, that talks about all of our organizations and the parts that are working together to make things happen. We’re measuring our outcomes rather than just talk about we serve X number of people. Those days are over; you have to talk about what you do with those people you serve and are you making a difference, are you bridging the gap, and that has really helped us.
We have some data staff on our staff now that really helps us in that area. We’ve re-energized the board; we’ve done a lot of things that just allows them to get more engaged. We’ve expanded our board committees, just most recently added a diversity inclusion committee that’s been very, very effective right off the bat. We decided to use some tiger teams is the word we’ve coined to use. I guess the word could be—you could be say it was a task force, but that sounded pretty mundane to me, so I labeled it tiger teams because it implies action, and the idea is you’re going to deal with a specific issue, you do it in intensive fashion, you get it done, and that team moves off to another challenge. That’s been—the tiger team mechanism has been very effective.
We’ve changed our board meetings to go to six a year now using a consent agenda, but then a more in-depth discussion about one single topic at a meeting rather than all over the board, and that really has allowed our board to engage a lot more. We have a GoToMeeting option where people can participate remotely, since a lot of the board travels, and as a result our board participation and attendance has really shot up, so I think making the volunteers feel more engaged really helps our cause, making our staff feel like we’re part of one Y, that’s going to help our cause, and this, I think, is coming together real nicely.
As a result of doing core services, which means that basically we’re going to centralize membership, we’re going to centralize childcare, we’re going to centralize day-camping and aquatics, things like that, it means that our Branch Executive role has to change, also, and our Branch Executive role is less concerned about handing out the towels now, and more concerned about making sure that they’re relating in the community that they serve. We want to represent the community they serve, so their charge is to get connected, form collaborations, build the board, fundraising to be the—the CEO of that local Y in their community, and I think that is also going to have an impact for us.
We’ve developed—there is no such thing as a silver bullet in fundraising, but we’ve developed one thing called the high impact investment fund, that I think comes darn close, and it has to do with talking about the different gaps that we have in the community and how the Y fills the gaps, so when we talk about the achievement gap, for example, or the health gap, or food security gap, we talk about what the Y does to fill that, and as we’ve presented this to high wealth individuals and also companies, they can immediately identify with one of those three, and that’s where they want their money to go and that’s what they want to see the impact on, so just reformatting and reframing our story has made a huge difference for us in talking to the community.
I think a good case in point was that I had a—one of our key volunteers is a very wealthy individual and we actually honored him just a couple years ago at our gala, which is our annual fundraising event, and I’d already taken him up to show him our urban operations, I talked to him about the achievement gap, and when he came up to accept the award, he said how much he appreciated seeing what the Y is doing to close the achievement gap. I mean, he was just feeding us back what I was telling him, and he said, “What I want to do is put some money behind that,” and he said, “I’m going to pledge $200,000 to this, provided everyone in this room,” about 300 people there, “matches that with another $200,000,” and he said, “I don’t mean pledges; I mean checks, and I want it by year-end.”
This was early in December, and sure enough, we got the other $200,000, so we raised another $400,000 thanks to his effort, but see I think it is all because of the way it was presented as a high impact investment fund.
If I had said, which most Ys say, that, “I want you to give us money so we can scholarship kids.” That is not addressing community issues. I mean, that appeals to old-time Y people, but the truth is that’s not capturing the vibrancy of millennials, it’s not capturing wealthy donors, and I think we’re onto something here that’s going to be really important for our Y.
We’re starting to shift our focus to endowment development. I think without a doubt this Y will be an all-time great Y, and I think the turnaround of any of these Ys, especially this one had been difficult, but I think the rewards are going to be exceptional, and there’s also some perks to the job. I have to admit that we were also given—one of our board members worked with Constellation, and they sponsor the Senior PGA Tournament event here, and so they named our Y as the primary beneficiary of the Constellation Senior Players Tournament, and we got substantial money from that, but what I liked more than anything was I got to play in the Pro Am, and they paired me with Tom Watson, which was a lot of fun, so that wouldn’t happen if I’d not been in this position.
So, anyway, I guess I’ve gone through all seven Ys I’ve been a part of and tried to tell you some stories and some facts and what’s happening with that, but let me just share some—maybe in closing—some overall reflections that I have about the Y, and just start again with the mission.
Throughout my career I’ve seen the Y impact and how it can impact people, how it can change lives, and even save lives in many cases. I feel like I’ve been really fortunate to do what I’ve loved, and not everyone finds that, and I know it’s an old model where you do the same thing for years, which I’ve done, but to do something you love and get paid for it? That’s quite a feat. I still enjoy coming to work every day, and I’m really fortunate to work with some great staff and some great volunteers.
I mean, where else could you be on a first-name basis with community leaders, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, multi-millionaires, as well as grass roots leaders in so many communities, and every community I’ve been in I still know these people. I could still pick up the phone and call them, and it really feels good and it’s been the connections that felt really rewarding, but I wouldn’t have had this opportunity without having the position that I’m in.
The significant volunteer connections I think typically in a community, and it’s certainly true in Pittsburgh, have reduced the typical six degrees of separation down to about two degrees, and I know when I interviewed for the job I said, “I need to get in to see the most influential people in the community.” I said, “Can you help me access these people? Is there anyone that you can’t access?” and my group said, “No, we can access anybody you want to see,” which I thought was great, and one of the strengths of Pittsburgh.
I’m proud in my career that I’ve hired a number of staff that have gone on to be successful Y CEOs. Again, I mentioned earlier I’ve seen a big change from just talking about serving people to measuring outcomes now, which is really important. I think diversity inclusion is more than words; it’s reality. If we don’t reflect the community we serve, we’re not going to be relevant in the future, and I just cringe when I see Ys that aren’t conscious of that and working deliberately of that. I do love all the national positioning work we’re doing in the Y Movement today. I think it’s long overdue. I think reciprocity is essential. We’ve got to get out of our own way.
You say reciprocity. What does that mean? Just share a little bit about what that model is.
Yeah, what we’re saying is even though people view the Y as one national organization, the truth is we’re about 900 independent corporations, so if someone has a membership at one Y and they want to travel and use another Y, it’s very difficult because you have to almost call up 900 CEOs and get their agreement, and it’s an exaggeration but it’s kind of the truth, too, so what we’re working toward with Kevin Washington’s leadership is moving toward a national reciprocity system where any member can use any Y in the country, and it’s time. It’s time we do that.
We have so many companies that are national-based companies that would love to give their employees Y memberships, but they stop short when we can’t deliver a reciprocity model, so that really is what that is.
Just as a personal aside, different than some maybe, I love raising money. To me it’s just talking with people and invite in to consider donating to something that you personally believe in.
I think as an organization we have to carefully examine our revenue mix and continually avoid the temptation of grabbing large government funding for ongoing operations. I think there are specific places where it’s really helpful. I think the stuff that we’re doing with diabetes could be really helpful, but I think as a general rule we’ve got to be careful of our revenue mix in the organization.
I think we, as Y staff, need to have more staff contribute to the retirement fund 403(b). I still think it’s a well-kept secret, that we should be more of a proponent of.
What keeps me awake at night? Safety of our kids. I talked about that earlier, but that’s the one thing that keeps me awake at night. I can handle property disasters, I can handle anything, but the loss of life is something that’s very, very difficult to handle.
As a Movement, I think we’ve got a couple of issues that’ll have to be addressed in the future. One is, in my humble opinion, we have too many small independent Ys that struggle financially, and I think we could have a more thoughtful approach where we’re not taking away anyone’s ability to provide their program, but in fact if we work together and consolidate we could actually strengthen the programs that they provide.
You know in Pennsylvania there’s—we have the most Ys of any state in the country, and I think it reflects to the fact that we also have more townships than probably any state in the country, and where I live is a township that is one square mile, has a thousand people, has this beautiful fire station with fire trucks, and has their own police department, has their own government, and you go one mile away and you’ve got another township with the same thing. Now, you know on paper it makes sense to consolidate those and still provide the services, but everyone has the ownership for their own township. It’s a little bit like that with the Ys, but I really think we’re limiting our potential as a movement if we don’t figure out some way to do that in a more thoughtful way.
The thing that I really think is our most glaring shortfall, and I really don’t hear any discussion about this at the national level, it’s our lack of attention to legacy. I think this is our Achilles heel. Endowment development is simply not on the radar screen of almost all of our Ys, and I think that’s a huge mistake because this is our future, and it’s the opportunity for fiscal stability and perpetuity, and it really funds the mission in perpetuity. I know why it happens; because you don’t see immediate reward, and I have a phrase I call—it’s called “tyranny of the urgent”. Tyranny of the urgent, and what it really says is there’s always something more important than raising money or talking to people about a legacy.
The truth is we’ve had generations after generations of families involved in our Y, you know, Pittsburgh’s a great example of this, and you see that in Pittsburgh we haven’t really worked on legacy giving for 27 years, and that’s a mistake, and it’s not on anyone’s shoulders. It’s just because it never rises to the top. Well, I see the same thing happening at the national level; it’s never going to rise to the top until someone takes the initiative to make it happen that way.
But I’ve got to tell you, if the Y in Pittsburgh had focused on legacy in the last 27 years, we would have somewhere between $30 million and $50 million today that we don’t have. Even if it was just $30 million, the interest on that would totally fund all of our urban programming forever, perpetuity, so we’re not—I think as a movement, I don’t see anyone capturing this understanding and this vision. This is the future of the organization, and to me it’s got to be—at some point it’s got to be a national issue and a national priority. I think even the fact that baby boomers are now becoming older even makes it more prevalent as we do this.
I thought to myself I don’t think of myself as old, I’m merely seasoned, but until I do one of these things where you buy something on the internet and you have to put your birthday in or something, you have to scroll down. I have to scroll down a long way to get to my birth year.
In closing I would just say two things: one, God bless the YMCA Retirement Fund, that’s going to benefit me sooner than later, and also God bless the YMCA. We do great work and I love our mission. I love coming to work every day.
I have two follow up questions here.
Number one, what’s something that you think every new YMCA employee should know?
I think you need to—we’ve got to figure out a way that they can value the work they’re doing, and also I think a new employee has to have some understanding that they bloom where they’re planted, the point being don’t be looking so much ahead to the next job. Look at what you’re doing and what you can do in the lives of people and how you can make a name for yourself. I mean, I think I’m a case in point. I never really actively went after any of these jobs I got; they all came to me. I guess the exception would be in Spokane that wasn’t true, but in the others that’s true. But if you bloom where you’re planted, you’ll get the reward, so I think just valuing that would be really important.
That’s great advice. Ultimately as you reflect on this long career, which is a this is a great interview. I really appreciated you having your organization here, what does the YMCA mean to you?
Well, to me the Y is everything. To me, the Y is the best organization that can change lives and people, and for me to be able to be a part of that directly and indirectly, I know that I’m impacting lives, so to me it’s just a great vehicle for doing God’s work.
Is there anything that we’ve not talked about that maybe you’d like to share?
Oh, my gosh, no.
Well, Rig, thank you so much for not only your time but for sharing your passion and just your overall zeal for this work.
Thank you. It was a great opportunity.