Previous leaders of the YMCA of Central Ohio understood the need to offer a depth and breadth of social services — things you wouldn’t normally associate with a YMCA, like managing the Van Buren Center for the community’s homeless; the PALS program, which provides a structured, supervised environment to students who’ve been suspended or picked up for truancy; or supervising a group of more than 25 social workers.
Initiatives like these help the YMCA meet the most critical needs in the community. In fact, that’s part of what attracted Stephen Ives to the organization in 2015.
“This Y has a history of being where it’s needed, not just where all the population is,” says the president and CEO, who previously led YMCAs in Maine and Massachusetts.
Ives also liked its culture of collaboration, such as the Y Without Walls program in Linden that is a partnership with Battelle.
“This was a great chance to take what I’d learned over the past couple of decades and put it to use in this market at this time,” Ives says.
While the Central Ohio community faces a number of challenges, Ives says the YMCA sees one root cause: The bonds that tie everyone together are fraying at an alarming rate.
But when the YMCA is at its best, people of diverse backgrounds and ages are under one roof or in one program bonding with each other. It creates civility and interconnectedness among people, regardless of where they come from.
“It’s not just a place to work out or do recreation or fitness or wellness. It’s not just a place that delivers great social services,” he says. “It’s an institution that creates and strengthens bonds between people in our community.”
Drafting a plan
When Ives interviewed for the Columbus job, the board wanted to create a plan for sustained and significant growth. It had already studied the YMCA’s existing facilities and started to identify potential areas for new YMCA build-outs.
It had been more than a decade since the YMCA went through a growth period, and Ives says the board wanted to capitalize on the opportunity that came from a change in leadership to rethink things, take a bold stance and work toward elevating the organization.
Now, after laying the groundwork, the YMCA is on track to introduce a long-term growth plan this year. The $55 million organization is already operating 14 locations and 75 child care sites that serve close to 4,000 children.
“We’re being very tactical and strategic around which projects go when, and we’re also prepared to be opportunistic,” Ives says.