The 150-year old YMCA of Central Stark County strives to meet today’s needs

YMCA of Central Stark County has existed for 150 years. In its earliest days it was led by William McKinley, who would go on to be a U.S. president. Today, standing at its helm with all of that history behind him is the longest-tenured CEO in the Stark branch’s history, Tim Shetzer.

His juxtaposition between a history of success and the hope of a successful future isn’t lost on Shetzer. He says when he took the position, his impression was twofold.

“One, some trepidation or fear that I’m going to screw it up; and two, just excited and humbled to try to continue to make a bigger and a broader impact throughout the county,” he says.

How much is a lot?

When Shetzer joined the Y 20 years ago, one of the first questions he asked was how many youth and families the organization helps and to what degree the nonprofit was financially helping and assisting members of the community through programs and membership.

“The staff at that time told me, ‘a lot.’ So I said, ‘Well, how much is a lot?’” Shetzer says.

The staff came back with a number: 380 youth and families.

“When I saw that I thought to myself, ‘That’s not very many people that we’re impacting and helping. We should be doing more than that.’ That’s one of the things we really have concentrated on the last 20 years,” he says.

Its emphasis on doing more has brought the number of youth and families helped by the Y to 11,741 and the amount of financial assistance provided to nearly $1.8 million this past year.

It has also seen increases in several other categories since Shetzer took the lead, including annual campaign donors and total members, the latter of which has gone from 14,100 in 1997 to 50,114 this past year.

He attributes the significant increase in the number of people affected and the amount of money spent to help them in part to a change through the culture at the Y to be more intentional about the organization’s mission and promise.

“We have a promise that we don’t turn anybody away from the Y due to an inability to pay,” he says.

The Y has worked hard at getting the word out about this promise through marketing and word-of-mouth.

In addition to talking with the community about the Y’s mission and promise, it is also listening. Shetzer uses the national YMCA’s survey partner, Seer Analytics LLC, to survey its membership every three years — that’s about 50,000 card-carrying members in Stark County — to determine what the community needs. The nonprofit also works closely with the United Way of Greater Stark County and other agencies and local foundations to help ascertain what the community wants, and will gather groups of people together to identify emerging needs.

Feedback loop

As CEO, Shetzer’s YMCA oversees 1,000 programs in 10 locations. Keeping track of the viability of those services means leaning on the leaders peppered throughout the organization’s territory.

Each main location has an executive director and a board of directors — a group of community leaders, usually around 20, give or take, who live in that service area. It also has a board of trustees who oversee the whole county.

“We have a lot of eyes and ears on what’s happening and what the need is and what’s going on,” Shetzer says. “We probably have 250 volunteer community leaders who serve on boards and we have staff in all those places.”

The Y also has an intentionally flat organization that is designed to elicit outstanding customer service.

“It’s not unusual for me to take a call from a customer who we’re not delighting and try to see if I can’t help that customer,” Shetzer says.

Still, having a feedback loop doesn’t shield Shetzer from his biggest concern.

“The thing that pops into my head is there’s just so many youth and children that we haven’t been able to reach yet,” he says. “A few times I’ve said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if every kid in Stark County had access to a Y card so they had a safe and nurturing place they can go anytime they wanted to?’ We’re not there yet. And I guess it’s the kids that we weren’t able to help that haunts me, quite frankly.”

For Shetzer, chemistry among employees is central to healthy organizational culture. He says the Y believes in teaching new staff and community leaders who get involved with the nonprofit about the culture, which Shetzer characterizes as inclusive, open and connected.

“The folks that are older in the organization, we keep reminding each other that we have to be a little flexible, we have to be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things and keep focusing on continuous improvement,” Shetzer says. “Every generation has some good new and unique ideas on how to provide a better customer experience and better customer service. A lot of it just comes down to communication and being open and trying new things.”