Contributing Writer: Kathleen Walsh, Chief Operation Officer, YMCA Of Metro North
When you take a job, sometimes you do it blindly, not thinking of the unintended perks or challenges. Such is the case when working for the YMCA. Dedicating my career to the movement has been by choice, but it wasn’t something that I vigorously pursued in my “younger” years, it was a job; that was that. That all changed on June 1, 1995. This is the date that I joined the YMCA of Greater Boston, North Suburban Family Branch. What started as a desk-less job while I waited out my Y retirement fund “vesting” window became a stretch of time where I forged relationships that would help shape me both professionally and personally.
We all gain knowledge, enhance skills, earn a living and reach deep into the cities and towns we serve while working for the YMCA. However, more importantly, when given the right opportunity, you make friends with your co-workers that will serve as your mentors, confidants and more importantly FRIENDS for life. (In some unfortunate cases, co-workers serve as bride maids and have to purchase a ghastly taffeta dress, but I digress).
Take a moment right now to think about whom in your life has your back? Who do you call to tell a crazy work story? What professional would you like to co-author a management book with? What is the name of that person that knows you so well that they can finish your sentence? In each case for me, it is a Y person (hopefully someone out there can relate to this). It is someone that I have met along my professional journey. When I look at my cell phone history on any given week, my calls mostly consist of Y colleagues from across my 26 years; with Walsh kid calls (looking to learn what is for dinner) sprinkled throughout. Greater than the 12% retirement benefit is the bonds that have been created, thru thick and thin, sickness and health, the good, the bad and the ugly.
My life at the North Suburban YMCA was nearly 15 years ago, a lifetime for my son (literally)! Just typing that makes me feel old! But the weekend of January 21, 2017, it seemed like yesterday (minus the wrinkles, the gray hair, the extra 5 pounds and the matronly wardrobe), Sandy Morander (the former Branch Executive of the North Suburban Y and the current President and CEO of the YMCA of San Antonio), Rob Lowell (the former aquatic director and a current member of the YUSA team), Amy Turner (the former North Suburban Childcare Director and current YMCA of Greater Boston Executive Vice President of Childcare) and me (the former desk less fitness director at the North Suburban YMCA and current Chief Operating Officer of the YMCA of Metro North) met in Chicago with a purpose. No, we were not going to YUSA. No we were not hitting the Magnificent Mile (still not even sure what that is). No, we were not hitting the theatre. We had one purpose. We were meeting Jean Maday (former Membership & Marketing director at the North Suburban Y) for dinner. After 17 years of not being together as a group (thank goodness for facebook, email, cell phones etc), we were coming together for laughter, food and storytelling! Time had aged us but the love we felt for one another was palpable. This time, the North Suburban crew had come together to support Jean, now a Chicago resident enduring treatment for metastasized ovarian cancer. 17 years apart, one night together, friendships renewed!
This, my friends, is the power of a Y career. The Y is a unique career path. Often times our work is seen as trivial and easy by others. Many of us, I am sure, have been asked multiple times, “how many swim lessons do you teach or when are you going to get a real job?” But, the Y is a magical place, surrounded by magic people. Sure we get a paycheck, some get 12% retirement; we might even get a fancy nametag or a really complex title. But, at the end of the day, if you are lucky as I have been at each and every Y that I worked at, you will be grateful for the bonds you have built with your colleagues! You will be thankful for the laughs you have shared and the professional challenges you have conquered together! You will be a BETTER professional because you are surrounded by people you have welcomed into your life as friends! Don’t ever minimize the power of “YMCA FRIENDSHIPS”.