Man in church near YMCA wooden lectern

First Friday Message

In the Footsteps of Giants

I’ve worked for the YMCA for nearly 30 years now, and one of the most common questions I get about my introduction to the Y is whether or not I was a Y Kid growing up. Unlike many of my peers who started their careers in the Y during their teen years as lifeguards and camp counselors, I was not formally introduced to the Y until I returned home after college. Admittedly, there were a few times as a tall and awkward 8th or 9th grader that my uncle would sneak me into the Y (let’s keep that as our little secret!) and pass me off as his son, and I’d hoop with him and the “old guys” playing noontime ball. But outside of that, I knew little of what the Y had to offer.

My start in the Y was at the Hunton YMCA in Lynchburg, VA. Far from a traditional Y, the Hunton Y served as a communal lighthouse for Lynchburg’s African-American community in the 40s through the 60s and 70s. Like many cities of the south, Lynchburg was deeply segregated, and the Hunton Y was one of the only places for people of color to come together. It was here that I learned about the role that the Y can play in communities.

Prior to my time at Hunton, I only knew of the traditional gym and swim programming that Ys are understandably linked to. But as the Executive Director / CEO of this small operation, I learned more about the Y’s past role with voter registration and civil rights legislation, its work to support enlisted African-American servicemen and their families, and ultimately the coordinated efforts to be a safe meeting place (during very unsafe times) for the black community.

Being a “Member” at the Y had a different meaning then.

When I took over as CEO of the Hunton Y in 1996, I learned about this incredible alumni network within the black community – people who, decades later, continue to hold fond memories of the only Y that was there for them.

As a young Y executive, I planned what I considered to be a HUGE fundraising campaign for my struggling, little Y and dubbed it the “Fund the Future” Campaign. Our campaign had one primary target audience…the droves of Hunton Y alumni now sprinkled across the country who wanted to ensure that the Hunton Y could continue to be a beacon of safety for the children in that community who so desperately needed the Y’s presence. We sent letters, made tons of calls, and ultimately surpassed our stretch goal of $7,250.

Yep…$7,250. That’s all, but I thought we were doing something BIG! And I guess when the agency only operated on $100,000 in annual revenues, that’s a fairly healthy percentage to target. In our case in Central Florida, that would equal an annual scholarship campaign of $2.7M - definitely an aspirational goal for our YMCA.

Fast forward to today, the Hunton YMCA is no longer a chartered association of the YMCA of the USA, but it continues to serve the community much as it did 50+ years ago. And here in Central Florida, our Y also strives to be a welcoming agent of peace and cross-cultural understanding through our annual campaign efforts and through the long-term support of the “Pappy” Kennedy Prayer Breakfast and other similar events.

We are definitely SO MUCH MORE than a gym and swim. That mission is what keeps me in the Y and it’s what drives how we will continue to recover from and respond to the many hurdles caused by this pandemic.

Thank you all for being our partners as we work to support our communities.

Kevin Bolding, President & CEO
YMCA of Central Florida

The Y. For a better us.®