Last Thursday, a group of 150 or so Y leaders gathered at Camp Puh’tok, our beautiful new camp in northern Baltimore County, for a morning of discussion and engagement about our commitment to social responsibility and the many ways it is evidenced throughout our organization and across the region. I shared my views on the culture and type of servant leadership that is important for us to uphold if we are to continue to grow, live out our mission and have impact in this community. I spoke about the fact that we’ve gotten as far as we have largely because of our collective willingness to challenge the status quo and be innovative, independent thinkers rather than merely relying on the “standard Y playbook” and what’s been done in the past. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a whole lot more fun to write new rules than follow a set of unwritten rules that may or may not be best for our Y and our community.
That’s why I have been, and will remain, so vigilant about ensuring that we are constantly innovating and improving, and using language that makes sense to our customers and to those who exist outside the “Y bubble.” While there’s much to admire and celebrate about the Y’s history and norms, the trash bin of history is filled with organizations that failed to change and evolve as the market and their communities changed.
As such, language is important. How we describe ourselves, our services and our brand conveys a tremendous amount about our value to those we serve. Using old and increasingly irrelevant language has, in my view, held a lot of Ys back from achieving their potential. While we in no way think we’ve figured everything out or are better than any other Y association, I am proud of the fact that we haven’t been afraid to break with convention not for the sake of being different, but because the market has changed over the past decades (in fact, it changes on an almost daily basis).
Additionally, I think some of the traditional Y language unintentionally devalues the important work you all do. This is why you will never hear me call our early childhood or out-of-school time work “child care.” Y Youth Development professionals do a heck of a lot more than “child care,” which to me is another way of essentially saying “babysitting.” We provide profoundly important educationally, socially and developmentally enriching experiences that have a real impact on children, young people and, oftentimes, their families.
You’ll notice that we refer to ourselves as “the Y” or “the Y in Central Maryland,” and not the “YMCA.” All the hard work we do to make sure that we are for all and that everyone feels welcomed here is better represented by “the Y” (which is far more inclusive and how most people refer to us anyway). We absolutely respect and value our heritage, and use it to strengthen us, but we need to speak to everyone, not just to those for whom we were originally founded.
Another example is that you will also hear me and other Y leaders refer to all of us as “associates” and not “staff.” In my view, “staff” are hired hands who exist to be told what to do. “Associates” are colleagues working together toward a common cause and with incredibly valuable skills and knowledge to offer. Those are just a few examples of how language is so important in conveying culture and relevance to the marketplace.
Speaking of which, we were delighted have Michael DeVaul, Senior Vice President and Chief Impact Officer of the Y of Greater Charlotte, as our special guest. Michael did a great job of putting context around the importance of our commitment to social responsibility as he pointed out that Youth Development and Healthy Living are really the focal points of our work and Social Responsibility is the true foundation on which everything we do rests. We are grateful to Michael for joining us to set the tone for the day.
Much of the rest of the day was spent in small breakout sessions which brought to life some critical work happening across the region as a tangible demonstration of social responsibility in action. Topics included Togetherhood, See2learn, Youth & Government, Leaders Club, Sports volunteers, mentoring and college partnerships.
Appropriately, we also spent time on our own community service project, which included cutting out designs on blue jeans that will be used as fabric for shoes made and distributed in Africa.
Given the theme of the day and fundamental importance of social responsibility as the underpinning of all our work, I am pleased to share with you that beginning early June several billboards will be seen around the region. Take a look:
Thanks to our Marketing team for so nicely representing our advocacy for social responsibility in its many forms.
Thank you also to the Y Shout Out team, so ably led by Chris Ader-Soto, who did an excellent job of planning an engaging, fun and inspiring day. Most importantly, a special thanks as well to our over 9,500 associates and volunteers who put our values into action every day working together for community well-being.
All the best,
John K. Hoey
President & CEO
The Y in Central Maryland