In the wake of the horrific murder of George Floyd and other people of color in 2020, many Ys across the state and the country have taken action to focus with intentionality on diversity, equity and inclusion at their Ys and, in some cases, in their communities.
Last spring, such a discussion began at the Henderson Family YMCA with Paul Ross, Executive Director/CEO, and three members of the Board of Directors. “We had three or four meetings and discussed whether we were, as a Y, at a good point in time to address diversity,” said Vanessa Jones, who is a member of the board, retired administrator of the local community college, and now co-chair of the Y’s new Diversity, Inclusion & Global (DIG) Committee.
This small group took their discussion back to the full Board, and they supported it, Jones said. “We had looked back at the original purpose of the Y being built in Henderson, which was to bring people together. We felt that had been accomplished with the programs we were offering; but thought now might be a good time to expand to see if we have an opportunity to reach out to others who may not be aware of all that we have to offer,” Jones said.
Six people are currently part of the new DIG Committee, which has a diversity of race, gender and age, as well as staff, directors and community members, Jones said. “We have two Caucasians, one Hispanic, three African Americans on our team, with three males and three females, and two staff members,” Jones said.
The Board commissioned the committee, which set forth its purpose, vision statement, composition and duties. Jones said the committee pulled together demographics of the Y’s members, staff, board and the four-county service area for the Y. “As we looked at it, we saw some areas we probably need to work on, but we wanted to start with an assessment and see what the membership thought about the Y,” Jones said.
“Our Y is really unique in that our staff gets to know our members by name. We’re like a family, and it’s very social. We have people of all different types in this rural community with different political backgrounds and beliefs, but regardless people interact in a social way that they wouldn’t normally interact in this area if they weren’t coming together at the Y,” said Pat Regan, Member Services Associate and co-chair of the DIG Committee.
“We felt that was something precious that we wanted to preserve, so we have begun our DIG work with a survey for staff, the Board and members. We didn’t frame it as a diversity survey but a general survey,” he said. “We know already we’ll probably tweak it some, but it’s a learning process and we’re underway.”
Regan and Jones shared that the committee has met multiple times to kick off its work and discussed a number of ideas, but that the assessment from the survey is their starting point. Development of the committee’s Chart of Work will happen after the survey results are in, and they plan to connect their Chart of Work to the Y’s strategic plan.