SHERIDAN — Whether it meant singing songs, driving the camp bus, mowing lawns or fundraising for a multimillion dollar project, if something needed done at the Sheridan County YMCA over the last 41 years, Executive Director Jay McGinnis did it.
“He has great drive,” YMCA Board President Ellen Treide said Thursday. “He knows how to work with people and engage with people. … When he walks into a room, I think the whole room changes in a really fabulous way because of his energy.”
That energy will shift later this year, though, as McGinnis plans to retire at the end of August.
A calming presence
If you ask those who know McGinnis to describe the kind of person — the kind of leader — he is, most remark on his calm demeanor.
Center for a Vital Community Executive Director Amy Albrecht said she’s looked up to McGinnis over the years and called him a “quiet force” who always has the community’s best interest at heart.
“Everything I learned about how to run a board effectively and fundraise, came from watching Jay,” Albrecht said, noting that during her tenure on the YMCA board she had said she didn’t want to fundraise. McGinnis, though, convinced her otherwise. “You find yourself saying ‘Yes’ before you know it.
“If Jay thinks I can do it, who says I can’t,” Albrecht added.
Cathi Kindt remarked that McGinnis is one of Sheridan’s most successful and respected community leaders.
“His leadership style fosters enthusiasm and connection for any community project in which he is involved,” Kindt said. “Jay’s gentle mannerism and thoughtfulness makes him approachable to share conversation on good news or challenges.”
Despite the mild manners and calm demeanor, though, McGinnis gets things done.
Associate Executive Director Diane Ballek noted that McGinnis was a powerful force for the YMCA in the community, advocating the nonprofit’s cause and helping other organization’s with their own missions.
Growth of an organization
A lot can happen in 41 years. At the Sheridan YMCA, a lot has.
McGinnis began his work at the Sheridan YMCA in February 1976 as the organization’s youth director. At that time, McGinnis said, the staff used to joke that you could fire a cannon down the hallway and not hit a soul.
“The Y was still evolving and finding itself,” McGinnis recalled, adding that the facility at the time was smaller, with just a single pool and a single gym.
Now, though, the YMCA has two pools, multiple gyms and soccer fields. It has purchased Camp Roberts, expanded parking and remodeled locker rooms. It is on track, too, for a new aquatic facility.
McGinnis will depart as the groundbreaking occurs, noting that the timing will provide a good transition for the YMCA’s new leadership.
The YMCA is wrapping up a capital campaign to fund the construction of the aquatic center, the renovation of the existing pool space to make room for expanded programming and an endowment to keep it all going.
“The transition should be fairly seamless,” McGinnis said. “There is still more to do, but the pool is in a good place. It is healthy and strong.”
Hope for the future
While Treide noted that the staff and leadership team at the YMCA will miss McGinnis and his contributions to the organization, the transition also opens opportunities.
“The benefits of fresh eyes and different perspectives — there are a lot of great things coming along for the Y,” Treide said.
McGinnis agreed. Along with his departure, Ballek will step down and into a part-time position with the YMCA.
“The advantage of changing some long-term staff is the opportunity to cast a vision that is the next step for the Y and the opportunity to grow, expand and be bigger, better, stronger,” McGinnis said, noting that he did not necessarily mean that in terms of the building itself. “So it may look like a deficit time, but I think it’s a positive time.”
Both McGinnis and Ballek noted that the shift in leadership will also open new opportunities for young leaders to step up.
Ballek, who has mentored young leaders within the YMCA organization, said she would advise the young employees moving up to continue working together, living the YMCA’s mission and striving to connect with the community.
“Innovation, vision and all of that kind of stuff will be important moving forward,” Ballek said.
McGinnis advised young leaders to go for it.
“If you can effectively frame an idea and describe it, and it’s addressing a real need in the community, you can get it done here,” McGinnis said. “There will be others who will join in with you.”
The leadership team at the YMCA recently posted the executive director position to job boards. Treide noted that she expects to see both local and national candidates apply for the job. No matter the candidate, she said, to be successful the YMCA’s leader must have vision, be capable of working with staff and members, have the ability to coordinate a construction project and be able to fundraise and lead a capital campaign.
The YMCA hopes to conduct its first interviews in June, finalize the choice for executive director in July and have the new leader in place by September.
McGinnis said he hopes the decision is difficult for the board of directors.
“My hope is that the final pool is exceptionally qualified,” McGinnis said. “I hope they have big dreams and a vision for the Y. They should be passionate and heartfelt folks. It should be a difficult task to choose. … I hope the candidates are so strong it’s hard to decide.”
RELATED STORY: Read more about Ballek’s transition here.