Steve Tarver served as the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Louisville for 23 years, but his career at the Y started long before that. He first got involved with the organization through a membership his mom bought him while growing up in Jacksonville, Florida. At 14, he became a lifeguard and swim instructor and continued serving the YMCA in various positions for the next 51 years.
“I’m a Y kid,” said Tarver. “I was blessed by some great influences and had the help of my parents to support me. My dad would pick me up, take me to the Y and get me home. I was a part of the Leaders Club who led me to volunteering and then into the payroll when I was in high school.”
Tarver’s Impact at the YMCA of Greater Louisville
While with the YMCA of Greater Louisville, Tarver oversaw many ambitious projects. Bringing quality facilities and programming to typically underrepresented and underserved parts of the community was a large focus in this career.
“The western area of Louisville, Kentucky, has a history of not getting the best of everything,” explained Tarver. “When we started talking about a newer facility, people were skeptical because this area doesn’t always get what they deserve in terms of quality. We told them we would give them a place that was equal to or better than anything we had elsewhere in the region. We feel we accomplished that.”
Over time, the organization shifted its focus toward issues of health equity in the region under Tarver’s leadership. Working with and learning from local health professionals influenced how he understood community health. Incorporating these principles into decision making and operations has culminated into work that benefits the whole city.
The highlight of this initiative for Tarver is the Republic Bank Foundation YMCA which opened in 2019. Community health through collaboration and education are at the foundation of this facility as its impact continues to grow.
“We opened that Y with community five partners under the roof,” said Tarver. “We now have nine partners, one of which is a public elementary school. We recognize the inextricable relationship between health and education. We can’t have one without the other.”
Leading the Way
Along with creating change in his local community, Tarver has played an integral part within the community rec industry as one of the inaugural members of Community Rec Magazine’s advisory board.
“What I like about that work is the nature of Community Rec Magazine where they’re looking at community recreation as a part of the infrastructure of a healthy community,” said Tarver. “Community Rec Magazine brings a vision for community recreation and even public health. I’m very honored to be included in that.”
Throughout his extensive career, Tarver emphasized the importance of one lesson which is gratitude. He connects this with carrying out the Y’s mission and finding success through serving the community as a team.
“In the beginning, start with a mission,” he said. “At the end, say thank you. In the middle, be a servant. That’s fundamentally how we try to lead in our mission to help people grow in spirit, mind and body. We value the magnificence of every person. We believe leadership and citizenship is a lifelong journey that never ends. We believe in gratitude.”
Even during his retirement, Tarver plans to continue working with the YMCA of Greater Louisville. He will be introducing the new CEO and president, Gary Cobbs, to the community along with providing information and support for other projects.
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