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In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge with you. This issue, the conversation features Chris Tointon, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Omaha.

1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?

CT: I worked for my parents as far back as I can remember. At the age of 12, I felt like I needed to experience something different, and a friend of mine was coaching tee-ball at the local parks department. I worked the desk at the outdoor pool, taught swim lessons, and was a summer camp counselor. From there, I kept looking for bigger challenges and found a job as a summer camp counselor at the Y. I was hooked from there. Since then, my career has included positions as youth coordinator, youth sports director, senior program director, branch executive director and CEO.

2. What’s a key to the YMCA of Greater Omaha’s success? What are you most proud of?

CT: Our greatest asset is that we have the most passionate people, dedicated to the service of our community. Most of what we do is driven by how our staff members engage with everyone. My first goal when I arrived in Omaha was for us to become an employer of choice. Our leadership team created a culture where people were so excited to work for the Y that it spilled over into our members. We are attracting the best and brightest, employee morale has never been higher and turnover is vastly improved.

3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?

CT: When I first accepted the position at Greater Midland, my board chair told me they had been working on a capital plan that rerouted the street between our flagship branch and our parking lot for 30 years without success. He said if I could do that, I would not only be a success in his eyes, but a hero. I took that goal personally, and in 2008, we completed a $3.7 million capital renovation that rerouted the road and also built an entire campus, including a state-of-the-art curling center, community playground, outdoor competition basketball courts, walking trails and more.

4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

CT: A Fortune 500 company headquartered in our community developed fitness centers on their property, staffed by another nationwide company. It was disappointing to me that the company wasn’t utilizing local experts to manage their wellness. I quickly found out why — our wellness programs and staff weren’t skilled enough, and didn’t have the experience they needed. So I developed a vision that we would be the No. 1 fitness provider from a quality and quantity standpoint. I started by creating a fantastic team with energy, experience and the ability to adapt our culture to produce the highest quality of fitness. When we approached the company, we had grown to 10,000 members, with multiple facilities and a high degree of expertise.

5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?

CT: I think many people take for granted a formal process for developing relationships and building collaborations that strengthen the community. While it generally comes naturally to many in our field, it is important to take a strategic approach to relationship building.

6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.

CT: When I arrived at college, I needed a job. I walked to the local Y and asked the program director if she had any openings. The only thing she had was a gymnastics coach job, so I confidently said I could do that. I did gymnastics in middle school and loved coaching kids in anything, so I learned on the fly. She later told me she hired me out of desperation. I taught for four more years after that and helped develop a competitive YMCA gymnastics team.

Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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