In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge. In the 2022 November/December issue, the conversation features Denise L. Day, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine.
1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?
In college I had a coaching practicum with the YMCA of Lincoln Nebraska youth sports department. That led to a part-time job as a site supervisor and then as a morning opener. When I graduated and was a teaching assistant working on a master’s in sports management, I was asked to apply for the physical director position at the downtown branch.
2. What’s been a key to your team’s success? What are you most proud of?
Team success starts with trust and respect for the expertise and experience each member brings to the table. Hire the best and provide the support, development and resources needed to accomplish the organization’s strategic plan. I am most proud of the leaders who pulled together to find opportunities during the pandemic.
3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
In 2015, after working with the neighboring CEO and our boards for more than two years, the YMCA of Brandywine Valley merged with the Upper Main Line YMCA to form our current YMCA of Greater Brandywine. The partnership resulted in better services and programming for the community.
4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
Managing in the unknown of COVID-19. As a larger Y, we were not eligible for the first round of PPP funds, and there were no guarantees that would change for future funding. This contributed to the hardest decisions we’ve ever made, especially around staff layoffs, pulling every lever we could, and working around the clock to assure the Y would be able to serve the community in perpetuity — of course, and most importantly, assuring we kept our staff and families safe and healthy.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?
Be flexible and adaptable as a leader. The only thing you can count on is change. Be open to adapt your leadership style as the world evolves, and you must welcome feedback.
6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.
I played softball for Team USA in the Pan American Games in 1989 and World Games in 1990. We won the gold in both competitions. At the University of Nebraska, we played for the national championship and lost in extra innings to the University of California, Los Angeles. I was honored to be the Honda-Broderick Cup winner for softball that year as well.