In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge. This issue, the conversation features Phillip Jimenez, the president and CEO at the West Cook YMCA in Oak Park, Illinois.
1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?
It was not planned, or at least not by me — providence you might say. And you know what they say, sometimes it is those unexpected life experiences that are the most enriching. It was meant to be. When I was a youth, I attended overnight summer camp at the West Cook YMCA Camp Magellan, and it was the best. Then after nearly four decades, I was invited to serve as president and CEO of my home Y in my hometown, and it continues to be a great honor. To serve the communities that reared me and supported my development and growth has been so fulfilling.
2. What’s been a key to your organization’s success? What are you most proud of?
Our team is all in, all the time. My colleagues are willing to pivot at a moment’s notice, have the courage to try new things and take on initiatives unfamiliar to us. If I had to list three words, they would be perseverance, courageous and adaptive.
3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
To witness our staff’s responsiveness, perseverance and courage as we serve our community in its greatest time of need during the COVID-19 pandemic. To have accomplished all we did during these uncertain times and be shoulder to shoulder with them the entire way has been rewarding and a humbling honor.
4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
Being at the helm during the COVID-19 pandemic. If we fully lean into our role of a servant leader, moments in which we can guarantee the safety of our colleagues or their household incomes so their families will be OK can shake a leader to their core. Through faith, my family and seeing how our team members were stepping toward the challenge, and to take a path forward riddled with what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles, was one of the most significant challenges of my career. It gives me certainty we will not only get to the other side of this, but we will be stronger, more focused and in a position to better serve our community so together we can strengthen the foundations of our communities for a better us.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?
If our organizations can remain focused on serving our constituents, we will find a path to mutual success and financial viability. This past year really brought this to the forefront for our Y. We looked for how we could serve our communities, our staff and our partners. They in turn supported our efforts.
6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.
My family hails from Mexico, and as a child I recall our residence being near structures and pyramids built by Aztecs. I remember climbing them when I was young.