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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 Brian Steffen, the CEO of the Eugene Family YMCA.

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

In 2016, I was hired as the CEO of the Missoula Family YMCA after a decade of working as the CEO of a community action agency. I made the career move to the community recreation industry because I believed in the value of the YMCA’s early childhood impact, mentoring philosophies and abilities to build intergenerational relationships.

2. What’s been a key to your organization’s success? 

Authentic compassion is the secret to our success. When we say we will be there for our community and one another, we back up those words with innovative programs, creative membership offerings and new collaborations. We have a team of visionary board members, staff, donors and members who are focused on growing our programs, offering new classes and providing evidence-based programs. I find so much joy and pride in the remarkable relationships our YMCA has fostered and built over its 133-year history. Most of our senior leadership team has been with our Y for 15 years or more, and many of our frontline staff have been with our Y for 10 years or more. We have members who have been attending group exercise classes together for over 30 years. Our Y is filled with potlucks, weekend get-togethers and friendships that have endured for many years.

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

In 2019 I spent nearly seven months working closely with Oregon legislators to secure $15 million in state lottery bond funding to go toward our YMCA’s efforts to construct a beautiful, new 70,000-square-foot flagship location. Having spent the majority of my career working with legislators and political leaders, it was rewarding to utilize my background to help our YMCA secure such a significant level of financial support.

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

Changing nonprofit sectors was a significant challenge and the learning curve was steep. There were entirely new financial models, funding streams and areas of focus to learn about and develop operational strategies around. It was a jarring change to build entirely new career networks and professional skill sets. In coming to the Eugene Family YMCA, I was reminded how critical it was to make the career move to an organization with needs that closely align with a leader’s skill sets.

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

Read “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek. This changed my leadership focus, vision and communication patterns more than any seminar, class or training. As community recreation professionals, it is easy to get focused on a program, class or session. However, none of us came to this career because of a specific program or class. Sinek’s book reminded me why I chose this career at a pivotal moment. It reminded me of the beautiful power of friendships, mentoring and authentic determination. When community recreation professionals learn to focus on the why behind their work, rather than what they are doing on a day-by-day basis, they naturally create strategies, tactics and procedures that inspire, build confidence and foster trust. However, this takes work, consistent attention and recommitment because daily details often get broken down into decisions that seem disconnected from the why.

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

I grew up on a Montana cattle ranch in a community of only a few hundred residents.

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Bobby Dyer

Bobby is the former editor of Community Rec Magazine.

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