In The Last Word, we sit down with an industry expert to share their wealth of knowledge with you. This issue, the conversation features Mandy Lail, the marketing director of the YMCA of Northern Utah.
1. How did you get started in the community recreation industry?
ML: I grew up in YMCA programming as a camp director’s kid and was involved in everything from soccer to swim lessons to camp to afterschool programs. When I turned 15, I applied for my first job as a YMCA summer camp counselor. The Y had given so much to me — one of my counselors literally changed my life — so I couldn’t wait to make that happen for tons of other kids in the community. For the last 14 years, I’ve worked in every role possible with the local YMCA where I grew up in North Carolina, and I ended up working heavily with the marketing director when I was a program director. It sparked my love of telling our story and getting the word out about the work the YMCA was doing.
2. What’s been a key to your organization’s success? What are you most proud of?
ML: I think the key to the YMCA’s success is everyone is bought into our mission “to build strong kids, strong families and strong communities.” Our staff are so committed to our work it seeps into everything we do. When you work for the YMCA, you can’t help but love what you do because you see firsthand the impact it makes on families.
One of the things I’m most proud of is our work during the COVID-19 crisis. Our staff willingly put themselves at risk to serve meals to families who would otherwise go hungry, provided care for front-line workers and made all our programs available virtually.
3. What has been one of the biggest accomplishments of your career?
ML: I think one of the biggest accomplishments of my career is being a young professional woman in my field. I don’t have a background in marketing, and I’ve worked really hard to get where I am. I’m the first marketing director to run their own department for the YMCA of Northern Utah, and in a field that is very skill based, I’ve been able to surround myself with some amazing mentors and teach myself a majority of the technical skills. I’m very thankful our YMCA took a chance on a small-town girl from North Carolina.
4. What has been one of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?
ML: I think the COVID-19 crisis has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. I’m a planner and spent weeks planning out the entire marketing calendar for the year by day, and it was completely turned on its head. We are being challenged to be innovative, but remain personal in our connections, and I’m a one-woman department. It’s hard, but I’m excited to see the growth that will come out of this.
5. What is one lesson you have learned that other community recreation professionals can learn from?
ML: One of the best lessons I have learned is to not put yourself in a box. Our passions and interests change, and that’s OK. Put people in your life who encourage you, push you to make hard decisions and support you when you’re taking on something brand new.
Second, be your own best advocate. Speak up when things are hard or when you are struggling to keep up with your work. Don’t bury yourself under your own expectations of perfection and recognize you have plenty of support around you. And if you don’t, ask for it.
6. Tell us one fact about yourself others may not know.
ML: I moved to Utah from North Carolina in October 2019 and drove across the country for three days by myself. I arrived in Salt Lake City on Saturday and started work on Monday. I’m still catching up on sleep.