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Editor's column: 10 questions with …

Tom Bolin, the new executive director at the Marshall Area YMCA

July 21, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

What drew you to Marshall and the position at the YMCA?

It's two-fold. Number one, it's a great 'Y' and a great opportunity to come to an established 'Y' that is doing very well and has had a lot of community support throughout the years. Secondly, it's coming back home. Growing up in Tracy and coming back to family and extended family in the area is a real perk for me. But without the 'Y,' if it wasn't a quality 'Y' and a good situation, I wouldn't have made the move to come back home.

What makes the YMCA in Marshall stand out from others?

In these days and economic times - there are 2,700 'Ys' across the nation and a lot of those are struggling with membership, community support. For me, the YMCA here, it's a community effort, the community supports it to a great extent, they want it here. And it's a beautiful facility, only nine years old, doing well financially, no debt at this time, membership base is strong. You put all those factors together, and it's a YMCA anyone would want to go to.

Explain the transformation the YMCA organization underwent three years ago.

The real change was behind the scenes - how we operate, how we communicate. National research showed that people looked at the YMCA as a gym and swim, a place to go work out and go swimming. They don't see it as a cause-driven organization, like the United Way, Big Brothers, Big Sisters. With the new system the 'Y' is using we're trying to get out there that we're cause-driven and focused on youth development, social responsibility and healthy living. Inside that, we're doing social things, education things, to give back to the community. We talk much more about the impacts that we make instead of saying, 'We have a swimming pool and 70 pieces of equipment.'

What does the social responsibility portion of the YMCA's mission entail?

Each 'Y' is its own animal, so to speak. 'You've seen one you've seen them all' is a common saying, but with a 'Y' if you've seen one you seen one. Everyone's gonna be different. The biggest piece of social responsibility in Marshall is our scholarship funds that we raise. It's not using membership dollars that people pay. It's the community and businesses coming together, giving dollars for scholarships to individuals. We're turning around and offering memberships to those that are disadvantaged, that just need a little help. It's allowing kids to go to swimming lessons, allowing kids to go to camps. It's about the whole area of southwest Minnesota helping their neighbors who are less fortunate.

What is the YMCA's role in youth development?

It's really nurturing the potential of kids. We belive all children of any age, any background have great potential, and the 'Y' has a number of programs that nurture that potential with things like youth sports. Take basketball. Kids are learning the skills of basketball here but the 'Y' is intentionally teaching teamwork, cooperation, leadership, honesty. We're doing those skills in the context of the sport. The kids are competitive, parents are competitive, but there's definitely an intentional side at the 'Y' of trying to teach those life skills that the kids will carry on throughout their lives.

Why are camps so important?

One, it's an adventure for the kids. In today's society where kids can stay home and have screen time all the time, camping allows them to get out and experience new things, be it history, geography, science. Maybe the most important things with camps is the social side - this is where they can go to meet friends. Some kids do really well right off the bat, but for others it's a big deal for them to go out and have the opportunity to be in different situations with different people and learn those socialization skills. And for parents, it allows them to have some time away for their own personal health, sometimes it allows them to go to school. There are many different aspects.

What do you bring to the executive director position in Marshall?

I come with a varied background with 10 years of 'Y' experience. For myself on a bigger scale, I was in the Air Force for a couple years, and anybody who's been in the military, you learn things about leadership, teamwork and succeeding as a group. With my time in the Peace Corps, now I definitely have my eye out for the minority populations in the community and how we can work with them and make them part of our community. It's extremely important for people to take the time out to understand that basically everybody's the same - we're all trying to have a job, support our family and have a good life. The 'Y's' job is to make opportunities possible for anybody here to experience those things and have the same opportunities.

Any specific goals for the Marshall 'Y' in the future?

I envision a 'Y' that is going to be a gathering place in Marshall; people come here to work out and swim, but also to come socialize, to play cards, to take classes, go to meetings, camp. We want to be that third gathering place after church and home. I think it's already happening, but I want the people in Marshall to think, 'What did we ever do before the YMCA came?' We want to make it an indispensable part of the community that in some way touches everybody in some aspect. Personal development and training of staff is important to me - that will be a key right off the get-go for me here, giving them opportunities to move up within the 'Y' system. I'd like to see all staff be more involved in the community and being more networked.

What does it mean to you to come full circle personally and return to your roots?

You go through life, years go by quick, and you don't necessarily think about where you'll end up. After the Peace Corps, we really could've went anywhere in the world, but we knew we wanted to be (in) 'smaller-town' Minnesota. We're not metro people. I've always said Marshall would be the only other place I would go to within the 'Y,' and when the job opened up it was really appealing. Having family here, it was where I wanted to come to support my family and receive the support of family in the area. Life comes back to relationships, and that's what you want to do in the end - be close to family and people who care about you.

Are there any specific challenges the YMCA is facing on a national level?

There definitely is. The economy is huge. Locally, on more of a seasonal basis, weather plays a huge part in the success of 'Ys' in the Upper Midwest with early winters and winters that drag on into May. People don't love that but it's good for YMCAs. There are definitely challenges nationally. Probably the biggest thing for most Ys is to stay true to our cause-driven mission. It's easy for 'Ys' to almost operate as a for-profit - be the gym and swim that people want to go to but forget the social side and the fundraising side. That's what Marshall's done so well. They're gonna raise $110,000 this year for scholarships - that's really what makes the 'Y' different from other competitors in the fitness world. We're giving back to the community, helping neighbors. Some of the 'Ys' that struggle around the nation don't keep true to those cause-driven goals.



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