YMCA executive director supports healthy living, social responsibility and education

The Chester YMCA’s relatively new executive director is anything but inexperienced. He looks young, but wouldn’t we all if we stayed in shape?

Chris Hughes, 37, began his duties as YMCA executive director about four months ago, replacing Kathy Jentjen as executive director. Ms. Jentjen moved to be executive director of the Midlothian YMCA and garnered regional vice president as well.

Mr. Hughes has a lot of experience with other YMCAs. Moving to the Chester Y, although he lives in Midlothian, where he grew up, was a homecoming. For 12 years Hughes was assistant director of a Y in Raleigh, NC.

“It’s been very exciting to get to know and the feel of Chester,” said Hughes. “And to me there’s a very strong feeling of people caring about this community.”

Chester’s YMCA, is the only Y in southeastern Chesterfield and started humbly in a storefront alongside what was then a Safeway grocery store.

A tenacious group of volunteers including Carolyn George, was instrumental in keeping the small facility open for 10 years until the current YMCA could be built. A much smaller YMCA was built there after contributions were made by the community. The Chester Y has been open for 34 years.

A small Y was built at its current location in 1990. Several area civic groups helped raise the money to build the health-related facility. Margaret Burgess, who lived adjacent to the location, gave the group a reduced price on the property.

After many additions including a swimming pool, basketball court, an indoor oval running-track, a second exercise room in addition to a spinning room and a children’s daycare, the Chester YMCA is comparable to any Y in the region. And it’s not your father’s YMCA. It has grown by at least four times the size it was when it opened.

Hughes now has the job of managing a membership, which gave away over $750,000 to the community in the way of support last year. The Y has projects at Marguerite Christian Elementary, Colonial Ridge Apartments and Greenleigh Mobile Home Park.

“There’s nothing better in a job than being able to reach out to people in both a healthy live perspective and helping youth. Their journey is critical,” Hughes said during an interview last week  with the Village News.

“At Marguerite Christian is an after school program. We serve about 35 kids that are fully-subsidized by our annual campaign. They are identified by the principal, the counselors and the teachers who need additional support,” Hughes said. “We help the kid’s progress forward. These kids don’t necessarily have help at home, and we focus on the educational piece.”

At Colonial Ridge, the Y volunteers and staff provide tutoring two days a week and field trips two times a month.

 The Y tutors are focused on elementary, middle and high school kids. Hughes says that what is really encouraging is when you see the kids get off the school bus and come running directly to the trailer where we tutor them. He says kids really do want to learn.

“In December the Y staff took the group to DC; we’ve taken them to Richmond Spiders basketball games; we’ve taken them out to different restaurants for more of a cultural understanding; we take them and try to tie it into work to show them what their future and careers could look like including Ford Theatre after riding on a train from here,” Hughes said. He said they really get to experience something they usually don’t.

The Y works with them all during the school year and then take them to the Y’s summer daycare program. Hughes said, “We are just trying to give them some support.”

The YMCA is in the middle of the Annual Campaign, which helps the organization in youth development, and support families by providing an on-site after-school mentoring program and full-day summer camp, as explained by Hughes.

Of course the Y is extremely supportive of healthy living by engaging children in youth sports and camp programs that combat youth obesity with physical activity while developing a cooperative spirit, and creating confidence with the mastery of new skills.

The Y also touts its support healthy living with programs for all that tackle chronic disease and obesity in addition to wellness programs that keep older adults active.

Social responsibility is also a goal, which the Annual Giving Campaign supports. Part of the vision of the Y is to provide every second grader with life-saving aquatic skills through YMCA Learn to Swim.

The YMCA remains open to all offering financial assistance for those whom financial resources are a barrier to participation. In 2014, we anticipate that one out of every two members who join the Chester Y will need financial assistance to take part in programs and services. The Y ensures that no one is turned away due to an inability to pay.

The Chester Y must raise at least $100,000 during this year’s Annual Campaign.

“In August and September the Y works to finance its program called Bright Beginnings,” Director of Communications, Charlotte Dean said. “We help kids get ready for the school year and once again through the community provide students with backpacks, school supplies and clothes.”

The Richmond YMCA, on Franklin Street, acts as the hub of 17 YMCAs throughout the region.   

“We’ve not only recently launched our annual campaign but we are working on our strategic plan, which tells us where we are going moving forward. So we’re really excited about that and it’s just a great compass for how we’re going to have our programs and services help build the community,” Ms. Dean said.

“The vision and what’s important to me as I’ve come to Chester is that we are serving people, and everyone’s needs in the community are a little bit different. So it’s important for us, for everyone who walks through the door we get a better understanding of what their goals are, what they’re trying to accomplish so that we can be alongside of them on that journey,” Hughes said. “And for me, that is what the Y has been about – relationships.”   

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