YMCA Of Greater Long Beach President/CEO Jason Hagensick
June 5, 2012 - For youth development, for healthy living and for social responsibility, the YMCA of Greater Long Beach is moving forward with a restructuring plan that will help the organization better serve the local community. YMCA of Greater Long Beach President and CEO Jason Hagensick is leading that charge.
Hagensick began his career with the YMCA as young man in Corpus Christi, Texas. His high school basketball coach asked him if he would coach his son and daughter, so he became a volunteer at the local YMCA. Day and night, Hagensick worked to improve the youth basketball league until one day the director of operations – a woman by the name of Charlene Lewis – gave him a job. "I started out at the front desk at the Downtown YMCA in Corpus Christi on the weekends," he said. "I would break up fights on the basketball court and I would play catch in the hallway with my younger brother. That was my first job in the Y."
Since then, Hagensick has worked in just about every service and program of the nonprofit – from day camps and memberships to health and wellness, and everything in between. "If you pick a Y program, I have some experience in it," Hagensick said.
He moved to California in December 1998 to become the associate executive director of the YMCA of Orange County in Laguna Niguel. In 2003, Hagensick moved up to work as executive director of the Lakewood branch of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach. In just four years, he was promoted to chief operating officer of the organization.
Since its founding in 1884, Hagensick is the 14th president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Long Beach. He is responsible for seven YMCA branches and the YMCA Camp Oakes in Big Bear. The local YMCA serve 12 cities: Artesia, Avalon, Bellflower, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, Lakewood, Long Beach, Los Alamitos, Paramount, Rossmoor, Seal Beach and Signal Hill. In this interview with the Business Journal, Hagensick discussed the organization's budget, its restructuring plan and the impending closure of the Downtown Y, located at 6th Street and Locust Avenue, on June 15.
LBBJ: Whom does the YMCA serve?
Hagensick: Everybody. We are unique because we actually serve, really, from birth to passing. Our youngest members and participants are six weeks old; [it's] whenever a parent is comfortable to bring a child into the YMCA from a membership standpoint, from an aquatics standpoint. I don't know [the age of] our oldest member, but I've got friends who are in their early 90s. I've heard 97.
As far as who, from a diversity standpoint, our YMCA is arguably the most diverse Y in the country. We are very reflective of the communities that we serve. Our membership and program base really mirror, or echo, the community that they are part of. Our staff is reflective of the communities that they serve. We continue to work on our board and our volunteers to be a better reflection, although they are very much supportive of the strategic vision of our YMCA.
We are known as the YMCAs with the largest number of Cambodian staff in the world – even more so than the YMCA in Cambodia. Now, they have a higher percentage, because they would be 100 percent Cambodian staff, but in our case we have more people. All the staff, for the most part, is African American, Hispanic, Cambodian – very reflective of an inner city urban environment. Every YMCA is unique. If you go to Lakewood, you're probably going to see 60 percent Caucasian and 40 percent Hispanic.
LBBJ: What programs and services does the YMCA offer to the community?
Hagensick: Our largest programs are centered on after-school programs and preschool programming. We also have our health and wellness component. If you break down, you're going to see youth development, health and wellness, and social responsibility type programs. We have a 236-acre resident camp in Big Bear for summertime activities and have the Youth Institute.
There was a time in the YMCA that the challenge was engaging Hispanic/Latino families in preschool programming. At the time our YMCA was excelling at it. We serve about 750 kids every single day in preschool, and the large majority – we're talking 90 percent – is of Hispanic/Latino heritage.
If you look at the Youth Institute program, we have a 98 percent high school graduate rate. To get in this program you must complete an application, and it's not based on your grades. It's based on the diversity and adversity each of these young men and women have in their lives – their upbringing. What's unique about that is if you take Long Beach Unified School District's graduate rate, about a 70 percent (it typically falls between 67 percent and 77 percent) the 30 percent of kids who are dropping out are the kids we are hand picking for this program. So the large majority of the kids coming into the Youth Institute program are part of that 30 percent that are more likely to drop out or have faced some kind of adversity. We're teaching them to love learning more than we're teaching them to love school. We're teaching them a trade and a skill – vocational work. Their learning digital media, they're learning computer technology, graphic design, photography – you pick it, they are learning it. What we're seeing is it's not only improving their lives, but also improving the future generations of their family.
We have youth sports, our aquatics programs, health and wellness, Zumba classes. You pick it, we've got it.
LBBJ: Does the local YMCA encourage Muscular Christianity – a denomination that focuses on piety and physical health, based on the New Testament – through its programs and services?
Hagensick: We are open and inviting to all. Our mission and our heritage are still very much Christian based. Our mission actually is to put Judeo-Christian principles into practice. As far as Muscular Christianity goes, that's actually the first time I've heard that in a long time. You would say that the triangle in the YMCA represents the organization being the first to represent the spirit, mind and body. More than anything, that is still consistent in today's environment. You actually see it taken on by many organizations, but the Y was one of, if not the first, to really embrace spirit, mind and body.
Seniors come to the Y to exercise, but many . . . come in to socialize and to be around their friends. Kids come, and one of the best things about that, from a parental standpoint, is the character value that they are exposed to. I have two small kids. I am so fortunate to work and represent the YMCA because the environment that my two children will be brought up in is going to be values based. It's going to have [good] adult role models all over the place, multiple opportunities to succeed in life and actually be around people who want my children to succeed. That's true for every single kid here.
LBBJ: How many people does the local YMCA employ?
Hagensick: We employ, on average, about 540 people. One hundred forty of those would be full-time employees, and roughly 400 of them would be part-time seasonal staff. It gets up to a high in the summer of nearly 700.
LBBJ: How many volunteers does the local YMCA currently have?
Hagensick: I don't have an exact number. Estimating, I'd say somewhere in the 1,500 range. One of the strategic initiatives moving forward is to track and monitor that in a better way.
LBBJ: What is the annual budget?
Hagensick: $15.01 million. Of that, the contributed support we get on an annual basis is just at $750,000 through our Strong Kids campaign. That's primarily from local businesses, individuals and organizations that believe in what the Y is doing. We have 35,000 members, give or take. Half of those are kids. We get about 15 percent of our funding from contributed support, which includes that $750,000 plus any grants we receive. Ten percent comes from membership. Seventy-five percent comes from programs. Of the 75 percent, 40 percent comes from the State of California – the government. We are very mission rich, asset poor; hence, we are looking at the closure of the Downtown YMCA. With the economy we currently face, our board is in a position where it has to make some tough decisions.
The money brought in from a community stays in that community. For example, Lakewood raises about $150,000 of that $750,000. That $150,000 stays in Lakewood to support that facility's programs, membership and the branch. Our association office raises money as well, and that goes to support all of the programs for the association.
We have a volunteer board of directors, and each branch has a volunteer board of managers. That volunteer board of managers is there to help establish policies and strategic planning for that specific community. . . . If a Y wants to build a gymnasium and it has the funding and sees that as part of the strategic vision, then we are going to support that. Likewise, if a YMCA wants a Youth Institute as part of its community and they can raise the funds and generate the support for it, we will help them do that. Just because it works here, doesn't mean we are going to try to force-feed it somewhere else. Every YMCA is unique. The old joke is that if you've been to one YMCA, you've been to one YMCA.
LBBJ: When did each of the local YMCA facilities open?
Hagensick: The current location for the downtown facility opened in 2000. The building that we were in before had been there for 20 years, and the one that was there before that had been there since the early 1900s. Lakewood was built in 1980. Los Altos, Fairfield and Los Cerritos were all built in the 1960s. We've had Camp Oakes for about that length of time as well.
LBBJ: What was it that caused the YMCA of Greater Long Beach Board of Directors to decide it was time to make a plan to restructure the organization?
Hagensick: The economy that we currently face continued to challenge our YMCA, as well as every nonprofit and for-profit business in the country. Our board looked at how we delivered services and programs. The Downtown YMCA has not met its financial plan since 2000 [when it opened at its current location]. Our board asked, "If we're going to change, what is it going to look like? How are we going to change?" This has never been about how we reduce expenses; it was more about how we can strengthen our YMCA moving forward.
Truthfully, what it came down to was that the downtown building is 8,000 square feet. We cannot get where we need to be as a healthy, sustainable YMCA in that building. We cannot build the kind of facility that we need on that piece of property. A typical, small YMCA, built today, is going to be at least 30,000 square feet. Most downtown YMCAs serving inner city urban environments are going to be built as a collaborative – either with a city or with a mixed-used, residential project or a health partner. We are very interested in where Downtown Long Beach is going. We all believe that downtown is a great place for our YMCA, and we are committed to having a healthy lifestyle presence downtown. We still have the mission-rich program that is going to take place downtown, but from a treadmill and aquatics and health and wellness component, we have to get there and we have to be part of a bigger project if a downtown Y is going to succeed. It's unlikely that it is going to be a stand-alone YMCA.
LBBJ: Are there any areas downtown that the board is looking at, as far as existing development projects or future development projects?
Hagensick: Nothing specific, but we are open to ideas. Right now, the decision was that we could not continue to operate the Downtown YMCA. The next step is, where do we go from here? If someone wanted to come in and talk about buying the property or leasing the property, we will listen. The only thing we want to do is be in downtown in a project that works.
LBBJ: What does the restructuring plan entail?
Hagensick: The three biggest things that we've put into place, as far as the initial restructuring, include the closing of the Downtown Y on June 15. We are discontinuing the health and wellness membership component at the Los Cerritos YMCA, which also offers before-and-after-school childcare, swimming and some community-based programs, which will continue. At our Fairfield and our Los Altos YMCAs, they will share a management team. It's a cost savings and a service delivery opportunity. The next step is to make a modest investment in our Los Cerritos YMCA, the YMCA community development branch at St. Luke's Cathedral downtown and our Fairfield YMCA. We hope to do larger projects at Lakewood, Los Altos and Camp Oakes, but it's too early to make an announcement for those.
LBBJ: Since the downtown Y that is closing is similar in size to other local Ys, why was the downtown facility chosen for closure over some of the other local facilities?
Hagensick: There were a lot of different factors, including financial that I mentioned earlier. Also, we cannot physically expand the facility at that location to provide the services and programs that should be made available to the community. The Downtown YMCA became primarily a health and wellness center for adults. We can make the other facilities work for what we need to do in those communities, but we could not make the Downtown YMCA work.
LBBJ: How many people do you think will be impacted by the closure of the Downtown Y?
Hagensick: Roughly 700 individuals, unfortunately. There are about 450 memberships, and those memberships equate to families as well.
LBBJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Hagensick: We are fortunate to have a very strong volunteer leadership for our YMCA. The decision to close the Downtown YMCA was not taken lightly. We looked at every single possibility we could and came to a very difficult decision. But we believe, and I believe strongly, that it is the best decision that our YMCA could be making in a very difficult time. I understand that it is going to impact people in various ways. As unfortunate as that is, we're going to be a better YMCA because of this. If you look at our YMCA as a whole, we are doing some really cool things that are having tremendous positive impacts in Long Beach.
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