Meet Andrew Corley, a former YMCA Change Agent who is now one of the youngest CEOs of a local Y: the Sioux Y in South Dakota, USA
So Andrew, how long have you been involved in YMCA?
I have been working for the Sioux YMCA for 9 years. Prior to that I was working for another YMCA for 2 years. I was a youth participant for 4 years. So that’s a total of 11 years working for the Y, and 15 years involvement in all. I remember my first camp as a child. It took me three days to find my groove, but when I broke out of my shell, I was a changed person. I knew that this would be something I stay connected to for the rest of my life.
You were a YMCA Change Agent – tell us more!
I was part of the Change Agent program with Cohort 2. It was a transformational experience, one that I will always reflect on as life changing. I was able to connect and network with amazing individuals who were able to help me reach a higher potential. I am always a proponent of furthering education and training. I think having a dedicated 2-year program helped me and my local YMCA thrive.
Being part of the Change Agents allowed me a few incredible opportunities, I was asked to speak on the main stage at both the 19th World Council in Thailand, July 2018, and the YMCA’s 175th birthday in London, August 2019. During the Cohort 2 experience we travelled to many countries. I think one of the most impactful opportunities was working with the Cebu YMCA in the Philippines. We were able to participate in their school-age program and plant mangrove trees to mitigate the effects of global warming.
So how did you come to your current role as head of Sioux YMCA?
I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. During the Change Agent program the opportunity to apply for the CEO (General Secretary) of my local YMCA, the Sioux YMCA, became available. I was able to bounce ideas off the people I had met in the Change Agent program and use them as references, and practise interview questions with them. It was humbling to receive the job offer, and became one of the youngest CEOs in the YMCA movement.
Tell us the best and the worst of your current role
The best part of my job is watching the current and upcoming leaders develop and see their confidence grow as they achieve their potential. I love doing performance reviews and watching the staff realize how far they have come. I try to document those moments and use them, by writing them down and saving them in a jar in my desk as motivation.
The worst part of my job would have to be seeing a young person leave our programme if they haven’t received all the help they needed. Also, I often feel like there is more to be done. I don’t think the YMCA will ever stop trying to change the world, which is why I love working for it, but it can feel exhausting knowing I am not doing enough. I use the notes I capture and use them to keep me moving forward, to remind me of the victories we have had.
The Sioux YMCA operates on the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota ancestral lands. It is made up of two of the poorest counties in the USA, with 70% child poverty levels. There are many barriers we face each day, but seeing the smiles and impact we have with the families on the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe Reservation is rewarding. We have hired a Cultural Director who is able to infuse the Lakota traditions and cultures into everything that we do. Seeing how this YMCA continues to impact more people – whether it be with camping, feeding programs, or housing – we continue to be the centre of the community.
Put yourself in the context of Y USA and World YMCA and the global YMCA Movement – what does that mean to you?
I think even on a local level, I try to challenge my staff, volunteers, and participants to think globally. Every program we do is attached to the YMCA movement. I love how a small log cabin in the middle or rural South Dakota is able to have an impact on YMCA of the USA, World YMCA, and the YMCA movement as a whole. It is incredible that in the middle of the Prairies we are able to create change that moves the tides for all Ys for the better.
Your hopes and dreams for YMCA in 2022 and beyond?
I know the last few years have been challenging for the world, and for YMCAs. I hope 2022 allows the leaders in the Movement the chance to reflect on where they have been, discover what they could do better, and move forward with the goal of making a better tomorrow. The Y has influenced so many lives, it would be wonderful if everyone who has been influenced would be able to connect and strive for a stronger, better, and brighter tomorrow. If there was one single focus for all of the Ys across the movement, I believe we could do anything. For some real-life examples, I believe the Y could be instrumental in fighting global warming, stopping human trafficking, or even ending homelessness. I believe in the Y, and I hope all who are part of this Movement can believe as well.