Chester County Leadership: Denise Day, CEO of Greater Brandywine YMCA
Getting Denise Day, CEO of the YMCA of Greater Brandywine to talk about the organization she has worked for since 1999 and directed since 2010 is easy. Getting her to talk about herself, her focus, loyalty and passion; well, that is a whole other issue!
Hidden behind Day’s professional demeanor and easy smile is the heart and mind of a world-class athlete. One of four children and the only daughter of blue collar parents, Day grew up in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania and earned a full softball scholarship at the University of Nebraska. While there, she set batting average and home runs records that stood for many years after she graduated in 1985.
Day was Nebraska’s first softball All American and first softball two-time Academic All-American. Her #10 jersey is one of four retired Nebraska softball jerseys.
She continued playing softball at the international level after graduation and played shortstop on the United States team that won the Gold Medal at the 1991 PanAm Games in Cuba.
When her softball career was over, Denise Day came east, first to Jersey Shore, in upstate Pennsylvania to manage a small Y and then to the Delaware Valley. In July 1999, she landed a senior management position at the YMCA of the Brandywine Valley and eleven years later was appointed President and CEO. In that role, she spearheaded the 2014 initiative that merged her organization with the YMCA of the Upper Mainline, creating the YMCA of Greater Brandywine.
VISTA Today asked Denise Day about her journey, about what she learned along the way, and how those lessons continue to guide the decision she makes as she leads an association of nine YMCA’s serving more than 80,000 Chester County residents.
VISTA Today: Where did you grow up?
Denise Day: I grew up about three hours from here in South Williamsport, Pennsylvania. South Williamsport is a small, blue collar Pennsylvania town and the home of Little League Baseball! I went to high school at South Williamsport High School where I played softball, basketball and did track.
VT: What was your event in track?
DD: I threw the javelin and was a sprinter.
VT: Did you have a job in high school?
DD: My brother owned a sub shop, and I worked the counter and made sandwiches in the summers. During the school year, I was doing sports. I also worked as a softball counselor at Little League’s summer camp program.
VT: What experience did you gain in either job that stays with you today?
DD: Always give your best but I took more work lessons from my parents. My father was a blue-collar worker who worked for the same company his entire working life. My mother worked third shift on an assembly line for a light bulb manufacturer so that she could be there for us during the day. My three brothers and I saw how hard they worked and their sense of responsibility.
It’s my parent’s loyalty, sense of responsibility and work ethic I look for when we hire kids to work at the Y. Its not often you find kids with those qualities and when you do, well those kids have a leg up in the interviewing process. When I meet with potential new hires at the end of our hiring process, I love talking with the candidates about our environment, culture and what we’re trying to create here at the Y. One of the things I tell every candidate is not to approach their time at the Y as a job, but that they must be passionate about the Y’s mission to be successful.
VT: With so many great colleges here on the east coast, how did you end up at the University of Nebraska?
DD: They offered me a full scholarship to play softball. I played shortstop and we had a great team. Three of my four years at Nebraska we went to the College World Series. In my senior year we lost the championship game in extra innings to UCLA. I still remember every pitch of that game. On the final play of the game, our coach called for a changeup pitch to be thrown to their ninth batter. The UCLA batter barely got around on the pitch and looped a hit into right field scoring the winning run.
VT: Did you play softball after college?
DD: After college I went to California and played competitive softball and ended up on the US National team. We played in the 1990 World Games against teams from 22 countries and won the Gold Medal. I made the 1991 PanAm Game team. We were on track to play in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, but softball was eliminated as an exhibition sport and so I didn’t participate. I was offered the opportunity to try out for the 1996 Olympic team, but I was getting cortisone shots in my shoulder and already an Executive Director for the YMCA. My time had passed. It was time to move on.
VT: How did you end up working for the YMCA?
DD: I started working for the Y in Lincoln, NE right out of college. When I went to California to play softball, I took a job as Senior Program Director at the Newport/Costa Mesa Y. I came back east and was offered the CEO position of the YMCA in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. The Jersey Shore Y’s $250,000 budget was pretty small but it was a good learning experience for me. From there I took an executive director’s position at a Y in Delaware and then at the Y in Ambler. In 1999, I took a position with the YMCA of the Central Chester County (which became YMCA of Brandywine Valley with a 2001 merger) and in 2010 became the organization’s CEO. Then last year we merged with the YMCA of the Upper Main Line to become the YMCA of the Greater Brandywine.
VT: What drew you to Delaware Valley in the first place?
DD: The job in Delaware drew me to this area. Once I got here, I really loved it. It was far enough from home but not so far that I couldn’t get back home to visit.
VT: What challenges do you see ahead for you or the Y?
DD: The merger last year presents a number of opportunities for us to impact the health and well-being of Chester County residents. When we look at VISTA 2025, we see our role as providing childcare so folks can work and know their kids are safe and recreational activities to improve the quality of life of county residents. Many people don’t know we are the largest provider of childcare in Chester County. No one is ever turned away because of his or her inability to pay.
On another front, we want to understand community needs and the role the YMCA can play in meeting those needs. We are in the middle of a strategic planning process to figure that out how we can have the greatest impact.
Finally, continuing to recruit great people, from staff to volunteers, is always a challenge.
VT: Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
DD: Personally, I have a two teenage daughters, ages 13 and 15, who keep me very busy. I love watching them develop into great people.
VT: Finally Denise, what is the best piece of advice you ever received?
DD: Love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life is something I figured out along the way. While others were telling me to go to college and become a lawyer or a doctor and earn big money, I knew I wanted my life centered around health, wellness and helping others. I picked a vocation that I truly love and am passionate about, and I’ve never worked a day in my life.
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