VENICE — Gene Jones is president and CEO of The SKY Family YMCA, six southwest Florida facilities with a $24 million budget. A career YMCA administrator, Jones had served as vice president of Operations and Youth Development at the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington (D.C.). Jones also spearheaded capital campaigns and strategic partnerships with local schools, government and universities in Atlanta. A native of Norfolk, Va., he started with the Y as a summer counselor.
Jones shares his backstory, plans and thoughts with the Sun.
Sun: You came up through the ranks?
Jones: “I did, I started as a summer camp counselor while in college. I then worked as an afterschool counselor, outreach coordinator, membership assistant and almost every other job while in school. Afterward, I became a program director which launched my career with the Y. My next role was an associate executive director in Greensboro, N.C. I then moved on to the Atlanta association as an executive director. From Atlanta, I was recruited as a district executive director in Washington, D.C. While in Washington, I became a vice president of Operations and ultimately VP of Operations and Youth Development.
“As I look back over the past 30 years, it has been an amazing journey with this wonderful organization and I am thrilled to have it culminate as the CEO serving southwest Florida. The best is yet to come!”
Sun: Southwest Florida’s YMCA reach, its associations, memberships and staffing?
Jones: “Our service area covers five counties—Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, Hendry and Glades. Currently, we have six fitness branches, two charter middle schools, three early learning centers, 21 afterschool programs and 17 summer-camp locations. We’re about to break ground on a fourth early learning center in Bonita Springs in December.
“We have over 700 staff members, most of them part-time who work in all areas of the Y. The faces you see when you come into the Y are what makes us who we are, our front-line leaders make the member experience, the best experience it can be.
“We have several membership options for singles, seniors, families and everyone in between. Our programs are for members and nonmembers, one of the benefits of being a member is the program discount that comes along with it.”
Sun: YMCA’s role, the demographic attracted to your centers?
Jones: “The YMCA is here to serve everyone. We’re an inclusive, nonprofit organization of men, women and children joined together by a shared commitment to nurturing the potential of kids, promoting healthy living and fostering a sense of social responsibility. We see people of all ages, babies starting at six weeks old to seniors well into their 90s.”
Sun: Plans for the North Port association?
Jones: “We currently have a great partnership with Imagine School, where we provide programs for students. We want to do more programming in North Port like youth sports and adult group wellness programs based on the needs of the community. The North Port community is growing, and we recognize the needs of the community, and want to determine the best way forward to serve those needs. We’re currently conducting a strategic plan that includes development in North Port. We are enlisting feedback from key community leaders and stakeholders to determine the right opportunities for the Y to have a stronger presence in North Port in the future.”
Sun: The Venice campus is huge and vibrant.
Jones: “The Venice campus is our largest campus with a wellness center, Olympic-sized swimming pool, a youth center, double basketball gym, a full gymnastics center, ball fields, an early learning center and one of our charter middle schools. We have over 500 group wellness classes a week, we keep hundreds of kids safe after school and during the summer, and care for 150 in our early learning center from infants through VPK.
“It’s more like, what isn’t going on here!”
Sun: What’s the attraction to public service, to nonprofit leadership?
Jones: “As I mentioned earlier, I first began my career with the Y while in college. It started off as a fun job in the beginning. Early in my career, I realized that the Y was not just a job but a movement. I am so fortunate to do something that I love each day while having a positive impact on the community. When I hear all of the amazing Y stories and the incredible impact that our staff and volunteers make every day on so many lives, it makes the hard work seem easy. I am living the dream!”
Sun: Advice to those considering your career path?
Jones: “Be ready and willing to work really hard each and every day. Know that it is not a job, but a way of life. Be prepared to give of yourself, but know that the rewards that come back to you cannot be measured in words or dollars.
“If you have a strong work ethic, a dedication to a cause and want to truly have an impact in your community, the Y can be the place for you to begin an amazing journey!”