After conducting a national search, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte announced last week that Stanley Law will become its next president and CEO, effective in early January, 2022.
Law is the current president and CEO of the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, which is based in Winston-Salem. He will succeed Todd Tibbits, who departed in July to lead the YMCA of San Diego County.
A Charlotte native, Law’s family roots in Charlotte goes back more than 100 years. His maternal grandfather was Dr. Hardy Liston, the sixth president of Johnson C. Smith, who served from 1947 to 1956. His parents both attended and worked at JCSU. His father was a tenured professor there for 46 years.
Law spent the days of his childhood in the Beatties Ford Road corridor, attending West Charlotte High School and the McCrorey YMCA.
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That hometown connection, he said, is what drew him back to lead the Charlotte-area Y, with its 17 branches. He said he also believes he has the skillset needed to rebuild the local YMCA, which took a hit when the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.
In an interview this week, Law talked about that and other priorities he will encounter in his new new role. The Q&A below was edited for clarity and brevity.
Q. The Covid-19 pandemic, as you know, has affected everyone and everything, including the YMCA. As a result, the YMCA has made changes, like closing some of its branches and ending partnerships, including partnerships with some childcare development centers. Do you have a picture of where the YMCA stands now in terms of Covid impact?
Law: We’ve obviously gone through a lot. We’ve lost lots of members; we’ve lost lots of revenue. Unfortunately, because of those two things, we’ve lost lots of staff. So every YMCA in the country is very much in a rebuilding mode, for sure.
We certainly have stabilized ourselves. So we’re hopeful that, with people getting the vaccine and improvements and statistics, ultimately we can slowly kind of build ourselves back… I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think it’s a 12- to 18- to 24-month rebuild. That’s just the reality of organizations that are here to serve community, and community has been impacted. And thus, you’ve got to rebuild.
Q. In terms of revenue loss, what range is that?
Law: I think we’ve lost about $40 million of revenue, at least initially. I have a sense that we are again slowly building that back.
Q. What about the McCrorey and Stratford-Richardson YMCAs? I know it’s a little early, but anything in particular that you want to focus on with those branches? There’s a lot of investment in the West End right now from the city and business communities. Is that on your radar?
Law: Of course, all the Ys are on my radar, but I will say from a personal passion, those two Ys mean a lot to me. My grandfather was on the Board of Managers at McCrorey in the 1950s before I was born, and I actually led the development of the Stratford-Richardson YMCA when I was vice president over the Dowd Y as well. So both of those mean a lot.
I happened to be blessed to have known Willie Stratford and (Jim) Richardson very well. My father actually taught both of them. So there are all these interconnections, but I think those parts of our community are important to the YMCA for a lot of reasons. The fabric of our community is really based on how the quality of life is everywhere. And so the Y needs to be engaged in all communities, but particularly given challenges and statistics and reputations.
So I think we have this unique opportunity to partner with all the other players who are part of the West Boulevard and Beatties Ford Road corridors and play whatever role we need to play. That’s yet to be determined, but our commitment is absolutely there for sure. And I look forward to personally being involved in that again because of that family connection and history in both of those corridors.
Q. As you know, the YMCA faced challenges before the pandemic. Any areas of improvement that you can name that will be a priority for you as CEO?
Law: I don’t know that I’m the expert. I’ll just say this, having worked for the Charlotte Y for a very long time: One of the things we did exceptionally well was we had great relationships with staff and with volunteers and with donors and with partners in the community in general. And so obviously the last 20 months, all of that has been disrupted. So one of the things that’s obvious for me is how do we rebuild some of those relationships? How do we reconnect with people and really see what the needs are in Charlotte, the Greater Charlotte area today?
One of the beauties of what we did during the pandemic is we pivoted, like most organizations, and did things that weren’t normal for the Y. I see that as a possibility and opportunity to continue, particularly the community-based work of feeding programs and anything related to helping people get vaccines or Covid testing. That’s part of who we are now, and I look forward to continuing that, along with some of the traditional things that the YMCA has always done. But bottom line; it’s all about relationships, and I think that’s who we are as an organization really forever.
Q. And to piggyback on that, what do you see the role of the YMCA being in Charlotte’s future? What impact do you see it having as Charlotte grows and develops and changes, using 2040 as a benchmark?
Law: So really, it’s yet to be determined, but I think naturally, our focus area for the YMCA of the USA, in fact, is youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility with a kind of a brand of strengthening the foundations of community. So if you take that into context, what does that look like today and going forward? I definitely believe youth development and healthy living are absolute pillars of who we are as an organization. We will continue to serve the youth of all ages in a wide variety of programs and initiatives. Again, some of those may be different because the needs are now different. Also in healthy living, not just fitness, but chronic disease and mental health and other things that are now in the forefront. But the bottom line is, as people are hurting in Greater Charlotte, what role is it for the Y to help address those?
I’ve got my own personal definition of success that I’ve used for years, which is: If something positive or negative happens in our community, the Y is called to the table.
What that means is we’re relevant, and so people see that we’re relevant. So my hope is that we always get called to the table, whether it’s an education issue or health issue or a poverty issue, or an issue around race and equity. If the Y is called to the table, then we’re doing our job. Sometimes we might play a role of a leader or convener, but sometimes we might just simply play a role as another partner supporting other initiatives, and I think that’s the role of the Y. We’re a community-based, cause-driven charitable organization. That’s what we do.
Q. In recent years, we’ve seen many institutions lose their way and become obsolete. We’ve gone from Blockbuster to Netflix, from traditional taxicabs to Uber. As a YMCA leader, are you concerned that the Y could someday become another casualty of technology and innovation? Is there anything being done to combat that?
Law: I personally don’t think it’s in danger, because I think we’re all committed to evolving. The YMCA has evolved over our 177-year tradition.
You know, since 1844 in London, England, we’ve evolved as communities have evolved. So now it just happens to be one that the evolution requires technological advances and how we play in that space. But I also must say that, even though particularly the fitness industry is going very high tech, the bottom line is this world is built on relationships. And so I think it’s this kind of balance between technology and relationships and the integration of the two that’s going to be the secret sauce going forward.
I don’t believe that innovation is going to take over to the point that relationships aren’t important. So certainly a heavy focus on innovation. But I would be shocked if 50 years from now or 30 years from now…the Y may very well look different, but obsolete? Absolutely not. Too much tradition, too much commitment from the communities that we serve over the years. And going forward, we just will look different than we have historically, which I think is a good thing.