Archive for March, 2012

Life-Lessons from AYP

Last week, Blue Ridge Assembly hosted the Association of YMCA Professionals, with over 180 YMCA staff and 8 vendors in attendance. The AYP is a professional membership organization supporting YMCA leaders across the country. Since 1871, they have strived to advance, inspire, and connect Y employees by providing the education and resources that enhance both personal and professional growth.

The AYP Regional Spring Conference is for Chapters 23 (North and South Carolina) and Chapter 26 (Tennessee). Of these three states, around 40 different YMCA branches were represented at this year’s conference .  The purpose of this conference was to bring Y staff together to recharge, reconnect, and be inspired. There were phenomenal keynote speakers, a variety of career development workshops, and countless networking opportunities throughout the three-day event. Through sing-a-longs, line dancing, fellowship and fun, we were offered many metaphors for both work and life.

In the opening welcome speech, Kurt Eckel, Blue Ridge CEO invited conferees to feel at home on the mountain. “We are YOUR conference center”, he reminded them. In fact, it is interesting to note that there would be no Blue Ridge Assembly if there was no YMCA! As Kurt shared, it was a group of Y professionals that saved Blue Ridge from bankruptcy and demise after the Depression and World War II.

“It’s a family reunion!”, he said. And that, it was. As a member of the Program and Marketing Departments here at Blue Ridge, this was my second year attending the conference. What an amazing experience! This year’s AYP theme: “Life’s A Dance,” from the famous country song of the 1990’s:

Life’s a dance you learn as you go
Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow
Don’t worry about what you don’t know
Life’s a dance you learn as you go
  – John Michael Montgomery

I have heard this song a billion times, but never actually let the words sink in until recently. The theme gave me a whole new understanding of what it means to be a LEADER. There were several important life-lessons I took home with me from the AYP experience. Here are just a few:

1. Exceed expectations.

Patrick Henry, keynote speaker, singer-songwriter, and “motivational entertainer”, encouraged us to always go the extra mile, even when you think no one is looking. He urged us to turn our customers into fans by creating positive “tweet-worthy” experiences. And in real-life…it’s the little day-to-day interactions with one another that can make all the difference. Mr. Henry advises us to remember names and ask questions (25 to be exact :)).

We all know that creating personal, emotional connections with our guests and members can have a lasting impact. After all, it is this sense of hospitality that the YMCA, and Blue Ridge Assembly, has always been known for. But how we relate to our coworkers and staff is also equally important to our organization.

In his AYP Learning Lab, Michael DeVaul (Senior Vice President of Organizational Advancement of the Charlotte YMCA), discussed Emotional Intelligence— social qualities such as empathy, self management, leadership, adaptability, and confidence. “IQ gets you in the door but EQ keeps you there,” he reminded us. Therefor it is important for us to focus on going above and beyond, not only in our job duties, but also in establishing emotional connections with those we work with.

2. Be yourself.

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

1 Peter 4:10

During the workshop “Bring your Own Brand”, Michael DeVaul said most workplaces are in the midst of an “accultural revolution” and stressed the value of individuality. He encouraged us to be true to ourselves and to embrace our unique talents, skills and personal strengths. Patrick Henry agreed in his keynote, saying that, “You will be the same person 5 years from now with the exception of the these three factors: the books you read, the people you meet and the exercise you get.”

Devaul said that it is far easier and more efficient to focus on developing and building on our strengths rather than trying to “fix” our weaknesses. Instead, surround yourself with a diverse, well-rounded team of people- some that compensate for your weaknesses and others that compliment your strengths. Also, we should welcome and encourage feedback from our peers and higher-ups. Constructive criticism is a gift! These collaborations will drastically improve your performance and success in the workplace. DeVaul even suggests creating a personal mission statement to define your purpose and goals.

3.    Walk the Talk.

During the workshop “Becoming the Leader You Were Meant to Be” we were taught to lead by example. I was surprised to hear that most character attributes are not innate within us, but CHOICES we make every day.  As part of becoming a “TRP” (Totally Responsible Person), we need to be held accountable for everything we say and do, taking full responsibility for our attitudes, emotions, and behaviors. Simple consciousness, mindfulness and a bit of self control can go a long way!

In this workshop we were also taught to avoid the ever-toxic ‘victim mentality”. Instead, begin to view stressful situations as “O-FLAGS” – Opportunities for Learning and Growth.  We should strive to channel negative emotions in a healthy way by translating anger or frustration into action. And as part of “walking the talk”, these actions should exemplify the values that our organization stands for: CARING, HONESTY, RESPONSIBILITY, and RESPECT.

4. Give A Little.

“Give, and it will be given to you.”  Luke 6:38

At this year’s conference, there were several live and silent auctions to raise money for the AYP’s Emergency Assistance Fund, which helps Y staff in need. In just 3 days we were able to meet their fundraising goal of $12,000 dollars with a 100% give rate from members of AYP. It was so touching to see everyone come together, opening their hearts and their wallets for their fellow Y employees, many of them strangers.  It confirmed that the YMCA truly is a family and that the mission is universal.

Seeing this generosity and support first-hand made me think about giving in other ways- giving our time, giving our talents. And giving, in however way you can, promotes CHANGE. The most profound changes are slow and subtle…”a ripple, rather than a splash”. And this is what we do every day for the YMCA through healthy living, youth development, and social responsibility. Through our commitment to service, we strengthen families and communities. And over time we have an impact on the “bigger picture” and this positive change becomes more and more widespread.

Kevin Trapani, CEO of The Redwoods Group, the insurance provider for YMCA’s nationwide reiterated this fact. He discussed the overwhelming NEED for organizations like us because our mission can help combat the deeper, complex problems that communities are facing, including hunger, poverty, drug abuse, crime, and poor education. During the final keynote speaker of the conference, Jim Morgan, President/CEO of Krispy Kreme Donuts, even called the YMCA “the most important organization in world.” WOW!

5. Love what you do.

Jim Morgan also encouraged us to find a job we love. It is comforting to know that of the 180 people attending the conference, the majority (including myself) could say that they are truly passionate about their work. Jim encouraged us to apply the same enthusiasm and dedication to our lives outside of work, comparing it to his holistic business philosophy. For example, as part of Krispy Kreme’s benefit package, all employees are given mandatory “FFC days” in addition to paid vacation and holidays. On these special days off employees are required to do something meaningful – either to renew their (F)aith, spend time with (F)amily, or to volunteer in their (C)ommunity. And I realized it is these three simple values that give us purpose every day, both as individuals and as an organization.


The AYP conference was the perfect combination of WORK and PLAY. Through sing-a-longs, line dancing, fellowship and fun, we were offered many metaphors for both work and life. (For a glimpse of just how much fun we had, check out this awesome video on YouTube!)

Once again, this conference served as a reminder of how fortunate I am to be a part of such an organization and has renewed my loyalty to the life-changing work that we do. I gained valuable insight and wisdom, made some great professional connections, and learned many new things that I can apply to my career with the YMCA. THANK YOU to everyone who helped to make the AYP conference possible!  I am already looking forward to next year. Like Patrick Henry, I now too believe that one good speech can change the world 🙂

For more information on the Association of YMCA Professionals, please visit their website:  www.ayponline.org


Erin Ratliff
Program & Marketing Coordinator

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