"It always amazes me that people think I must be with the YWCA," says Betsy Jacobs, vice president, Operations, YMCA of Greater New York. The public might mix up the separate Y organizations, but the YMCA of Greater New York is one of the nation's oldest service organizations. A true renaissance woman, Jacobs works tirelessly on maintaining the YMCA's facilities so that the organization can continue its community-building mission. "Our mission is to promote positive values - programs that build spirit, mind, welcoming everyone, with a focus on youth," she says.
In addition to traditional health and wellness programs for all ages, the YMCA of Greater New York hosts leadership programs, an after-school literacy program, and career development classes. "I go around telling people we are not just a health facility," says Jacobs. To better serve its communities, the organization has embarked on a $50 million capital campaign to renovate aging facilities and build new ones. As facilities are built or modernized, interior products are being standardized to achieve equal excellence across all of the facilities.
"I never have a typical day," explains Jacobs. From monitoring lifeguards to interacting with YMCA members to checking swimming pool pH, Jacobs juggles a variety of responsibilities at the YMCA's diverse collection of facilities. Fortunately, she enjoys the complexity and unpredictability of her position. "I didn't start out to be in the YMCA, but I got involved when my children were small and I fell in love with it," says Jacobs. In fact, she believes her former career as schoolteacher and principal has given her the managerial and people skills to multi-task in her current position.
Insisting on high standards at all of her facilities, Jacobs maintains a hands-on approach with her staff. "I do a lot of training on the voice of the customer, the tenant. My job is to make everyone happier," she says, stressing the importance of good communications and relationship building to guarantee quality assurance.
Many of the YMCA's facilities feature guest rooms for budget travelers, although the economic slowdown and recent attacks have deeply impacted the organization's hospitality services. Jacobs is working to turn unused guest rooms into emergency business space, dormitories, or, perhaps, a school.
In light of current events, the organization has created programs to provide grief counseling services and tolerance classes for children. Adds Jacobs, "We are a community builder. We will continue to work with everyone to make sure they feel safe in our community." It is very important to Jacobs that New York City knows it can count on the YMCA facilities to be a resource in these challenging times.
From the historic Vanderbilt building on the Upper East Side to a small storefront facility in Flatbush, Jacobs strives to keep these facilities open, safe, and in good working order to deliver much-needed programs. "We say we build strong communities," she says, "and now, more than ever after the attacks, this is so important."Up Close and Personal
Betsy, what is your educational background?
I have a B.S. in Education from New York University, and the rest is in life skills.
What are your specific job responsibilities?
I oversee YMCAs in two boroughs and I will be building three new Ys over the next few years.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
I've had a wonderful career. I started as an early childhood teacher in Chinatown in New York City and I learned Chinese. I was a Headstart principal. I was a fitness instructor and developed aerobic dance programs for the whole East Coast. Then, I went into property management and construction. I've had fun.
What do you like least/most about your job?
I love that every day is different. And I never look at the worst part of my job; I'm optimistic. I make lemonade when life hands me lemons.
What advice do you have for your peers?
If you build your relationships, you will be very successful.
Looking ahead, what do you see as challenges in the coming year?
We will continue to work with everyone to make sure they feel safe in our community as much as we can.
What particular hobbies interest you most?
Gourmet cooking and antiquing.
When you have a chance to see a film, what have been your preferences?
Feel-good movies are my favorites, such as Chocolat and Bread and Tulips.
If the opportunity arose, what alternative occupation would you pursue?
One of my secret dreams would be when I retire to have a bed-and-breakfast.
Who are two people you'd like to meet?
Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbra Steisand.
Regina Raiford ([email protected])
is senior editor at Buildings magazine.