New leadership, familiar vision for YMCA

David Martorano, the new president of the YMCA, recently worked on puzzles with, from left, Leonardo Torres, Abena Baido and Edwin Santamaria during a preschool program at YMCA North Lexington. Martorano is interested in the Y "being a stronger partner" with school districts "to focus on the achievement gap and summer learning loss."
David Martorano, the new president of the YMCA, recently worked on puzzles with, from left, Leonardo Torres, Abena Baido and Edwin Santamaria during a preschool program at YMCA North Lexington. Martorano is interested in the Y "being a stronger partner" with school districts "to focus on the achievement gap and summer learning loss." Herald-Leader

David Martorano, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Central Kentucky, got his first substantial exposure to the YMCA as a middle-schooler when he and his sister started attending a Milwaukee Y after-school program.

Although the YMCA lost $424,896 in 2011 after abandoning its drive to build in Jessamine County and put its plans for a center at Hamburg on hold, Martorano said, the organization is secure in its mission to improve the lives and health of the communities it serves, particularly through its services to children in school.

The YMCA announced three major hires in March: Julie Balog, director of communications for the Keeneland Association, as vice president of marketing and communications; Kim Shelton, formerly a general manager of IMG Sports Marketing, as vice president for financial development; and Trisha Rayner, who spent eight years in executive positions at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati, as chief operating officer.

Martorano, a 20-year YMCA veteran and the father of four children ages 7 to 17, two of whom have autism, feel strongly about services to special-needs children. He participates in Iron Man triathlons and says he rises at 4 a.m. each day to get in a workout before going to work, sometimes sending out a round of emails at the same time.

Martorano spoke with the Herald-Leader about his vision for the Y, how his organization competes in today's climate and more. This is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Question: Dealing with the YMCA in this era, in which you have your $10-a-month gyms, has to be difficult. But the YMCA isn't just a gym but also a part of the community. How do you differentiate the Y in terms of marketing to people?

Answer: There's obviously a place in any city for those gyms where community members can be healthy and active. Obviously, one of our areas of focus is healthy living, so we strongly encourage that. At the Y, it's about being part of a community. At the Y, we're about strengthening the community and we do that through our three areas of focus: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.

Q: How do you convey that? Do you market to particular segments?

A: Definitely, we're going to create a strong communications plan that definitely tells our story. People know the Y and like the Y, but don't know our full story. ... We celebrate 160 years of contributing to our community here, and there aren't many entities in Central Kentucky that can claim that. We've got a great story to tell, and we'll continue to share it.

Q: For example, at the Y, you get programs such as helping seniors with diabetes — that is, bringing in people who have been largely inactive and changing habits they have had all their lives. When you say "tell the story," what story will be told.

A: I think specifically it will be focused around healthy living. The story is this: Kentucky ranks high in terms of least-healthy states. Here there are a number of individuals that are either obese or overweight, a number of individuals who have either hypertension or high blood pressure, and it's not good for the health of our community. The Y is about improving the standard of life for all citizens. We do that through our research programs like the diabetes healthy living prevention program, and our Livestrong program, in terms of reclaiming an individual's health after their battle with cancer.

Here in Kentucky, we're the leaders in diabetes. What can our community do to ward off the onset of Type 2 diabetes? The YMCA's diabetes prevention program is research-based, and it's a proven, effective program. If individuals participate, it's proven that they have a 58 percent likelihood of reducing their risk of diabetes. ...

Our children, too, are obese. It's the first time in our lifespan that research tells us that our kids will lead shorter lives than we did. From our organization's standpoint, that's unacceptable. Our kids need to be more active, they need to have more access to fresh fruits and vegetables — whether it's at school or after school, we need to create a more healthy environment for our young people. It's our responsibility.

Q: How would you evaluate the physical facilities that the YMCA of Central Kentucky has? For example, we sitting here in this particular building (the High Street YMCA), which I know has been upgraded significantly over the years, but you're landlocked and have limited parking. I would guess that Beaumont is your most frequently used facility. The Jessamine County facility did not come through, and on the Hamburg facility, work was stopped. Is there any possibility of resurrecting those?

A: That's accurate (about Beaumont being the most-used facility). We are presently evaluating all our infrastructure and facility needs. Really, it's about how can the Y service the communities for the next 10 to 15 years? That evaluation is under way. We certainly will need to invest in our three existing facilities along the way, and we have a group that is taking a look at our three existing facilities.

We need to look at opportunities in terms of new communities. We do presently own property in Hamburg, and in the future see a new facility there.

Q: Would you care to speculate on how long that will take?

A: No. I think part of our new staff team will really look at that in the next 90 days and look at what are our priorities in that area moving forward. Strategically, our three new leaders who are joining add to a really talented existing team. I'm excited about what the future holds, and I would anticipate new opportunities, both programmatic and facilities, in our future.

Q: When you say programmatic, what does that mean?

A: The Y is continually looking at ways to offer programs and services that strengthen our community. We'll look at opportunities to expand our present partnerships that are focused around our three priorities. One of those areas I will reference: the Y's commitment on the youth development side in being a stronger partner with our school to focus on the achievement gap and summer learning loss.

When you think about the Y and us servicing 3,000 kids in child care and after-school programs and 1,700 kids in summer day camps every day, how can the Y be a strong partner with the schools in narrowing the achievement gap and summer learning loss? For example, how, in the summer, do we provide opportunities for all kids to read during the course of the day and get experiences and exposures through our camps and field trips so that their summer learning continues and it's not lost? That is a commitment that our organization, in partnering with our local schools, will continue and strengthen in the future.

Q: Have you talked with Fayette County schools Superintendent Tom Shelton about this?

A: Yes. And our superintendent in Jessamine County, Lu Young (who last week was named the Fayette County school district's new chief academic officer). It's interesting, if our kids are going to grow educationally, it's going to take a community to really help our young people. Schools do a fabulous job each and every single day, but they can't do it alone. It's going to take the parents, organizations like the YMCA that can support our kids in after-school and day camp, to help schools with the education and summer learning loss. ...

What we would shoot for is how are people doing in terms of education, and has the Y been a good partner in helping schools, or how is the Y doing on health? For us, those are more meaningful in terms of talking about community change and improving the quality of life for all our residents.

Q: The Y had a financial hit in 2011 in terms of some losses. You ended up about a million dollars below where you had been the previous year. How does an organization like this recover from that hit and move forward?

A: Our organization is strong financially. What you read in that report was related to some payback from the Jessamine County YMCA capital campaign and construction that was done for that campaign. I think 2011 was a blip on our radar screen.

We are strong financially. I have the utmost confidence in our leadership team, that we will continue to ... serve our community in new and different ways.

Q: Will there be more grants sought out, more development work done? Are you looking to partner with new foundations or existing foundations?

A: Part of our strategic plan is fortifying our philanthropic priorities. Our realignment with staff was really about taking our Y to the next level with fundraising so we can expand the services and stewardship for our community.

One of the special things about the Y is that we're providing $1.3 million in financial assistance so that our community can participate in Y services. ... I saw the impact that it had on me and my family, and part of my service moving forward is to pass that on to other children and families that we serve.

YMCA annual meeting

When: April 25. Social hour at 4:30 p.m., program starts at 5:30 p.m.

Where: Carrick House, 312 N. Limestone

To attend: RSVP by April 18 to Kathy Houlihan, (859) 367-7331 or