PEABODY — Kathleen Walsh has a few crucial items to address once she becomes established as the YMCA Metro North’s new president and CEO.
But none are as critical to her as the reinforcement of the organization’s mission, and the accent on its function as a charity.
“People don’t see us as a charity, but we are,” said Walsh, who began her tenure as CEO Monday, taking over for Bruce Macdonald, who retired Friday.
“My biggest focus,” she said, “is to make sure those in our service area understand the scope of our charity and our mission. It is critical to our fundraising.”
The YMCA is a non-profit 501(c)(3), which is defined as either a public charity, private foundation or private operating foundation. Its mission statement says “the YMCA of Metro North builds strong kids, strong families and strong communities by enriching the lives of all people in spirit, mind and body.”
“We focus on a healthy body, youth development and social responsibility,” said Walsh. “Everything we do takes in one of those categories.”
Walsh, a Danvers native, graduated from Bishop Fenwick and Providence College. She earned her master’s degree in sports management and recreation from Northeastern University.
She began working for the YMCA 27 years ago, managing the Beverly Y’s Ipswich branch. Stops along the way included the Greater Boston YMCA in Woburn first and then Waltham, later becoming the district vice president out of Reading (she lives in North Reading now).
She joined the Metro North — which ecompasses Lynn, Saugus, Peabody, Melrose and Stoneham in 2012 as vice president of development, working out of Lynn.
“Back then, our offices were in Lynn but we outgrew it when Melrose and Greater Lynn merged,”
she said. These days, the Metro North’s corporate offices are on Centennial Drive in Peabody.
She rose to the position of chief operating officer before being chosen to move in after Macdonald’s retirement.
One of her first pressing projects will be the completion of the new YMCA facilities in Lynn, which will be centered around the traffic island on Neptune Boulevard, in front of the current building.
“That’s currently high on the priority chain,” she said. “We’re already starting to get staff, and our support has doubled.”
The Y’s goals with this new building are lofty.
“We want to give our support to the city,” she said, noting that with Lynn Tech already across the street, KIPP Academy moving into the Blood Building and St. Mary’s in the middle of an addition, “it’s going to be a pretty happening area.
“We’re hoping that all our proximity with each other can help turn the area into more than just a drive-by. Hopefully it’ll mean business for some of the merchants and restaurants.”
One of the ways she believes the YMCA can contribute to that effort is to reinforce its primary raison d’etre, which is to serve as a charitable resource for youth in the city.
The YMCA has extensive after-school, summer, and early-learning programs. Most of the city’s youth who avail themselves of the organization’s services get help.
“Ninety-seven percent of the kids who come to the Lynn Y receive some kind of a scholarship,” said Walsh. “We probably give away about $1 million a year in help, and we raise all of it.”
Walsh is the mother of three high school and college-age children (Johanna, Cynthia and Francis), and she says they’ve all played a part on how she’s shaped what she does.
“We are a very Y-oriented family,” she said. “And very often, if I’ve been anxious about something we’re going to do, or we’re thinking of doing, I’ve asked my children. And that gives me a better read on things.”
It’s not just children who benefit from the YMCA. It has a healthy population of men and women of retirement age who are very faithful to the organization, she said.
“We create networks,” she said. “And some of those aspects are really valuable to people. You know, a lot of people come here for no other reason but that they feel valued.
“Hopefully, along the way, with everything we do, we’re changing a ton of lives.”