LYNN — Andrea Baez won’t be standing at the site of the new YMCA building with a hardhat on, telling the construction workers what to do.
But make no mistake. As the new senior executive director of the Lynn YMCA, she takes over at a challenging time for the organization. After all, she said, “in the world of nonprofits, you don’t often get a brand new building with your promotion.”
Baez takes over for Audrey Jiminez, who will become director of mission advancement for the YMCA. Baez will focus on managing the staff and raising money — one of the most important functions within the YMCA, she says.
“People automatically assume that all of the money collected from membership fees is spread around to everything we do,” Baez said. “But really, it only goes for operating expenses.
“We’re a charity,” she said. “We donate a lot in terms of allowing children to take part in what we do. Your zip code should not decide your final destination. And I am passionate about leveling the playing field for young people.”
In the fabric of everyday life, the Y is for everyone, Baez said. Or, it should be.
“It’s for kids who need to come here in the summer for healthy meals and someplace safe,” she said. “Our doors are always open.”
While Baez doesn’t have a direct hand in the construction of the new building, she’ll have a role.
“I’ll help to ensure the project gets done in a timely manner,” she said. “And we hope we can fill that building with relevance.”
Lynn is changing, Baez said, and it’s up to the YMCA to meet the challenge of those changes. The formation of an education district downtown, with the YMCA one of the focal points, is important, she said. The Y will sit in the midst of three of the city’s five high schools (KIPP, Tech and St. Mary’s), and that should be a great opportunity for the organization to be a big part of the students’ development.
“The collaboration as a whole is an unbelievable opportunity,” she said. “It’ll be awesome to be a part of it, to see what’s the best fit for children. What do they need?”
To find that out, she said, the Y needs to circulate.
“We can sit in an office and dream stuff up,” she said, “but if you’re not out there asking …”
Baez, who lives in Winthrop, graduated from Pope John XXIII High School in Everett and then Salem State, with an education major.
“But when I graduated, in 2000, they didn’t need teachers,” she said.
So, she began working in after-school programs and continued working with kids through her early years with the YMCA. Before coming to Lynn, she was executive director for the Dorchester YMCA. Through her association with the Y, she’s come to one conclusion.
“The YMCA is more than a job,” she said. “It’s a lifestyle. We’re in the people business.”
And because it is in the people business, the Y does not turn people away. Baez said the organization works with kids and their families to ensure that they all get a chance to benefit from what the Y offers. All told, it offers $1million annually by either helping children with the expenses or giving them full grants — money it gets through donations.
Baez is especially sensitive to what she perceives as a stigma that goes with being in a city.
“Yes,” she said. “We’re a city. And sometimes, bad things are going to happen. But the way we respond to that is what we are.”