YMCA executive identifies growth as a challenge
Since the spring of 2017, Greg Coop has served as district executive director of the YMCA of Greater Houston.
Based at Monty Ballard YMCA at Cinco Ranch, 22807 Westheimer Parkway, he brings more than 24 years experience in the field. He formerly served as the CEO at the Moultrie YMCA in Moultrie, Georgia, and the district vice president of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast in Jacksonville, Florida.
While at Moultrie YMCA, Coop was recognized as a White House Champion of Change for work on the Early Learning Readiness initiative in 2013. The small-town, independent YMCA was “selected to be part of a pilot program to help put together a protocol if you will or a manual of best practices for working with Hispanic families whose kids are in preschool programs at the Y,” he said. He explained it is an agricultural community that had many Hispanic migrant workers coming in and out. As the agricultural system changed so that farming became year-round, those families were able to stay in the area longer and their kids become more engaged in the preschool program, he said.
“The Y really didn’t have a good sense of the best way for us to serve the Hispanic population. It was kind of a new thing for us,” said Coop. The Y started the pilot program in 2008 or 2009 when Coop was CEO of the YMCA. “I was very fortunate to be recognized. The staff did the work. Wish I could say I was the one that started it and did everything. It was really a big team effort. It was really more recognition of our success in that program and the positive strides we took in engaging the Hispanic population in our community.” He was among a group of a dozen YMCA officials from around the country who were recognized in the special program at the White House and said it was very humbling experience.
How did you become involved with the YMCA?
“I’ve got 26 years (in the YMCA.) So, in college — way back in the ’80s — I was heavily involved in intramurals and working with a park and rec department in a small college town in Georgia. I enjoyed doing that. I started working with the Y in sports after college. The Y has a way of dragging you in and you get in there and suddenly you’re working full time and you didn’t realize it’s been two or three years that you’re working because you enjoy the work. I did sports for a few years and then I left the Y for about five years. I worked in the agricultural chemicals business. I reconnected with the Y in Jacksonville which would have been in 1995. Ran it 12 years in Jacksonville.
How long have you been in the Katy area? What drew you to Katy?
Two years. I moved here to go into fundraising and into financial development work. I had only been here a few weeks and was asked to step back in operations to work with a group here in Katy and two other Y’s in Fort Bend County: The Fort Bend Family YMCA in Missouri City and the T.W. Davis Family YMCA in Richmond. I started in February of ’17. The CEO who was here at the time Paul McEntire — Paul has since moved on to YMCA of the USA where he’s chief operating officer — he and I worked together in Jacksonville Florida. That helped get me out here to Houston that connection I had with Paul. (In addition to the two Ys in Fort Bend, Coop also had the Monty Ballard YMCA at Cinco Ranch and the Mark Chapman YMCA at Katy Main Street.)
What are your responsibility as district executive director?
I now have total of seven Ys. I’m responsible for working with the directors of those YMCAs, helping community development, fundraising, board development work. Operational assistance where necessary and that’s more of a secondary piece. It’s more around staff development, team development, community work that sort of thing as a district exec. There are four district execs across Greater Houston. We each have six, seven or eight Ys in our portfolio so to speak. We work out of usually the largest of those branches. So the Monty Ballard location is the largest in my district from the number of members that we have. This is where my office happens to be located but I’m all over Fort Bend County and even down to Pearland and Alvin as part of my district as well. I’ll work with directors there helping them with the annual campaign, or fundraising, or strategic planning with their board. We all keep an eye on financials. Obviously that’s a big thing for us as a nonprofit to make sure we’re following the plans that we put together every year. (In addition to the two Ys in Katy and two in Fort Bend, Coop also is responsible for the Alief Family YMCA, Thelma Ley Anderson Family YMCA in Alvin and the Vic Coppinger Family YMCA in Pearland.)
What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
The most challenging is Katy is growing so fast. It’s such a heavily populated area — all of Houston is obviously. It’s tough to keep up with the growth, the change, all the newcomers coming in. The new — all the diversity and the languages that are spoken and all those things. It impacts us just like the school system or anywhere else. So, I guess getting to know the community and understand the community because it’s an ever-changing community. It’s changing so quickly. This is a big place that’s part of the challenge not only the changing community but just the geography and the size of Houston is one of the tougher parts of the job, too. It’s a big place.
The most rewarding part is kind of behind-the-scenes stuff. We’ll get letter from someone who’s been on a scholarship and it will tell us how the Y has changed their life and we’ve made such a difference. Or, from a mother who got a kid in an afterschool programs so she can work. She tells us how much it’s made an impact on her and her family and their lives that the Y is able to provide a scholarship for her child or her kids and allow them to go find a job or go to school. So, it’s the things that we don’t tell the public about enough. We just do because we’re the YMCA. It’s kind of what hooks you into the Y when you asked how long I’ve been here. It’s rewarding from the perspective that you help people everyday. The most rewarding part is when you get to hear the stories about how it’s helped people - the work that we do.
The Monty Ballard YMCA at Cinco Ranch offers health and fitness classes, child care and teen programs, community classes, sports, swimming and camp. Are programs tailored to the each of the 32 communities served by the Y?
The needs of the community determine what programs and offerings we have in each location. Each Y is local. We’re all a part of the YMCA of Greater Houston and we all have some similarities because of that. If there is a need for specific child-care program in Houston that may not be a need in Katy. So, the Y is trying to serve the communities where we are. There are some similarities among all of us, but the offerings and services are based on what the community needs.
What services are provided that more people need to know about?
“We raise money for scholarships. Every program that we have you can apply for assistance. We provide assistance for swim lessons to memberships to afterschool listings.”
Coop also listed three special programs that the YMCA offers.
“Moving Stronger is a program for folks who have Multiple Sclerosis. We literally bring in MS patients into the Y. We have a medically based program written by UTHealth. It helps those MS patients work on their balance through some yoga classes and some water aerobic classes and work on their strength.” The 12-week class is complementary to the patients.
“We do a similar thing with cancer survivors called LiveStrong at the YMCA. Folks anywhere in their journey with cancer — for survivors, caretakers, family members — they can come in. It’s a support group but also an exercise, strength and confidence building group as much as anything.”
“Those are just programs the public doesn’t know much about. It’s more spread word of mouth. We don’t publicize those well enough. We’re not very good about patting ourselves on the back and telling people. ‘Hey, we do some really great things here.’”
Safety Around Water is another program Coop talked about. “Out of this location in 2018 we sent a team of aquatics staff to more than 25 different low-income apartment complexes that had pools and that had kids who would never come to the Y for a swim lesson, who may not ever get a chance to learn to swim. So, we go to them and we teach water safety. We don’t teach them the back stroke. We teach them how to roll over on their back if they fall in and don’t know how to swim. And how to use a noodle to reach out and help a buddy out of the water as opposed to jumping in and having two fatalities. Because we know that there is a way to prevent drowning and it’s water safety. And, we’re pretty good at that. We’ve been doing that a long time. So we go to those apartment complexes and do that. We absorb all the costs. We fund that through our annual support campaign, our fundraiser. That’s another really neat program that we do that not a lot of folks are aware of.”
This year marks the 175th anniversary since Sir George Williams founded the Y in London, England in 1844. Is anything planned locally?
We are across Greater Houston. I’m not aware of all the details, yet. Others in our corporate office are planning those events right now. There’s more to come on that. (The Y) came to the United States seven years later. Boston was the first Y in the United States in 1851. When Sir George founded it, it was actually as a Bible study for young men to get them off the streets of London during the Industrial Revolution.”
How successful is the Excel After the Bell Program held for Katy ISD students?
“We have centralized child care. So, it does not run as part of my operation. There is a different group that runs the after-school program. We’re actually in 30 elementary schools in Katy ISD providing afterschool care.”
Anything else you want to add?
“Just encourage folks to come and visit the Y. We are always looking for volunteers for our youth sports programs. We do require that all of our volunteers go through a background screening and child abuse prevention training every year. So we do ask that they spend a little time to get certified as a volunteer for us. We need volunteers as coaches. We need volunteers for our boards. We have an advisory board for Katy and we’re always looking for folks interested in that.” Anyone interested can contact Coop at email@example.com or at 281-392-5055.