After five years at the helm of Winston Lake Family YMCA, Executive Director Shawan Gabriel is preparing to embark on a new career opportunity.
Effective Dec. 17, Gabriel, a native of Charlotte, will become the CEO of the local Big Brothers Big Sisters Services, Inc. Gabriel, 35, succeeds Amy Mack, who is relocating to Seattle, Wash. Gabriel started his professional career as a case manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters in High Point in 2001, and said he has always held the work of the agency – the nation’s largest donor and volunteer supported mentoring network – in high esteem.
“Growing up, I knew the impact of having a caring adult in your life other than your parents. It means the world to young people,” declared Gabriel, the father of two girls. “We need caring adults in the lives of children and Big Brothers Big Sisters, for 100 years, has done that. I want to return to serving the community in that way.”
Gabriel credits his uncle with giving him the additional guidance he needed as a youth.
“He gave me a sense of a future, a sense of belonging,” Gabriel declared. “…He was able to educate me in a way that my parents could not, and that my teachers could not.”
Curtis Hazelbaker, CEO of the YMCA Northwest North Carolina, hired Gabriel in 2007 and says he supports Gabriel’s decision to leave the organization.
“He’s done a good job for us, and it’s a good move for him,” said Hazelbaker, who has spent nearly 30 years with the YMCA. “…I think he’s ready for it. It’s a role he has the potential to do very well in.”
Gabriel, a Guilford College alumnus, says he believes Winston Lake has made some important strides during his tenure.
“Part of the reason that I came to the Y was to enhance programs and improve its financial standing, and over the last five years, we’ve done that,” he remarked. “I feel good about, programmatically and financially how I’m leaving. It’s better than when I came, so I feel good about that.”
Making the move to Big Brothers Big Sisters is an important next step for him, both personally and professionally, Gabriel said.
“I truly believe in the mission of Big Brothers. I truly believe in the work that they accomplish,” he remarked. “The opportunity for career growth was a part of it as well. It’s giving me an opportunity to do some different things. I don’t want to leave this community, I love Winston-Salem, but the opportunity to grow professionally piqued my interest, especially with the company where I started my career.”
Gabriel says his experiences at Winston Lake, from spearheading the annual giving campaign to improving fiscal elements and increasing programs, will make a great foundation for his new position at Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“All aspects of what I’ve done there are going to lend well to my leadership at Big Brothers Big Sisters,” said Gabriel, who holds a master’s in public administration from High Point University. “Of course, I have a lot of learning to do, and I’m willing to do that.”
Gabriel’s deep roots in the local community, passion for the mission of the agency – demonstrated by his own service as a Big Brother for the last decade – and his experience in the nonprofit sector made him an ideal candidate for the CEO position, said Lisa Snowden, chair of the Big Brothers Big Sisters Board of Directors.
“He’s perfect,” declared Snowden, the chief talent officer at Piedmont Federal Savings Bank and chair of the BBBS board. “You can teach a lot of skills, but you can’t teach passion and commitment to our cause, and that’s what he has so naturally. He just gets what we’re about.”
Hazelbaker said he believes Gabriel’s future with the agency is bright.
“We wish Shawan well. We work with Big Brothers Big Sisters in a couple of different initiatives, so we will continue to work with Shawan while he’s in his new role and we want him to be successful,” Hazellbaker said. “I think the community benefits as well by having a strong Big Brothers Big Sisters.”
Gabriel said he is eager to begin this new chapter in his life and career.
“I think in talking with the board, they are ready to take this agency to another level, and, with their support, I’m ready to do that,” he remarked. “I’m looking forward to serving and getting closer to witnessing the impact that Big Brothers Big Sisters has on children’s lives.”
The YMCA will conduct a national search, likely beginning around the first of the year, to find Gabriel’s replacement, Hazelbaker said. A committee led by a handful of Board of Directors members will assist the organization in narrowing down the roughly 50-100 applications they expect to receive and conducting interviews with the most promising applicants. Hazelbaker hopes to have a new executive director in place by the end of March.