YMCA of Northwest North Carolina CEO Curt Hazelbaker told Winston Lake Family YMCA members, staffers and volunteers Tuesday that a search for a new executive director for the branch may begin next month.
Former Executive Director Shawan Gabriel left the organization in December to lead the local Big Brothers Big Sisters Inc., and Hazebaker said at the time that he hoped to have Gabriel’s successor in place by March. However, YMCA association leaders conceded recently that they have yet to even advertise for Gabriel’s successor. The delay in finding a replacement has angered many Winston Lake members and volunteers, some of whom believe Winston Lake is being put on the back-burner because it is the Association’s only majority African American branch.
Hazelbaker’s appearance Tuesday was the second time this month that YMCA of Northwest North Carolina leaders had visited Winston Lake to address concerns. On April 9, Senior VP and COO Mark Bachman spoke to a group of close to 100 during a morning meeting. Hazelbaker’s meeting only drew a small crowd.
The Chronicle’s coverage of the April 9 meeting, wherein many members voiced dissatisfaction and exasperation at the agency’s handling of the matter, prompted Hazelbaker to address Winston Lake members directly, first through an open letter and again with the 4:15 p.m. meeting at the branch Tuesday.
“I want to address an article in The Chronicle last week about the Y’s search for a new executive director at Winston Lake,” he wrote in a letter (printed in its entirety on page A9) dated April 19. “As you know, we are in the process of evaluating a wide range of options to ensure we make the best possible decision for the Winston Lake Family YMCA and the community. I understand this process can be frustrating at times, as other branches have experienced in searches that last longer than first anticipated. We have been and continue to be committed to serving the East Winston community…”
The letter also named the members of a 10-person volunteer committee that Hazelbaker stated would be in charge of guiding the hiring process.
Hazelbaker said Tuesday that Y leaders are using the time between executive directors to assess the Winston Lake branch’s strengths and opportunities for growth in order to find someone with the right skill set.
“The Y’s not going anywhere,” he said, referencing rumors that the network was considering selling the facility to the city. “We’re going to continue to play an active role and be leaders in the community.”
Al Jabbar, a longtime Winston Lake member and volunteer, was vocal in his critique of Y officials, whom he said intentionally scheduled the meeting at an inopportune time to keep attendance low.
“This is a horrible time for a meeting, and you guys know that,” he said. “The meeting should have been at 9, 12 or 6 (o’clock) so we could’ve gotten a broad cross-section of people who use the Y.”
Jabbar said the absence of minority representation at the executive level within the network speaks volumes about its priorities.
“This is 2013. This is a nonprofit, and we’re not going to stand for this no more – this good ol’ boy network is going to be broken up,” he declared. “…I’m going to get the community behind this, trust me. It’s going to change or we’re going to get another CEO.”
Hazelbaker said he has only hired one upper executive employee, Vice President of Marketing Carrie Collins (who is white), during his tenure as CEO and objected to Jabbar’s assertion that he was giving meeting attendees “fluff” responses.
“I don’t think we’re doing fluff. I think we’re doing smart business,” Hazelbaker said. “I think it’s our due diligence here to make sure we put somebody in who’s right (for the position).”
Winston Lake Board Member Barbara Carter defended the network, saying she was disappointed with The Chronicle’s coverage of the last meeting, calling it a “bashing session.”
“I think the committee is doing its due diligence. I work in recruiting and before you post a position, you really need to see exactly what you’re looking for,” Carter said. “…It’s not an ‘us’ and ‘them;’ we all should be in this together.”
Members questioned Hazelbaker and other officials in attendance about their timeframe for hiring a new executive director and expressed concerns about what some classified as a lack of communication, and the absence of one clear leader with whom members can address concerns. William G. White YMCA Executive Director Darryl Head is serving part time as interim director at Winston Lake, with Y staffers filling in the gaps.
“The morale here at the Y is very low,” said Betty Bennett, a Winston Lake member for the last decade. “People are leaving and going to other Ys. They’re saying you seem to have forgotten about us, especially the AOA’s (Active Older Adults). They are very, very unhappy with what’s going on.”
Both Carter and Winston Lake Board Chair Robin Richards admitted that the board could have done a better job of communicating with members in the past, and pledged to be more communicative in the future. Richards said he heard the members’ concerns loud and clear.
“Above all, we need to be positive as we’re talking to our members here that we’re working in their best interest.They should believe that, they should have faith in us. Apparently they don’t, and it’s our fault as board members,” Richards said. “…We want to do this as soon as possible because we hear the urgency, but we don’t want to go so fast that we aren’t thorough in doing it well. That’s the important thing.”
Hazelbaker said the network is considering multiple options with respect to filling the vacant slot, but declined to go into detail. The search committee is slated to meet Monday and make a recommendation about the next step in the process to the full board during its regular meeting on May 7.