Three months after Executive Director Shawan Gabriel left the Winston Lake Family YMCA to take his current post as CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters, the branch is still without a leader.
Curt Hazelbaker, CEO of the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, told The Chronicle when Gabriel announced his departure in November 2012 that the organization hoped to conduct a national search and have a successor in place by March, but Y officials said Tuesday that the position has not even been posted.
The delay in filling the branch’s top job has caused speculation. Some longtime members see it as an indication that the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina is moving to rid itself of Winston Lake, the network’s only predominantly African American Y.
“We’ve been kind of trying to bury the hatchet on this. There’s a lot of rumors going around,” Vernon McHam, vice chair of the Winston Lake Board of Directors, said during a meeting called by the Y Association Tuesday at Winston Lake. “I think the members here are here to get specifics. Our members need to know what’s going on, why these things are being put off, put off, put off. We need to be honest with our members here about what’s going on and what’s going to happen.”
Mark Bachman, the COO of the 16-branch YMCA of Northwest North Carolina, said the selection process for Gabriel’s replacement has stalled because the organization is “looking at a variety of options and opportunities” for the Y to meet the ever-changing needs of the Winston Lake community and live up to its strategic plan’s goals in the hiring of the next director.
Many of the more than 70 Winston Lake members and volunteers on hand for Tuesday’s meeting expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of specifics in Bachman’s explanation. Hazelbaker, who officials said was out of town, did not attend the meeting.
“I’ve been here since this Y opened its doors. Every time we lose a director, we go through this prolonged process of getting someone to take their place,” declared Winston Lake member and volunteer Al Jabbar. “…We have not made a full commitment to the leadership of this YMCA since I’ve been here. It’s very unfair to this community, to the members of this YMCA. We can do a better job of getting people in place and transitioning.”
Some members are concerned that the YMCA Association wants to sign Winston Lake over to the City of Winston-Salem, which recently approved a master plan for the adjacent Winston Lake Park and its surrounding area. City Recreation and Parks Director Tim Grant said the master plan, which includes a proposed skatepark, splash park and “Adventure Park” ropes course, was designed to work in concert with the Y facility, but the city has no intentions of incorporating the building into its operations.
“We involved the Winston Lake Y and their board – they were all part of the planning and the vision,” he explained. “We were all looking at how we can enhance the park so that it’ll be more usable for the Y as well.”
Michael Clements, a member of the search committee for the new executive director and a Winston Lake volunteer, said the Association has no plans to give the facility up.
“There is no plan for the city to take over, but there is a plan for the city to do something around here,” he said. “There is an opportunity there that we should not ignore, but the reality is we are nowhere near that process.”
Clements admitted that the YMCA could be more efficient in its process. He professed his commitment to Winston Lake and asked members for their support and patience.
“We’re going to change our strategy … that’s the reason for this delay – you develop your strategy first and then you find someone who has the skill set,” he said.
Willie “Cotton” Conrad believes that concerns at Winston Lake aren’t given the same credence as concerns at other Y branches.
“It’s like everything that we do here we have to wait to get it done. It’s like nobody cares,” said the active Winston Lake member. “I feel that because it’s the black Y, we just get ignored. It’s such a good Y to come to because it’s like a family Y, but as for the people over the Y (Association), I don’t think they treat it like they treat the rest of the Y’s.”
Fellow member Geraldine Scales said she feels slighted by the administration. Scales said Y leaders, who declined to give a timeline for when members could expect a national search to begin or a new executive director to be in place, let Winston Lake members down.
“I didn’t get nothing from it,” she said of the meeting, “because everything we have been asking about, it still wasn’t told in the meeting.”
Winston Lake Board Chair Robin Richards said the network has pledged its commitment to Winston Lake. He said he felt the gathering, which is expected to be the first of three meetings officials and members will engage in during the coming weeks and months, served its purpose of clearing the air and helping members and officials get on the same page.
“I loved the fact that people were open. A lot of things discussed today needed to be put on the table, and they will be addressed,” Richards declared. “We’ve got their interests at heart and we want to have the very best organization and leadership that we can have to keep this Y as strong as it is and even make it stronger. That’s our goal.”