YMCA introduces new leader

Gillian Smith takes the reins

New YMCA executive director, Gillian Smith.

The following is the final in a two-part series about the development of the YMCA of the Cayman Islands over the past six years, and its recent transition in leadership. This story introduces the Y’s new executive director.

The YMCA of the Cayman Islands is proud to announce the appointment of Gillian Smith as executive director. Smith assumed the role as of 1 April after almost five years with the organisation, during which she held various positions including providing oversight for the YMCA’s programmes, finances, staff supervision and quality assurance. She takes the leadership baton from the Y’s first CEO, Gregory Smith, and says she is grateful for all he has done – and continues to do – to ensure the success of the YMCA, and for his investment in her professional development.

Smith (nee Roffey) was born and raised in Grand Cayman, where she attended St. Ignatius Catholic School and the University College of the Cayman Islands. She then went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in human resource management from Temple University in Philadelphia and an MBA from Westminster Business School in London.

When Smith joined the YMCA in 2015, she brought a background in accounting and human resources from her previous professional experiences with Androgroup and Cayman National Corporation. Her plans were clearly set on pursuing a traditional corporate career, but she felt something was missing. Her desire to seek greater meaning and fulfilment in her work is what led Smith to the YMCA, and she has dedicated her heart and talents to helping the organisation make a further impact on the community.

The 5th Annual Leaders for Youth Conference with, from left, Jenny Stuesser from Y Cayman, Gillian Smith from Y Cayman, Barbara White of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg, Serg Sandy from Y Cayman and Marty Collet of the Westfield Area Y in New Jersey.

Reflecting on her upbringing and what can be credited for her success and personal values, family and sport stand out in Smith’s mind. Especially passionate about youth development, she feels that every child should be afforded the opportunity to feel safe, valued, and have an outlet to develop and celebrate their unique talents. The Y’s core purpose is to develop character, teaching values that build positive role models and contributors to society for generations to come.

“With each passing year and life experience, I grow more and more appreciative to have grown up and call Cayman home,” said Smith. “We are truly blessed to live in a place that is safe, close-knit, and maintains a strong sense of community. I feel privileged to dedicate my career to impacting the lives of youth and families in the community that has afforded me so much.”

She initially expected to commit herself to the Y for three years, and then assess things from there. She had a good idea that non-profit work would be very demanding, and three years seemed like a reasonable amount of time to evaluate the fit. It didn’t take her long to realise she was right about the job being demanding, but the organisation also provided the sense of purpose she was searching for, and the professional development opportunities to-date have been amazing, she said.

“It was a tremendous opportunity to join a new, growing, and mission-driven organisation that represented the level of professionalism, standards, and values I was seeking,” Smith said. “I knew I could bring a true love for Cayman, desire to improve our community, and a commitment to work hard. My main hope was that I would have a significant and positive impact, and enjoy the environment I was working in.”

Attending a YMCA board retreat. From left, Lisa Burke, Gillian Smith, Pastor Randy Von Kanel and Tony Williams.

In her new role, she provides strategic and operational direction to the cause-driven, charitable work of the YMCA, delivering on the Y’s objectives to positively develop youth, promote healthy living, and foster social responsibility. She is charged with ensuring successful programme development and supervision, staff/volunteer management, fundraising, financial management, and excellent community relations and collaboration.

Together with a committed team of 100+ employees, strong policy volunteers, and key community leaders, Smith is responsible for ensuring the highest standards of quality and safety for all programmes while training and leading others to advance the Y’s impact on the community.

“The Board of Directors is delighted by the appointment of Gillian Smith as the Y’s executive director,” said board secretary Pamela Fowler. She is an extremely bright, energetic and organised individual who brings to this position a wealth of YMCA experience gained through the various positions she has held [there] over the last five years.

“We know that with her qualifications and experience, Gillian could have chosen to work in any number of industries in the Cayman Islands. Her decision to work with the Y to benefit the Cayman community speaks volumes as to who she is as a person. The depth of [her] understanding of the day-to-day running of the Y’s broad spectrum of programmes – together with her MBA-backed business knowledge – has ensured a smooth transition into her new role. We are excited to build upon the foundations laid over the last six years and we have full confidence that this extremely talented Caymanian businesswoman can take the Y to the next level.”

The Cayman Islands is the youngest of the 120 World YMCA national movements. In six short years, the Cayman Y has rapidly expanded to reach over 30% of Cayman’s school-aged youth. Its current programmes include after-school, day camp, teen leadership, swim lessons, team building, the Ropes Challenge Course, youth and adult sports, and health and wellness. Future plans include programmes for seniors, vocational studies, and further support for early-childhood education. 

After nearly five years with the organisation, Gillian said she attributes the success of the Y to a few things. The first, is strong, experienced, and mission-driven executive leadership. The Y’s first staff member and CEO, Gregory Smith, established the programmes and operating principles, and laid the groundwork of what the Y is for staff and volunteers to build upon.

The second, is high governance standards, with a board of directors made up of committed, diverse, and professional policy volunteers whose chart of work and efforts are guided by a clear structure.

Thirdly, the Y team – made up of up to 10 full-time and 100 part-time staff and volunteers – has grown with the organisation over the past six years, and those people have committed their talents to bettering every child and family with which they have the chance to interact.

Finally, Smith said the support of the community for the YMCA’s work has been tremendous.

“Even when they couldn’t yet see what the Y would be for our community, individuals and corporates gave of their funds and became Founders of the YMCA,” she said. “Year-on-year, our volunteer board, staff who earn modest wages, corporates and the wider community contribute to [its] annual campaign, provide grants to carry out critical work, and support the Y by participating in events.

“The Y wouldn’t be where it is without the immense support of the Cayman community and the commitment of its staff and volunteers to serving [its] mission.”

Smith’s vision for the Y as it moves forward under her leadership is one of stability, focussed on strengthening the organisation’s position for the long term, which she says is dependent on maintaining a pipeline of leaders at both the staff and board level.

To ensure the foundation that has been built remains strong, she says she is committed to maintaining the highest standards of quality and safety, and to expand the Y’s reach and impact, she also aims to significantly increase the quantity and quality of volunteers and ensure meaningful volunteer experiences.

For now, the structure is a ‘Y without walls’, offering programmes in schools and community spaces across the islands, but the ultimate goal is to build a YMCA centre by 2024, providing a wide range of programmes for youth, adults, families and seniors.

When asked what is the one thing she would like the Cayman public to know about the Y, Smith’s response speaks to her human resource background as well as her passion for the organisation.

“I want people to know that the Y has meaningful career opportunities available,” she said. “We are looking for cause-driven, positive professionals who have a zest for life and a passion for inspiring young people and driving positive change in our community.

“The YMCA staff team is diverse in background, age and life experiences; we place great emphasis on being captivating, energetic and playful, all while fostering a culture of excellence that drives others to reach their God-given potential. We have diverse career opportunities available, in both full-time and part-time capacities, from youth development, sports and wellness to human resources, accounting and administration. If you’re reading this and keen to embark on a meaningful career, please reach out to learn more,” Smith concluded.

For more information about the YMCA of the Cayman Islands visit www.ymcacayman.ky, email [email protected] or call 926-9622.

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