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Staff Spotlight: Dan Smith

Dan Smith in the lobby of the Y with Jenn Helsel, employee.

Today our Staff Spotlight shines on the Keene Family YMCA CEO, Daniel Smith.

Dan has a long history of philanthropy and community work and brought that passion for building and strengthening communities to the Keene Family YMCA four years ago when he stepped into his role.

Dan has lived all over the globe, including Papua New Guinea and Fiji, as well as having one year of no country of residence, all while traveling and volunteering with Habitat for Humanity International.

He met and married his wife in Fiji, and he loves celebrating the Fijian culture they share through food, music, stories, mixing Kava, and bringing other South-Pacific Islanders together for gatherings.

The style of cooking with the “south Polynesian flair,” as he described it, can get quite elaborate.

“It’s cooking in the ground on hot stones, and it gets buried, and we do that right in our back yard. When we do that its usually quite extensive, several meats and various vegetable dishes and root crops and that sort of thing,” he said. “Whatever you do in the ground you can do in the oven, but the ground gives a different flavor and usually keeps it a lot more moist. And you can cook your turkey, no matter how big, in two hours.”

Being the CEO of a YMCA was not a new aspect to his career, as after his volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity International, he returned to the United States with his wife and later became the CEO of a YMCA in Cadillac, Michigan for about a decade. He joined the Keene Family YMCA in May of 2019.

“COVID definitely changed the way I interact with the community. I was just starting to get to know the community when COVID hit so now it all just feels like I just moved here because it feels like I barely know it,” he said.

Dan’s favorite thing to do in his free time is play pickup basketball here at the Y, and attending community impact events is a close second.

“It sort of ties in to the social passion of the DEI work that we do,” he said. “I think I always enjoy watching the kids and the youth really blossom and I greatly enjoy occasionally people seeing me and stopping me to talk about what a difference it’s made in their life to have this place. Those sort of member stories are really cool.”

He’s observed in the community that there is a prominent pickleball community, and hopes to one day be able to meet the need for pickleball space here at the Y.

“There’s a strong pickleball community here and not really any facility that’s meeting the need. There’s a lot of different places where they can play but just in terms of the volume and access to pickleball the way that the pickleballs would like it, there’s still a [void],” he said. “There’s some places across the country that are taking strip mall stores and turning it into all pickleball…, that begins to meet that need. I theorize that our community might be deep enough that it could support that.”

As the Y does work in diversity, equity, and inclusion there is a need for our communities, big and small, to come together at the Y and play the sports and do the activities that their communities enjoy most.

“There are communities and people within our community that represent other cultures and upbringing and with that comes other emphasis on different kinds of sports and we don’t necessarily offer those,” he said. “It’s not that we’re opposed to them we just don’t have the membership base that’s asking for them, but we don’t have the membership base because they’re not coming here because we don’t have it.”

Another eye-on-the-prize type goal for the Y Dan has is to develop a space that accommodates non-exercise related activities.

“I’d love to see us have better space for that. We have might have 30-40 youth come afterschool to play hoops and what not and when they’re not playing, they’re just sitting around the side of the gym,” he said. “We don’t have a way for the staff to go and engage with them. If there was sort of a hang out space, we could put staff in that space and become an [extra] parent for those kids.”

“Then there’s other things that a Y can do like arts and crafts programs, music programs, makers space programs, that kind of thing that we just don’t have that space for… All of those things also apply to seniors.”

Staffing across the country has been a major issue, and that doesn’t exclude the Y. In their childcare facility, Dan sees that they have the space for more kids, they just don’t have the staff.

“We have the square footage to service 30-50% more kids, we don’t have the staff… There are a couple of childcare centers in our community that double as a place to train childcare workers, they don’t even have enough staff,” he said. “I could double my childcare staff, I have the square footage to do it, I just don’t have them and we’re short staffed for the kids that we have.”

Becoming the CEO of the Y in Keene has added to his point of view of it, teaching him how to engage in the community.

“When I was a kid, I engaged with the Y as a member. I didn’t become a YMCA CEO for another 15-20 years. So, when I came to the Y I didn’t have a strong perception of what it was,” he said. “You learn a lot from that and how a community works and how to engage in it and how to partner within it and how to respond to needs within it.”

Daniel recognizes that this Y is a cornerstone of the surrounding community and holds responsibility for supporting the diversity and growth of the working community.

“When the community has a need, what’s the Y’s place in it? … We have a place to help that workforce stay and we need to do that and it’s very hard,” he said. “We are trying to build and strengthen community and families, that’s what we do, and the spaces we have are tools to that end.”

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