September 29, 2020
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Johnathan Pope

Education: Bachelor’s degrees in communications and theater, Saginaw Valley State University, Saginaw, Michigan

Resume: Associate executive director, YMCA of Saginaw (Saginaw, Michigan), 2007-2009; executive director and district executive director, YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids (Grand Rapids, Michigan), 2009-2019; president and CEO, YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, 2019-present.

Hometown: Daytona Beach, Florida

Family: Wife Chandra and daughters Sydney and Savannah

Johnathan Pope was set to follow a path into journalism when he moved from Florida to attend college at Saginaw Valley State University. Plans changed, however, when his mentor at the university, Dr. Roosevelt Ruffin, recommended him for a new roll at the Saginaw YMCA.

“I had the good fortune of being mentored by Dr. Ruffin, a member of the university administration, during my senior year,” says Pope. “He was, unbeknownst to me, the chairman of the local YMCA board, and on his recommendation, I was able to land a role as the assistant youth director, a newly created role at that time.”

The Y was not new in Pope’s life. He remembers attending summer day camping programs with his brother and cousins at one of the YMCA campsites in Volusia County YMCA. Taking the position at Saginaw would kick off a 26-year career with the organization that brought him to the executive director position in Evansville in 2019.

“I was drawn to Evansville because of the opportunity to work with a model YMCA — one that is mission focused, has a strong board of directors, and has a seasoned staff,” says Pope. “People want to partner with the Y, to support the organization, and the community really believes in the work of the YMCA.”

What was it like coming into the newly created role at Saginaw YMCA when you were just out of college?
It was eye opening. It was my first job outside of university; everything before that was just student employment. It was a big step for me.

I learned a tremendous amount about myself and my passions. I was able to work with kids, and something I really found in that role was I really enjoyed working with children. That was where I was able to cut my teeth and how I ended up where I am now.

What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced in your first year in Evansville?
By far, the biggest challenge has been COVID-19. YMCAs are gathering places where people look forward to seeing their friends. Like many organizations working in this environment, we’ve had to pivot to maintain connectedness with our communities of people — such as members, donors, program participants, staff, and volunteers — all while at a distance. Every other challenge this year pales in comparison to what’s at hand. But turnover in some key leadership positions and the opening of a new Downtown branch have proved to be formidable tests as well.

Moving forward after the COVID-19 shutdown, what does the future of the Y look like?
The quarantine has taught us there are other ways to engage with people despite not having access to our typical gathering places. We are considering the positive response our virtual content has gathered (nearly 200,000 wellness video views during quarantine), and what would it look like to make wellness opportunities as accessible post COVID.

What excites you most about the YMCA and Evansville?
I am most excited about the credibility that has been established for the Y in our community and what that credibility will allow us to do moving forward. There has been sound leadership at the helm at this Y, partnered with a passionate and engaged board of directors. The community has recognized that. I am excited by what we can do with the equity the YMCA has generated in this community.

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