COVID Conversations

In today’s conversation UNLV Urban Leadership Graduate Student, Stephanie Milliner interviews Angie Reese-Hawkins, President & CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. As President and CEO, Mrs. Reese-Hawkins is responsible for over 2,000 employees throughout the course of a year (pre-COVID-19 changes). The Association’s 40-mile radius of coverage currently includes 17 primary sites in the District of Columbia and surrounding areas of Maryland and Virginia. A $55+ million operating budget places the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington as one of the largest community service organizations in the national capital area.

What is COVID Conversations?

COVID-19 presented a unique set of challenges for the nonprofit industry -- funding interruptions, increased demand for services, pivot to virtual platforms, safety concerns and more have impacted some nonprofits' ability to push their missions forward. Through our podcast, COVID Conversations: An Introspective of the Impact on Nonprofits, we present interviews of individuals representing an array of nonprofit organizations. We believe the information from these organizations further provides an illuminating picture of the depth and scale of the impact of the pandemic on the nonprofit sector.

Hello, I'm Stephanie Milner, and welcome to COVID Conversations, an introspective of the impact on nonprofits. In today's episode, we'll learn more about YMCA of Metropolitan Washington, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to foster the spiritual, mental, and physical development of families, individuals, and the community, creating equality and mutual respect for all. This organization serves the Washington, D.C. area as well as Virginia. Let's learn more about how COVID-19 has impacted this organization. All right, here we go. So I am speaking with Angie Reese Hawkins. She is the president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Washington. So my first question for you is, how long have you been with the organization and what motivated you to join the YMCA?

I was a adult when I first walked in the door and I was fascinated by the mission of the organization. And I must say that what's great about the YMCA is that it has a national reach, a local reach, a national reach, and a global reach. And the mission is very profound when you think about what we do in terms of youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. That's a wide swath of programs, initiatives, opportunities to make our communities better. And so what's great about it is when you walk through that door, there isn't any fixed objective. It pretty much will go where your passion leads you. And you have an opportunity to develop, grow, implement something that you think will make your community better in that particular incubation environment that it is. And if you've seen 1Y, you've seen 1Y. We're all customized based on what our community needs are, what the community objectives are, you know, what we think we need to do best to close gaps, bridge divides. And so when you see 1Y, you've seen one Y.

Okay, that's awesome. Could you provide a quick overview of your day-to-day operations and its mission?

Sure. So the bottom line for the Y is that we serve everybody, regardless of race, regardless of background, regardless of religion, regardless of age. So we serve everyone. And we provide programs that serves everyone through youth development, healthy living,

and social responsibility.

Those are our three touch points. My operation serves the, what we call the DMV, which is the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Maryland. So I have an unusual footprint because most Ys are just in one state and they pretty much serve one state. I serve two cities, I mean, the central city and two states. So it's a little complex because I'm dealing with a lot of different government entities. I have a strong membership base. We started out pre-COVID with 19,000 members. Now we probably have 40% of those members that we've been able to retain. We are premier first in youth development. So we have camp, we have child care, we have after school, we also have academic achievement programs, we have mentoring programs, we have civic leadership programs, and then we have a variety of volunteer opportunities for corporations, for individuals, as well as teaching people how to give back in ways in which they can't give back. And that's just a snapshot. There's so much, so much more.

Absolutely. So now that we are a year in the pandemic, to what extent has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your organization's services? For example, maybe you can respond upon some of the following areas. Services provide, more services provided than usual, same as usual operations, service slightly inhibited. What can you share in regards to how the pandemic has affected the organization? Service is different.

I think that's the best way to describe it because we're nimble and we're very flexible. So we were able to pivot. That's a common word you hear now in COVID and everybody's pivoting, but, you know, we were able to pivot. So we do a lot of, we address a lot of food insecurities in our community. So we were able to deliver thousands and thousands of pounds of food. We were able to do child care for first responders. We were able to do child care for parents who had to go in. They were front-line staff. We were able to do some learning labs where there were small bubbles where children could learn and not necessarily be home in secluded environments or quarantine environments, which isn't always the best way to grow when you're trying to learn what you need to learn in an academic setting. It's a lot more supportive, a lot more guidance, you get better guidance. So we were able to pivot. Before that we were a strong membership organization. We were strong in camp, we were strong in child care, we were strong in after-school. We were serving thousands, 20,000 children. We were serving 19,000 members. We're probably serving half of that now. It's not a quarter of that now. But we were able to pivot and just do some great things in the community and I was so happy about that because that's the nimble flexibility of the YCED.

Yeah, exactly. I'm glad you touched on the education part with the kids and things that they were able to come in and have some of those services available to them because I do know that talking to some of my colleagues, some of my friends, some kids are struggling with the online learning.

They are, and if you were already behind, let's say three months to six months, you're probably behind a year now. Yeah, right. And in this world where we have such incredible racial inequities, you're in an environment that's more quarantined, so you're not doing conflict resolution with people that are different than you, look different than you, act different than you, come from different backgrounds. You're just home with mommy and daddy all day. Exactly. You have to wonder where that skill set comes from. And not only that, some of the kids are home alone. Exactly. And so that brings another set of charted issues into their development and who they are. That's very complicated and I'm very concerned and worried on the other side of this, what the true long-term effect is going to be for our kids. Yeah. Because I believe we're just touching the surface and I think there's a lot of mental challenges that are going to come up that we find ourselves coping with in some way or another. But I think we're just scratching the surface. We just really don't know what the impact of all this quarantine, isolation is going to... and look at seniors who are in isolation. I just wonder and I worry about the social emotional aspects of everybody's life when we come out of this. Yeah, I mean it's it's effective us all in one way or another. So it continues to do so. Yeah, okay. So during this particular time in our lives, has your organization experienced any of the following during the pandemic? Any budget cuts, permanent layoffs, furloughs? I mean the list goes on and on and on, but that impact impacts the community as well, I'm pretty sure. Could you elaborate? Sure, we check the box for all of those.


the best you can and to survive and have some sustainability. So you have to do all of those and more. You have to figure out how to work things out with your vendors. You have to worry about paying your vendors. You have the people who provide services. They're small businesses. So you really want to figure out how to take care of them. So there's an ancillary effect that just cascades throughout the whole process. You have staff that you can't bring back because you can't open your operations. And when you do open your operations, it's restrictive because you have to, um, you have to, um, um, adjust to the CDC guidelines in terms of distancing, you know, and so many other things. So, um, so we felt we're probably the best thing to tell you is we're half the size of the organization we were before COVID.


So that is substantial for us. And, and it does impact the number of people we serve. What it doesn't impact is the fact that we're still providing services. But since the number of people we serve, it's been devastating. It's just been devastating. The Y has a strong brand. There are a lot of people waiting for us to open fully so that they can come back and enjoy everything that they've enjoyed before in terms of advancing their health and having healthy outcomes. But even with all of the youth development programs, they're merely operated in a third of capacity. And then you have this restricted environment that they're in where you have to keep them together in certain little bubbles. Because if you have an outbreak and you need to do contact tracing, you have to go, you know where to go. Exactly. So it cost us half a million dollars to make sure all of our facilities were safe. Everything from sanitizer to PPE to UV lighting to cleaning our facilities at night, to having staff, extra staff to clean, clean, clean because contact surface, contact surface contact was a huge issue in the beginning in terms of transferring the virus. It's not so much now because they've got a lot of proof to show that that's not the case. But in the beginning, you were cleaning constantly, constantly, cleaning. And then face masks, you know, all those things add up to a significant amount of money. And for that, just to open was half a million dollars.

Wow. That's a lot. Wow. I just never realized the impact, just not with your organization, but other organizations too, just the impact of opening up a building to make everyone safe. I mean, you just never realized.

Yeah, including your staff.

And your staff, right. So fundraising. Fundraising is kind of critical and important to nonprofits. What will be the impact of your organization in regards to this during COVID-19 this year?

It was phenomenal. People gave and they gave significantly and they gave with passion and they gave with heart. Some people gave money just to keep people on the payroll. Some people gave money to support the children in the program whose parents couldn't afford it because maybe one parent wasn't working and the other parent was working and there was just one salary. People gave us money to do PPE. It was phenomenal. I mean my heart is just warmed by how many people said okay I'll give and you know listen it wasn't easy for a lot of those people to give because they weren't working. They weren't working right right. But the generosity of Americans when there's a tough story about what's happening and how it complicates people's lives or impacts people's lives. I mean, we really do rally. And I don't think that gets lifted up enough.

Exactly. And that, to me, that speaks for the community because it's the community that's giving. The community sees the effort, the work, because you're giving to them and, you know, for them to come back and pay back and give forward, that's the community. That says a lot about our community in the DMV area.

Yes, I'm going to shout out the DMV because that's where we are and this is where it's


Well, the DMV was very, very generous.

And there were a lot of government grant opportunities, too.

And they pivoted where they might have, we might have written the scenario for the grant for one program or another and that program didn't exist anymore. They said keep it and use it for administrative overhead, use it for PP&E, use it for whatever you need it for.

So a lot of the grant makers pivoted as well.

And that was a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV.

And I think that's a big part of the DMV.

And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the DMV. And I think that's a big part of the grant makers pivoted as well. And that was very, very helpful. So we tripled our fundraising. It was phenomenal. That's awesome. Then people started wanting to volunteer if they could do it virtually. So we created a virtual volunteer program and that was very, very helpful. So trust me, that's one of the highlights of all of this. If you could find a highlight in this dismal process. Right. Actually, you know what? You came to my second to last question. And it says, we all have our favorites.

Any passion projects in particular programs that you want to highlight?

Oh, definitely the feeding program. The feeding program. I mean, I love the opportunities I had to take food, put it in the trunk of the car, weigh it to the kids and the families. And by the way, some of these cars, you know, people were living from paycheck to paycheck. And so let me just say, some of these cars were pretty expensive for people who didn't have food to put on the table. So it was affecting everyone. I mean, you know, we usually look at vulnerable zip codes and the type of gas services we need to provide. This was affecting everyone. The lines would be miles and miles and miles long. Can you imagine not knowing if you could put food on the table the next day? Having to figure that out. So just having a way to be grateful and thankful that we were putting food in the car and we knew we were putting enough food for a week in some cases, three days in some cases. That's a heavy burden. That's a heavy burden lifted. Yeah, yeah, and it was, it was with mixed feelings, you know, happy to help, wish it didn't have to be this way.

Okay, right. And so I have another question for you, and it's more about the financial budgets. As you prepare for your next year's budget, what major operational changes are expected now that we've entered into the second year of the pandemic?

Well, we have to change our mindset. We're operating with half the resources. And that's significant, you know, that's millions. So we're operating with half the resources. And everybody thinks there's like some button that we're just going to switch and we're going to go back to normal. So we have to look at what are we doing going forward that makes a difference, that has an impact, you know. We can't look at the past anymore. So what might have worked before, it may not work now. And it's very hard because the sense of normalcy for most people is to go back to the way we were.

Right, right. The familiar.

Now we say, no, it's about where we're going, not where we've been.


So we've been having these sort of think tank discussions with all of our staff around who do we want to be when we grow up next?

You know what I mean?

And what is the environment going to, what is it going to look like at this point. And so it has resulted in us reallocating funds to different sources of programs and services. But fundamentally, our Y is about serving the family. So it's still going to be child care, it's still going to be after-school care, it's still going to be camp so kids can have fun and learn about the environment, it's still going to be about family health. All of those things and what we can do with you know how we can help families do things together. So the good thing is we have that core mission in terms of programmatic thrust and the good thing is I think that after being in quarantine family matters more than ever. Even though it's not traditional per se. It has to be traditional. It could be anybody. programmatically, and in terms of initiatives, that's what we're looking at. What's the wraparound we can do for that? And in doing that, what can we do to help the social, emotional well-being of people who've been in lockdown for a long time? What can we do to continue to advance their health? Because we do know that there are people with underlying conditions who are most vulnerable when COVID hits.


Yeah, and what can we do to bridge this achievement gap now that we see coming up on the horizon? So we're looking at those three things as being very, very important to whatever we do and being the three pillars of everything that we do.

Oh, that's phenomenal, actually. So I have my last question that I have for the recording. And your organization is doing incredible work. Would you like to share with our audience how and where they can learn more and support your efforts?

Yes, Everything is there. That's the repository for everything that we do. Yes. And I also want to share this one last thing with everyone. The first African-American YMCA in the United States of America is in Washington, D.C. And I rebuilt that Y seven years ago. And that Y tells a story. It's not just fitness, it's not just childcare, it tells a story about this incredible man's life and his commitment to developing the first YMCA. So if you get a chance, you might want to go online and look up Anthony Bowen and look up the Anthony Bowen YMCA. If you get a chance to come to D.C., you must come and visit. It's an experience. Well, I'm in D.C. and I'm going to go visit. 1325 W Street. W Street.

I was going to ask you, was it on W Street?

Yes, it was on W Street. ♪♪

We appreciate Angie Reese Hawkins with YMCA of Metropolitan Washington for joining us today. You've reached the end of our series, COVID Conversations, an introspective of the impacts on nonprofits. We hope you've enjoyed it. And as we've seen and heard, the pandemic truly forced organizations to think creatively Yet, as creative and innovative as nonprofit leaders might be, adapting to these new realities means they will need help for months and even years ahead. While we only were able to initially spotlight eight organizations, there are many local national nonprofits worthy of your support. Again, thank you for listening to this series, and to learn more about any of these organizations,

please visit please visit

public policy urban leadership. Thank you.