I've been meaning to post this article since May. I helped to put on a retirement party for a much beloved executive director at the YMCA who had stuck with the Y for forty years
! I remember when I met him, it was my first day on the job. He came around the corner in his wheelchair and greeted me and my coworker very amicably. (This moment gave me a flashback to one of those textbooks, where they very conspicuously have a black kid, a brown kid, a short kid, a tall kid, a disabled kid, etc etc, except this was very real.)
He invited us into his office and he offered to tell me a little bit of YMCA history. When he was a kid, his own father had been the chairman of a YMCA board in the Central Valley. I just remember being so impressed by his warmth and generosity, and being impressed that he could actually read at all-- while he was chatting with us, he was going through some mail and he had to hold it way up close to his eyes to read it. I honestly have nothing but respect for this man, and the wonderful work he has accomplished at the YMCA.
He's rather fond of writing articles for the local newspaper and he wrote this one on the occasion of his retirement. I found it so inspiring (I found the whole retirement party so inspiring) that I wanted to post it here. What I really came away with was, "Wow-- this is what I want in my life. When I retire, I want to have been such a good person and I want to have made such a difference that people I worked with and for over my entire career will come celebrate with me." I don't mean that in a self-aggrandizing way at all-- I wouldn't want it to be all about me
. I just want to be able to look back on my career and say, you know what? I did something really good that I can be proud of. Anyway, without further ado, here is the article:
Reflections on the making of a career
By Dan Logan
As I bring my full-time YMCA career to a close at the forty year mark, I’m flooded with memories, emotions and a renewed awareness about how much I am indebted to so many people who have mentored me. Being a compulsive list-maker, for each year beginning with 1966, I’ve identified a staff colleague and a key volunteer and/or friend who were important as a mentor at that point in my life and career. Happily, most are still living!
As I think about the YMCA volunteers, there have been educators, entrepreneurs, engineers, lawyers, executives, financial professionals, clergy, philanthropists, and community leaders. I’ve learned so much both as an individual and as a Y director, their generous contributions of time, talent, and treasure have meant a great deal.
My YMCA staff mentors are also varied – there have been CEO’s, VP’s, APD (now AYP) and NAYDO folks, YMCA of the USA consultants, program directors and specialists. And the longer I’m in this I realize how much I’ve learned from the people where we might have thought I began as the mentor, but in reality it’s been a two way street so I’ve learned from the newest entrants as well as from the veterans.
And once I’d made my list of 80, I realized I couldn’t stop there as I pushed further back into my college and teen years, there were professors, roommates and just plain friends who came into my life by fate or fortune. And of course the one person who transcends all these categories for the past 37 years would be Chris [his wife].
A focus on social justice
Central to what has kept me energized through all these years, culture shifts and historical upheavals – and nourished by so many of my mentors – has been a commitment to social justice. In the sixties we responded to the pain of racial injustice. Over the decades, our consciousness grew as we realized that power gets misused in lots of ways – in spheres of religion, race, gender, poverty, sexuality and levels I’m just beginning to understand.
Early on it was my Christian faith and the call to concern about the least of those in our midst. One of the most powerful influencers for me was a professor of religion at Stanford, the late Dr. Robert McAfee Brown who was a pioneer in Catholic – Protestant relations He taught us how to value the ideas of others who walked different paths and how to enter into dialog and get beyond stereotypes and fears that separated us.
Back then I didn’t know many people from different backgrounds. Gradually, at college, grad school, in Kansas City and now Palo Alto, it has been my great fortune to meet and become friends with people from all over the world. Over those 40 years the Y has changed profoundly. Here’s some of what I told the YMCA board at my last meeting with them:
“The YMCA I had grown up with reflected its past – predominantly white, male, Protestant, middle class and heterosexual. So when I graduated from Stanford in 1966 it was with mixed feelings that I took my first full time YMCA position. Fortunately the Y had two things going for it –a strong commitment to values and adaptability – the decision making was decentralized and we quickly learned from each other.
So our local Y in 1966 hired the first female program director in the entire Bay Area. Our branch board has moved from about 20% female participation 15 years ago to more than 60%. The same pattern can be seen with regard to ethnicity, religion, and sexuality – something we’re just now beginning to talk openly about.
Back in the 60’s, having Catholics on the staff was considered progressive. YMCA professionals were required to sign a document affirming their Christian faith. But just as Christianity itself was opening its doors to dialog with other faiths, the Y’s doors kept opening ever wider. Practicing our four values became the focus instead of religion. Now our board and staff include people of Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, the spectrum of Christian traditions and people who do not identify with formal religion.
And so the YMCA from which I retire looks a lot different – people of every nationality and ethnicity join us every month. The Y is much stronger than ever before for our commitment to welcoming people based on the content of their character rather than some ways in which we used to divide ourselves up.”
It’s a sobering, yet liberating thought to look over my list of mentors and realize that well over half of them would not have been welcome on Y boards and staff in the mid sixties.
Opportunities for positive mentoring
Why do mentoring relationships work so well? And why are some of us so fortunate in having had so many mentors and other people don’t? Certainly we’re learning more about that because of people like Dr. Peter Benson and the Search Institute. Their work over more than a generation points to relationships every young person needs for successful maturity. One thing I like about the 40 “Developmental Assets” is that most of them are “free” so that low income youths can benefit as well as those with more material resources.
I think organizations like the YMCA have created a structure and culture to cause these mentorships to occur almost naturally – in programs, in staff supervisory roles, in board and committee work. So even when I didn’t have the conscious thought that I was about to acquire a new mentor, it happened nonetheless.
So, I ponder why some individuals, like me, find themselves being comparatively rich with mentors while others don’t seems to have very many. I recall taking a co-worker to lunch several years ago where my main message was “you really need to find a mentor!” So I’d guess at least one variable is a person’s receptivity which, in turn, is probably based on prior positive and negative experiences.
Formal and informal mentoring
I’m not convinced that formal mentoring structures are necessarily any more effective than the informal or spontaneous ones but I think a strong case can be made for both. I recall our board tried a structured system for a couple of years with rather spotty results. One of my untested conclusions from that was that it would have been better for the new board member to pick their own mentor rather than having one assigned to them.
But that gets us back to the problem of receptivity, doesn’t it? Is it a chicken-and-egg proposition?
Timing seems to matter a lot – something we’ve long referred to as “teachable moments.” Drawing from my own experience, there were people who saw something in my besides my disability and opinionated attitudes and who took the time to reach out with a summer job, a letter of recommendation or just that listening ear, or the challenging words to do my best.
I have taken particular joy in being able to help young people, as I was helped, with letters of recommendation, opportunities for training and travel, and higher education financial aid.
I’m reminded of the biblical story of the boy Samuel who kept hearing his name called out at night while he was sleeping. So he asked his mentor, Eli, the priest, who explained to the young man that it was the voice of God, calling him to a life of leadership and service. And, of course, each of us needs our own Eli - telling us that we are special and that we can make a difference through our lives
Our society and culture seems to provide these opportunities rather unevenly. Extended families work out better for some people than others. I’m not as “good” an uncle for some of my relatives as others. Many faith communities use rites of passage (Godparents, confirmation, Bar Mitzvah) to encourage intergenerational mentoring. Increasingly it seems, organizations are encouraging the young person to be a mentor in their own neighborhoods and schools.
The 40 Developmental Assets are intended to emphasize that a young person needs positive adult contact from 360 degrees, not just from a single individual. The idea is to empower the entire community to provide positive contact with youth at every possible opportunity – be it in the aisle of a store or at a street corner waiting for the light to change.
I can make a strong case for formal youth mentoring for kids who are at a moment of higher-than-usual risk, such as a first encounter with law enforcement. Here is where organizations who can recruit, train and support volunteer mentor can help. In my first Y job out of graduate school, over a ten year period, we involved hundreds of such mentors and reached out to well over a thousand kids. Many of these teens faced really long odds, coming from dysfunctional or abusive family situations. One of our learnings was how important it was that we provided a strong support network for the mentors. We were successful in keep three fourths of these youngsters from further law violations in a situation where more than 50% recidivism was the norm. This is where my passion for mentoring was established.
Not all “mentoring” is positive
A few weeks ago a local police officer was shot and killed by a teenager. Without any inside information, I think we can imagine how this young man learned about guns and violence at an age where he could not understand the consequences of his behavior, growing up in a neighborhood with strong gang influence. I also believe that much of our culture and values – be they positive or otherwise – are transmitted by mentors just a few years older than the learner. So it seemed fitting that the family and friends of the slain police officer have chosen a youth mentoring program as the most fitting memorial for this policeman who was admired as a role model and mentor in the community.
It will take a major increase in the positive mentoring activity to take back a neighborhood from gangs and people who have learned only violence as a method to resolve differences. But it can be done.
Looking back over my long career, as you might suppose, I have a strong belief that we need to ensure that there will be a continued inflow of talented individuals committed to enabling the YMCA to carry out its social mission of helping individuals, families and communities achieve their God-given potential.
Dimensions of a long YMCA career
From a personal view it has represented a way to practice my values each day I come to work. There’s been the satisfaction of working with like-minded people from which many friendships have flourished. YMCA employment has provided a career path with many choices all over the country and beyond, along with training and benefits for today’s needs and needs later on.
From the organization’s viewpoint, long careers provide tremendous benefits in having stable stream of employees who understand the unique partnership between staff and volunteers, who understand how we design every program and activity to carry out our mission. They bring experience from other Y’s, enabling us to raise our standards.
Then there’s the perspective of the many different ways a career professional touches lives of individuals, families and communities– and here I’ll just list some from my own experience – the children in my day camps, the older children at a week of Y resident camp, the teens whom I helped run a coffeehouse, inner-city kids we deterred from juvenile court with mentors, minibikes and weekend outings, young adults with drug problems, the men and women who honed their leadership skills as board members, the young adults for whom the YMCA was their first real job, the members who quickly discovered that the Y was different from the gyms they’d belonged to, donors who discovered the power and joy of philanthropy, the people from faraway countries we welcomed and vice-versa.
Mentors at turning points
Of course even a “successful” career has its trials. I can recall somewhere about twenty years ago I was seriously wondering if it was time to leave YMCA work. Despite all the accomplishments and recognitions, several staff situations had become disappointing and it felt like my career had stalled. I seriously questioned whether I had made the right decision in pursuing a Y career at about the 20 year mark. Fortunately a colleague recommended a career consultant who administered some test which helped me to look at my preferred work content and environment. With his help I came to understand the blend of data, people and things that are present in any job and, in particular, in the jobs I’d had and been successful with.
Little by little I was able to put my trials into better perspective, a friend shared with me a set of “rules for being human” which included the idea that when you’re looking at greener pastures, it’s good to remember that every “there” is just another “here” – we will all have our difficult workmates now and then.
Can we promote more mentoring?
It has been my privilege to learn from countless role models like you who have touched the lives of those around them and through a ripple effect, have made a profound difference among people they’ve never met. Of course this can happen at any level in the organization, but I’ve chosen to focus on encouraging young people to carefully consider the YMCA for their career.
As I reflected about how much I learned from so many mentors, I decided to establish an Endowment on Mentoring to look for and celebrate examples of mentoring. By naming it the Logan Family Endowment Fund, I want to acknowledge that my YMCA career emerged over the decades beginning with my dad being a YMCA board chairman, YMCA program involvement by my siblings and the support and involvement by my wife and children.
So in lieu of gifts to me, I’m encouraging donations to this endowment so we can use the earnings from this endowment to promote YMCA leadership development by recognizing mentors – be it a monetary prize, a study grant, a lectureship, an essay contest – just the simple act of asking people to think about who we influence and how we transmit our values – this will be deeply satisfying as a gift to the next generation.