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YMCA Bets Happier Teams Scores Big with Members


With budgets tighter than ever, YMCA executives are betting happier employees who understand emotions in themselves and others will be more satisfied with their jobs and better able to exceed customer expectations.

Employees from the Hartsville YMCA learn skills to diffuse stressful situations.


With budgets tighter than ever, YMCA executives are betting happier employees who understand emotions in themselves and others will be more satisfied with their jobs and better able to meet the high expectations of their members.

A South Carolina YMCA in an area facing one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates helps staff improve emotional intelligence and teamwork. Hartsville Mayor Mel Pennington tweets, “Proud of our local YMCA for pushing forward!”

The Hartsville YMCA began serving the community 26 years ago with a single employee and some used equipment. Today, a 55,000 square foot facility is the center of more than 100 programs serving 7,000 members in the Upper Pee Dee community that incorporates the modern Hartsville site with branches in Darlington and Chesterfield

Hartsville YMCA team members Howard Tripp, left, and T'Shaka Bolden consider the impact on communication when people can't see each other.

Howard Tripp, Operations Director of the Hartsville YMCA, knows that helping fellow team members support and care for each other is the foundation of their ability to meet the needs of children and adults who look to the YMCA for programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body.

In a community facing a rough economy over the three years since Mr. Tripp, his wife, and two young children relocated to Hartsville, finding resources to boost staff morale and training is difficult.

“Shrinking budgets forced us to make many tough decisions,” Mr. Tripp said. “It was often our team members who felt the cutbacks earliest and hardest.”

In January, Tripp applied for a $10,000 national grant to bring an innovative skills training program to Hartsville to help improve his team’s job satisfaction, customer service, and understand their perspective on opportunities for improvement. Mr. Tripp had seen a similar training make a lasting difference for staff at South Florida YMCA branches where he rose from a sports program coordinator to branch executive director before accepting the position in Hartsville.

Mr. Tripp succeeded in making the case for the national PAIRS Foundation to invest resources in a training to help the Hartsville YMCA team.

Last week, Mr. Tripp and more than 20 other local employees spent a day in the grant-funded program to learn practical skills to improve interpersonal communication, avoid misunderstandings, and deal with the kind of stressful emotions that can get in the way of taking care of customers and co-workers.

Seth Eisenberg, a National Trainer for the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation in Weston, Florida, traveled to Hartsville to facilitate the training for staff members that ranged from maintenance and facilities crews to childcare and program managers.

Follow-up evaluations showed that co-workers appreciated seeing the YMCA invest is strengthening their skills and offer the chance to learn more about themselves and each other.

“While evaluations showed unanimous appreciation for the training, what was most important was seeing the greater appreciation participants discovered for themselves and their teammates along with their eagerness to learn skills that will help them take better care of their members,” Mr. Eisenberg said.

Participants in the training also completed confidential questionnaires before the program that will help the organizations measure the workshop’s lasting impact.

Some of the key findings from assessments before the training that Mr. Tripp will focus on improving in the coming months include:

  • More than half said current rules and procedures get in the way of job performance and want help cutting through red tape;
  • 46 percent question if their supervisor understands their problems and needs;
  • 27 percent aren’t confident of their supervisor’s support, feel their potential isn’t fully recognized, and are concerned about their chances to earn a raise;
  • 23 percent reported not knowing if their supervisor is satisfied with their performance.

Mr. Tripp said he wasn’t surprised to learn that more than 90 percent of staff at the Hartsville branch enjoy their colleagues and the people they serve.

“We couldn’t have a more dedicated team of professionals,” Mr. Tripp said. “The skills we learned and candid assessments from the participants left us better able to support each other and gave us a valuable road map to strengthen customer service throughout the branch,” he said.