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Chamber award winner for community service: Jeff Winters

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 September 2013 at 12:00 am

YMCA director has organization on new path

Photos by Tom Rivers – Jeff Winters, executive director of the Orleans County YMCA in Medina, has led the organization to profitability, a big increase in membership, and the start of a $400,000 capital campaign.

MEDINA – It was 2010 and Jeff Winters had a law degree and a good job. He was only 27 with a bright future ahead of him.

But Winters dreaded his new career, the long hours of paperwork and what felt like detachment from regular folks.

So three years ago, Winters walked away from that life and took a job as executive director of the Orleans County YMCA in Medina. The organization ran at an $80,000 annual deficit, operated out of a historic building in need of significant repairs, and had a modest membership base.

Winters, now 30, has led a transformation of the local Y, with membership doubling to 2,400. The Y has made a concerted effort to expand outside of Medina, by running youth programs in Albion and Lyndonville, which has resulted in a big boost of program participants.

“We got back to the basics, focusing on good customer service and programs,” Winters said.

The organization is now profitable. The Y put a new roof on its historic site in Medina, the former Armory on Pearl Street. It has new cardio equipment, treadmills and other exercise equipment.

It has raised $275,000 towards a $400,000 capital campaign, which will increase handicapped accessibility of the facility and add a vestibule and two unisex bathrooms and shower areas inside. The lobby will be expanded for social areas for coffee and conversation. A “Child Watch” room and group exercise room will be added.

Jeff Winters is pictured with some of the new exercise equipment recently added to the Orleans County YMCA.

The transformation of the Y earned Winters the Chamber of Commerce’s “Community Service Award.” Winters, a Medina native, said the honor should be a group award because many community members have diligently worked to keep the Y in the county.

The Orleans County Y used to be known as the Lake Plains YMCA before the organization joined the GLOW Y, which has sites in Batavia and Warsaw. The decision to join the multi-county Y likely saved the Y in Orleans County, giving the Medina-based program access to more resources, Winters said.

Scott Taylor is the leader of the GLOW Y. He said Winters has done a remarkable job in three years.

“He has a passion to help others in the community,” Taylor said. “He has grown the programs, done fund-raising and worked on the capitol project.”

Winters took a significant pay cut to join the Y, but he said he doesn’t have any regrets. He is happy to be working in his hometown of Medina, connecting with people of all ages.

“When I was hired at 27, it was a leap of faith on my part and also on their part,” he said.

The YMCA has been running programs out of the former Medina Armory for about 30 years. The site was built in 1901 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Winters, a 2000 Medina grad, was an offensive lineman for Medina’s varsity football team and played catcher on the baseball team. He played baseball for four years at Ithaca College before earning his law degree at the University at Buffalo. He was working as a lawyer, but found he didn’t enjoy writing legalese.

“I consider myself a people person and I missed the people,” he said. “This job has definitely aligned all of my passions.”

Winters like sports and business. With the Y position, he has been able to combine many of those interests in leading the organization.

He praised a team of employees that has grown from 13 three years ago to 47 now. The Y has been reinvigorated by many new volunteers who are looking for ways for the Y to engage the community.

One new program starts on Sept. 28. The Y wants to tap a growing movement for 5K races through obstacles and mud. Many of these races draw hundreds of participants. The Y is planning its debut “Mud Run” on Sept. 28 beginning at the Sacred Heart Club with the first waves of runners at 11 a.m. The course includes three farms and the Erie Canal.

Participants will slip and slide down a muddy hill, climb hay bales and carry wood, as well as maneuver through other challenges.

“We’re always trying new things and taking some risks,” Winters said.

Winters and the other Chamber winners will be honored Saturday during a banquet at the White Birch Golf Course in Lyndonville. The event is open to the public. Tickets are available by calling the Chamber at 589-7727.