Join us in episode 1 of our new season of the Accelerant podcast! In our conversation, David Jezek, CEO of the YMCA of Greater St.Petersburg, and host Saranda West chat about his strong ties and history with the Movement and ways they are reinventing outreach at his Y.

Below are the top 3 takeaways from our chat with David:

1.    The roots of the YMCA Movement run deep! David and his family have been involved with the Y for over 35 years and this dedication to the Movement and it’s mission influences his leadership style at his YMCA.

2.    Two is better than one! David share’s an update on the newly formed self-governing body for small and mid-sized YMCAs.

3.    The need for pivoting outreach in a post-covid world. The Y in St. Petersburg has launched new virtual programing including virtual dance classes!

We hope you enjoy hearing more about David’s vision for his YMCA. This interview was recorded January 8, 2021.

Podcast Transcription

Saranda West: Today, I’d like to introduce you to a person I’ve known for a really long time. I had the privilege of chatting with David Jezek, CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Florida on January 8th, 2021. His Y actually started a software implementation only a few months after I joined the Daxko team, and every conversation over the years has left me enlightened on the scope of the outreach to his community.

David’s insight is drawn from a family lineage of service at YMCAs around the country, with his father working at the Y for 35 years. Our conversation begins with the nascence of his service in the YMCA and quickly develops into two main facets. On one hand is the internal community of relationships with fellow Y staff throughout the country, and a newly formed self-governing body for small and midsize Y’s.

On the other hand, is the external community, the people most affected by outreach and assistance. In David’s day to day, this includes virtual dance classes for the St. Pete community, a 30-year running Neighbor to Neighbor Christmas Program, and a deep investigation of how to pivot in a post COVID world.

I hope you leave as inspired as I did.

David Jezek: During the shutdown, when we were closed, we had people join the Y knowing they could not use our facility. In fact, they told us, “I know I can’t use it, but I love what you guys are doing in terms of camp for essential workers and blood drives and food drives.”

If you think about membership in a way different than just a place where you go and work out, you belong to you belong to something that’s really special.  

SW: Accelerant, a substance use to aid the spread of fire. Accelerating or causing acceleration. This is the Accelerant podcast.

SW: Hi there. Thank you for joining me on the show today. I’m your host, Saranda West, Director of Product at Daxko. Today, I am joined by a true Y guy in every possible way. David Jezek is the CEO of the YMCA of Greater St. Petersburg. He has spent his career serving YMCAs, and I leave every conversation with David inspired to continue serving.

So, I’m looking forward to sharing this conversation with you today. David, welcome to the show!

DJ: Very excited to be invited to participate in today’s conversation.

David’s Y Story

SW: Yeah. Thanks. And David, let’s just start out if you could, obviously, a quick intro CEO of the YMCA, there’s a lot there, but elaborate a little bit for us and tell us your Y story.

DJ: Well, I feel like I was born into the Y. I’m a second-generation Y guy. I learned to swim at the Y. I went to camp at the Y. I caught my first fish on a camp, out with my dad at Camp Klassen. I learned to play chess at the Y. My dog flunked obedience school at the Shawnee, Oklahoma Y. I got in trouble with the Y. My first job was at the Y. I mean, I could go on and on.

And literally, when I went off to college, I was determined not to follow my dad and not to follow my brother, because my brother also has a Y career. It was about halfway through my freshman year in college that I broke down and just said, “It’s in my blood, it’s in my DNA.” And that’s what I wanted to do.

I’ve been fortunate and blessed with a long career. 37 years in the Y. I’ve worked in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and now my third and final stop in Florida. I’ve done just about every job there is in the Y and 12 years ago, I was hired as a CEO here in St. Pete, and, you know, the stars aligned, and this has just been a great opportunity for me, and I’m feeling very blessed.

SW: So, what did your dad… I’m just curious, when you went off to college, determined to go in a different direction, what did your dad say?

DJ: My dad’s always been encouraging. I swam competitively in high school and college, on a scholarship. I wanted to be a swim coach. That was the only reason I went to college. I wanted to be the next Mark Spitz. I actually had the mustache.

My parents have always encouraged. Of course, I’ve seen, I saw what the Y did for my family and my dad was extremely successful and happy. He retired in 1992 with 34 years of service, and he continues to be recognized.

I have to share with you, I got a text message from my mom just this week. They got a letter from a family foundation that was making a donation to a YMCA honoring my dad and my mom. A $30,000 donation is being made to one of the Ys my dad worked at, in his honor. He turns 90 next month. So, it’s a birthday present from a family foundation that really looked back at the history of the Y and said, you know, the Jezek’s really played a role in saving our Y. We have a lot to be thankful for, for those that came before us.

COVID-19’s Effects on the YMCA of St. Petersburg

SW: Yeah. That’s fantastic, David. Congratulations on behalf of your family. I know that’s a real honor.  

Having grown up in the Y and then having a career in the Y for so long, recap for us a little bit what you and the St. Pete community and the Y has experienced in 2020?  

DJ: Well, we’re no different than a lot of Ys across the country that have experienced the effects of COVID-19. And we closed in March. I will tell you it was a unique way of closing that we are blessed to have a great partnership with our neighboring Y, the YMCA of the Suncoast.

Scott Goyer is the President and CEO there, and Matt Mitchell of the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA, and we share services, we share marketing and IT. We do a lot of stuff together. So, we already had that existing relationship and we started saying, “What are you going to do?” And we decided that we were going to close simultaneously, that we were going to announce our closings across the Tampa Bay and that we were going to pivot collectively to do essential camp care for essential workers. Camp for essential workers.  

We also partnered with One Blood to do blood drives. Then, here in St. Pete, we partnered with the Free Clinic to deliver food to those in need. And we reached out to some of our constituents that we already were aware that needed help.

Basically, after we closed the three Ys, we were on the same page, supporting one another. We went out after funding together. It’s one thing to what we did, but how we did it. I think that that was recognized our community. We got recognized by the Tampa Bay Business Journal as one of the nonprofits that really responded to what was happening in the community.  

SW: So, you closed down in March, went into the childcare for essential workers. What did the opening backup look like?

DJ: In May we start opening back up. We obviously did a lot of things in between. We reached out to our seniors and we began to do a lot of virtual classes. We were doing virtual dance lessons, which is pretty cool. We have a large dance program that’s very successful. It has about 350 dancers in it. We had to continue to provide that.

Of course, online classes, and even today we’re doing some of our health, like diabetes prevention is still being done virtually.

The only thing we’re doing at the Y differently is reserving the pool for lap swimming. But other than that, our classes are back to regular where we’re spread out in the gym instead of the small studios. We’re just watching how our equipment is spaced out to ensure our sports programs are coming back.

We’re still not a hundred percent. We’re looking at about 60% of where we were this time last year in terms of membership. Our childcare is run at about the 65, 70% of what it was prior and we’re in 25 schools. We did continue to operate our preschools. We have three preschools. Our spring break camp in March when we were operating continued for 18 weeks.

I would say our staff were burned. While everybody else was going home and quarantining, hats off to the frontline staff. I know we talk about our medical staff, the hospitals that are on the frontline. When you consider what some of our childcare staff went through during that whole period, it’s incredible and necessary to keep those essential workers at their jobs and keep people employed.’

Staying Healthy

SW: I think that’s a great point in terms of like the essential workers. It’s definitely our medical staff who are key, but they have families as well. They need the support from the rest of us to be able to provide those services.

In terms of when you’re talking about your staff and just getting to the point of burnout from having to do so much, one of the things I know is hard for a lot, at least I know for me, is making sure I’m remembering self-care for myself. How have you stayed healthy during this time?  

DJ: My exercise program is like a meal. If I miss a workout, I start getting grumpy. So, I have found a way to exercise. I swim, run, lift weights throughout the week that is on a different schedule, different than I’ve ever done.  

I will say my pattern of sleep is different because I’m actually up at 5:30am and I’m working at 6am or 6:30am. I am trying to shut it down. My wife says, “Okay, it’s time. You know, because you just lose track of time.

One way I’ve maintained my health is that I protect that time to workout. It’s sacred to me, and I think it’s important that I do that.  

SW: Absolutely. I think everyone is adjusting to different schedules or to working from home and a lot of different ways and having something that is consistent, that you can just rely on.

That even goes back to what the Y provides is that consistent place.

DJ: Right.

Reinventing the Y

SW: As you’re looking ahead and, and leading the St. Pete Y, how do you see the Y reinventing in general? Are there certain things that stand out that you know you’ll continue doing that you had to pivot to? Tell me a little bit about that.  

DJ: Yeah, I think so. The other day, someone said they were anxious to get back to the normal or the new normal, and I said, “Well, the normal wasn’t working for us.” And who really aspires to be normal, right?  

We have to think outside the box. I think we need to reset a little bit. Our bread-and-butter has been membership, and I think it will continue to be because we’re an organization where people belong and feel like family.

I think that will always resonate in what we do. I’m optimistic that after the vaccines are distributed and we do get back to some normalcy or activity that people will feel more comfortable coming back to the Y.  

During the shutdown, when we were closed, we had people that joined the Y, knowing they could not use our facility. In fact, they told us, “I know I can’t use it, but I love what you guys are doing in terms of camp for essential workers and the blood drives and the food drives.” So, if you think about membership in a way that’s different than just a place where you go and work out, you belong to a movement, you belong to something that’s really special in your community.

And it gives back. That resonates with me off the bat. It’s more than just a place to go swim. I think the Y has positioned itself well for that, we just need to figure out how we speak to it. That’s probably the biggest challenge because we’re one of the most misunderstood non-profit social service organizations that exist.

But the one thing that’s unique to the Y that no other social service organization can say: We bring people together from all walks of life. What other social service organization unites people that have and have not. And to me, that’s the beauty of a Y. You come in, you feel a part of community, you feel like we’re all here with the same goal in mind to improve our health, to strengthen our families.

To me, that’s the special sauce.

SW: In so many ways, I think that’s the other piece, if you’re not familiar with the Y organization. Even you describing your story and the Y, right? You listed 10 different ways and memories of how it influenced you. No matter where you are in your age and your life and your family situation, the Y has something for you.

DJ: Absolutely. People say, “What do you do at the Y?” Well, golly. It’s a blessing and a curse in some ways, because we do so much, but that’s also an advantage because we can really meet people where they are with what resonates with them. The Livestrong program is a prime example of that. We’ve been doing Livestrong before Livestrong was even thought of. There were cancer survivors coming to the Y to reclaim their health.

Now you put a class and a label on it and you fund it and it’s special, but we’ve been doing that all along. To me, I think it’s about how we speak to what we’re currently doing that moves us to the future. What’s happened has kind of pushed us to think differently and outside of the box, but I’m very optimistic about the future too.

I do think the Y will emerge and come out of this even better than we were before.

Embarking on 2021

SW: Typically change is the super busy time. What has January been like so far?  

DJ: Well, it’s been good. We just came off our Neighbor-to-Neighbor Christmas Program, the 30th year. The support we received from our community is outstanding, almost $160,000 in contributions toward that effort. The Neighbor-to-Neighbor Program is one of our historic programs that provided, this past year, 403 families, 921 children, a special Christmas.

Our work’s not done just at Christmas, so we will continue to serve those children. Not only do we provide a tree and decorations and a $50 gift card to Publix and toys for the children and stocking stuffers, we also provided them a gift card to the YMCA. So, any of those 921 children can come to the Y to learn how to swim, to join a basketball team or a soccer team.

We gave him a little gift card that they can use when they come into the Y. You might be interested to know that we use Daxko as a part of our efforts. We cull through our data to find out what families are receiving financial assistance, who’s in some of our social service programs. Those get invitations to participate in the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Christmas Program.

Then afterwards, post event, we use that to continue to stay engaged with them, because we’re not done. This is more than just a toy under the tree. It’s an opportunity for us to continue to stay engaged with these families throughout the year and invite them to different events and make sure they get those children into learn to swim or join a team.

Right? Because that’s one way we can help these families navigate the full year.  

SW: David, this is such a unique program. A lot of Ys across the country and even other non-profits have some type of toy drive or something, but that’s super unique. You just described, not just giving a toy or an angel off a tree, but really giving them a full Christmas.

DJ: One of the other things that’s even really more unique to it is that, a lot of times when you see Christmas programs, you see children holding whatever toy they have, right? This is not that. The parents that come in, this is their opportunity to be the Santa. So, a lot of these gifts that they select are the things that they put under the tree there aren’t wrapped.  

I have countless stories, even some that were just shared with me today about a lady that broke down in tears. During COVID, she lost her job and they were living off the $40,000 a year salary the husband had. They have seven children, and they didn’t know if they were going to have Christmas or not, and we got them in the program.  

We work with area churches as well as our own database, but we work with area churches to ensure that there’s a true need. It’s a little embarrassing. If you think about it, as these families come in and pick out their toys and stuff. They’re going through with volunteers.

They’re obviously in need, but it gives them an opportunity to respectfully provide a Christmas for their family, and the children don’t know where the toys come from. That’s what makes it, I think even more unique is that we give the parents the opportunity to be that Santa for Christmas.

SW: Absolutely. I know you said this is a program that’s been running for 30 years, which is amazing too, but I’m sure this Christmas for a lot of families, it meant a lot more, right? Because it’s just a really hard time.  

DJ: Absolutely. We did have to change a little bit. One of the things that’s going to stick is that we registered toys at Target and Amazon. A lot of times, when we’re collecting toys, we get a lot of young ones. It’s easy to give the infant/toddler toys, or four- to five-year-old toys. But when you get into the 12, 13 and 14, they’re hard to shop for.  

So, the toy registering at Amazon and Target were all of the toys that are hardest to come by, so it really made the shopping for these families enjoyable because there was some really good stuff here. It was fun to see the Amazon boxes arriving at the Y daily. We had a lot of fun. We have 125 volunteers, over 400 donors that support the program, sponsorships.

It’s a very unique program and it is built over time.

Connecting with David and the St. Petersburg YMCA

SW: David, I know the St. Pete Y and you’re doing a lot in the community. For those who have listened or are listening, what would be a good way for them to connect with you, or even just the Y to learn where they can get more information.  

DJ: Certainly. You could look me up on LinkedIn. That’s a great way to connect from a professional perspective, and then you get an idea of where you’ve been and where those connection points are. I like to use that because, oftentimes, you’ll see that we share 12 like friends, right? So, you say, “Oh, okay.” I’m not really good at remembering where people have been or where they’re at.  

That’s one way, and one of the things that I’m doing right now is working with a group of CEOs across the country to form a network for small to mid-size Ys.

Existing now is the YNAN, which is the top 60 Ys from a budget standpoint. Then the next top 60 Ys are the mid major, but there’s never been a self-governed network for those CEOs at the small to mid-size Ys, which is almost 700 Ys. So, we’ve been on a journey for the past year, almost year and a half.

We’re at the stage of forming the government documents and then ultimately getting a board of directors together to lead that group of Y professionals to connect with one another, to understand the uniqueness of the small to mid-size Ys, and for them to have a voice. They’ve not had that representation in the movement in the past. I think it’s been missing.

I’m excited about that work. I’m also excited to turn it over to the next group to lead it. Things have happened well. We’ve worked with YUSA. YUSA funded the survey. We’re using data to drive the direction. First, we had to determine whether or not there was actually a need. I want to say it was like 95% of the CEOs, and we got a huge response, like 65% response rate from all the CEOs of those Ys. And that’s unheard of to get that kind of response. Overwhelmingly, a need and desire to form a network for that group of Ys.  

SW: That is fantastic. I know that is a ton of coordination and a lot of work to get that many people together, but I think the need is there absolutely just from working with wise for so long, but you’ve sounds like you’ve proven from the data that’s true as well.  

DJ: Yeah, I’m a big fan of the small to mid-size Ys. I think they are underappreciated, undervalued, looked upon as a liability when actually I think that’s where some of the best work happens. Granted, there are good Y and there are bad Ys, but I don’t think it matters what size you are. All the big Ys used to be small.  

SW: Well, going back to, the services you provide and it’s all about the community, right? And so just, just like you’re providing a community for your members.

You’ve now created a community for the CEOs to come together and learn from each other. That’s especially during this time critical.  

DJ: Yeah, absolutely. I have a good friend that runs a small Y and I talk to him frequently. My Y is a little larger. You think about some of these CEOs and some of these smaller communities that they’re doing the same work on a different scale, but they’re still having to do some of the same essential things of the CEO of a large Y but they also don’t have any support network. You could be a CEO and have one other full-time employee and two part-time people. Think about all the stuff that you have to do to lead a non-profit.

I think sometimes there’s probably some large CEOs that could learn from some of those small CEOs and say, “How do you do it? I got people that have people that have people that do that stuff.” I think it’s long overdue.

SW: That’s fantastic. At one point, you and I talked about how you were planning a conference of some sort? Is that still coming up?  

DJ: No. Well, obviously conferences are not really in our dialogue right now. We do a lot of Zoom. We had one Zoom call last month with the CEOs and we’ve got another one we’re about ready to announce for later this month. I think the research that we’ve received indicates that they are interested in a conference.

YUSA used to have the conference and that’s been discontinued. YUSA also had the small to mid-size Y cabinet, but that didn’t really act as a network in the truest form, and that was discontinued in January as a result of our efforts. Clearly the torch has been handed to us.

It’s a lot of pressure to continue moving this thing forward and allow a group to come together to figure out how they, uh, they network, because it will be different. It’s a lot different. A network with 60 Ys versus almost 700 is going to look a lot different. 

Words of Advice for Nonprofit CEOs

SW: Do you have any words of advice that you would leave other nonprofit CEOs with right now?

DJ: You read the Good to Great book by Collins. There’s a hedgehog concept in there. I don’t know if this really applies to CEOs, but it could to anyone that’s looking to be successful or find their way, but the hedgehog concept is what are you passionate about? What do you get up every morning excited to do, right?

Then, what are you best at? What skills do you have to be the best to win the gold medal? The third is what provides that lifestyle? We all can’t be wealthy. I didn’t go into nonprofit work to become a millionaire, but it has provided well for my family. I saw what it did for my dad and my brother and I, and it provided well for us.  

I’ve added a third leg to that hedgehog concept, and that is where you live, the quality of life. If you’ve got all four of those, if you get up in the morning and you’re excited to go to work, and you’re doing really great stuff, and it’s not just because you say it, but other people are saying it and you’re making a good living where you feel like you can experience life like you want.

Then top it off being in a place like St. Petersburg, Florida. It’s gorgeous. So, listen, I feel like I’ve got it all. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t get up anxious to go to work, and it’s not even really work. I will tell you though, during this COVID thing, there were a couple mornings I questioned myself, and I think that everybody probably would have expected that from me, because there’s been some tough times, but we’re doing fine.

I’m excited about where we are. We actually had a pretty good year considering, and I say that knowing that a lot of people lost jobs and, and people are hurting, we haven’t forgotten about the devastation. That’s been left by this. Pandemic, but one of the primary jobs of the CEO is to ensure the sustainability of the Y.

And I think that’s where our focus is and will be for this year moving forward.  

SW: Yeah. Thank you, David, for that, I’m grateful for you and your wife, for all that you’re doing for your community. And thank you for this conversation. I really appreciate it.

DJ: Thanks to Daxko for Hosting these.  

SW: Absolutely.

Thanks so much for listening to the latest episode of the Accelerant. As always, this is about inspiring you… and me. Okay, all of us. Let us know what you’ve learned, what you want to hear, any other thoughts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter at Daxko, that’s at d-a-x-k-o, or post with #accelerantpodcast.

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Accelerant podcast is a product of Daxko, serving the health and wellness community for over 20 years with comprehensive technology solutions to over 17 million members worldwide. Learn more at That’s d-a-x-k-o dot com. Accelerant is produced by Christy Brown, Sean Ellis Hussey, and me, Saranda West. Sound and editing by Sean Ellis Hussey. Visual design by Jenny Miller.

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