In the unique moment this interview was recorded (March 20, 2020), Amber Richards discusses the concepts of equity in the Open Y initiative. As the Manager of Community and Communications for Open Y, it is Amber’s job to create an accessible environment for all. Key takeaways from the episode include:

  1. Examples how this virtual community created for new class offerings that kept communities and individuals afloat throughout the COVID pandemic
  2. Dreams of how these lessons will learn remain an asset in the future of the industry.
  3. Tips and tricks to remain healthy and active during challenging and isolating times

Podcast Transcription

Saranda West: Welcome to the Accelerant podcast, where we are impacting thought leadership in the nonprofit community.

Welcome to the show, everyone. Thank you for joining us. I’m your host, Saranda West. Today, I am joined by Amber Richard. Amber is currently the Manager of Community and Communications for Open Y. Prior to that, Amber spent 14 years at YMCA of Twin Cities, primarily in digital marketing roles. Amber, thank you for joining me today.

Amber Richard: Thanks for having me, Saranda.  

SW: Amber, one of the things I wanted to just start out with is Open Y, because I think some in the community knows what that is, but this is actually a relatively new role for you. So, can you just start out by telling us more about your role and what you’re doing now, and even what Open Y is?

What is Open Y?

AR: Yeah, absolutely. At its core, Open Y is a platform and a community, but really, I would say it’s also a philosophy because open Y is about sharing. Um, it is about collaboration. It is about digital equity there. Is the, the platform of course, which supports content across the digital channels.

And that is crucial to YMCAs and the world at large, but I think what makes Open Y really special is the community of folks that are banding together to make this thing work too. To share resources in a way that is really unprecedented across the Y to make sure that we can create that digital equity for small YMCAs so that a small Y in Texas can have a website that looks like the YMCA of New York City.

SW: Yeah. Amber, I wanted to stop you right there. For those listening, we are actually recording this on Friday, March 20th.  

AR: Is it the second day of spring now?  

SW: I don’t know, but the pollen is saying that for sure. We are obviously in an unprecedented time just with what’s going on in the world.

As I’ve been seeing in all of the conversations between the community, with Open Y, it’s just been fascinating and amazing how the community has come together during this time.  

AR: Yeah, it is, and it never ceases to amaze me. Honestly, the level of giving, the level of sharing and care for one another.

It started after the tornado in Nashville. Folks were moving to connect with David and support that team just through kind words and thoughts. I think that’s what’s going to come forth during this time in our lives with the coronavirus. Taking care of one another is no longer optional.

We have to do it. Working together is no longer optional. We have to do it. And I think that the Open Y community, which you’re part of Saranda, we’ve been spread out for a very long time. We’re all used to working in different sorts of ways, and that makes it easy to mobilize.

Taking care of one another is no longer optional. We have to do it. Working together is no longer optional. We have to do it.

With the launch of YMCA 360, that happened in the middle of this week, that was an idea that took place a while back. I can’t remember exactly how many months ago Nathan and the YMCA of Greater Wichita started talking about that, but it was the mention of somebody on the Slack channel that said, “Hey, with all of this COVID stuff happening, is Y 360 going to launch more quickly?”

That was the call to action, and it did made things a lot easier when Ys across the nation announced their closings for the protection of members and the community at large to say, “But we’ve got this resource that has 60 classes, including kids’ classes and, and some soccer, sports skills and things like that.”

And that’s free for folks, which I think is a testament to the Open Y ethos and the open-source ethos.  

SW: Absolutely. What is your role specifically? You’ve worked at Twin Cities in marketing for many years. What is your current role with Open Y? What is your part in it?  

AR: My role with Open Y is, as you mentioned, the Manager of Community and Communications.

My role at the Twin Cities had started to morph even in the last few years where I was spending anywhere, depending on the time of the year, between 35 and 40 to 50% on Open Y, and what that means, what community and communications in a nutshell means for Open Y is making sure people are connected to the right resources.

So, if it is a new CRM partner, ensuring that there are open lines of communication with our technical resources. If it’s a new YMCA, dependent on their size, connecting them to the right folks within our team and with our slew of agency partners to get their needs met depending on… that varies for a lot of folks.

If it’s a YNAN Y, somebody that’s really big, their needs are going to be very different than a small Y who just wants to prop up a site really quickly.

SW:  Gotcha. Am I right that a piece of that is also helping to coordinate the Open Y Summit?

The Open Y Summit

AR: Absolutely. That is one of my primary responsibilities actually, is making sure that we are set up for that summit and that meeting of the minds every year, that happens within the Open Y community.

Obviously right now, that is up in the air like a lot of things, but we will be watching things closely and make the best decision for our community based on where things are at that time.  

SW: I was going to ask, so right now it’s October and where.  

AR: It’s scheduled for Dallas, October 6th and 7th. So, a Tuesday and Wednesday, full day. What we’re looking at now is a contingency plan for a virtual summit if it is such that we cannot travel safely and bring people together at that time.  

SW: Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve gotten a chance to tell you, Daxko has a similar conference that we were planning for May and we actually have made the decision to just postpone that.

Yep. Maybe do something virtual as well, which actually, just two years ago, we had another event like that planned, where it was all of our customers coming together. It was in Houston and Hurricane Harvey hit like three days before.  

AR: Oh my gosh.

SW: Yeah, so we have been through that, switch to a virtual at the very last minute, and it actually went great. Everyone was still receptive and still got the community aspect across. So, it is good. It is possible.  

SW: Well, you guys are already well-prepared for that, more so than most.

AR: It’s been okay. A little sad to hear some of the repercussions of cancellations for the likes of South by Southwest. I’m hoping and hopeful that we all can figure out how to manage that going forward.

SW:  So, Amber you’ve recently shifted from Twin Cities to the Open Y role, full time, but then you also have had a personal move as well, moving from the Minneapolis area to…

AR: To Grand Marais, Minnesota, right on the beautiful lakeshore of Lake Superior.  

SW: You also have shifted to be fully remote. What’s that shift been like for you?

Working Fully Remote

AR: You know, it was a huge change. Obviously, there are many layers to that.

First of all, moving from an urban area to more of a woods and rural setting was a pretty seismic change, but it was one that I’d been building up for and ready for, kind of like salmon go back to the creek where they were born. I was raised in a very small community, so that felt natural to me.  

The switch to remote working was interesting. We, being a distributed team, had always done a lot of work from home, so that was part and parcel to what I did, but doing it full time caused me also, thanks to you, to really think about what I wanted to set in terms of how I worked, where I worked, the time that I worked, being purposeful about staying connected to people, both via video and just saying hi on things like Slack.

I would say that the transition has been very positive, very well received. It’s been very good for me personally. My commute is now setting up my work station at a specific spot on our table because my new home is a tiny cabin. There’s not a lot of space for us to have an office or anything like that.

I’ve been very purposeful about where I sit to work versus where I sit when I’m creating or doing something more creative and being stringent about work hours. Obviously, there’s some flex in that, but it’s not just always on. I have a work computer and I have a personal computer.

It’s just a lot of little mental tricks to flip between. Nope, this is personal time and yep, this is work time.  

SW: Yeah, that is hard. And I guess hard in the initial shift, but then once you establish those boundaries, it’s like any other boundaries you’re setting in your life, right?

Or with relationships, you just set those boundaries for yourself. Mentally, you just kind of get into a rhythm.  

AR Yes. Well, you’ve been doing it for quite a while. So, I will say that your LinkedIn posts gave me the foundation for, “Right, I have to get dressed. I have to set this schedule. I need to make sure that I’m having lunch and going outdoors.” Those kinds of things.  

SW: It is crazy. This is one of the things I’ve relatively new tip about how, if you literally just change your shoes. I don’t wear shoes at home, but if I put shoes on, that is my new mental shift of how I go into like, I would actually put shoes on to walk out the door.

AR: It is, and it’s surprising, because I think it’s really easy to fall into the mindset that we have to make big changes in order to shift perspective, but actually, we don’t. It is all in our heads a lot of times. Granted, wouldn’t it be lovely? I can’t wait until spring because I have a screen house that overlooks Lake Superior.

I can go there and set up an office and will be able to work from there. That’ll be the annex, but, even now, I have a pair of shoes that I wear indoors for work days. They’re not slippers, you know. It’s that mental signal that this is now work time.

It’s really easy to fall into the mindset that we have to make big changes in order to shift perspective, but actually, we don’t.

SW: Yeah. I think this is also a really important topic, because of course, right now with the situation that we’re in, so many people are having to shift from offices are closed and having to work from home. It is that adjustment.  

Having just gone through it recently yourself, we just talked through a couple of tips, but do you have any other suggestions or just words of wisdom?

Work from Home Words of Wisdom

AR:  I would say that, probably the tip that I would do share outside of what I’ve already done for myself personally is coordinating that with others in your household. A lot of schools are already out right now.

I have friends who are trying to work and manage children, homeschooling all of a sudden. Overnight, they became homeschool parents. I don’t know if that’s your case, Saranda, or not, but husbands or wives or partners are now home. It’s making sure that you have that coordinated calendar so everybody knows when mom or dad or sister or brother or aunt or uncle is, is working.  

And when they’re not, whether that’s a sign, like my husband and I have a little white board, that says like, “This is what’s going on today,” or when I’m going to be on camera and need him to maybe not be wandering around or making coffee. We have a shared account and shared calendar where my work stuff goes on his and vice versa.  

It’s crucial because nobody wants to be surprised in the middle of a call. It’s also very respectful, too, for everybody in the house to know what’s going on.  

SW: Can I tell you a funny story related to that? So, this week has been a little bit chaotic with trying to communicate a lot of new things to customers really quickly.

We had a webcast yesterday afternoon, and I was just standing here at my desk like I am now. I did my speaking part at the beginning, and I had prepped my kids like, “Hey, I’ve got this really important thing. A lot of people are going to be listening to me talk. I need you to stay out of the office.”

“Got it, mom.” Well, I didn’t think to tell them, they wandered in. I got to the end, and I forgot about the Q&A part. So, as Q&A is happening and I’m trying to answer questions, I have two boys that are fighting. I don’t know what they were fighting over, but then one of them unplugged the TV just to make the other one mad.

All of this chaos was happening behind me. The webcast kept on going, and there’s just a funny little clip and part of it.  

AR: And it’s real life.  

SW: Yeah, it is. I think that’s one of the things that, through all of this, we just have to give each other grace. We’re all trying to deal with this situation as best we can with kids at home, with partners at home that usually are not, like in my case, that’s not the case all the time.

I’ve seen that this week. I’ve seen people just, yeah, it’s fine. It’s fine that your kids had a fight, right?  

AR: Like that’s what kids do when all of a sudden life has been disrupted completely. And yeah, it is. I think that’s a very important point, and I have been really pleased at the grace that I’ve seen others provide to me and to one another.

It’s often said, but I don’t think it’s trite to say, to remind everybody that these are the times when we really see one another as humans, as one of us, as very much like us. It is so much easier to empathize, for whatever reason, during a crisis than it might be during business as usual.

SW: Absolutely. Similar to that, one of the things that I think everyone is also really trying to get a handle on is their own personal health and mental state during this time. Since you’re actually, maybe a little bit isolated and quarantined already where you are, do you have some tips for that as well?

Staying Healthy

AR: I do actually. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, because my husband actually has a respiratory condition that makes him one of the subset of folks that could really be affected by this. So, we went into self-quarantine pretty early. My advice to anybody who needs to do that, or eventually has to do it by virtue of a mandate, is to stay in touch with your people.  

Just because you’re quarantined physically doesn’t mean that you have to be quarantined virtually. I have found myself staying in far closer touch with my family, my friends, and I see that trend with them as well.

I think the other thing, however you can make it work, is to get outside. Obviously, that’s going to look different for all of us, depending on where we live and what distance we can keep from other individuals, but I have a friend who lives in the city still, and she said it was really interesting to be out on a golf course where some families had set up a game for kids. Everybody was just kind of keeping their distance, but just the waves and being able to feel that solidarity was so important.

So, getting outside and saying hi, even if it’s just like a nod and a wave, it connects us to one another.  

SW: Absolutely. Yeah. So, Amber, I know that this is a bit of a heavy week, and we kind of shifted a lot of topics, but are there any final words that you would leave for those listening to the podcast today?

Final Words

AR: I think the thing that I would say is take care of yourself. It is the adage that we’ve heard on airplanes for years and years, you know, put on your own mask first. As caretakers, many of us are in some form or fashion. Just as human beings, we need to make sure that we are caring for ourselves so that we can be our best selves for others.

It’s so easy to forget about that. Do whatever you need to do, whether that is three minutes of just closing your eyes and listening to your favorite song or putting your nose in a book for a few minutes, going outside and doing jumping jacks, whatever. Take care of yourself, and that’s going to put you in a better position for shining your best light in the world.  

Take care of yourself, and that’s going to put you in a better position for shining your best light in the world.  

SW: Yeah. Help me shift back to the first part of our conversation around Open Y. For people that want to maybe… I think you’re doing a fantastic job and everyone has heard most of the story, but if they haven’t, where can they go to learn more about Open Y and all of the great things that the team is doing?

AR: Well, Saranda, they can visit On our contact page, there are a number of connection points. I would say that the website has a lot of information that you would expect to find on the website. It’s when you dig into the channels like Slack or the message board that you really start to see and catch the flavor of the community.

SW: Yeah, that’s great. I would urge you, for those that haven’t checked out Open Y, please do so. They have great resources for YMCAs.  

Fantastic….I need another word besides community. It’s almost like a family, just so supportive for no matter the task at hand. It could be something simple and everyone is there to rally around it.

AR: Absolutely.  

SW: Yeah. Thank you so much for joining me on the show today, Amber, this has been so much fun.  

AR: Thank you, Saranda. It’s been a pleasure.  

Thank you for joining us on this episode of the Accelerant podcast. To check out previous episodes, see the full list on or your favorite podcast app.

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