For the first time in its 168-year history, the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh has selected a woman to serve as president and CEO.
Amy Haralson Kienle currently serves as the CEO of the Georgia Mountains YMCA in Gainesville, Georgia. She will start at the local YMCA in late June.
She will take the reins from Dick Jewell, president emeritus of Grove City College and a 66-year YMCA volunteer, who has been serving as interim CEO since Kevin Bolding announced his departure last summer.
Haralson Kienle has been CEO of the Georgia Mountains YMCA for eight years but has worked for the YMCA for her entire career.
“I stopped counting after 25 years, so maybe 27 or 28. I actually did my college internship at the YMCA and never left,” she says. “The Y is unique because there are a lot of people like me who got into it and never left because we are so passionate about the work that we do and can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Haralson Kienle grew up in the Orlando area and lived in Florida with her husband and two daughters before moving to Georgia in 2014. She and her husband Rob, a high school special education teacher, are in the process of moving to Pittsburgh, while their two college-age daughters will remain in Georgia for school.
“Experiencing winter is definitely going to be … different,” says Haralson Kienle. “It will be a big change, but I’m excited.”
What does it mean to you to be the first woman to lead this organization in Pittsburgh?
Well, it’s exciting! I do feel like it’s some pressure. You can’t be the first of something without some pressure. But I’m not a new CEO. I have eight years of CEO experience that I can bring to YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. But it’s not lost on me that in 168 years, this is the first time. So I’m honored to be that historic first person to fill that role as a female. I’m very excited and really grateful that the board of directors is bestowing that on me.
What drew you to work for the YMCA in the first place?
I actually went to college to be a high school math teacher and had a moment of panic and thought, “I don’t think I can teach high schoolers.” So between my junior and senior year of college, I did a little career soul searching. And I ended up with two potential career choices, one of which was being a teacher, and one was to work at a nonprofit organization, which I probably should’ve known about because my dad was actually a YMCA professional for 35 years.
I grew up around the YMCA.
What have been some of your proudest achievements at the Georgia Mountains YMCA?
Well, this YMCA was in a very difficult financial position when I got here in 2014. It took some time, but we got the YMCA completely turned around. When I arrived here there was $218,000 in the bank and heavy debt leverage. We have since paid down a significant amount of debt, we’ve been able to completely refinance our debt and get it in a much more manageable situation, and have over $3 million in the bank. So from a financial standpoint, we’ve really turned that around. So I’m very proud to have led that effort.
But I would say the pride really comes in when you get to see the kids learn how to swim and the cancer survivors come into the Y and find a group of people that can relate with them. You see someone who has done their first triathlon. The finances are how we’re able to measure that, but the impact that we’re able to have now on people’s lives really is that proud moment, but we couldn’t have done that without getting those finances fixed to be able to put those resources back into the community.
What made you want to take on a role so far away from your home state of Georgia?
It really was how the position was described. The most intriguing thing was the diversity and depth of programming being offered by the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. The Adventure Guides program, which I actually participated in when I was a child with my dad, it’s a dad and daughter program — this YMCA still has that program. The ice rink, resident camp, all of these things that I really love about the YMCA, particularly around youth development, that is really what drew me to this opportunity.
What do you think some of your greatest challenges might be in this new role?
I think one of the biggest challenges, and it’s not unique to the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, is that we are still dealing with the effects of Covid — closing the business, having to contract the organization. How do we come out of that, how do we reemerge out of that in a fiscally responsible way? As well as, how do we meet community needs that may be a little different than they were before Covid? All YMCAs are dealing with that right now.
What are some of your favorite YMCA programs?
Adventure Guides is one of my favorites. That is a historic program that has been in the YMCA for 150 years. That is dads and daughters, dads and sons, moms and sons, moms and daughters — it’s really an opportunity to strengthen a parent-child bond. I love that program.
Resident camp. I absolutely love resident camp. I attended resident camp; both of my daughters who are now in college attended resident camp. It can be one of the most transformational experiences as a child. I sent my 6-year-old off to resident camp for one week and she came back more independent, more than I ever thought she could be at 6. And more self-confident. Those are the kind of things that resident camp can do.
I love our cancer survivor program, Livestrong at the YMCA. I get emotional every time I talk to one of the participants in that program. It was a life preserver so to speak. [The program] helps patients who have struggled with cancer to be part of a group to reclaim their health, their physical health, and their emotional and spiritual health.
Are there any programs or things that worked well in the Georgia Mountains that you’d love to try in Pittsburgh?
One of the things that the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh is doing that I would love to see expanded is the learn to swim program. It’s really teaching kids this life-saving skill. It’s not how to be a competitive swimmer, but how to be safe around the water. If they have someone in with them who’s in danger, how to help them. That’s something I am extra passionate about. Growing up in Florida, there are a lot of childhood drownings.
If you could describe your leadership style in three words, what would they be?
I would say I’m extremely passionate about our work. I genuinely care for the people that I have the opportunity to work with. And I would say I’m a good listener. I like to get feedback on decisions that we’re making and the direction of the organization. I like getting a lot of input from staff, stakeholders, community leaders, partners, foundation leaders — everybody. As we move the organization forward at the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh, we’re going to be getting a lot of input. That is how I like to make decisions and how I like to lead.
Haralson Kienle adds that the hardest part about the move — aside from being in a different state from her young adult daughters — will be leaving her YMCA colleagues in Georgia.
“I’ve worked with all of these people, whether staff, volunteers or community leaders for eight years. It’s very hard to wrap that up and say goodbye. But I’m looking forward to that in Pittsburgh.”