WILMINGTON – Jarrett Royster grew up at his local YMCA in Providence, R.I., learning how to swim at its pool, participating in after-school programs and being mentored in its youth sports.That experience led to a college track and field scholarship and a job offer from the YMCA that has turned into a lifelong passion.
[caption id="attachment_232487" align="alignright" width="214"] Jarrett Royster | PHOTO COURTESY OF YMCA OF DELAWARE[/caption]
Today, he serves as CEO of YMCA of Delaware, the only statewide affiliate in the United States that served more than 100,000 people last year at seven branches, a Youth Development Center and an outdoor camp.After former CEO Deborah Bagatta-Bowles stepped down in 2022, the YMCA of Delaware’s board began a nationwide search for her successor.Royster, then the executive vice president and chief operations officer of the Greater Boston YMCA, said he had long admired the Delaware organization after reading about it while working at the Philadelphia YMCA early in his 34-year career. When a colleague informed him of the opening, he jumped at the chance.“During our search for a new YMCA CEO, we looked at many candidates from around the country, but Jarrett stood out among the rest,” Enid Wallace-Simms, YMCA of Delaware board chair, said in an October statement announcing the pick. “His energy and vision for the YMCA of Delaware is exactly what we were looking for in a leader. With Jarrett’s extensive Y experience, and passion towards youth development, equity and building healthy communities, we are confident that he will lead our organization to new heights.”Royster told Delaware Business Times that he was excited about the statewide organization that was free from the sometimes-territorial thinking compared to other states that have dozens of affiliates, the strong volunteer base here and the partnership from state leaders.Since taking over the state Y last year, Royster has helped develop five organizational “promises” – make kids workforce and life ready, improve individual and community health, create equitable experiences, build family economic stability, and build bridges in the community.To meet those objectives, Royster aims to build the YMCA’s annual revenue stream that sat at about $39.9 million in 2021, according to public tax filings. About a third of that funding came from government funding, while just under a third came from membership dues.Aiding the growth of membership dues is the planned September opening of a new YMCA branch in Middletown, as well as plans for a new YMCA branch near Lewes in Sussex County as a part of the proposed Cool Springs development.“There's lots of people in need and when there's people in need, we need to figure out how we grow our reach and impact. We know we need to raise more dollars to help people who don't have access to our organization. We don't want fees for service to be a barrier to people participating in Y programs,” Royster said, noting $3.9 million was granted in financial assistance last year.The YMCA is also considering how it can help the community address unmet childcare needs that have been exacerbated by population growth and also open a new outdoor camp to serve growing interest in getting kids back into nature, Royster said.He emphasized that the YMCA’s programs could be especially life-changing for kids, just like they were for him. It has 2,000 teens in programs that teach them to be future leaders, including the Youth in Government program, the Black Achievers program and the Leaders in Training program, but simply being there for them makes a difference too.“Kids who go to after school programs tend to have better grades, better attendance, and better behavior in school,” he said. “And why is that important? Only 10% of kids in the state of Delaware are reading at the third-grade proficiency level. That is not a good number, and we believe we can help improve that by giving more kids access to high-quality before and after-school programs.”
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