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DOWNEY – Lincoln, Nebraska native Anne Ullstrom, the new executive director of the Downey Family YMCA, is one of those rare people who find their true calling early in life, a circumstance that almost invariably leads on to fortune of one form or another.
Here is how she describes her career path with the YMCA: “I have been involved with the Y for as long as I can remember. When I was 8 years old, my parents registered me for YMCA resident camp and it changed my life. From that point on, I’ve been involved with the Y.”
“I participated in camping and teen leadership programs, while my younger sister was involved in youth sports. So much of who I am now was built through the programs I participated in at the Y. Not only did Y programs allow for an opportunity to have fun and make friends, but I was learning new skills, building character, and meeting amazing role models.”
“My first job with the Y was a part-time position working with youth and teens while I was still attending the University of Nebraska. After earning my BA in communication studies, I continued my involvement with the Y as a volunteer. I moved to L.A. in 2004, beginning my full-time career with the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles.”
In short, she says she “experienced the positive impact that being involved with the Y can have” and, now that she has taken over the reins at the Downey Y, “I want to ensure that others are given that same opportunity.”
Fresh from her 3-1/2 year stint at the Palisades-Malibu Y as associate executive director (prior to this she spent 4-1/2 years at the Westside Family Y in Brentwood, as senior director of membership and healthy lifestyles), Ullstrom is thoroughly familiar with, and embraces, her organization’s three-pronged program of “The Y-for Youth Development, for Healthy Living, for Social Responsibility.” She expanded on this by saying, “This means fostering and nurturing the potential of youth in the community, impacting the health and well-being of individuals and families therein, and partnering with the community, while giving back to it.”
She also realizes she needs some time to discuss with a number of individuals (board members, key staff, community opinion leaders, etc.) to enable her to assess what needs in the community are or are not being met, and figure out where and how partnerships in the community can be forged to address the identified needs. She believes community input is especially of paramount importance in the Y’s continued success.
At the time of this interview, Ullstrom says she had first sat down at her Downey desk “only eight days ago.”
At any rate, she has been impressed and excited by the warm reception accorded her. One of the main reasons she interviewed for the position (there were over 100 applicants for the job, she learned later) was that she had heard many complimentary things about Downey, that it is a great community. “People here have really been very friendly,” she adds.
There are two upcoming major events everybody at the Y is gearing up for. One is the “Healthy Kids Day” on Saturday, April 21, part of YMCA’s nearly 1600-branch nationwide celebration and considered the “nation’s largest health day of its kind for kids and families.” It is a free event and encourages families to attend and “have fun, be active and learn simple ways to improve your health and well-being.” Among the many fun events: petting zoo, face painting, reptile exhibit, bounce houses, obstacle course, playground activities, arts and crafts, interactive booths, community vendors, music and door prizes.
The other one is the special event on Sunday, May 6 honoring former mayor Bob Brazelton and Dr. Mary Stauffer, to be held at the Long Beach Yacht Club. It will also serve as Anne’s formal introduction to the Downey community. She is, by the way, only in her “very early” 30s.
Her indoctrination to the ways of Downey has been hectic. Last Tuesday, she was inducted into the Downey Rotary Club, taking over from Kindall Hirai, now the executive vice-president and chief operating officer for the entire Metropolitan YMCA.
It would seem that Ullstrom’s family, descended from ancestors who lived in a little town about 5 or 6 miles west of Uppsala in Sweden, still loves to work. Her dad is currently senior vice-president for state and government relations with Mutual of Omaha, while her mom is an independent contractor for the non-profit Nebraska Soybean Board, tasked with teaching Nebraska agriculture, especially soybeans, to elementary school students. Her younger sister works as an administrator for a high school in Lincoln. “I learned the virtue of persistence and staying with one organization from my dad,” she says.
Ullstrom says she loves to watch sports (“I golfed when I was in elementary school. I’ve had instructions in its fundamentals. Given enough practice, I think I can give a good account of myself”), and she enjoys exercising. She wants to try all the weeklong exercises offered at the Y, including indoor cycling, zumba (good for toning the muscles and losing weight), abs, pilates, yoga, taekwondo, jujitsu, and even kickboxing. “Then I’ll know what I want to concentrate on,” she says.
Although to belong to the Y and use its facilities involve some expense (the youth membership monthly fee, for example, is $25 while that for an adult is $46, as well as a joining fee of $100 with discounts for family membership), etc., Ullstrom stresses that “no one is ever turned away” for financial reasons: financial assistance is available if one qualifies. It operates on a case-by-case basis.
The Y, which is non-profit, operates right now on a $2.5 million operating budget, with a re-investment mechanism in place. Its main sources of funds come from individual contributions (memberships), activities and program fees, and mostly volunteer-run fundraisers. “Scheduled in the spring is our two-month ‘annual support campaign’”, she says, “to help support the Y’s youth programs (the special camps, etc.), as well as augment the financial assistance program.”
Ultimately, she says, “when you come right down to it, the main reason why I live and breathe the Y is I care a lot about the community and about the Y being able to exert a positive influence in it.”
Published: April 12, 2012 – Volume 10 – Issue 52