You could say Scott Washburn was a “Y kid” the day he was born.
His father was a YMCA executive for 35 years. Some of his most cherished memories of childhood include swimming in the downtown Seattle Y pool and exploring Camp Orkila on Orcas Island. He loved the Y so much that he followed in his father’s footsteps.
Washburn, 62, of Seattle, will retire in December after 40 years with the YMCA, include 11 as CEO of YMCA of Snohomish County.
The Y has been a part of Snohomish County since 1901; its six branches in Everett, Mukilteo, Stanwood-Camano, Marysville, Mill Creek and Monroe focus on youth development, healthy living and other social services.
Here, Washburn talks about his involvement in the Y, his proudest accomplishments and biggest challenges of his career.
You’re retiring from YMCA soon. Tell me about that.
Emotions are certainly mixed. I’m very excited about the next few months and completing the new Everett Y project, but also a bit nostalgic about my 40 years with the Y (the last 11 being here in Snohomish County). I have been very fortunate in my career to have a number of rewarding assignments that included overcoming significant obstacles and seeing the fruits of my labor in the form of lives and communities changed through the work of the Y. I also enjoy working with dedicated, talented YMCA volunteers and staff, so I will miss that.
At the same time, there is sadness and grief with the recent loss of friend and colleague Ted Wenta, with whom I had the privilege of working closely with for the past 11 years. He carried the flag for the Everett Y for over 20 years and was the inspiration for so many to rally around and bring this new facility to fruition. I wish that he could be here here to witness the ribbon cutting-ceremony, but I know that his contributions to this monumental achievement will always be remembered.
Was it a tough decision to step down?
No, it was actually the perfect time for me and the organization. I like round, milestone numbers and a 40-year career is a good end point. For the Y, we will have finished two capital campaigns (Stanwood-Camano and Everett) raising over $37 million and opened the new Everett facility. (Stanwood opened 2½ years ago.) This has been the primary focus of our strategic plan for the past nine years, and having now successfully completed this, it will be time to craft a new vision and plan for the Y with a new CEO to lead that process.
Which accomplishments are you most proud of?
We have come a long way in so many areas: two new facilities and a major addition/renovation of a third, allowing us to serve many more people (over 100,000 last year). We have developed new programs that serve the critical needs of individuals facing cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s and youth obesity. We have expanded our outreach to communities with unique needs, such as Casino Road Youth Development Center in Everett, and have modified our financial assistance policies to expand access and inclusion to thousands more individuals and families. And we have a strong disciplined approach to our finances that ensures that we will be able to sustain this important work for future generations.
What were your biggest challenges? How did you overcome them?
We weathered the economic recession of 2008-2010 without incurring any operating deficits, which is a testament to our board and staff team who took the appropriate — and sometimes difficult — steps to maintain sustainable staffing levels. We also benefited from the opening of the renovated/expanded Mill Creek branch during that period that brought many new members when some of our other branches were struggling a bit. The challenge was leading back-to-back capital campaigns. In Stanwood, we created a Y where none had existed, which now serves more than 10,000 people. In Everett, we are replacing an aging, inadequate building with one that will serve three times more members and will be here for the next 100 years. We conducted a campaign feasibility study prior to launching these efforts which concluded that we could potentially raise $3 million to $5 million in donations. As of today, our combined campaign has generated more than $37 million in support — a testament to our board, the staff and a very generous and committed community that cares deeply about the Y’s role in serving youth and families.
Do you have any regrets?
Mistakes yes, regrets no. I’ve been fortunate to have folks around me that will generally tell me when I need to back up or start over.
How did you get involved with YMCA?
I have always been a “Y kid.” My father was a YMCA executive for 35 years, so in a very real sense I was born into the organization. My childhood memories include swimming in the downtown Seattle YMCA (before swimsuits were required), participating in the Guides program with my father, attending day camp and, of course, Camp Orkila on Orcas Island — one of the premier Y resident camps in the country. I earned my way to camp selling butter toffee peanuts door-to-door in the neighborhood. I visited Orkila recently and noted the addition of new cabins and several new programs, such as a zip line and a marine salmon center, but it has retained its rustic charm from when I was there in the ‘60s.
What made you stick with the organization?
It was the continual opportunities to grow and develop as a career professional. I started as a youth program director and then advanced to branch executive and eventually CEO. There were supervisors who invested in my development very early on, and I was given some challenging assignments that shaped my philosophy and leadership style. I also love the fact that when working for the Y, every day is different and nothing is routine. It keeps you on your toes and makes coming to work fun and interesting. And, best of all, I can see the positive difference we are making for kids and families in our community every day.
How has the YMCA evolved over the years?
The Y has certainly evolved from a program perspective over my 40 years. Child care was a relatively new program when I started, and now the YMCA is the largest provider of care in the country, as well as here in Snohomish County. Our facilities have clearly evolved over time and today, with our new Everett facility, you will see much more openness, light, a large recreational pool complex and other things, such as family changing rooms, which did not exist as recently as 20 years ago. The number of women in both board and staff leadership roles has also changed; back in the ‘80s, there were few female branch executives and almost no CEOs among the 900 corporate Y’s. Today, it is much more common to find women in leadership and here in Snohomish County, nearly ⅔ of our supervisors and front line staff are female.
What are your retirement plans?
I am not making any retirement plans quite yet, partly because I am too busy to think much about that and because I’d like to see what happens. My vision of retirement is to stay completely flexible and open to whatever comes along and maybe try some things that are completely different than what I’ve been doing for 40 years. I am looking forward to fewer meetings (and other schedule demands) and not having to dress for work every day.
What would the world be like if YMCA never existed?
I can’t imagine a world, or Snohomish County, without the Y. For 120 years, this organization has been a cornerstone of the community and absolutely foundational to building strong kids and families by the hundreds of thousands. I have heard numerous stories from both kids and adults that start with the statement “the Y saved my life” — and they mean it quite literally. There is no other organization that provides the breadth and depth of services for all ages, infants to centenarians, and is inclusive and welcoming to all regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, income status or physical limitations. There is no doubt that YMCAs make communities better and there would be a huge void without them.