When Barb Dykstra was about to graduate from the University of Evansville in 1986, the sports management major and star basketball player realized she couldn’t bear to say goodbye to the athletics world. (Dykstra is now a member of UE’s Athletics Hall of Fame and remains the Lady Aces’ fourth leading scorer of all time.) After graduation, she took a job with the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana working the front desk, helping with youth programs, and officiating basketball games at the Downtown YMCA.
"I kept my foot in the door as opportunities arose,” says the Evansville native and Reitz High School graduate, and the strategy has worked out well. Over the last three decades, Dykstra has held various leadership positions with the Y, and in 2013 she became branch executive director of the Dunigan Family YMCA on Evansville’s East Side.
The YMCA served more than 45,000 people in 2014, and it offers a mind-boggling array of programs and events: fitness classes, after-school activities, childcare, an overnight summer camp (Camp Carson in Princeton, Indiana), a boxing program for individuals with Parkinson’s disease, a diabetes prevention program, triathlons and road races, and more. In 2016, the Y will further expand its offerings by adding Sh’Bam, a dance-based fitness trend with classes set to hip-hop and pop hits, and LiveStrong, a physical activity program for cancer survivors.
City View: What drew you to the YMCA?
Barb Dykstra: I had been around athletics almost my whole life, and one career was ending, so something else was looming. I met with the folks at the Y about opportunities to stay active in sports and athletics. I graduated in 1986, so there wasn’t much for women above and beyond the collegiate level. Not that I could have gone any further (with my basketball career), but I still was very active-minded and liked basketball and youth sports, so it was a natural fit.
CV: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen at the YMCA since you started working there 30 years ago?
BD: Our outreach department has just exploded with programs and activities for kids in low-income families. That’s one of the things that keeps the Y vibrant and alive, and continuing to move forward. Our youth outreach program is involved in summer learning loss programs, for example, which are designed to help kids during the summer to make sure they have maintained or exceeded their reading level. There’s a true focus on education.
CV: What’s one YMCA event or program for the community that stands out to you?
BD: Team 13 is a training program that helps people reach the goal of running or walking the Evansville Half Marathon. A few things make it special to me: that the volunteers are passionate about helping others, the stories and the reasons why people are involved, and the relationships that are built. To be there at the end (of the race) and watch someone who thought they’d never do this walk in and have runners and walkers meet them for the last tenth of a mile is pretty awesome.
CV: What is a hidden gem of the YMCA?
BD: The people and the relationships we build. Those same stories that happen in Team 13 happen in our aquatics department, in our wellness center, in our lobby. Whether people have lost weight, met a health or well-being goal, or have met somebody they can talk to and have a cup of coffee with in the lobby, those stories are there every day. We touch people in so many ways.
For more information on the YMCA of Southwestern Indiana, visit ymcaswin.org.