When Gwen Riddick comes to her job each day at the Madison Area YMCA, among the many items in her purse is a small compact from Korea tucked away in a side pocket that reminds her of the good work that the Y does in the community that she lives and works in.
“A little girl from Korea who didn’t speak any English was in an enrichment class that I taught several years ago,” said Gwen, who is the Y’s community and member engagement manager. “When the family moved back to Korea, I received a letter from her parents expressing their gratitude for being kind, helpful and welcoming to their daughter…and this mirror,” she said, slipping the round compact with the floral motif out of a velvet bag and onto her desk. “It’s moments like this that remind me that I’m working for a great cause.”
As a cause-driven nonprofit public charitable community service organization, the Y is dedicated to nurturing the potential of every child, teen and adult, improving the community’s health and well-being and giving back by providing support to its neighbors. The Y makes sure that these services are available to everyone who lives or works in the community, regardless of their income.
“Lots of us who work here have letters from people like this who thank the Y for making a difference in their lives both large and small,” said Gwen, adding, “The Y is a resource in our community for everyone—including organizations and businesses.”
In her role, Gwen is a liaison between the Y and the Madison, Chatham and Morris County Chambers of Commerce, the Kiwanis Club, the Madison Eagle Christmas Fund, the Madison and Chatham Farmers’ Markets, Chatham’s Fishawack Festival, Madison’s Bottle Hill Day, the Autism Speaks Resource Fair, the food program between the Y and Stop & Shop, and the Thanksgiving dinner donation that the Y facilitates with the Oldendorp Group, to name a few.
Gwen also reaches out to members through letters after they join to keep them engaged, arranges monthly “meet & greet” opportunities to get members acquainted and comfortable with the Y and helps the human resources department educate new staff members through staff orientations. “We consistently remind everyone that we are a charity,” said Gwen, noting that the Annual Campaign, the Y’s largest and most important fundraiser, just closed its most successful campaign ever, raising more than $395,000.
The Annual Campaign raises awareness and funds for the Y’s financial assistance program that enables children and families to participate in Y programs and services and also helps the Y broaden its reach into initiating enriching community wellness and health-enhancing programs.
Gwen’s newest endeavor is overseeing Togetherhood, the Y’s signature program for social responsibility. A member-led volunteer service program, Togetherhood provides a chance for participants to work side by side with neighbors and partners to plan and implement volunteer projects that strengthen our community. “We’re working to build a stronger and more connected society,” said Gwen. “Togetherhood is helping make that happen—and we’re always looking to welcome more members into the program.”
Gwen also spearheads a program that shows appreciation for the relationships that the Y has with local businesses, organizations, corporations and foundations in the community. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for local businesses to show they are engaged and connected in our community and for us to recognize our community partners,” said Gwen.
When a company participates, a banner with the company’s name and logo is displayed at the F.M. Kirby Children’s Center or at the Family Center. All money collected for the program is put toward the Y’s financial assistance program.
The Y also has a member assistance program that helps members, Kirby families and Project Community Pride participants acquire items such as sports equipment, leotards or a ghee for Y programs that a child in need might be enrolled in. “I’ll never forget how we helped a little boy get a desk to do his homework—that’s all he wanted for Christmas. We made the connection with a local outreach organization that found him a desk for the happiest Christmas ever,” Gwen said.
“One of the Chamber's strongest partners in outlook and commitment is the Madison Area YMCA,” said John Morris, president of the Madison Chamber of Commerce. “Because they are dedicated to improving the well-being of the community, the members, staff and administration of the Madison Area YMCA have always been great supporters of the local business community.”
Gwen represents the Y at Chamber events. “Gwen is valued member of both the bi-monthly Focus on Foot Traffic Meeting and the monthly Networking Breakfast,” said John, adding that the YMCA's participation in these Chamber groups increases the shared knowledge between them, which builds relationships and new opportunities.
“A couple of years ago when the Madison Eagle Christmas Fund was looking to expand its reach, both the YMCA and Chamber made certain contributions in time and resources based on their respective capabilities,” said John. “The Chamber helped re-mobilize the business community and the YMCA used its expertise to help ensure that donations reached people who needed them most. Working for the cause from different sides, both the YMCA and the Chamber helped strengthen the Madison Eagle Christmas Fund and its good works.”
The mother of two young daughters, Gwen said, “My girls understand the concept of giving back, volunteering and charity. I live it and they witness it.”
Working in the membership department, Kids Central and teaching children’s enrichment and preschool gymnastics classes in prior roles has allowed Gwen to see many facets of the Y.
“I’ve evolved to a more philanthropic mindset during the seven years that I’ve worked here,” said Gwen. “I love talking about the Y, I love what we do as an organization and I love being part of making an impact in our community.”