Donna Waite recently was named the Liberty County YMCA’s new branch director.
Waite said the opportunity was a bit unexpected, but added she is looking forward to expanding the YMCA to fit the needs of the community. She said former Branch Director Richard Tolle was getting close to his retirement and suddenly decided to retire early so he could move back home to Florida to be closer to his daughter.
Waite already was employed at the Y as the military program director when she was named interim director. She was tapped as the permanent director shortly after that.
Waite has worked for several other YMCAs in the past.
“I am a military spouse, so I have moved around a lot,” she said, adding she was working at the YMCA in Augusta around 2003 when she met her eventual military husband.
In Augusta, she started as a personal trainer and worked her way up to branch director. About 2½ years later, they moved to Los Angeles and she became the senior healthy lifestyles director at a YMCA there. Waite later was promoted to associate director before moving to Missouri.
“There were no Ys in that area, so as a military spouse, I had to adapt and was lucky enough to land a job on post, where I ran both of the fitness facilities on Fort Leonard Wood,” she said. “We were there for 2½ years, and then we got stationed here in Fort Stewart, and again I was very lucky.”
Waite said her husband will retire soon from the military, and they plan to stick around.
She said she is focused on improving the Y’s programs and services.
“I think our biggest focus is our members … we want to build our programs and adapt our programs to the changes that are happening across the United States … things change … people like different activities … it’s not step classes anymore, it’s Zumba classes,” Waite said.
Waite said they are looking to cater to single adults in the community by hosting more boot-camp-style courses and adding a boxing program. She also pointed out that the YMCA is different than other fitness facilities in that it caters to all ages and lifestyles.
“I think we have to have a big mix because we are such a family oriented business … we have to look at the demographics of our Y and figure out where we need to build and structure things,” she said. “You have clients that want the same basic, familiar-type workouts … then you have the new up-and-coming clients that want to be driven and pushed, but not everybody is that way. We want to be here for the community and help facilitate programs that the community needs.”
She said the summer sports programs, including T-ball and soccer, have grown exponentially.
Another thing that sets the Y apart from other facilities is the indoor pool and aquatics programs.
“We are busy in our pool area … With the recent incidents of drowning … parents need to understand that you might think your kids know how to swim, but they might not be as strong a swimmer as you think they are,” Waite said, stressing the importance of their swim classes.
Waite said the Y recently was placed on a special brochure being designed by Long County officials looking to alert the community about local swimming programs. Within the past few months, there have been three deaths due to drowning.
Waite said the YMCA also wants to engage with more local businesses and organizations.
“We are working super-hard to partner with people in the community … for example, on Fort Stewart, we have a partnership with MWR. I go to meetings with them, and we sit in a group and discuss how we can help each other,” she said. “They help sponsor our fall festival, and I do a princess tea on post now. We are growing that support with local businesses and other nonprofits and local military organizations.”
Waite said the YMCA also is unique in helping members and potential clients live a healthy lifestyle despite budget constraints.
“We hold our annual campaign every year and the funds raised go to our scholarship programs,” she said. “We don’t turn anyone away due to an inability to pay. We can scholarship our memberships, our programs. We get a lot of requests for camp scholarships and aquatic scholarships. I just want to see this facility grow and touch this community in a way that it might not have in the past. I would like to see it become a good and vibrant business within the community, one that works together to see Hinesville grow and become a better community.”
Waite said they will continue to provide an after-school program.
The YMCA is open from 5 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and from 1-6 p.m. Sunday at 201 Mary Lou Drive in Hinesville.
For more information, call 368-9622.