Tyler Wright was an aspiring actor fresh out of USC and trying to cut his teeth on bit parts in 1983 when he got a part-time job working at a YMCA.
“I’d always loved working with kids, so instead of waiting tables I went to work for the Y part time,” he recalled in a recent interview. “I was a day camp counselor, a child care counselor. I taught a few classes here and there.”
Eventually the promises of acting began to fade and Wright was looking to change course. That’s when a friend he’d come to know through his part-time job turned him onto a program director position at the Santa Monica YMCA in 1987.
That job would be the springboard to what would become a 30-year career with the nonprofit organization that would bring Wright to La Cañada’s YMCA of the Foothills, first as a director of family and youth programs from 1989 to 1993 and then again as president and chief executive in 2010.
YMCA of the Foothills board members officially announced last week Wright would be leaving the facility in November to take the position of president and chief executive at the YMCA Columbia-Willamette in Portland.
His last day will be Nov. 8.
“I’ve told people my entire career you never have to tell me when it’s time to go,” he said, explaining he did a lot of soul-searching after interviewing for the job this summer and receiving an offer in August.
“Honest to goodness, I thought it was a good time for our Y, and a good time for myself, for a change,” he added.
Wright’s departure coincides with the group’s annual prayer breakfast — a tradition reinstated under his leadership among several other efforts to reaffirm the YMCA’s Christian roots, including reopening the campus chapel — which takes place Nov. 7.
“We’re kind of locked up in litigation, and things are kind of a little bit on hold right now, so if there’s a time to go, it’s time,” Wright said of the ongoing stalemate.
Reflecting on the past nine years, the chief executive said he was proud of the growth that’s occurred.
In addition to opening a La Crescenta facility in 2016, YMCA of the Foothills has expanded programs into the broader community, offering free fitness lessons to La Cañada Unified School District employees, rolling out a mobile van from which instructors can offer STEM programs and giving kids swimming lessons via a portable traveling swimming pool.
“I think the ‘M’ in YMCA really should stand for ‘mobile,’” Wright said Tuesday.
YMCA of the Foothills board member Reid Samuelson, whose father and uncle were among the organization’s founding members in 1958, spoke of Wright’s contributions.
“Tyler brought a special characteristic which I call ‘the Y spirit,’” Samuelson said, describing an enduring caring and compassion for members and the community as a kind of family. “He’s got the Y spirit in spades.”
Vice President of Human Resources Janet Toma said a national search for Wright’s successor will be conducted with assistance from the Y’s national office. In the meantime, the board of directors has installed Jeanne Hobson to serve as interim director, beginning Oct. 14.
Samuelson said while the selection process hasn’t yet officially begun, he has just one hope for the new leader.
“I hope they have the Y spirit,” he said.
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