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Updated: March 4, 2024 / 2024 Business Leaders of the Year

Business Leaders of the Year: Connell led to YMCA to set fundraising, programming records

A man in a blue suit and green tie smiles at the camera in front of the Worcester skyline. Photo | Matt Wright David Connell, president and CEO of the YMCA of Central Massachusetts

A passion for community service and a sound background in finance have helped David Connell succeed as leader of the YMCA of Central Massachusetts. He took the job just one year prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a turning point shaping his vision and commitment to the people the Y serves.

The last 12 months have been strong for the YMCA of Central Massachusetts. Under Connell’s leadership, membership has surpassed pre-pandemic levels, even with the challenge of finding enough workers to employ in this growing organization.

“Not only have we rebounded with our former members, we’ve seen people using the facilities more than they ever did,” Connell said.

a bio box for David Connell
A bio box for David Connell

The Y has increased the number of youth programming options and has employed 151 teens in their first jobs.

“We are serving the highest number of youth we have ever served in camps,” he said. “We are able to bring young people to a place where they can experience swimming, team building. They can start laughing again.”

The Y has launched its Worcester Community Capital Campaign, and over the past year has raised $6 million to complete a series of projects at the Central Community and Greendale Family Branches, which is an organizational record. This is on top of the nonprofit raising $1.3 million in annual funds.

These accomplishments are built on a framework Connell laid during the COVID-19 pandemic. The YMCA of Central Massachusetts has delivered 1.7 million meals to families since the pandemic started and was among the first to provide emergency childcare for first responders.

“We tend to forget the pandemic happened, but there was no blueprint for how to handle it,” said Jack Foley, a YMCA of Central Massachusetts board member. “David’s work put us in a good position to move forward.”

Connell has always been a dedicated advocate for community empowerment and social progress. Originally hailing from Barbados, Connell immigrated to Massachusetts during his teenage years and has since become an integral part of the local community.

He started his career at the Bank of New England, working in customer service, leading teams, and networking with nonprofits.

“It was through this process, and going to school at the same time, that I was able to move from banking to community development,” Connell said. “I was focused on how to build relationships and develop teams so that they can reach their highest potential.”

Connell has long been a YMCA volunteer, mentoring teens at the YMCA of Greater Boston. His volunteer work led to various positions on the Y’s board and eventually leadership roles with YMCA of Central Massachusetts, such as vice president and chief of human resources. In 2019, he was tapped to lead the organization as CEO, becoming the first person of color to take the job.

At the helm of the YMCA of Central Massachusetts, Connell oversees a vast network of more than 1,000 employees spread across six locations and 14 program sites. Under his leadership, the organization has grown initiatives such as the Minority Achievers Program, aimed at providing college readiness support to underserved high school students.

Celebrating its 25th year, the Minority Achievers Program has seen more than 500 students from Central Massachusetts equipped with the tools and resources to pursue higher education.

“We are committed to empowering people to move to the next level,” Connell said.

Connell's vision and emphasis on partnerships have been instrumental in ensuring the program's longevity and impact. Within the last year, Connell and team have partnered with international YMCA locations in Haiti and Sri Lanka to help get these new facilities up and running.

Reflecting on his leadership style, Foley praised Connell for his inclusivity, professionalism, and commitment to staff development. His ability to navigate challenges while staying true to the YMCA's mission has earned him the respect and admiration of board members, volunteers, and community partners alike, Foley said.

“He completely supports the mission of the YMCA to develop youth, healthy living, and social responsibility,” Foley said. “He believes in professional development, delegating responsibilities, and helping people grow with the organization.”

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