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June 7, 2019

David Connell is the first person of color to lead the YMCA of Central Mass.

An immigrant from Barbados, David Connell found himself at age 15 in Worcester surrounded by a completely new world. The first safe place he found was the Worcester YMCA.

Now he is its president and CEO.

Once the beneficiary of the YMCA, Connell has come back to lead the YMCA’s effort to help communities in Central Mass. After a career in banking, Connell felt called to give to others the opportunities he was given, bringing private sector expertise to help forge partnerships with others in the nonprofit community.

Connell fell in love with Worcester and its community through the YMCA. He spent every Saturday morning there, playing basketball and running around with other children from the area.

The YMCA provided him with the opportunity for higher education. Through the YMCA’s program for high-achieving black high school students, he attended Lesley University in Cambridge.

Following his heart

After graduating, Connell went into banking in 1988. By 2003, he was the senior vice president of the $150-billion international bank RBS Citizens Group.

Even though he had a busy career as a banker, Connell extensively volunteered. As a board member, he was drawn to programs giving opportunities for growth to young people.

Though he had a successful career, his heart never left Worcester. He strongly believes in helping people and soon found himself being drawn back to his original safe space, the Worcester YMCA.

In 2007, Connell officially left banking and became the interim executive director and CEO of Montachusett Regional YMCA.

This role lead to positions within the leadership of YMCA of Central Massachusetts, and Connell began serving as regional executive director in 2012. In 2015, Connell became vice president and chief human resources officer.

In May, he was appointed president and CEO of the YMCA of Central Massachusetts, replacing Kathryn Hunter, who had been with YMCA since 1987.

Kathryn Hunter served the YMCA of Central Massachusetts since 1987, taking over as CEO about 15 years ago.

Creating a community space

Connell continues to be passionate about YMCA's work for families in the community.

He led the opening the YMCA of Central Mass’ Leominster branch. During his time as interim executive director and CEO of the Montachusett Regional YMCA in Fitchburg, he helped integrate the branch into the umbrella of the YMCA of Central Massachusetts.

“Connell was a key part of its smooth transition,” said Jack Foley, chairman of the YMCA of Central Mass. board of directors.

As chief human resources officer, he managed daily operations for three branches, two campuses and an operating budget of $6.6 million.

Working under Hunter, Connell improved the YMCA experience from a college-readiness program to giving up his office to create a community space for everyone. Connell changed parts of the layout of the Worcester YMCA to allow every person to be able to find a safe space, using a closet as his office in order to provide a space for teens.

Growing in new directions

Connell is the first person of color to be the YMCA of Central Mass. president and CEO.

Connell plans to lead the YMCA through the three pillars of its mission: youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. These pillars create a framework to allow him to have broad influence on the Worcester community and all of the communities encompassed by the YMCA of Central Massachusetts.

In the first year, Connell wants to make his own mark on the institution and open continuous dialogue around partnerships and collaborations with all types of nonprofits. He will look towards community and business leaders to further understand Worcester’s unique needs and work together to fill them.

“His vision is where we [on the board] want it to be,” Foley said.

Connell brings a private sector background to a nonprofit, which is rare and helpful, Foley said. This blend presents a diverse view to help the YMCA grow in new directions.

His various experiences allow him to be able to talk to all types of people. He builds relationships with staff, volunteers, members, and community leaders. Connell already knows the staff and plans to be genuine and transparent, both helpful aspects during a transition.

“Transitions are challenging for everyone,” said Foley, “but this should be an easier one.”

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