Sharon Hayward

As one of the largest charities in Medicine Hat, Alberta, the YMCA’s mission is to build healthy communities. With 18 service locations in southeastern Alberta, the YMCA of Medicine Hat provides a full slate of services, including two recreation centres, 13 licensed childcare programs, two employment centres, and a variety of community programs designed to help people achieve their potential.

Tell us about yourself?

My background is in the field of social work. I spent several years working in the mental health sector as a clinician before completing an MSW specializing in leadership in human services. I’ve been passionate about the non-profit and charitable sector since I first served on a volunteer board of directors in the late 1990s. The bureaucracy I faced working with healthcare organizations was frustrating. With my MSW in hand, my goal was to get into leadership roles that would allow me to have a direct impact on communities.

My first executive leadership role was as Executive Director at the Canadian Mental Health Association Alberta Southeast Region. I worked there for five years as one of the youngest Executive Directors in the community. I was exceptionally proud of the team and the expansion the organization undertook to move from its primary focus on education to providing frontline services desperately needed by the community.

When the CEO role at the YMCA of Medicine Hat became available, a common board member of both organizations suggested I apply. The YMCA is a strong national federation that I have great respect for. I’ve been in this role for over six years now and work with an amazing management and senior leadership team to make a difference in the communities we serve.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

We were in the midst of the pandemic two years ago, responding to changing public health regulations on almost a weekly basis. The advice I would give myself then would be to hang in there, lean on the team, and have faith the organization will emerge stronger than when the pandemic began.

What problem does your business solve?

YMCA of Medicine Hat
The recently opened Y on 2nd, the newest location. It will eventually house all of the community programs.

Health and well-being. The YMCA of Medicine Hat helps people achieve their potential through various programs and services. We know that physical exercise contributes to positive health outcomes. We also know that helping kids develop physical literacy has long-term benefits.

The Y also provides affordable childcare, allowing families (especially women) to earn a living. We help individuals enter/re-enter the workforce through employment programs located in Medicine Hat and Brooks. And we offer many youth programs focused on leadership, health and well-being, physical literacy, mental health, and resiliency. Last summer, we piloted an innovative day camp specially designed for children who have experienced trauma. This innovation will soon be made available to YMCAs across Canada in hopes they will implement similar programs in their communities.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

The YMCA has been in Medicine Hat for over 60 years, and we intend to be there for another 60! We are a responsive organization that constantly evolves to meet the community’s changing needs. We are inspired by creating meaningful community impact, and we are fortunate to be able to do that every day.

What is your magic sauce?

We exist to serve the community. As a charity, we aren’t focused on profits beyond what’s needed to sustain our organization. Our team shies away from the spotlight because we know it’s not about us. It’s about providing high-quality services that meet the needs of our community. When people choose to work out at the Y, they are choosing more than just a gym. They’re supporting a robust organization that changes people’s lives.

Led by a small female senior leadership team, the YMCA is an inclusive place where all people are welcome. We provide financial assistance for those with financial barriers to ensure they can access YMCA programs regardless of their financial circumstances.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

The YMCA of Medicine Hat has nearly doubled in size over the last five years. We predict our growth will continue, particularly in the area of employment and community programs. Coming out of the pandemic, communities need more supports than ever. The Y will be there to deliver what the community needs.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

As the first female CEO of this organization, my biggest challenge has been growing the organization while facing resistance at all levels due to my age and gender. By cultivating a strong senior leadership team of equally talented women, we let our results speak for themselves. The Y is thriving and growing, so clearly, we are doing something right!

How can people get involved?

If people want to know more about the YMCA of Medicine Hat, they can go to the website at www.medicinehatymca.ca. There are many ways to get involved and support the good work we do!