Please introduce yourself
I’m Ahmad Qawi. I’m currently the Vice President/Chief Operations Officer of the Racine Family YMCA. My responsibilities as VP/COO range from providing leadership to all programmatic areas of the organization, to fund development, marketing and community engagement. I moved to Racine in 1998 as the new Executive Director of the then Racine Youth Leadership Academy, Inc., which is now a program of the Y.
In 2004, the RYLA closed its doors to merge under the Racine Y. I became the Director of Community Development, which has morphed into the Y’s Strong Communities Agenda. All of the Agenda programs, including the Young Leaders Academy, are located at the George Bray Neighborhood Y (formally known as the Bray Center). In 2008, 2009, I was promoted to VP/COO taking over supervision of all the Y programs including membership. So I’ve been in Racine going on 21 years and working for the Y for 15 years.
Where are you from originally?
I am originally from North Chicago, Ill., which is just an hour south of Racine.
How did your life’s journey bring you to Racine?
In 1998, I was a HIV/STD Project Coordinator for Illinois Region 7, which was all the collar counties of Cook County and didn’t see any growth at the Health Department. A colleague of mine at the Lake County Health Department who lived in Kenosha saw an advertisement for an Executive Director position of a small nonprofit working with African American male youth in Racine. I applied and was hired. What has kept me here is another article at another time.
What do you like best about Racine?
The diversity and love shown by the residents and corporations of this community. Racine is a city of opportunities! This place isn’t idle. Yes, we’re the third worst city in America for African Americans, but there are several groups and organizations addressing the myriad of issues to reverse that distinction. And I’m confident we will get off that list. The majority of my donors are people who realize the importance of equity and want all Racine residents to thrive. The number of people who give their time to volunteer in various causes around town is remarkable! A city that has an African American Chief of Police, School Superintendent and CEO of the United Way is in itself an accomplishment of the dedication to diversity of this community.
Please give some examples of how your work has made a positive impact on the community.
Professionally, I believe my emphasis on creating a diverse workforce at the Racine Family YMCA has transformed an organization that had a history of primarily serving one population in the past to serving ALL populations of Racine County. The Racine Y provides our Safety Around Water program to all second graders in RUSD to eliminate drownings, help men become better fathers so their children grow into positive adults, empower cancer survivors to exercise and support one another through their journey, work with Racine residents who rent to become homeowners. The work my team and I do at the Y is more than people even know. The results aren’t immediate but over time I’ve seen kids grow into adult parents and enrolling their children into the same program they went through as a child.
What’s the least understood aspect about what you do?
That’s easy…the Y is a nonprofit charity. Many people think we’re a for-profit gym and that is far from the truth. Fitness is a tool we use to promote overall health and wellness but we are so much more. The Y is at the table regarding many of the social determinants of health that plague our community. When someone joins the Y, their membership fees support all the cause-driven work we do in the community. So when we’re included in being one of the best fitness centers or gyms in Racine, we should be included in a few other categories also.
What would you like to accomplish during the next 6 months? 12 months?
Two things: 1) I would like for someone to donate the two abandoned houses across from the Bray to us. We will rehab them through our First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Program then have a lease-to-own program for two families in our Focus on Fathers program. 2) Go through a strategic planning session to create a new vision and set of goals for the organization to expand downtown and west of I-94.
What’s the best way to contact you?
firstname.lastname@example.org or (262) 989-7011