Beth Malcom is the first woman to ever lead the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association. For an organization that has been around since 1890, we would say that it’s about time. This Louisville native, who returned home after working as a licensed mental health and addictions counselor, spotted a job opening at the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association and started as a Regional Director. Soon after starting that job, she was promoted to COO and became the interim CEO after her boss retired in May of 2016. After a national search, Beth was hired as the full-time CEO in November 2016. Out of all the 40 states with YMCA Youth Associations, Kentucky’s is the largest, serving almost 9,000 youth in the Bluegrass. Beth hopes to grow this association as a medium for civic engagement and student leadership all over the state. Teens want to know how they can improve their communities, and these projects are perfect outlets for learning the mechanics of government, politics and legislation. When not dividing her days between her Frankfort and Louisville offices, and running countless youth activities and conferences in hotels across the state, Beth enjoys spending time with her husband and toddler daughter. Welcome Beth Malcom as today’s FACE of Louisville!
Tell us what your job entails as the CEO of the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association.
The Kentucky YMCA Youth Association is an education non-profit under the umbrella of the Y. We run civic and service engagement programming for teens, with the intent of equipping Kentucky youth with the skills and passion for being active citizens, advocates, volunteers and philanthropists. As CEO, I oversee the organization’s direction, strategic plan and stakeholder engagement to ensure our programs can serve as many teens as possible.
What drew you to this job? Did you have personal experience with this association from when you were young?
I am a product of Kentucky YMCA programs. Starting in sixth grade, I participated in pretty much everything the Y had to offer. The Y took an awkward teen and gave me purpose and tools that I carry with me today. When I had the chance to give back to this organization, I recognized the opportunity to impact other teens the way I had been positively impacted at a critical time in my life.
You are the first woman to lead this 126-year-old organization. Do you feel pressure because of this? Or is it a natural fit?
Although I appreciate the significance of being the first female to lead our organization, it is a small part of my everyday experience in this role. I have a certain perspective and skill set that is inherent to being female and experiences tied to it, but any pressure comes more from the knowledge of being handed something so precious to so many, and knowing I must be a responsible steward of such a remarkable treasure. It’s not something I take lightly.
What are some of your goals for this organization? What are some misconceptions that you would like to clear up about the organization?
The foundation of the YMCA is that it’s an organization that serves all. My goal is to live up to that promise and ensure high-quality programs are available to every interested teen in our state regardless of location, background or ability to pay.
There’s a joke that the Kentucky YMCA is the largest best-kept secret in Kentucky. We are serving approximately 9,000 teens across the state this year, and yet many people do not realize these programs are provided by the Y. When someone thinks of the Y, I want them to first think of us as a leader in social responsibility and community engagement. Everything the Y does worldwide program-wise is really just a conduit for those greater goals.
In this active political climate at present, why is the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association so important? How can you get the word out around the state about all the great leadership programs you have?
It is especially critical in this current climate that young people have the opportunity to be involved in civic and service engagement programs. Our conferences bring together teens from across the Commonwealth to learn about each other’s beliefs, cultures and attributes in a space of curiosity and celebration. This space holds an expectation of respectful discourse, which gives teens the experience of disagreeing and debating in a respectful and productive manner. So, not only are Kentucky YMCA teens interacting with people of varying backgrounds, but they are challenged to do it in a way that puts people first and issues second. Hopefully, they then take that back to their communities. Youth are often the ones to lead the way where adults get lost in the weeds. The goal is that our programs give them the tools, desire and path to do just that.
You are a Louisville native who moved away for school and just recently moved back. What were you most surprised to learn about the city after moving back here?
I am not sure exactly what I expected when I returned to Louisville after 10 years, but what I have found is a diverse array of options to plug in. No matter what you are looking for, there is a community wanting to support and champion your involvement. I have seen it in volunteerism, recreation, the arts, parenting and beyond. I believe this sense of community is what truly makes Louisville special. It is incredibly easy to make a difference in this city, and I love that.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
I do not have a typical routine. One week might be made up entirely of meetings with stakeholders and staff, and the next spent rallying 1,500 teenagers as they take over the Capitol. Another week may find me in a shaving cream fight at a teen leadership retreat, or listening to public policy ideas from high school students. There is never a dull moment in this line of work.
What are three words that describe you?
Driven. Collaborative. Wry.
What advice do you treasure?
When I was first learning to drive, I found myself in a torrential downpour, with my mother in the passenger seat. I was terrified. I could barely see, and I did not have a lot of experience in how to navigate weather like that. Sensing my distress, my mother did not tell me to pull over. Instead, she offered: “If one goes slowly, one will eventually get to where one is going.” I think of that moment often, when I am faced with a daunting obstacle. It reminds me to breathe and slow down, rather than charging ahead or, alternately, just stopping and giving up.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my _________.
ChapStick. I don’t even go to bed without it.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
A safe bet is to check for me at Safai Coffee Shop. I practically live there. Otherwise, I have a toddler, so pretty much the Louisville Zoo or Willow Park. In rare child-free moments, my husband and I enjoy the Great Flood/Vines & Canines shared patio.
What’s your favorite thing to do in Louisville?
I am a member of the Relevé Society, a group that advocates for the Louisville Ballet, to garner investment in this amazing company our city is so lucky to house. The arts community in Louisville is thriving and extremely collaborative. I love the sense of family the Louisville Ballet offers. Plus, it’s a ton of fun and everyone is incredibly friendly. Relevé events are what I most look forward to on my calendar.
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
The Mayan Café is my mainstay. I also love namnam cafe, La Que, The Café, Morris’ Deli and North End Slice. As far as friendly local neighborhood joints, you cannot beat Migo and The Bard’s Town. I could go on and on. I love food. A lot.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
I am currently re-reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. As a child, Hitchcock’s adaptation was my favorite movie. Next, I’ll probably swing the pendulum to something more fanciful, like Iain Pears’ Arcadia. I flip around depending on what I need in my life at the time.
What are three of your favorite things right now aside from faith, family and friends?
Thank you to Adele Reding Photography for the wonderful photos.
Read about more inspiring women in Louisville in our FACES of Louisville weekly features here.