A humane response to return on investment

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Andrew Page has made a career of putting himself in uncomfortable situations.

While it is not always one of the more enjoyable aspects of working for a nonprofit, the newly appointed executive director of the David D. Hunting YMCA has an aptitude for fund development, which has helped him raise millions of dollars for health and fitness facilities, community programs and youth development initiatives over the course of his career.

Now Page will combine his nonprofit background with his two decades of experience in the fitness industry at the downtown $26 million, LEED-certified family facility.

So what gives someone the drive to wake up every morning ready to solicit resources? For Page, it’s always been about the return he sees on the investment.

During the eight years in his position as executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland, Page’s leadership helped double the organization’s budget. The additional funds allowed the organization to create a new youth recreational facility, a club teen center and an outdoor sports park, while also increasing the staff size by 50 percent.

Then Page was asked to duplicate the success he had in Holland by helping start the city of Grand Rapids’ first Boys & Girls Club in 2008. At the time, Grand Rapids was the largest city in the nation not to have one.

“People don’t like to ask for money,” said Page. “I do.”

His enthusiasm, people skills and straightforward desire for success have served him well.

“I have such a passion for the YMCA and had such a passion for the Boys and Girls Club that it became very easy for me to sit in front of people and ask for money, and I had some success with it because that passion was authentic.”

As a young man, Page never identified a mentor for himself. He was the middle child of three boys — a New England transplant plopped into the Midwest.

Looking for something to do, at the age of 14 he volunteered as a camp counselor for disabled adults. Page went on to be active in local parks and recreation departments, overseeing various parks and camps.

From these early experiences, Page drew on two things that have been guiding forces on his career path: He wanted to help people and he wanted to work with kids.

He took his first job in the Allegan County Juvenile Court’s detention center, working with incarcerated youths. He spent five years working in the physical education program and providing academic and social mentorship. During his time as a mentor, Page noted that this may have been the first time in these young people’s lives that an adult had ever shown them any respect.

“Many of these youth were a product of their environment,” said Page. “(They) never had even the most remote levels of stability in their lives to make rational decisions.”

From there, Page worked in a variety of capacities within the for-profit fitness industry, moving quickly up the ranks from part-time employee to general manager of a local gym in Holland before starting a long stint at a group of health and fitness facilities operated by Saint Mary’s Health Care in Grand Rapids.

But throughout this period in his life, Page found he missed that first job working with incarcerated youths. As executive director of the David D. Hunting YMCA, Page’s question to himself and to his team is: “How do we go outside these four walls and have an impact on the most important commodity in this community: our kids?”

For at-risk youth, the most dangerous hours of the day are between 3 and 6 p.m., when they are least supervised and most likely to either commit crimes or have crimes committed against them. Part of the mission of the YMCA — and a personal mission for Page — is creating a safe and productive environment as an alternative.

When it comes to giving young people the opportunity to make positive choices for themselves, Page said something as simple as playing a game of basketball can make the difference. “So many of our kids today struggle because they don’t have any success,” said Page.

The YMCA also gives kids a network of mentors — people ready to assist with homework or help resolve conflicts — within a fun environment that they enjoy.

Page takes his compassion and positive energy home with him to his wife of 22 years, Karen, and their two children, Kylie and Jacob.

“My challenge has been to strike the balance between my professional aspirations and my job as a father and husband,” said Page.

Now at the pinnacle of his career, Page still holds his ability to maintain that balance as one of his greatest achievements and credits his wife with being an inspiration to him.

“She is so passionate about helping others,” said Page. “She’s one of the reasons why I do what I do.”

Page has seen a lot of good and a lot of bad, both in his life and the lives of others. His belief in human kindness and the change it’s able to bring has led him in his dedication to community.

“I think life is very evolutionary,” said Page. “If you put a blueprint in front of you, you don’t allow yourself to see the path and the direction you need to go. I’ve allowed myself to do that. I’ve allowed myself to be drawn to what I believe I’m going to have the greatest impact with.

“It’s never been about how much money you make; it’s always been about putting your head on your pillow at night and saying, ‘OK, I did something today to help someone else.’ And as simple as that is, that’s been the driving force in my career.”

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