Sometimes it isn’t what you see in yourself, but what others see in you that can chart a path for your life. This is what happened to Grace Watts, the aquatics coordinator at the Whitaker Family YMCA, while working part-time at the High Street Y in college.
“In 2015 I decided to attend the University of Kentucky and move close to campus,” Grace told us. “I had been working for my family business since high school, and I wanted to try something new nearer campus.
“My sister had been a lifeguard at the Beaumont Y for two summers, and loved it. High Street seemed to me to be a great place for a college part-time job. Little did I know I would find a new family, job that I love, and people who inspire me and show me how to make a difference in the community.” Three months after starting her “part-time job,” things changed. “My former manager asked me, ‘So when will I see you sitting upstairs in one of the offices?’ I thought to myself, ‘No way, this is just a college job.’ But he saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. “What I appreciate the most about the Y is how quickly I was taken in, and how I was given the opportunity to become leader. I became a part of the part-time staff leadership program that showed me just how much I loved this organization and growing as a person,” she said.
“I have had amazing coworkers and supervisors who have taken the time to help me grow, the staff development has been great, and part of that is them showing me how I can make an impact not only at the Y, but out in the community.”
Grace graduated from UK with a degree in communications in 2018, and transitioned into a full- time role as the program director for Aquatics and Youth Development. I spent the past five years of my career at the High Street location and loved every minute of my time there,” she shared. “Now, I am a part of the Whitaker Family YMCA, and am excited to integrate into the team here and get to know this facility’s staff, members, and program participants. There are so many different pockets of people in Central Kentucky, and the Y reaches them all.”
When we asked her what she is truly passionate about, well, as with many Y employees, it’s people. “One of my greatest passions is to make connections with people. I love interacting with our members and developing a genuine relationship with each of them.
“I get to touch the lives of so many people and nothing makes me happier than getting to do this each and every day,” she adds.
Grace shared that her time at the Whitaker Family YMCA has had a profound impact on her, as she worked with the team supporting emergency childcare services during the pandemic this spring. “I have actually loved being a part of this team,” she said. “The past few months have been uncertain, for sure, but one thing I have been confident in was that I could create a fun, safe, and positive environment for the children in our care to grow and make lasting memories.”
Grace knows how to motivate and work with children. Basically, it’s part of her DNA. “My family owns Milk and Honey Preschool here in town, and before coming to the Y I worked there, in fact, I also earned the Child Development Associate Credential™ while working there.”
The last question we asked Grace was what three words came to mind when she thinks about the YMCA of Central Kentucky. She was quick to respond with friendship, belonging, and opportunity.
“I am incredibly grateful for the friends I have made through the Y with so many different people. Having a place where you share the same beliefs, goals, and enthusiasm for making a difference in the community gives me the greatest sense of belonging,” said Grace.
“The YMCA embodies opportunity not only in the sense of a career, but it serves in so many capacities. I’ve been able to volunteer referee soccer games, help fundraise for summer camp, collect backpacks for back-to-school rallies, serve Thanksgiving meals to those in need, organize a clothing drive – to impact Central Kentucky in so many meaningful ways.”
We are glad you chose the path you did with the YMCA of Central Kentucky, Grace, and we wish you the best of luck in the future with the Y!