This article was first published on Jacksonville.com on July 5, 2017.
This month, Eric Mann is celebrating his six-year anniversary as the president and CEO of the YMCA of Florida’s First Coast. From day one, he has set out to strengthen this community by pursuing his vision to make the Y a total wellness resource for the entire First Coast.
Mann says the Y is a nonprofit like no other because of its ability to connect people of all ages and backgrounds to bridge the gaps in community needs. He strongly believes in the power of community collaboration. In fact, it has played a crucial role in his plan to change lives on the First Coast through one of the Y’s key mission areas—healthy living.
“Hospitals are primarily focused on sick care,” Mann said. “To transform from sick care to well care, they would need a community partner who has experience in wellness and programming with credibility in the community.”
Brooks Rehabilitation was the Y’s only medical partner when Mann came on board in 2011. Under his leadership, the Y successfully formed new community partnerships with various organizations committed to improving the health and well-being of all Northeast Florida residents.
The Y Healthy Living Centers are a direct result of this commitment. Healthy Living Centers bring programs, services and professionals from Baptist Health, Brooks Rehabilitation and Florida Blue into the Y, making their services more accessible to the surrounding community. The Healthy Living Centers are available at the Ys in Mandarin, Northside, Northwest Jacksonville, Riverside and Ponte Vedra.
“Like every city, Jacksonville faces its unique challenges,” Mann said. “It’s not about having one individual organization doing everything; it’s about a lot of organizations doing what they do best to make a sustainable impact on our community.”
As a nonprofit, the Y relies on generous gifts of time, talent and treasure to deliver on its promise to strengthen community. Donations ensure that everyone, regardless of age, income or background, has the opportunity to learn, grow and thrive.
Jacksonville business leader Rusty Newton has been part of the Y for most of his life. He started swimming at the Y at age 6 and over the years has been one of the most generous supporters of the Y’s mission. He’s a longtime member of the First Coast YMCA’s Metropolitan Board of Directors and now a Trustee. Newton says the Y is “the finest, most important organization in this community.” Newton agrees with Mann that the Y must harness the collective power of people in our community to do more good. He says, “Eric is the best at identifying people in the community who can help make a difference. He’s also built a team of superstar leaders. Their heart and caring attitude is what makes me want to be part of it all.”
Peggy Bryan governs the growth and operation of the First Coast YMCA association as the chairwoman of the Y’s Metropolitan Board of Directors. Like Newton, she’s dedicated much of her time and treasure to ensure the Y is a positive force in Northeast Florida. Bryan believes that with Mann, the Y is in very good hands. “As a volunteer, I’ve watched Eric work tirelessly to further the Y throughout our community. He has a unique ability to transform strategic vision to productive reality. With the heart of a missionary and the head of a business executive, he has moved the Y forward with amazing passion and soundness. The Y is so multifaceted, it’s hard to appreciate the depth and breadth of its broad range of programs and services. Under Eric’s leadership, the Y has built on years of experience and exposure to meet today’s wellness and wholeness needs as never before. It is an honor and a wonderful experience to work beside Eric as he brings the best of Jacksonville together for the benefit of so many.”
Mann gives high praise to the Y’s strong volunteer leaders like Newton and Bryan for their full and enthusiastic support. He says they play a vital role in realizing the promise of the Y’s mission and cause, including expertise and guidance in developing a strategic plan. The strategic plan defines how the Y will address some of the key issues facing the First Coast community, including chronic disease and obesity. Strategic planning also ensures the Y has the collective capacity to achieve its goals in all three areas of focus. In addition to healthy living, the Y is equally dedicated to youth development and social responsibility.
Through programs like Before and Afterschool Care, YMCA Reads! and Youth in Government, the Y is working to nurture the future success of children and teens, specifically closing the achievement gap.
“The Y is far more than a gym and swim. All of its programs and services showcase the Y’s unwavering commitment to the Jacksonville community through education, wellness and quality out-of-school time,” Mann said.
Safety Around Water (SAW) addresses another critical community issue: child drowning. This free drowning prevention program developed by the Y is delivered to at-risk children and all YMCA summer campers. Mann takes this to heart because he knows the program saves lives, especially in a community like ours that is surrounded by water.
“Any youth-serving organization should put the safety of young people as its top priority,” says Mann.
Darkness to Light, a childhood sexual abuse prevention program, is another initiative that has expanded its impact in Jacksonville under Mann’s direction. The Y has partnered with other local agencies to form the Northeast Florida Stewards of Children Coalition to eliminate childhood sexual abuse in Northeast Florida. The goal is to build a preventative movement that overwhelms the size of the problem, empowering an unprecedented number of people with the skills and knowledge to protect children through the Darkness to Light (D2L) Stewards of Children child sexual abuse prevention training.
In the last three years, the Y has also experienced double-digit growth in the number of kids served in its summer camp and before and afterschool program. By integrating fun and educational activities into the curriculum, the Y has helped prevent summer learning loss and increase math and reading test scores among local youth.
In 2018, the Y will celebrate 110 years of nurturing the potential of kids and teens, improving individuals’ health and well-being, and providing support to our neighbors on the First Coast. Mann credits generations of the Y’s staff and volunteer leaders determined to make the Bold City better FOR ALL.