Iowa Alumni Magazine | August 2008 | People

Putting the 'Y' in NYC: Janice Reals Ellig

By IAM Staff

More than a swim-and-gym, the YMCA is a safe haven where lives are transformed. Janice Reals Ellig knows that firsthand. As the new chair of the YMCA of Greater New York, she found that it changed her life, too.

This past June, Reals Ellig, 68BBA, became the first female to head the organization in its 155-year history, a move that's integral to her dream of helping shape young people into tomorrow's leaders. "I truly feel like I get back more than I give to the YMCA," she says. "When I see our organization's impact, I get a tremendous sense of accomplishment."

Together, the 19 branches of the YMCA she leads have touched the lives of some 350,000 New Yorkers, including 175,000 kids. They provide services such as youth leadership retreats, counseling for single mothers, English language courses, health and fitness classes, after-school programs, daycare, and kids' camps to families who otherwise might not be able to afford them.

"Each year, our 'Y' gives away $47 million in fees or subsidized programs," says Reals Ellig. "The YMCA becomes the community where members—from tots to teens, adults to senior citizens—have a home away from home."

As chair of the country's largest YMCA chapter, Reals Ellig uses her expertise as co-chief executive officer and owner of the Chadick Ellig search firm to lead a board of more than 40 volunteers. The board of directors is currently planning a major capital campaign to help rebuild and renovate YMCAs throughout the city.

"Kids in New York [City] have told me that if not for the YMCA, they'd be on the street and into drugs and other crime-related activities," says Reals Ellig. "They all say it's easy in a big city to go astray, but the YMCA gives them a sense of responsibility, a commitment to the community, and a desire to give back."