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First African-American President and CEO Of CNY YMCA Aims To Expand Impact

YMCA of Central New York

The YMCA of Central New York welcomed a new leader as President and CEO earlier this year, who has big goals for expanding its reach and mission.  Bertram Lawson took over as the Y is struggling back from pandemic losses.  He says the organization lost half its members, had to cut staff, and suffered $10 million in lost revenue. 

But Lawson is ready to expand the impact while recovering, in areas such as health care.

“Blood pressure screening, diabetes  prevention. We have those programs but we can also expand that scale and grow those," said Lawson. "From an achievement gap standpoint, we have a program called power scholars, reading and math literacy for elementary age students. And there is one other program. It’s called Y achievers. It’s a career, college and trade exploration program.”

Lawson comes from Philadelphia where he also worked on poverty, a challenge both cities share, and has ideas on health disparities, food deserts and crime.  Notably, Lawson is also the first African-American to hold the position, which he believes provides some advantages. 

"It’s very humbling for me. There’s lived experience as an African-American that I bring forth to the table that my predecessors would not have had. But also I can empathize with some experiences that our members might be facing that someone else that might have sat in the seat previously couldn’t do so," said Lawson.

And just as valuable, he adds, young people seeing him in the role as president can help them realize they could lead the YMCA or other organization.  Lawson is not going to let recovery struggles hold him back.  He’s seeking partnerships to work on community needs. And his goals include expanding the Y’s pre-pandemic impact on 60,000 people to 90,000.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.