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Pooler Magazine

Shelly Fickau Gets Top Marks as Executive Branch Director of West Chatham YMCA

Shelly Fickau Gets Top Marks as Executive Branch Director of West Chatham YMCA

๐’๐ญ๐จ๐ซ๐ฒ ๐›๐ฒ ๐’๐ญ๐ž๐ฉ๐ก๐ž๐ง ๐๐ซ๐ฎ๐๐ก๐จ๐ฆ๐ฆ๐ž  |  ๐๐ก๐จ๐ญ๐จ๐ ๐ซ๐š๐ฉ๐ก๐ฒ ๐›๐ฒ ๐‹๐ž๐ข๐๐ฒ ๐‹๐ž๐ฌ๐ญ๐ž๐ซ


Shelly Fickau spent 34 years working in student personnel and higher education. That career path included stints at five colleges and universities.

Shelly is still managing and leading a team, but sheโ€™s traded education for recreation.

Shelly is the executive branch director for the West Chatham YMCA. Sheโ€™s served in that position since April 2022. On a broad scale, her duties are planning, organizing and directing the branchโ€™s operations and programs.

Her daily responsibilities include achieving branch outcomes, driving membership, program and member services, fiscal management, fundraising, community relations and creating partnerships, facility management and volunteer and staff development.

As the executive branch director, Shelly said sheโ€™s committed to strengthening the community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility, all while fostering a climate of innovation to develop community focused programs to support this mission.

๐๐ซ๐ข๐ง๐ ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐๐ž๐ฐ ๐ˆ๐๐ž๐š๐ฌ ๐ญ๐จ ๐‹๐ข๐Ÿ๐ž

Camille Stone is director of membership, fitness and aquatics and reports directly to Shelly. Working with Shelly, she said, is a highly refreshing experience, adding she has a wonderful power of bringing new ideas to life and creating actionable goals for their team.

โ€œShe has a gift for taking simple ideas and, through her open attitude and joy for collaboration, is a force for the small ideas to develop into larger innovative movements that bring people together,โ€ Camille said. โ€œShelly is so open to receiving new concepts, is focused on a positive future, and gives a tender space for all who work with her or know her.โ€

Camille further noted that Shelly puts forward so much passion and operational tact into building and delegating tasks for their various fundraising events and truly enjoys being present, learning more about the stories of individuals and businesses in the Pooler area, and challenging the Y to support the changing and quickly growing needs of the Coastal Empire. She refers to working as Shellyโ€™s right hand as such a blessing.

โ€œIt provides both fun and freedom,โ€ Camille said. โ€œIt gives me fulfillment, and inspires us all to take on more quests and connect with people more deeply, and makes for an altogether fantastic journey.โ€

๐‘๐ž๐ฅ๐ฒ๐ข๐ง๐  ๐จ๐ง ๐•๐จ๐ฅ๐ฎ๐ง๐ญ๐ž๐ž๐ซ๐ฌ

That journey includes finding volunteers and staff and marketing the YMCA. These become more challenging given an economy that often requires longer work weeks and less time for leisure.

Regarding volunteers, Shelly said they need people to see themselves as having an opportunity to contribute to the community by getting involved in the Yโ€™s work and be committed to the youth of the community.

With the start of a Teen Leaders Group, a summer camp of 250 kids throughout the summer, before and after school care, team sports and a reading program, she said they need people who care and will commit to helping.

Then thereโ€™s the marketing of the Y and informing the community of such diverse programs and activities as personal training, active older adult programming, and a circuit workout system featuring connected gym equipment and software.

โ€œWe need the community to know we are here,โ€ Shelly said. โ€œWe want the community to know all we have to offer. We are so much more than a gym and swim organization.โ€

When it comes to staffing, Shelly said they face the same issue found among many nonprofits of attracting employees when competing with opportunities in other sectors. Not only is there staff turnover and a lack of talented recruits, she noted, but private sector companies often attract employees with higher salaries.

โ€œThe sense of personal accomplishment and of helping to meet societyโ€™s needs can be enriching,โ€ Shelly said. โ€œGetting that word out and finding the employees is difficult.โ€

๐Œ๐š๐ค๐ข๐ง๐  ๐š ๐ƒ๐ข๐Ÿ๐Ÿ๐ž๐ซ๐ž๐ง๐œ๐ž ๐š๐ฌ ๐š ๐๐จ๐ง๐ฉ๐ซ๐จ๐Ÿ๐ข๐ญ

With the challenging economy thatโ€™s making poverty a reality for an increasing number of people, along with environmental problems, poor reading skills and obesity, Shelly said thereโ€™s a greater burden on nonprofits to respond quickly to unpredictable situations and deliver much-needed services.

That task becomes more difficult since the government ended funding to mitigate the effects of the pandemic. As a result, she said, membership and donations are more critical than ever.

๐…๐ข๐ง๐๐ข๐ง๐  ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐‘๐ข๐ ๐ก๐ญ ๐‹๐ž๐š๐๐ž๐ซ

Whatโ€™s also critical is having the right person heading up the Y and navigating through the aforementioned challenges. According to Krystal McGee, COO of the West Chatham Y and Shellyโ€™s supervisor, Shelly is just that individual. Starting post-COVID, Shellyโ€™s background and skill set in community and team building, leadership development and culture were invaluable assets, she said, adding her extensive experience has uniquely positioned her for the role sheโ€™s taken on.

โ€œBy leveraging her experience and expertise, Shelly has not only strengthened the Yโ€™s presence in the Pooler community but also deepened its impact and relevance as a community partner,โ€ Krystal said. โ€œThrough strategic partnerships and a clear focus on the organizationโ€™s mission, she has rallied the board and team at West Chatham around shared goals and values, fostering a sense of purpose and unity.โ€

As the organization continues to evolve and grow, McGee continued, Shellyโ€™s contributions will undoubtedly play a key role in shaping its future success.

โ€œHer contributions in rebuilding the leadership team, fostering teamwork, developing leaders, and shaping a vibrant organizational culture will undoubtedly have a lasting impact on the Yโ€™s success and legacy,โ€ the COO said.

Y members are equally effusive in their praise of Shelly. Danny said sheโ€™s made the place warm and welcoming and he loves seeing her and her smiling face and helpful demeanor. โ€œShe is all about the member experience,โ€ he said.

Courtney said Shelly is out and about in Pooler. โ€œThe community knows her, and the Y is known in this community because of her,โ€ she noted.

Remarked Latoya: โ€œShelly always wants to know what we like. She has high standards of her staff and the facility, and it shows in the friendliness and cleanliness of the Y. I love it here.โ€

๐Œ๐š๐ค๐ข๐ง๐  ๐ก๐ž๐ซ ๐–๐š๐ฒ ๐ญ๐จ ๐ญ๐ก๐ž ๐˜

Shelly had more than three decades to develop the varied skills she brought to her position as the Yโ€™s executive director.

Growing up in Chicago, she attended Ball State University and earned a masterโ€™s degree in student personnel and higher education before embarking on her career that started with six years at Ball State and four years at Towson University.

Shelly moved on to the position of director of Residential Life at The John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. Her responsibilities included managing and leading a team toward the development and maintenance of an environment conducive to the academic, social and personal growth of residents, individually and collectively.

During her tenure, she earned the Student Affairs Above and Beyond Award and Presidential Diversity Recognition Award while leading the university to rank No. 2 out 300 institutions for quality of student life, managing a $500,000 annual budget and leading 70 personnel. Shelly also created 1,600 unique and diverse programs annually, including training and educational curriculum, and raised $10,000 annually for the United Way of Central Maryland.

In 2014, Shelly was appointed dean of Student Development at South Suburban College in South Holland, Ill. She subsequently served as the dean of students at South University in Savannah before embarking on a new career path at the Y.

๐„๐ฑ๐ฉ๐š๐ง๐๐ข๐ง๐  ๐ก๐ž๐ซ ๐ˆ๐ฆ๐ฉ๐š๐œ๐ญ

Working for a nonprofit, Shelly said, seemed like a good fit to her. While her scope of influence and impact was limited to students and their families in higher education, nonprofit work, and in particular the Y, offered a direct connection to the community as a whole.

โ€œThe way I see it, this kind of work allows me to transfer the talents, skills, and expertise Iโ€™ve built during my higher education career to meaningful work in the nonprofit sector,โ€ Shelly said. โ€œStrengthening the foundation of community and helping people reach their potential is integrated into every one of the Yโ€™s programs and services. The role I serve in now positively impacts children, families, adults of all ages and abilities.โ€

As with any good leader, Shelly is always looking ahead toward growth and improvement while managing the day-to-day operations of the Y. She said theyโ€™re developing specialized programming for every age group from toddlers to seniors that includes Tumbling for Toddlers and Tiny Ballet classes for 3 to 6 year olds and an Active Older Adult group that has its own activities and calendar of events.

As to facilities expansion, Shelly said they are looking for partners to expand their childcare center and convert the pool so it can be open year round.

โ€œPooler and the surrounding communities are in need of childcare as the demand far exceeds the offerings,โ€ Shelly said.

During her time in higher education, Shelly said she worked with one demographicโ€”university students. At the Y, however, she serves individuals ranging in age from 3 to 101.

โ€œItโ€™s incredible,โ€ Shelly said.

There are other aspects of being executive branch director she finds equally rewarding.

โ€œMy job is satisfying because I work with supportive colleagues who make me smile,โ€ Shelly said. โ€œI enjoy the collaborations and partnerships I have developed in the community. I get to see the direct results of my efforts, which is incredibly rewarding.  I love the members at our Y. They are so diverse, friendly and fun. I believe my work has an impact on the community as a whole.โ€