Jason Walter knew he wanted to help children, but he never imagined he’d still be working at Flower Mound’s Cross Timbers Family YMCA more than two decades later.
“When I first started here, when I was in college, it wasn’t necessarily where I saw myself landing or going to be doing the rest of my life,” he said. “But after those first couple of years, being directly involved and getting involved in the community aspects and fundraising, how we’re able to help families in need, that really drew me in.”
Today, the long-time local resident– and 1994 Marcus High School graduate– is celebrating his sixth year as the branch’s executive director. He oversees a facility with more than 2,800 members, two full-time staff, more than 50 part-timers and numerous volunteers who help serve more than 4,000 youth annually.
Walter spent four years as executive director of the Y in Garland before transferring to his current job. Before that, he learned everything he could about a typical branch as senior director of membership, sports and family programs from 2005-2007, director from 2000-2005, childcare coordinator from 1999-2000 and camp counselor from 1995-1999; all at Cross Timbers.
“This is my home, so to be able to come here and make a difference has been a huge blessing,” he said. “It’s a very rewarding, yet challenging job.”
The 2000 Applied Arts and Sciences graduate from the University of North Texas met his wife, Jill, a 1998 Marcus graduate at UNT.
“There’s a story I like to tell about a (6-year-old) kid in camp my very first year here,” he said. “His mom was divorced and at the end of the summer she came up and thanked me for my influence on her son; and what a positive thing it was for him. Being that mentor for that kid was another driver for me to make that kind of impact.”
Walter was born in Biloxi, Miss., where his father was stationed at Keesler Air Force Base. The family moved to Amarillo, Texas, when he was 2 after his dad left the military and to Atlanta, Ga., for a few months at age 10, before finally settling in Flower Mound in 1987, after his dad took a job with Sprint.
Soon after arriving in North Texas, he received his first taste of the Cross Timbers YMCA in the soccer program.
“Ever since we moved to the Flower Mound area, my family has been involved with this YMCA in some form or fashion,” he said. “I’ve moved from having a membership here and working out in high school and doing the programs to starting to work here in college. So, I’ve been involved personally for over 30 years.”
He took his first job as a camp counselor simply to obtain some summer employment like some of his friends already working there.
“What attracted me to the YMCA and what’s kept me here so long, is I wanted to go into youth ministry and so this has been an avenue to do that by working with the kids and families at the YMCA, seeing their smiles on their faces is a huge highlight for me” said Walter. “That’s been the blessing, because that’s been one of my biggest passions; the youth side of things. Although the farther I’ve climbed the ladder, the farther away I’ve gotten away from that part of it.”
Fortunately for Walter, coaching sports through the YMCA and the many summer programs his branch offers allows him to reconnect with that passion. In fact, he’s right in the middle of sign-ups for the 2017 sessions featuring the Fun in the Sun Outdoor camp for ages 5-12 (also known as Camp Yipiyuk) at the facility’s campus on Cross Timbers Road and Camp on the Lake on Lake Lewisville in Highland Village, for those aged 6 to 13.
Camp Yipiyuk features swimming, field trips and other outdoor activities, while Camp on the Lake includes horseback riding, water activities, crafts, archery and BB guns. Three sessions of the Camp on the Lake have overnight stays.
“I think it’s just an awesome experience,” Walter said. “It helps develop the kids physically and emotionally. They can gain leadership skills out of it. They can build friendships that can last a lifetime. It really is a place where the kids are being nurtured and we want the kids to know they are safe and well-taken-care of. It is a positive experience for them.”
Camp spots generally are available until the week before they start, but Walter recommends parents sign-up their children soon to secure their first-choice sessions.
“It’s great because we have kids in the building all day long, so I’ll be out there and mix with the kids, plus my own children – (son Blake, 7, and daughter Avery, 11) are here every day,” he said.
YMCAs offer programs beyond only youth for what Walter calls: “from the young to the wise.” His branch serves people in Flower Mound, Lewisville, Highland Village and Argyle, plus Corinth and Lake Dallas.
“A lot of people don’t realize the YMCA is a non-profit,” he said. “There’s definitely some challenges to being a non-profit. We raise money to help people in the community who may be a little less fortunate in their means. Our goal is not to turn anyone away due to an inability to pay, plus– through the money we raise– we can offer some special programs.”
The Cross Timbers YMCA is in the middle of their Annual Campaign. The 2017 goal is to raise $132,000 to help with programs, including its outreach to cancer survivors, people with diabetes, youth with obesity and water safety programs.
“We’re really trying to be a service to the community that we’re in,” he said. “The biggest challenge for us is not being able to do all we want to do due to limited resources.”
What is he most proud of during his tenure?
‘I think it’s the atmosphere we’ve created for our members and I try to instill in my staff,” he said. “We want them to feel like they are a part of a family. We’re also really trying hard to be a bigger part of the community. I’m at a lot of city functions and chamber functions to keep the Y out in front of people in a positive way.
“It’s been a good ride. Like everything there’s always some challenges, but that’s what helps you grow.”
The Cross Timbers Family YMCA is located at 2021 Cross Timbers Rd. in Flower Mound. Call 972-539-9622 or www.crosstimbersymca.org