The 92nd Street Y’s New Executive Director Builds on Tradition

Encore: May 22, 2014

Henry Timms, newly appointed executive director of the 92nd Street Y, discusses the 140-year-old organization’s mission and future with MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman.

The 92nd Street Y, located on the Upper East Side, has been a New York City fixture for 140 years. It provides more than 5,000 programs a year for over 300,000 New Yorkers in the Y building and also runs a summer camp, high holidays services and a senior program that serves almost 1,000 seniors per day.

“Although the Y is often known for some of the big names on our stage, the deep service of the Y is in our local community,” newly appointed Executive Director Henry Timms told MetroFocus host Rafael Pi Roman. But Timms also noted that, “The secret of the 92nd Street Y isn’t the individual programs, it’s the spirit of the organization…If you want one theme through everything we do, we bring more joy to people’s lives.”

Timms was previously the deputy executive director for innovation strategy and content and said that the focus of his new position is to focus on the future. “We just celebrated 140 years, what are the next ten years going to be? As communities change so much, as the needs locally and around the world change so much, how do we engage in new ways with our very longstanding traditions? So I was brought in to…think differently about how we can imagine the next ten years,” he said.

A significant part of ushering the organization into the next era is technology. “The tradition of the 92nd street Y is to take new technologies and find ways to bring our values alive. So I think the technologies will always change, and increasingly they are changing, but the job for organizations like ours at 140-years-old is to think to ourselves ‘With the depth of what we look after here, with the values we cherish here at the Y, how do we renew them?’ The tradition of the 92nd Street Y is innovation, it’s about how we think differently about the needs of the next generation,” Timms said.

One of Timms’ signature accomplishments at the Y is #GivingTuesday, a campaign to encourage philanthropy in conjunction with a period of frenzied consumerism. “Everyone knows about Black Friday, everyone knows about Cyber Monday, we at the 92nd Street Y thought, ‘What about Giving Tuesday?’ After two days for getting deals, what about a day for giving back?” Timms told Pi Roman. Last year #GivingTuesday had 10,000 partners in all states and around the world and online giving was up 90 percent on that day across the country.

Timms is the first non-Jewish director of the Y, but emphasized that “one of the core goals of the 92nd Street Y is to take a set of Jewish values, of Jewish culture, of Jewish ideas, and share that as generously as the organization can.” He said that he and his family have benefitted from that generosity and it is now his responsibility to continue the sharing.

Timms said that the most exciting part of his job is experiencing and exploring the talent’s and ideas of the Y’s staff. “Our great tradition is everyone is always asking themselves the same question which is ‘What next?'” he said.

The 92nd Street Y has a wide array of events scheduled in July – from the 30th anniversary of its annual  jazz festival to an evening with a Game of Thrones actor to an evening with Alan Alda and Lee Grant and ceramics and jewelry-making classes – and tickets to fall season events go on sale in August.

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