New YMCA CEO feels fortunate to be in Joliet

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James Watts, Greater Joliet Area YMCA's new president and CEO


The Greater Joliet Area YMCA named its new president and CEO, James Watts, in April 2012. Watts, who was one of 93 other applicants for the position, was selected to take over the area’s YMCA branches after previously working for the YMCA in Indianapolis, Ind.

“I was formerly a vice president at the Indianapolis YMCA,” said Watts. “I was there for three years and heard about this opening from a colleague who invited me to take a look at it. I visited and it seemed to be a good match for me, so I put my name in. I was fortunate to get the job. I’ve gotten a good warm reception from staff and volunteers.”

The YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) is an organization that came over from England into the United States in 1851. The purpose of the organization, which was originally evangelical, was to provide recreational and religious activities for young men to stay out of trouble. Although the YMCA has changed over the years, Watts says it still promotes the values with which it was founded.

“The YMCA has evolved over the years and came to the United States in Boston, and then spread all over the country,” said Watts. “Now there are over 900 corporate YMCAs in the United States. We don’t evangelize anymore, but we still stand by the principles in which the YMCA was founded. We stand for caring, respect, honesty and responsibility.”

Watts wants people to know that although the YMCA is most well-known for its swimming and recreational activities, it offers many other services and programs to the community as well.

“We are best known for gym and swim, but the YMCA is way more than that,” said Watts. “Some have said it’s like the ‘alphabet soup’ of human services. We do preschool and prenatal all the way to senior programming and everything in-between.”

Although the YMCA’s programing is a major part of the services it provides, Watts believes that what the organization is trying to do is much more important.

“The programs are not the be-all and end-all of what we are trying to do,” said Watts. “We’re trying to build into the kids’, families’ and adults’ lives to make them better people and to help them reach their full potential. The activities are held to change and build lives.”

Overall, Watts feels that the YMCA’s mission in the community is of utmost importance as he incorporates the organization’s principles into his own life.

“I believe in the principles and I believe in the YMCA’s mission,” said Watts. “I think that we are watched and looked at as models for what we are trying to do here. I stand for the YMCA when I’m at work or out of work. I try to be a person of integrity and faith because that’s what we’re here for.”

For more information about the Greater Joliet Area YMCA, visit the Website at or call (815) 744-3939. You can reach YMCA President and CEO James Watts through email at or by phone at (815) 729-9638 Ext. 312.