Executive Director, Harlem YMCA, New York City
Elaine Edmonds has been publicly lauded for her work by The Daily News, WNBC-TV and WCBS-TV, and radio stations WHCR and WRKS, but she prefers the therapeutic calm of her favorite pastime, golf, to the spotlight. “I am shy and do not like recognition for what I do, but I enjoy working behind the scenes to produce valuable outcomes,” she says. As a recipient of the Urban Financial Services Coalition’s Lifetime Distinguished Community Service Award, Edmonds has proved she can certainly produce results.
Edmonds, executive director for the Harlem YMCA, learned early on from her mother about the quiet humility of service and its incalculable benefits for the community. “She taught me the art and science of volunteering and the
positive impact it could have on all people regardless of their circumstances,” Edmonds says.
In fact, her initial involvement with the YMCA was as a volunteer for the Black Achievers Alumni Committee, which she parlayed into a full-time staff position as director of the Black Achievers in Industry Project. By 1996, she was named executive director of the YMCA and the Jackie Robinson Youth Center, becoming the first woman to lead the organization. She now provides leadership and fiscal management for a $6.5 million annual budget, creating services for more than 15,000 young people, 1,500 adults and 140 families.
Edmonds started out in the health care industry in 1971 but retired in 1992 to “follow my spirit in defining my own career and [making] choices that were of value to me as a person,” she says. It was a shrewd move that allowed her to work with some of the nation’s most notable public figures, including Oprah Winfrey, Tipper Gore, the Hon. Percy Sutton, Earl Graves and Les Brown. Edmonds’ travels to Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa, to create local partnerships for the Harlem YMCA was “a life-changing experience,” Edmonds says. “I realized at that time what my mom had taught me about human services truly had value and meaning,” says Edmonds. “My calling and passion was indeed to make a difference in the lives of people.”