Paul Conley is the new Executive Director at the Plant City Y. He comes from the greater Cleveland area and has seven years of experience with the YMCA organization.
After about a month of searching for the right fit, the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA decided on Paul Conley to lead the Plant City Family YMCA. The Ohio native started in Plant City on March 14 and is ready to serve the community.
Conley, 29, comes to Plant City after seven years working in the YMCA network in the greater Cleveland area. He was Executive Director of the Geauga Family YMCA for the last three years and came to Plant City to step into the same role after the February departure of Zach Hilferding.
“His track record in delivering exceptional operating results in membership, fundraising, community engagement and program delivery makes him the perfect choice for our growing organization and the Plant City community,” the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA said in a statement.
He became involved with the Y after working with Cleveland State University’s men’s basketball program, where he helped with a youth camp and realized he loved coaching kids. Conley translated that experience into roles with his local YMCA and stuck with the organization, eventually working his way up the ladder from program director to executive director in his mid-20s.
“I had the opportunity three years ago in Cleveland to be an executive director and I think at that point it was probably more motivating and more of a, ‘I’ve got to show people I know what I’m doing despite my age’ thing,” he said. “But now I think people don’t really care how old you are as long as you treat people well and have good intentions and you’re able to bring some value to the table.”
With a degree in sports management from Bowling Green State University, Conley knew he wanted to keep focusing on youth sports as he ascended within the Geauga Y’s ranks. One of his proudest accomplishments, he said, was helping create the Junior Cavs basketball league with the Cleveland Cavaliers of the NBA. This program gave roughly 2,000 kids per session the opportunity to play on the court at Quicken Loans Arena and now offers league play eight months out of the year.
“I love sports, so I thought this was a way for me to teach kids sports and have a lot of fun doing it,” he said.
Conley helped start a program to teach local kindergarteners water safety lessons, which ended with the kids getting certificates for free swimming lessons at the Y.
While at the Geauga Y, Conley oversaw a 40 percent increase in annual giving while “expanding and re-engaging the advisory board,” according to the Tampa Metropolitan Area YMCA.
Conley decided to leave his native Ohio for the Plant City opening because of the fit and the Tampa Y’s reputation around the country as a strong association.
“I met with the staff team and the board here during the visit and I could tell there was a real sense of passion and love for the community,” Conley said. “It’s a smaller, tight-knit community which is more my style, and I’ve been really reassured by that in my short time here. I went to walk around the building here and was out there for an hour talking to people, meeting people and listening to them. It’s a very transformational place — not transactional. That’s what’s fun.”
Conley is getting accustomed to his new home and said he likes the small-town feel of Plant City. You’ll soon be able to catch him watching local high school sports or playing pickup basketball when he’s not on the clock at the Plant City Y.
Conley’s first goal is to assess the needs and wants of the community to see what he and the Plant City Y can provide in the future. Though he’s thought about a few things — more uses for the plot of land behind the facility and strengthening water safety education initiatives have come to his mind — Conley isn’t setting any plans in stone until he feels he’s heard more from the community at large.
“It’s unfair to the community, or to anybody, to come in and pretend like you have an idea of what you’re going to do without assessing the needs of the community first,” he said.
Conley may have come to Plant City with little, if any, knowledge about the community, but he’s as determined as anyone at the Y to serve and help locals meet their goals and needs.
“Every day is a different challenge,” Conley said. “Every day, I meet somebody new that somehow, some way, the Y has changed their life. I truly believe that to work with people and develop a healthy mind, body and spirit, it’s just fun. It never stops.”