Leader turns the tides at Victoria's YMCA
May 2, 2014 at 12:02 a.m.
At 6 feet, 6 inches, the chief executive officer of Victoria's YMCA could pass for any young professional in a starched shirt and loafers.
What sets Chris Seilkop apart - aside from his stature - is his past as an international volleyball player on the U.S. Paralympic team and his future as a visionary for the community.
"I've always tried to be the best I could be, and that's what I want for the Y - for it to be the best it can be," said Seilkop, 44. "This is a great town, and it deserves a great Y."
Since joining YMCA of the Golden Crescent in fall 2011, Seilkop has worked to improve the organization's reputation, its after-school programs and its relationships with area stakeholders, going so far as to secure a $1.6 million pool partnership with the city as part of his larger plan to overhaul the facilities.
"We're bumping up the quality of what we're doing," Seilkop said. "If you're going to make any changes, you have to take care of your core operations. For the YMCA, it is after-school, youth sports and membership."
The Victoria Family YMCA is under the umbrella of YMCA of the Golden Crescent, which Seilkop leads. It also includes Calhoun County YMCA.
Bob Coen, chairman of the board of directors of YMCA of the Golden Crescent, said Seilkop, despite being an amputee, has flourished in life and in his career, bringing about positive change to unsavory situations.
Seilkop's right leg was amputated below the knee after he fell off a riding lawnmower at age 7. He grew up competing against able-bodied friends and became a powerful athlete and strong competitor.
"I'm not looking back to cast aspersions," Coen, who is also involved with the Port Lavaca YMCA, said. "He's taken the organization where it was three years ago and corrected a lot of its shortcomings."
Coen declined to comment about specific "shortcomings" but said communication, participation and morale have all improved.
"Just three years ago, the Y was struggling to make ends meet," Coen said. "Now, yes, the economy has turned a little bit, but we're looking toward a huge expansion, a total renovation, and Chris is the leader in that."
Seilkop first became involved with the Y as a sophomore at University of Central Florida in 1989, but he said his "Y story" took place at Camp Winona near Daytona Beach, Fla., where he was a counselor for two years.
"I had the most fun in my entire life there," Seilkop said. "Generally, when the Y has a positive impact on you, it's something that lasts for a lifetime."
His daughters, Tori, a student at West High School, and Isabel, a student at Cade Middle School, are also involved with the YMCA.
Sandwiched between three old apartment complexes in a predominantly low-income neighborhood, Victoria's Y boasts increasing membership and participation in after-school programs and classes.
Youth basketball went from 90 children to 260 participants.
Program revenue has increased 20 percent annually during the past two years, and the Y has grown from nine after-school sites to 14.
"We're going back to renting other gyms to do our youth sports," Seilkop said. "It's broadened our footprint, and that hadn't happened before."
He sees the Y playing a huge role in the community's economics and quality of life.
"I'm not a babysitter; I want to get things done," Seilkop said. "I'm a builder, and I like to build things. That's how I see our partnerships. We're building a better community, and we're having more of an impact."
Seilkop is involved in Victoria Rotary Club, the Challenged Athletes Dream Complex, St. Joseph High School, local volleyball clubs, DeTar Healthcare System and other groups.
"I just want it to be a great Y," Seilkop said. "Every kid deserves to have a great YMCA, and that's what I'm trying to make it."