Executive Director, Heart of the Valley YMCA, Kimberly, Wis.
M.S. in Human Services, Concentration in Organizational Management and Leadership
“Gymnastics is my passion,” says Sharon Johnson. “It’s one of the few sports that impacts all areas of human growth. Physically, it builds strength, coordination, flexibility, balance, and speed. Mentally, it stimulates concentration and creativity. Psychologically, it takes discipline and competitive drive, and builds confidence and empowerment. Socially, it’s a great team experience. It develops so many abilities that are transferrable to success in other spheres of life,” she says.
Sharon has long wanted for more children, particularly preschoolers, to experience gymnastics. “I would love for little people to have the same feelings and benefits that gymnastics gave me,” she says. She believes that Ys across the country could implement gymnastics for children aged 18 months to six years if a curriculum were developed.
Serendipitously, Sharon’s ideas piqued the interest of the YMCA National Gymnastics Advisory Committee at about the time that she was enrolled in the Executive Master’s Degree Program at Springfield College School of Human Services (SHS). “I told the committee, ‘I’m your free labor. I’ll do the research, get the data, and do everything I can to convince YUSA to approve a preschool gymnastics curriculum.’ That became my master’s thesis.”
Current Y gymnastics programs are based on the USAGymnastics curriculum which is not for preschoolers. The programs are diminishing as they require dedicated space, large equipment, and liability coverage and can be costly. Preschool gymnastics, however, can be conducted in any gym or multipurpose space at modest cost.
Sharon sent preschool gymnastics surveys to every Y in the country to identify current programming, interest in establishing programming, interest in utilizing online training, needs and expectations from YUSA, and more.
A few months after earning her master’s degree, Sharon wrote enthusiastically to a colleague, “Based on the overall positive results of my research (as well as my passionate presentation, I’m sure), YUSA has agreed to form a preschool gymnastics curriculum and training task force to create a new program. They’ve asked me to serve on the task force and also for a three-year term on the committee. I’m elated!”
Sharon completed her master’s degree in organizational management and leadership through SHS. She was in a cohort of executives from around the country who met four times over 18 months for two-week residencies.
She credits her family and staff for “amazing support” during the program. She is grateful that her tuition was covered by a Mott Grant from YUSA and scholarships from Springfield College and her local Y, which also contributed to her travel expenses.
Back in Kimberly, Wis., Sharon takes pride in the growth of the Heart of the Valley YMCA during her 20-year tenure here. She began as the head gymnastics coach and rose through a series of increasingly responsible positions to her current leadership role. “We’ve grown from a small pole building with less than 4,000 program enrollments to our third new facility with 12,000 members, 50,000 program enrollments, and a budget of $4 million. We have enormous community support, and are in a prime family location where kids can walk in. I foresee that we’ll continue grow and be integral to our community with popular programs that meet real needs. We’ll be thriving here 100 years from now,” she says.