20 Under 40

20 Under 40: Kristen Lay

Kristen Lay for 20 Under 40 Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, at the Herald-Whig. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
Phil Carlson 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 24, 2017 1:40 pm

Kristen Lay has never forgotten the impact sports made in her life while she was growing up. They taught her discipline, hard work and perseverance -- all things she hopes the youth who participate in Quincy Family YMCA sports learn while in the organization's various programs.

"There's a lot of underserved youth in the community who need a strong role model, whether at the Y or at their school or elsewhere," said Lay, program director at the YMCA. "We can give that to them in my job."

Lay said that being successful at her job means having youth who are happy while at the YMCA.

"If I have happy campers at the Y, if the kids walk away from programs and want to come back, that's success in my mind," she said. "If I can walk away from my job happy that I made a difference, that's all I need to be successful."

Although preparing for the many sports and after-school programs keeps Lay busy, the difference she knows she's making in children's lives makes her job worth it.

Age: 26

Family: Husband, Jeff Lay.

Education: Bachelor of science in recreation, park and tourism administration and a minor in nonprofit administration from Western Illinois University. Also attended John Wood Community College.

How are you involved in your community?

I'm involved in the community through the YMCA. I get to work with the United Way, like doing the Good News of Christmas. I partake in some things here and there in Mendon because we have a facility there. We do movies in the park in Mendon and Ursa through that facility, and we're planning on doing a trunk or treat with the local churches. I also am very involved in my church in Fowler: St. Paul United Church of Christ.

What is your job, what do you do and what do you like best about it?

My job is program director at the Quincy Family YMCA. The main part of my job changes season by season; we have basketball, football and baseball. So my job pretty much changes three times a year. Then on top of that we have our after-school and summer camps. A typical day is just making sure we have everything ready to go for our sporting events along with making sure all of our kids get picked up. We pick up at all of the elementary schools, so I help with coordinating the bus route for that, getting the kids back to the Y, feeding them a snack, making sure they get their homework done, having an activity for them, and then it's pick-up time. Summer camp is very crazy most times, but it's probably one of the most enjoyable parts of my job because we have kids from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. And that's for 10 weeks during the summer. My favorite part about my job is really getting to serve the underserved youth. We are able to give the opportunities to someone who might not be able to afford it through United Way funds and our annual support campaign.

What is a typical workweek like?

There is no typical workweek. It just depends on what the Y has going on. If we have a special event going on, for instance, our Turkey Run, although I'm not necessarily in charge of it, I help out a lot with that. We are a smaller staff, so if something's going on, we're going to be there and do it. The Turkey Run week is completely different from a summer camp week, which is different from an after-school week or the opening week of football. I do whatever I have to do to get the events for that night and week ready.

What was your first job, and what do you remember about it?

I worked at my family's lemonade shake-up stand at the Adams County Fair when I was 10 or 11. What I remember the most was I got paid at the end of the week, and I just thought that was the best thing in the world. I worked so hard for that money. I'd sweat, and I got up early and stayed up late, and I cleaned and did dishes and cut the lemons. It was so rewarding at the end of it. It was right before school started, so I was able to buy new clothes, and I got to show them off to my friends. I was like, I worked for these.

How do you balance everything?

I have a huge calendar that I don't go anywhere without. It's kind of a running joke at the office that if I don't have my calendar, then I can't go to a meeting. I write everything down in it, and I also have it in my Google calendar. Finding that work-life balance is something I haven't figured out yet, but I'm getting there. Finding a balance is something you and your significant other and family just need to work through to find what works best.

Which person has influenced you the most and why?

My basketball and volleyball coaches in high school. Sports never shut off anymore. My sports coaches taught me how to be disciplined. I didn't want to go to practice everyday, but I knew I would disappoint them if I didn't show up. They encouraged me to do good in school because if I didn't, then I wouldn't be able to play. It's just that hard work mentality that you don't give up until you've done your best, and you're never going to be your best if you stop trying.

Have you ever failed at something?

Of course, I have. But I don't like to say fail. I like to say I learned my lesson. I think that's just part of growing up and being a professional.

What does success mean to you?

Success means happiness. If I can go home happy, if I have happy campers at the Y, if the kids walk away from programs and want to come back, that's success in my mind. If I can walk away from my job happy that I made a difference, that's all I need to be successful.

What was your proudest professional moment?

I worked for the Alzheimer's Association for my first "big kid" job, and my section was 13 counties. We raised over $120,000 my first year for the Walk to End Alzheimer's. My great grandma suffered from it, so it was a perfect first job because I had such a connection to it. We can't forget those smaller charities.

What is your favorite stress buster/leisure time diversion?

I like to play sand and court volleyball. And, of course, eat ice cream.

What is the biggest need in your community?

There are so many families who are not being reached and are in dire need of food and help with childcare. We see so many families who come in and can't afford childcare. Because they can't afford childcare, they can't get a job. I also think there's a lot of underserved youth in the community who need a strong role model, whether at the Y or at their school or elsewhere. If we can get hold of them and show them there is discipline and structure out there, we can give that to them in my job.

What gives you reason for optimism in your community?

The kids. The youth are so talented and so creative. We've entered a theater thing in our program, and you can just see the kids' faces light up. They're always so happy. I think us as adults and professionals can learn from them.

If you could go back in time and give advice to yourself when you were in high school, what would it be?

Don't get caught up in that small stuff. Keep your eye on the bigger picture. Don't worry if you have the most expensive jeans or the best prom dress. Worry about the time you're having. Live in the moment. Just enjoy what you have. People are going to like you for who you are, not for what materialistic things you have.

If you could add a few more hours to the day, how would you spend them?

I would spend more time with my family and my friends. I'd just enjoy the outside and not worry if the house is cleaned and whatnot. I'd enjoy the things I have.

Do you live by any mantra or saying?

I have a sign in my office that says work hard and be nice. You're talking to another human being. It's not that hard to be nice. Niceness goes a long way.

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