Longtime Riverbrook Regional/Wilton YMCA CEO Bob McDowell will retire effective Dec. 31, 2023. In his place, the YMCA has announced that the Wilton YMCA’s former chief development officer Christene Freedman will return to the Y as its new CEO, effective Oct. 23, 2023.
McDowell’s impactful YMCA organization affiliation spans more than 40 years. He is the fifth and longest-tenured cause-driven leader of the Wilton Family YMCA. Since moving to Connecticut from Pennsylvania in 2006, McDowell has been a stalwart of the community bringing his years of experience to everything he has touched.
Along with the Board of Directors, staff, and volunteers, McDowell successfully led the “Building New Stories Capital Campaign,” which infused over $7.5 million into the Wilton Family Y. The campaign and subsequently revitalized and expanded facility ensured a stable future for the organization. All of this happened while the organization merged the Norwalk YMCA and the Wilton Family Branch together in 2015 to create the Riverbrook Regional YMCA, serving the towns of Wilton and Redding, and the City of Norwalk.
Among McDowell’s other achievements outlined in an announcement from the YMCA, were:
- Collectively, McDowell has led overall fundraising efforts of nearly $12 million during his tenure.
- Under his aegis, the Wilton YMCA opened the new YMCA Gymnastics Center 11 years ago in Wilton and the Y Archery Program Center in Ridgefield 8 years ago.
- In 2014, McDowell and his staff team also successfully implemented the Race 4 Chase Youth Triathlon Summer Camp, a free program that has served over 200 different children from the Norwalk Housing Authority. The program was founded by Chase Kowalski’s Family in his memory after he died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
- Six years ago, Nuvance Health and the Y agreed to open the Norwalk Hospital Health & Wellness Suite at the Wilton Family Y with the purpose of providing another delivery system for community-based health programs through and at the Y.
- During McDowell’s time in Wilton, he and the YMCA staff introduced and have successfully conducted evidence-based health intervention programs for the community including diabetes prevention, Livestrong for Cancer Survivors, Parkinson’s Exercise, and a Right Start Nutrition program.
- Three years ago, the Riverbrook Y became a beta site for the WAVE drowning prevention system that now successfully operates in the YMCA’s 25-yard pool and in pools across the country.
- Earlier this year McDowell worked with the Wilton Public Schools to partner with Community Steps, the transition program for the school district’s 18- to 22-year-old special education students to operate a café at the Y.
- Opening this fall, the YMCA team will be introducing an E-sports Center that will mainly serve youth but has the capacity to serve adults and seniors.
Freedman originally joined the YMCA in 2014 and during her seven-year tenure established a record of accomplishments that was both long and substantive. In 2021, she accepted the role of Chief Advancement Officer for Waveny Lifecare Network where she has broadened her experience as both a leader and manager, creating data-driven development initiatives and other means to achieve and exceed revenue, fund-raising, and operational goals and expectations.
Michael Crystal chaired the Riverbrook Regional YMCA’s CEO Search Committee.
“Once we knew Bob was going to retire at year-end, we went to work developing a comprehensive plan for identifying, recruiting, interviewing, and selecting the best candidate we could find to lead the organization going forward. Fortunately, for us and the communities we serve, Christene appeared on our radar screen. Given her past affiliation with the Y, and the overall breadth and depth of her experience, we quickly realized that we had an opportunity to successfully execute our plan, so we put the wheels in motion to bring us to where we are today, eagerly looking forward to Christene returning as our new CEO this fall,” Crystal said.
He added that the search committee saw the combination of her years of experience, and successes at the Y with the breadth of her time working with Waveney, the New Children’s Museum, the Housatonic Valley Waldorf School, the Litchfield Montessori School, the New Canaan Nature Center, and other similar organizations earlier in her career as evidence that clearly established Freedman as “far and away the best candidate for taking our RRY to where it needs and wants to go in ’24 and beyond.”
Freedman’s first day as the new CEO will be Monday, Oct. 23. McDowell will remain with the Wilton Family Y until Dec. 31, and will work with her and the Board of Directors for a transition.
Officials have scheduled a celebration in McDowell’s honor on Thursday, Nov. 30 at Rolling Hills Country Club to recognize his almost two decades at the helm of the Wilton Y.
An announcement about the leadership transition included a statement: “The Riverbrook Regional YMCA’s staff, volunteers, members, and the community want to thank Bob for his leadership, and lifetime service to all those he has worked with, and welcome Christene back.”