From finance to fitness, Mark Weber has come a long way from the corporate world, and he says has never been happier. What began as a trial run for Mark at the Niles-Buchanan YMCA has become the place he calls home.
When Sara Senica, then board chairman, approached Mark more than six years ago to ask him to join the YMCA as CEO, Mark was flattered, but confused as to why the board would be interested in a finance person to head a “swim and gym facility.”
After some convincing from Sara with regards to the direction they wanted him to take the Y, Mark agreed to come aboard, on what he considered a trial basis, saying, “I’ll give it a try, but don’t stop your search.”
“I took the job, and about a month and a half into it, I realized how much more there was to the Y, other than a swim and gym facility,” Mark says. “I go home at night and I feel like we — my team and I — made a difference today.”
Thanks in large part to the Village People, the YMCA is known as a place for people down on their luck to seek assistance. Many in Michiana know the facilities for their workout space and youth sports leagues, but the YMCA’s services do not end there. The YMCA facilitates volunteer efforts, healthy living classes and programs, preschool classes, and several community events such as the Thanksgiving Day Run.
With so much going on, Mark says the biggest challenge in his work at the Y is having to wear so many hats. As the leader of a nonprofit organization, he is always focused on how much more the organizations he represents can do for the community, and how to best allocate the Y’s resources.
Being out in the community and seeing the impact the Y is having on it is Mark’s favorite part about the partnerships he has worked hard to cultivate within southwest Michigan, and across the border in Indiana.
“It’s an amazing feel-good, working here at the Y,” he says. “I can see the impact we can have, and that’s worth more than a lot of things to me.”
Serving more than 13,000 members in 2017 at the YMCA of Southwest Michigan facilities in Niles and St. Joseph, Mark realizes he is only as strong as his support team.
“The reality is I can’t do everything all of these amazing employees can do, but I provide the foundation for them to do what they do best,” Mark says.
Mark likes to boast that he surrounds himself with, in his words, “really good, smart and passionate people,” because that is what makes them successful.
Like his COO, Denise Peters.
“All of her decisions come from the heart. Most of mine come from the brain,” he says. “Together we make a great team. … It’s not about me. It’s my job to provide the tools for the people around here who really make things happen. We are more than a team. We are like a family.”
Originally taking the role as CEO of the Niles-Buchanan YMCA, Mark is now also the CEO of the St. Joseph-Benton Harbor YMCA, the South Bend YMCA and Camp Eberhart in Three Rivers.
Working with at-risk youth and the Boys and Girls Clubs, Mark and his team are reaching out to the community to partner with them and get area youth to camp.
Mark loves telling the story of the first summer he was at Camp Eberhart. While getting the feel for the way things operate, he met a man in his seventies. Striking up a conversation with this man, he learned that he went to Camp Eberhart when he was a kid and became interested in astronomy because of the programs offered there.
“Ten years ago, he retired from his job as a rocket scientist,” Mark says. “Now he is volunteering at the camp to give back and make sure these programs continue for the future generations. … You never know the impact you might have on someone.”
While Mark really sees the impact and importance of all the programs the YMCA offers, his favorite is the water safety programs.
“I love the water safety, because the number one cause of death for young kids is drowning, and if we can work together to change that, we need to,” he says.
Under Mark’s guidance, the YMCA water safety program has expanded from classes at the Y pool to water safety being taught on site in Benton Harbor, Cassopolis and Marcellus.
“We teach more than water safety. We are teaching these kids confidence, and learning to overcome their fears,” Mark says.
Mark believes in collaboration and working together. One example that stands out is his first collaboration with the Niles District Library, which led to the Summer My Way program, which served more than 300 students in 2018, in Niles and Brandywine school districts.
The Summer My Way program seemed a logical step for Mark and his team, combining what was once several programs — the library summer program, summer Y Camp, the city camp program, and summer school — into one cohesive program.
“That was the mind shift for me,” Mark says. “It isn’t about the Y anymore, it’s about the community and working together to do what’s best for everyone.”
Along with his work at the YMCA, Mark is active in the community. Among the many hats he has worn, he serves on the Niles Community School Board of Education and the Four Flags Chamber of Commerce.
Mark’s wife Shari, who is still in finance, jokes that Mark doesn’t go to work, he goes to “have fun.” Mark and Shari have two grown children, and are eagerly anticipating their first grandchild next spring.
When asked if he sees himself anywhere else, doing anything else, Mark is quick to reply that he has found his home, and is so glad he gave this “swim and gym” facility a try, all those years ago.