Role and Impact of the "Y" in Chittenden County and Beyond

Oct 18, 2017
Kyle Dodson, Pres. & CEO, Greater Burlington YMCA
Role and Impact of the "Y" in Chittenden County and Beyond

As part of the "I Am A Vermonter Series", Kyle prepared an essay describing his trip to Vermont.  His story is quite remarkable and helps the reader understand why he is so qualified to run and manage this terrific community resource: 

Formerly Director of Multicultural Student Affairs at Saint Michael’s College in Burlington, Vermont, and then principal of Lee Academy, a public elementary school in Dorchester, MA, Kyle is now Director of the Center for Service and Civic Engagement at Champlain College in Burlington. A graduate of Harvard and Columbia Universities, he’s passionate about equity and access for all students in all levels of education, regardless of race or socio-economic status.

I grew up in West Orange, New Jersey, and initially came to Vermont for the same reason a lot of people do—to be a ski bum. After graduating with an MBA in Finance in 1991, I worked for a Wall Street firm for a few years and on vacations I would come skiing in Vermont. So when I quit Wall Street—which just never clicked with me—I had some time on my hands to figure out, what next? For a couple of seasons, I just hung out at Mad River Glen working and skiing.

The second winter my girlfriend – now my wife, Christine – was with me, and at the end of the season, I proposed. Shortly thereafter, Saint Michael’s College in Burlington had an open position for an admissions counselor to recruit students of color and I thought higher education might suit me. I applied for and got the job. That was ‘95. We bought a house in the Mad River Valley and settled down, had children.

Eventually I became Director of Multicultural Affairs. The job was very good to me. I had a lot of autonomy. My main responsibility was to support ALANA students but teaching, coaching, and temperament gave me access to a wider variety of the student body. But for every ALANA student that makes it to someplace like Saint Michael’s, there are hundreds who don’t. I found I was more interested in working with that population.

Additionally, since my wife is white and my kids are bi-racial, we wanted to expose the kids to greater diversity. I found out about a fast track principal training program and M.A. in Education through UMass Boston. After an intense internship, I became principal of Lee Academy in Dorchester, MA, in 2004.

We loved it, and developed some wonderful relationships, but it was a tough neighborhood. There were homicides within half a mile of our house. We didn’t feel comfortable letting our sons get on their bikes and go. We had to evaluate things. That was where there was work I wanted to do, but it wasn’t fair to our sons.

I had a nice conversation with Saint Michael’s about some job possibilities, but my hunger was to continue working with a lower income population. The Champlain job came along, which was perfect. It’s all about service and civic responsibility, developing partnerships, getting kids out into the community. Professionally, it’s been great.

I’m driven by new people and experiences—that’s what stimulates me. If you’re driven by the solidarity of groups, then you might have to look a little harder in Vermont. Of course it’s not Utopia, but is any place? Ask yourself: What are your priorities? Okay, so you’re not going to go to a nightclub where there’ll be a lot of black folks. But there are other charms here.