July 18, 2018
Once a small town girl from Ashland, Ohio, Gretchen Dennis now lives the city life in Chicago with her husband and two sons. Although these two phases of her life may contrast, her continual presence at the YMCA has remained the same. “I think I got my first Y membership when I was going into first grade. My parents gave me some choices of things I wanted to do and one of them was having a Y membership,” she says.
For nearly two years, Gretchen has been the YMCA of Metro Chicago’s Manager of Inclusion in our legal department. “I’m a resource for staff when we have individuals with diverse abilities or disabilities and they indicate that they may need some additional support in our centers,” she explains. “I work as a liaison between the center staff and families, and I help create plans for support so that they can have an enriching experience.”
Throughout her life, Gretchen has held many other position at the Y —including her first paying job as a tumbling class instructor for preschoolers. As a college student, Gretchen taught swim lessons for a group of children with autism, and whenever she returned home, she would work at the Y’s front desk.
Gretchen attended Indiana University and graduated with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation and is also a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. Prior to being the Y’s Manager of Inclusion, Gretchen was an Inclusion Manager in Special Recreation for the West Suburban Special Recreation Association for 10 years, preceding her role as Superintendent of Recreation for 5 years. She amusingly admits that the TV series, Parks and Rec, was “spot on” with how town meetings usually went.
Outside of her valuable work at the Y, Gretchen describes herself as a “water bug,” and says she’s happiest “anywhere near the water.” She also shares one of the most important lesson she’s learned throughout her life and career: “Just be kind. It’s so simple, but that’s the message I try to convey in everything we do here.”
Learn more about the Y’s Diversity and Inclusion by visiting this page.