With a wealth of YMCA experience and a deep commitment to community and diversity, the new director of Lake Mary’s hometown Y is ready to give its members more to love than ever
On any given day at the J. Douglas Williams YMCA in Lake Mary, you might see a toddler learning to float, a teen shooting hoops, and a 100-year-old man getting some exercise.
Some members are affluent, while others may need help paying for the Y and its programs.
In short, people of all ages, races, religions, and life situations make up the Y’s membership base. This is what makes the J. Douglas Williams YMCA’s newest executive director perfect for the job.
“I’m a very open person,” says Jeremy Garren, who came to the local Y last summer after serving in various roles at three other YMCAs in Central Florida.
“Diversity and inclusion are two words I can talk about until I turn blue,” Jeremy says.
Much of that is due to his own life experiences. The biological son of biracial parents, Jeremy was adopted and raised from birth by a white couple. He grew up knowing he was adopted but did not seek out his biological parents until he was in high school.
“That has shaped my outlook on life,” he explains.
Jeremy arrives at the J. Douglas Williams YMCA in Lake Mary at a critical time.
For many years, the local Y had a fairly stable membership. But around 2017, attrition began to set in, Jeremy says. Whether that stems from a more transient population, competition from private gyms, or other factors is not certain. Whatever the reason, Jeremy’s mission is to keep the YMCA a vibrant and indispensable part of the community. A place where children enjoy supervised play while their parents work out or take advantage of more than 80 classes. Where a young woman hits the outdoor heated swimming pool while a retiree concentrates on yoga in a large darkened room.
“We’re not just a gym and swim,“ Jeremy says. “We have something for you no matter how old or young you are.”
The YMCA recently underwent a $1 million renovation through donated dollars, including improvements to the parking lot (which used to regularly flood), a resurfaced swimming pool, and plans for new exercise equipment and remodeling.
Jeremy is the first to admit that parts of the Lake Mary YMCA have grown a little long in the tooth.
A spin room, where 15 cycling stations are crammed into a small space, is relocating to much airier quarters. And some of the interior décor that practically screams 1980s (think teal) will get a makeover.
The Y’s commitment to the community, however, remains perfectly unchanged. The Lake Mary location has pledged to raise $110,000 this year to help those who might not be able to afford the full membership fee or other YMCA programs.
“We’ll work with them to get them in here,” Jeremy says.
Jeremy, who is 34, lives in Oviedo with his wife, Megan, and their two children. He was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, but lived there all of four days before his adoptive parents moved to North Carolina, then Central Florida.
Jeremy originally planned to seek out his biological mother once he turned 18, but 9/11 happened while he was still 16 years old, and he decided not to wait any longer. The world seemed a more fragile place. Jeremy’s personal life journey, although not what most would call traditional, has brought many loved ones into his life and has molded him for his current position with the Y.
He sums up the whole experience this way: “Our family just got bigger.”
To meet Jeremy and see what’s new at the J. Douglas Williams YMCA in Lake Mary, stop by for a free visit.
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