Hanging over Robert Conklin’s desk, deep within the Reston YMCA facility, is a framed poster with the Winston Churchill quote, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Conklin, the district executive director of the Reston YMCA, has tried to fashion his life and work around Churchill’s aphorism, ensuring that the poor and the disadvantaged have as much of an opportunity to enjoy the Y’s programs and services as their more affluent neighbors.
“I believe in that,” he said, gazing at the poster the other day. “I really do. That’s why I have it hanging there. And I think it says a lot about what we try to do here at the Y.”
This Friday will be Conklin’s last day as the Reston YMCA’s chief executive. He has been promoted to oversee three large-scale YMCA facilities in Orlando.
“We’re all really going to miss him,” said Karen Cleveland, who served as director of the Reston YMCA’s board for its first three years. “We were just extremely lucky to have him here for the time that we did. He made the Reston Y what it is today.”
WHEN CONKLIN first started working at the Reston YMCA just under four years ago, the facility had not been fully built and his office was in a construction trailer with other administrators. He spent much of his first four months hiring staff members and simply introducing the Y to Reston, which had never had a nearby YMCA facility.
Not long after the building opened, Conklin met Cleveland for coffee on afternoon and told her that he had big plans for the Reston Y.
“He said this place is different,” Cleveland recalled. “He said we can’t just have a normal Y here. He believed that the YMCA is an integral part and an extension of the community. And that’s what it has become. It really does a lot for the community.”
Conklin started working with other Reston leaders from local government and other non-profit organizations and began helping to put together myriad charity and service-oriented activities.
He helped organize a food drive for American troops fighting overseas. He extended scholarships for 125 low-income children to attend summer camp, using $125,000 in scholarship money. And he worked with Fairfax County to ensure that the Teen Center, attached to the YMCA building, was meeting the needs for the students attending after-school activities and other programming.
Also under his leadership, the YMCA secured funding for and helps run an after-school tutoring program at Dogwood Elementary School, a school where more than 43 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.
“He’s really done a lot for the Y and for the community,” said Christine Mohr, the YMCA’s marketing director.
AS LEADER of the Reston YMCA, Conklin helped to literally grow the facility from the ground up. When it first opened, 3,000 area residents had signed up as members. Today, the Reston Y boasts more than 13,000 members.
Conklin sees the YMCA’s growth into prominence in Reston as the rise of a new major organization in Reston, one which is intended to both better the community and strengthen families.
“I believe it’s become one of the main organizations in this community,” he said. “It’s been professionally gratifying to be at the helm here. It’s just been a great, great opportunity.”
In addition to nurturing the Reston Y to maturity, Conklin was also responsible for bringing an expanded YMCA facility to the Broadlands area of Loudoun County. That public-private facility is in final negotiations, he said, and is expected to be solidified in the coming months.
As he leaves Reston, Conklin said he is still just struck everyday by the number of people, from all different races, genders, ages and income levels, who walk through the YMCA’s doors, day and night.
“I can’t imagine what this community did before the Y was here,” he said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished.”