Chattanooga YMCA president/CEO reflects on what sets the local fitness institution apart from all others

Photo contributed by Bryan Oster / Baron Herdelin-Doherty is president and chief executive officer for YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga.

Baron Herdelin-Doherty is inextricably linked to the YMCA. He started nearly 40 years ago working as a fitness instructor and manager in Mobile, Alabama, and met his wife at a Y in Nashville 26 years ago.

He's served in different leadership capacities at YMCAs in California, Texas, Colorado, Kansas, New York, Alabama and now Chattanooga.

Last September, Herdelin-Doherty was named president/ CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga. The Auburn graduate succeeded retired president/ CEO Janet Dunn.

Before coming to Chattanooga, the Alabama native served as president/CEO of the YMCA of San Diego County and oversaw a $240 million organization featuring 18 branches, three resident camps and 147 after-school sites. His duties included supervising a staff of 5,500 and serving 480,000 individuals annually. During his 11-year tenure, Herdelin-Doherty increased the budget by $105 million, brought in 17,000 new members and opened six branches.

Herdelin-Doherty crisscrossed the country serving in similar capacities at YMCAs before going to San Diego.

Now Herdelin-Doherty is heading up the YMCA in Chattanooga, maintaining ambitious goals while trying to regain a sense of normalcy during an unprecedented time created by the pandemic.

He recently spoke with Chatter Magazine about what sets the local fitness institution apart from all others. Below is a condensed and edited version of the conversation.

Chatter Magazine: Did your background and involvement with sports lead to your current position?

Baron Herdelin-Doherty: No. The calling and mission of the Y led to this position. The Y is a perfect fit for me because I can be in a faith-based community and environment, make an impact and help all people.

Chatter: What features and programs do Chattanooga's Ys offer, and how does the membership compare in numbers and background to other fitness centers?

Herdelin-Doherty: Like many other YMCAs, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga offers a variety of programs and services in the health/wellness arena such as personal training, group exercise, aquatics programs, classes and more. But beyond health and wellness, our Ys also offer youth sports, additional youth programs, chronic disease prevention, afterschool programming, food programs, preschools, adaptive programs and so much more. We are a nonprofit organization whose mission is to "Put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all." Our mission alone makes the Y different than traditional fitness centers.

In terms of our membership, we have witnessed people coming back to the Y coming out of the pandemic for the reasons above. Our retention rates are strong, and we know people desire connections and relationships, which is very much what we are about.

Chatter: What challenges do you face in a health/wellness market where people have several options, and how do you stand out from the competition?

Herdelin-Doherty: Yes, we are in a health/wellness market, but I look at it differently. We are in a relationship market. The reason people love the YMCA is that our staff and volunteers build relationships with our participants. That's why we've been successful to date in coming out of the pandemic. It's why we're recognized as "Best of the Best" health club for the past several years; why we were recognized as the United Way Nonprofit of the Year, etc. So much of it is due to our mission and reputation.

Chatter: What were the deciding factors in you taking this position?

Herdelin-Doherty: I love Tennessee and the city of Chattanooga. It's a great place to raise our 8-year-old daughter. The YMCAs in Chattanooga are very strong, with a great foundation and a strong board of directors.

Chatter: What do you enjoy about your current job and working for the Y?

Herdelin-Doherty: I like being able to work with all people in a faith-based, relationship-driven environment. The YMCA of Metropolitan Chattanooga is a big organization, but not so big that it feels disconnected.