By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor
The Chamber of Gadsden-Etowah County held the 2024 return of its monthly Lunch and Learn series Tuesday, January 9 at Chamber offices in downtown Gadsden.
The event centers around having one guest speaker from the community come discuss what their business or organization is doing and how Chamber members can get involved, all while members are provided lunch from a local restaurant — this time it was from Gadsden Variety.
This month’s speaker was Heidi Darbo, chief executive officer (CEO) of the YMCA of the Coosa Valley.
Darbo is still relatively new to the CEO position, as she was appointed to it by the YMCA’s board in August of 2023 after long-time leader LeRoy Falcon stepped down in July to take over a YMCA community in Mississippi.
Darbo has been tasked with leading the YMCA into a new chapter that involves not having a brick and mortar location. It is a concept that Darbo has called “The Y Without Walls.” The idea focuses on developing and growing programs that are not confined to a particular location.
Darbo previously served as marketing director for the Coosa Valley YMCA after having served as Regional Development Director for the American Heart Association for eight years.
During her hour of speaking to Chamber members Tuesday, she went into detail about the programs the YMCA still offers to the area and fielded questions about swim lessons, summer camp programs and other programs people associated with the physical YMCA location.
“We still offer services to the area,” Darbo said. “We are just doing it in a new way.”
That “new way” includes some fitness classes, like Rock Steady Boxing being held at the Rainbow City recreation center and swim lessons taking place at a pool in Hokes Bluff.
“We’re so glad to have those places available so we can keep offering those services,” Darbo said.
As for future plans for a permanent home for the YMCA, Darbo hinted at some potential partnerships but said nothing was set and no building was theirs as of now. She also mentioned that the summer camp program will be coming back in a big way in 2025.
The other thing Darbo was excited to share was the Youth in Government program the YMCA helps lead and what the core principal of that program is — advocacy.
“Advocacy is important,” Darbo said. “We can all agree that things could always be better than they currently are.”
Darbo went on to explain the different types of advocacy, including the personal type, and how attendees could better advocate for themselves in the workplace or in any situation, as well as how to better advocate for others.
She also shared some of the advocacy work the YMCA has contributed to including various legislative pursuits in Alabama.
The next Lunch and Learn for Chamber members will be held February 6.