Tony Calabrese assumed the position earlier this year as the president and CEO for the Dubuque Community Y.
For the past 21 years he served as the president and COO for the Scott County Family Y that serves all of the Iowa Quad Cities and Jackson County. Calabrese oversaw a team of YMCA facility directors providing youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.
He is married to Michelle Calabrese, who is employed at Weerts Funeral Home and Quad City Pet Cremation. They have one son, Anthony. He works full time for the YMCA before and after school program at Paul Norton Elementary in Bettendorf.
Calabrese and his family enjoy traveling to anywhere warm that has a beach. His community involvement is focused around youth development, education and helping individuals reach their God-given potential.
He has enjoyed working for the YMCA for the past 30 years and is excited to impact the lives of children and families in the Dubuque community and serving more people through Y membership and programs.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
The last two YMCA CEOs that I worked for in the Quad Cities. Brad Martell, who helped me to sharpen the business side of being a nonprofit, and Frank Klipsch, who never met a stranger and was one of the best fundraisers that I’ve met in my Y career. I’ve tried to mix both aspects in my approach as a Y leader by treating people with dignity and respect while running the Y as a business to meet the needs of the community.
What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization? Early in my YMCA career, a National YMCA leader shared with me that if we don’t “feed” our employees, they will “eat” our members. I’ve listened to this advice by always taking care of our employees because they will take care of our members. Member engagement and satisfaction occurs at the front lines of our business, so we must train and develop them and keep them happy. Surround yourself with good people and good things happen.
As an organization gets larger, there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening? The Y is in the people business. Our inspiration comes from those that we serve and the impact we have on their life. It’s not the big things that we do that makes that greatest difference. It’s the 101 small things that mean the most. Giving individuals the tools to lose weight, get off blood pressure medicine, exposing a young person to positive mentors, preparing a child for kindergarten and preparing an older adult for better balance. We help individuals overcome their most immediate obstacle to reach their God-given potential. All of these opportunities give us joy on a daily basis.
Which is more important to your organization — mission, core values or vision? All three are important to all businesses, but our core values are the most important for the Dubuque Y. Our core values are Youth Development, Healthy Living, Social Responsibility, Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women.
What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess? Good leaders need to possess many different characteristics based on the environment and the circumstances they face. For example, when I arrived, the staff was looking for someone to make much-needed decisions to better position the organization. But the qualities that I believe are the most important are commitment, passion and hard work. These qualities trickle down to the team who then execute better.
What advice to you have for future leaders? • Whatever you do, do it well.
• Work hard.
• Serve more people: Impact all of the community.
• Constant learning and improving.
• Be passionate: Be proud of your work.
How did you get involved in the field you’re working in? After graduating from Loras College in 1987 I started working part time at the Rockford YMCA while I was in graduate school at Northern Illinois University.
This part-time job became my passion and career because I found my calling by helping individuals overcome their obstacles. I’ve spent 21 years of my 30-year career at the Scott County Family Y in the Quad Cities prior to arriving in Dubuque in February of this year.
What are two or three of the best things about being a leader? • Serving others by meeting them where they are.
• Meeting community needs by working together.
• Developing staff who want to lead and serve others.