Heather Perkins has devoted much of her life to the Y’s mission. For nearly two decades, she has worked in communities across Kentucky, Georgia and Indiana, helming nearly every YMCA program imaginable. Her most impactful work, however, has come within the youth development realm, where she has been a driving force behind a wide variety of exciting, innovative programs for kids and teens.
In March, Heather was named Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Greater Joliet Area YMCA, thus beginning a new chapter in her storied YMCA career. A self-described “energizer” with a knack for cause-driven leadership, Heather is eager to work alongside a talented new team, and to push the boundaries that will continue to strengthen communities throughout Will and Grundy Counties.
“I believe in people,” Heather said. “My goal is to inspire and encourage people to reach their full potential. That’s my biggest hope: To be the cheerleader; to be the support guru; to help dreams and aspirations become realities; to make people’s lives happier and healthier.”
Prior to joining the Joliet Y, Heather was the Executive Director of the YMCA of Greater Indianapolis’ Youth Development Center that served 128 schools and more than 6,000 youth daily. During that time, Heather collaborated with a number of community partners, from hospital networks to the local art museum, to deliver much-needed programming to spaces outside the four walls of the YMCA. She hopes to impart a similar strategy in Joliet and its surrounding areas.
“I think collaboration is great,” she said. “Our impact is more powerful and meaningful when we work together—which is also why what we’re doing here at the Greater Joliet Area YMCA is so important. We’re opening so many doors and asking people to join us on our journey. I’m excited to see the endless possibilities.”
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Heather’s history with the Y trickles all the way back to her childhood. Growing up in Englewood, Colorado, Heather learned to swim and received before and after school care through the local YMCA. Her connection to the Y only grew stronger after moving to Shelbyville, Kentucky, where she met her eventual lifelong mentor Dr. Hall.
Dr. Hall inspired a then-teenage Heather to join the Y Leaders Club, a youth group focused on promoting social responsibility through model government, service learning and advocacy. It was during this time period, which Heather now refers to as “one of the best experiences of [her] life,” that she fully realized the importance of the Y’s mission.
“Y Club was a great way for me to recognize and understand that it’s not about me, it’s about serving other people,” she said. “Which I am in debt not only to the Y, but to Dr. Hall for opening my eyes to that particular path.”
As fate would have it, Heather was drawn back to the Y while she was still an undergrad at the University of Kentucky. She was studying in the library one day when she noticed a classified newspaper ad that said “Do You Want to Make A Difference?” As it turned out, the YMCA in town was hiring.
No less than 48 hours later, Heather submitted her resume and lined up an interview to be a regional director in the child care division. Citing her extensive relationship with the Y, she was hired on the spot.
Almost twenty years have gone by since that day and Heather’s passion for the Y hasn’t wavered one bit. With Heather leading the way, the future of the Greater Joliet Area YMCA is looking brighter by the day.