YMCA once stood for “Young Men’s Christian Association.
The name Anjali is Indian. It means “devotion to God.”
Those 2 worlds — different religions, thousands of miles apart — are now one. Anjali Rao McCormick is the new CEO of the Westport Weston Family YMCA. Her path began in Calcutta; it now takes her to the Mahackeno campus, by Merritt Parkway Exit 41.
It seems almost foreordained.
Anjali’s family left India in 1984 for Long Island, where her father had a sibling. The oldest of 4 girls, she was suddenly thrust from an all-girls Catholic school into 11th grade at a public high school. “It was like walking onto the set of ‘Grease,'” she says.
As a government major at Harvard University, she thought about entering the diplomatic corps. But after graduating cum laude she pivoted to New York University’s Stern School of Business, for an MBA.
When her third child entered school, McCormick re-entered the workforce. She spent 10 years in a variety of positions with the Summit Area YMCA, rising to senior vice president, chief operations officer.
With her youngest daughter about to graduate from high school, the move to Westport seems right. She is looking for new challenges and growth opportunities.
The selection committee was impressed with her management style, and results at the 4-branch New Jersey Y. She’s been called a “transformational” leader, with “community focus, talent, and vision.”
And — though she did not know it until she applied for the Westport position — her Y ties go back far longer than her decade with the Summit Area Y.
McCormick’s father told her recently that after her grandfather left India by boat in 1927, landed in San Francisco and took a train to the University of Kansas, he found friends at the local Y.
“He was a brown man in white middle America,” McCormick says. “But the Y gave him a community. He felt he belonged.”
As she settles into her new community of Westport — she’s commuting until her daughter graduates, but spends several nights a week at the Inn at Longshore — McCormick is focusing on what makes this Y strong.
And how she can make it even stronger.
The Y — and all of Westport — enjoy “a rich, robust history,” she says. “This is an excellence-oriented community. People have high standards. That puts pressure on me. But it doesn’t scare me.”
Her job is to “find a way to serve all the different populations. How can we grow, along with other youth and senior organizations? What can we do with the Library, and the Community Garden? A rising tide lifts all boats.”
She knows that Westporters are passionate about many things — including the long debate, a decade ago, over the Y’s decision to leave its longtime downtown building for the Mahackeno property.
“I come in with a clean slate,” McCormick notes. “”I hear the voices. It’s my job to ask what we need to do to make sure the strongest community exists here.”
She’s getting to know the staff, and is impressed with what she’s seen. She wants to make sure they’re customer-oriented, and can deliver on the Y’s promises.
McCormick takes over at an intriguing time. COVID regulations that hampered many non-profits — and shut down the Westport Y for 3 months — are easing. Yet bringing people back to the pool, fitness center and classes is not easy.
The Y’s revenues dropped significantly over the past year. That’s another yet challenge.
McCormick sees opportunity in the pandemic’s wake. More people moved to Westport than any other town in the state over the past year. Many are families, with young children. She’ll reach out to new residents, inviting them to see all that the Y offers. “Come, get healthy!” she says.
Newcomers — those families, like herself today and her grandfather nearly a century ago — are looking for community. The YMCA — no longer a “Young Men’s Christian Association,” but a place for all — can offer that.