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When I asked Tony Sparks about his upcoming retirement from the Y, his first response was "there are so many people to thank." He said that on every project from the Expansion/Renovation of the Mattoon Area Family YMCA to the current construction of the Neal Center YMCA in Toledo, none of it would have been possible with out the commitment of many people. The builders, architect, Y Staff & Board, volunteers, donors and the community, all made it possible.

When Tony came to the Y, he recognized the need to build a Best Practices YMCA. And we did it! By focusing on the facility, staff & board, fundraising and a commitment to strengthening community, our Y has been successful. Nine years later, the facility is a wonderful community asset and we are blessed with overwhelming community support. Tony worked hard to build strong collaborative relationships with community partners as can be seen by the YMCA's ongoing relationship with Sarah Bush Lincoln and the Center for Healthy Living.

Tony talked about how proud he is of Blake Fairchild, YMCA CEO, and the Y Staff for our great hearts and passion for the Y. He offered this advice - to continue doing what we do, to be bold in the execution of our plans and to learn from our harshest critics. Tony's philosophy has been to never rest on your laurels, but to always look for ways to improve. Over the years he has learned to never say "no" when approached with new ideas, but rather to say "not now" if the time was not yet right for a particular project.

There have been many highlights for Tony at the Y. A few that stand out are: the Mattoon facility, the great board and staff, building a strong relationship with SBLHC & the Center for Healthy Living, the Neal Center YMCA in Toledo and most of all the community support.

Building this first rate facility in Mattoon took a lot of work by many people. He is proud of the growth of our staff over time and has enjoyed working with our top-notch board of directors. He feels our Y has come full circle in the area of staff development and how we operate, and he is especially pleased that our Y is a leader in the area of Child Safety.

Tony says there could be no higher high than seeing the Neal Foundation, the Cumberland County community, and the Y come together to make the Neal Center YMCA facility in Toledo become a reality. Both the financial commitment and the level of engagement from the community have been phenomenal!

Tony truly understands what Julie Easton, YMCA Finance & Human Resources Director, told him in his early days at the Y. That once you are a part of the Y, you won't ever want to leave because you will love the place so much.

As he retires, Tony looks forward to continuing to be a big user of the Y, traveling a bit and spending more time with his grandkids. He continues to be committed to our Y and our community and will continue to seek out projects in areas such as child development and helping budding young entrepreneurs.

Having worked side by side with Tony for many years, I know that he has touched many lives. We all wish him the very best and invite the community to his Retirement Party Open House at the Y on Thursday, January 10th from 4:30 - 6:30 p.m..

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