YMCA Metro North’s President Kathleen Walsh has been named Essex Media Group’s Person of the Year for Lynnfield. (Olivia Falcigno)

By Anne Marie Tobin, Essex Media Group

In early July, the sign on the door of the Torigian Family YMCA said it all — We’re back.

After a 16-week closure due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Torigian YMCA was the first of four operated by the YMCA of Metro North to reopen to the public since life as we used to know it was shut down by the state in mid-March.

At the epicenter of the whirlwind effort to find a way to fully reopen was Metro North’s President and CEO, Lynnfield resident Kathleen Walsh.

It is the culmination of that massive campaign which gave much-needed help, support and services to families struggling with the loss of so many essential services provided by the Metro North Y network that has earned Walsh the distinction of being chosen as the Essex Media Group’s 2020 Person of the Year for Lynnfield.

“Receiving this award tells all of us at the Y that we are doing what we should be doing for the community,” said Walsh. “I don’t look at it as me winning the award, it’s because of the work that I do with an organization that is so critical to the public that is the award winner.

“It congratulates my staff, as I see this as a Y of Metro North award because they work so hard to make sure that needs for families and kids are met every day. This award validates everything that we have done and continue to do.”

While the Y was open for emergency day care, food services and diaper drives during the initial shutdown, most members were left high and dry in many areas.

From finding essential child daycare services, safe summer activities for school-age children, to afterschool programs and providing adults with ways to improve their health condition with quality exercise programs, the closing of YMCA facilities created a huge void for YMCA members, who were left struggling with the loss of so many services previously taken for granted.

“We never closed our doors, even when the state shut things down, but our members lost so many essential services,” said Walsh. “At the same time, we were transitioning from buildings that were designed pre-pandemic. We had to look at all of our facilities and redesign them to be pandemic ready so we had people working in excess of full time hours getting everything ready.”

Re-opening YMCA facilities wasn’t the only thing on Walsh’s mind this year. She is approaching the finishing line on the new Lynn YMCA facility, which is scheduled to open sometime in March.

As important as that project is, however, nothing is as critical to Walsh as the reinforcement of the organization’s mission and the accent on its role as a charity.

“People don’t see us as a charity, but we are, and my biggest focus has always been to make sure people understand our charity and our mission as it is critical to our mission,” Walsh said. “For an organization like the Y to be able to stand up and stand out and look the pandemic in the eye and not run from it has been a great opportunity for the communities we serve to see our mission in action.

As much as Walsh and her team have accomplished, Walsh said the mission is not yet completed.

“We’re going to keep a lot of the new safety protocols going forward because our members like it, it makes sense and keeps people safer and healthier,” Walsh said. “We were down to 60 full-time employees for Phase 1, are up to 300 and now are continuing to hire as we look to get the new Lynn Y online. We are looking to the future of where we will be in three, six, nine months.”