Northwest YMCA director puts children first
TAMPA - Ashley Sorenson has her dream job. She is executive director of the Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA and is responsible for programs and events that run all year. To Sorenson, it is a job that's much more fun than it is work. She has been at the northwest location for more than two years, after working at the Bob Sierra Family YMCA in Tampa for almost eight years. Her goal was to be a teacher and went to college to pursue it, but also worked as a camp counselor all through high school and college. She became hooked on the YMCA and the rest is part of her history. "I never knew what it meant or how important it was to be a camp counselor," Sorenson said. "I learned so much and decided this is what I wanted to do. It's the only career I have ever had." Sorenson, who has put her stamp on everything at the north Hillsborough site, also has tried to create a family atmosphere, she said. Sorenson has loaded the deck with volunteers, most of whom work for the fun of it while earning community service points for their high schools and scholarships.She listens to others before deciding which camps and events the kids will participate in. The YMCA is busy all year, but summer is crunch time and the kids need things to do. Especially on days when it rains and the pool and recreation fields are closed. Sorenson doesn't rely on her own opinions. It is a group effort, she said, to make summer a fun time at the YMCA. "We have our staff and the volunteers ask the kids what they want from us," Sorenson said. "We want cool stuff to do and the kids have some great ideas." Sorenson takes a hands-on approach, meeting with the kids, the volunteers and even sitting down to lunch with the kids trying to get an idea of what they want for their summer. She makes sure to talk to the kids on their own level, looking them straight in the eye to help the kids open up. Of course, some kids aren't always ready to open up. That's when she takes a special interest. "I have the camp staff always on the lookout for the shy kids," Sorenson said. "Some of them are not really shy, they just need some help coming out of the shell." Her big project now is to help develop a program to get preschoolers prepared for kindergarten. The YMCA already has a new licensed preschool program and there is a kids' zone for children to play in while their parents work out. Twice a month, the YMCA offers Parents Night Out from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. The emphasis is on the children now and Sorenson is ready to expand the program. She plans to be at the YMCA for a long time. "I won't leave until we get a child development center started," Sorenson said. "It's important and it will really pay off." The Northwest Hillsborough Family YMCA is at 8950 W. Waters Ave., off Sheldon Road in Tampa. For more information, call (813) 249-8510.