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YMCA Upgrades Day Camps Using Six Sigma

by Janet Jacobsen

When Jorge Perez was earning his master’s degree in business administration while working as a branch executive director for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, Texas, he signed up for a quality improvement course focused on Six Sigma. As Perez learned more about the process improvement methodology, he started using Six Sigma principles to manage his own work projects.

YMCA Camp 1

Becoming more comfortable, he started investigating how those same methods could be modified for others who worked in nonprofit organizations like the YMCA (Y).

During his career with the Y, Perez noticed project management efforts were often haphazard and unfocused. While he tried preaching the gospel of Six Sigma at all of his professional stops, Perez never felt he had the right work environment to apply the methodology. That was until 2013 when he arrived at the Y’s national resource office in Chicago, Ill. (Y-USA).

Case Study At a Glance . . .

YMCA Upgrades Day Camps Using Six Sigma

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-When a senior leader at the YMCA of the USA introduced Six Sigma to the youth development department, a new method for managing and tracking projects was ushered into the organization.

-Upon completing a Green Belt-level training course, a YMCA project team used Six Sigma tools to improve the culture of the organization’s summer day camp.

-As staff became more comfortable using Six Sigma, project work became more organized and data-driven, and the project team exceeded its first-year goals.

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YMCA Case Study


In the United States the Y is composed of more than 2,700 YMCA branches supported by approximately 19,000 full-time staff and 600,000 volunteers. Each year the Y engages 9 million youth and 13 million adults through programs, services, and initiatives focused on youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility. Y-USA, located in Chicago, serves as the national resource office for the Y. The youth development department is responsible for developing and supporting programs such as summer day camps, child care, leadership and academic enrichment offerings, food programs, and more.

Bringing Six Sigma Into Youth Development

As the vice president of youth development, family enrichment, and social responsibility for Y-USA, Perez leads a department that delivers services to local Ys across the country. He found supporting his project managers was difficult, particularly tracking the progress of myriad projects throughout the department.

“We needed a single way of managing and tracking our projects, and Six Sigma was selected,” he said. 

Perez asked Erin Reuland, manager of administration for youth development and social responsibility for Y-USA, in early 2014 to find a trainer who could deliver a week-long Green Belt-level Six Sigma course. The goal was to present a course that was adapted specifically for the nonprofit service sector.

YMCA DMAIC SIPOC“Because of Jorge’s experience with Six Sigma, he wanted our team to jump on board with training from someone who could teach us how this (Six Sigma) was beneficial to a nonprofit,” Reuland said.

The Y hired consulting organization Perfect Formula, LLC to lead the training. Reuland and other key staff members met with George Chemers, owner of Perfect Formula, to help customize a training course designed to meet three goals:

  • Provide training on lean and Six Sigma tools and techniques.
  • Teach youth development staff to apply these methods to improve business processes.
  • Help course participants put their learning into practice by creating and completing real projects to improve effectiveness and efficiency.

Chemers said adapting Six Sigma training for the nonprofit services environment was a novel idea, which meant the key was to create Y-specific examples in the training materials while also defining terminology—like DMAIC and SIPOC—up front that may be unfamiliar to those in the nonprofit sector.

Reuland said her colleagues were somewhat skeptical about Six Sigma in the beginning; however, that changed. “Once they got their hands dirty and started working with this in the training,” she said, “they realized it wasn’t really doing work differently, but organizing and documenting in a new way.”

One of the projects that allowed staff members to get their “hands dirty” during the training course focused on upgrading the Y’s summer day camp program.

Leading a Day Camp Upgrade

For many years, the Y’s flagship youth development program has been its summer day camp offered by local Ys to provide a fun, safe, and educational experience to school-aged children during the summer school break. Typical day camp activities involve arts and crafts, songs, field trips, and more.

YMCA Camp 2

“When people think of our work, and specifically youth development, they think of day camp and look at the Y as a pioneer in this field,” said Jarret Royster, senior vice president of operations at the YMCA of Greater Boston. “But, there was a general feeling in our network that day camp had become stale.”

Royster, who was formerly the director f urban and education development at Y-USA, said an upgrade of the day camp program had become a strategic priority in 2014.

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About the Author 

Janet Jacobsen is a freelance writer specializing in quality and compliance topics. A graduate of Drake University, she resides in Cedar Rapids, IA.

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