BY KAREN ACKERMAN WITTER
Angie Sowle grew up in Keokuk, Iowa, a small town where the YMCA was an integral part of the community and way of life. She loved gymnastics and aspired to have her own gym and train gymnasts. A summer internship at the YMCA in Keokuk between her junior and senior years of college set her on a different career trajectory. Sowle was majoring in Parks and Recreation and Exercise Physiology at Northeast Missouri State University. For her internship she directed a summer program for low-income children. She saw firsthand the profound impact of the YMCA on these children. This was a life-changing experience for her.
Some people know at an early age they want to be a teacher, nurse, or doctor. A career at a YMCA is a more unusual goal. For Sowle, the YMCA has been her calling since that college internship, and her enthusiasm is palpable. While some may think of the Y as simply a place to work out, take a class or learn to swim, it is much more than that. Sowle says the YMCA is a social service agency that is all about service to others and having a positive impact on the people they serve. She can’t imagine anything more inspiring.
When asked what motivates her about the Y, she says “everything.” The YMCA is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to put Christian principles into practice through programs that build a healthy spirit, mind and body for all. The Y is dedicated to building healthy, confident, connected and secure children, adults, families and communities.
Sowle came to the YMCA in Springfield straight out of college at the age of 23 and has devoted her entire career to the YMCA, helping improve the lives of others. Her first job was physical director with responsibilities over the fitness programs. She served in that role for 12 years and was associate executive director for five years. When the Kerasotes facility opened, she became branch manager of the downtown facility. She was appointed CEO when Don Darnell retired in January 2013.
Sowle credits the staff, which she describes as a small army of people working tirelessly to improve the lives of others. For example, she says kids don’t come in just to learn a skill, such as how to swim. Adults support the kids and believe in them. And, staff members help kids believe in themselves. They promote personal development, leadership skills and giving back to others.
Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from the many classes, programs and activities at the YMCA. For families, there is something for everyone. There are programs for children as young as six months and that extend throughout a lifetime. Social isolation can be a significant concern for seniors, and the Y provides opportunities for social interaction, which can be as beneficial as physical exercise. Many seniors enjoy the Y as a place to interact with others, exercise with people with similar interests and abilities or just hang out and socialize.
Everyone is welcome, and no one is denied service based on background, income, ability or address. Sowle says she is proud of the Y’s expanded reach into the community with over $500,000 in financial assistance helping serve more than 3,100 people.
Plans are on the drawing board to relocate the downtown Y to a new location at Fourth and Carpenter streets. Sowle is excited about this opportunity to further expand the Y’s impact in the Springfield community.
Sowle is devoted to the mission of the YMCA. She especially enjoys “mission moments” at staff meetings, where staff members tell stories that exemplify the Y’s commitment to changing lives and strengthening communities. For example, she was delighted to learn that one of the homeless children who had attended a summer camp made the high school honor roll. Sowle says, “The story of the Y is the people we serve.”
Sowle always has a smile on her face. She says she is constantly moved by the resiliency of the human spirit and people who overcome adversity. She overcame her own adversity when she battled breast cancer many years ago when her children were young. She stepped down from her full-time position that she loved in order to focus on her health and her family. Sowle later returned to continue her passion to help others overcome their adversities and transform their lives.