Harold Hemberger of the Smithfield YMCA Retiring After 37 Years of Service

By Paul Lonardo

When the Smithfield YMCA began in 1982, Harold Hemberger was there. In fact, he was there four years earlier when the location was a Boy’s Club that was unaffiliated with the Boy’s Club of America.

“It’s been a great career,” Harold says. He was the program director at the Providence YMCA prior to coming to Smithfield, a time he recalls when the operating budget of the facility was $28,000 a year, while today it is around 1.3 million.

“We expanded programming considerably over time, which was primarily aquatic back then, to include all manner of health and wellness, along with many preschool programs and the summer day camps. We also run the Town of Smithfield’s summer recreation program.”

As much as he will miss his work at the YMCA and the people there, he is looking forward to retirement and the extra time to do some traveling, fishing, and other activities he enjoys.

“I am involved in black bear research,” Harold adds. “So, I will have more time to dedicate to that, as well.”

His interest in bears began when he started taking backpacking trips with teenagers through the Y in Providence and continued when he came to Smithfield.

“We only came into contact with one bear in all these years,” Harold says. “Many moose along the way,” he adds with a laugh, “but only one bear.”

It was enough for Harold to develop an interest in black bears, and he went to Minnesota on a number of different occasions to study the animal with a bear researcher. He also participates in a black bear study locally with the University of Rhode Island and DEM. He helps monitoring various sites, watching the movements of black bears to determine if they are residents or just passing through the area.

Shauna Lewis, the senior program director at the YMCA, has been with the organization for 20 years, 17 as a full-time employee, and will be taking over Harold’s job as Executive Director when he steps down on May 31. Harold is confident in Shauna’s ability to take the Smithfield YMCA to greater heights.

“She’s done a great job with programming,” Harold says. “It was the logical choice for the board to choose her.”

Shauna seeks to continue to do the kind of positive and innovative work that Harold has been doing for so long, and in keeping with that administrative model she has immediate plans to implement additional programming, focusing on family-fun events, such as poolside “dive-in” movies, pavilion rentals, adding a member navigation center, and offering smoothies and shakes for members after fitness classes, to name a few. Besides working with the space the facility currently occupies, long term plans are also being considered to raise funds to expand, creating additional rooms to be used exclusively for singular activities and programs, rather than have a limited number of multi-purpose rooms.

Fundraising is a big part of the job description, and Shauna will be working hard this year to increase the amount of money raised for the youth scholarship fund, which gave out $80,000 last year. The money raised from fundraising also helps the youth and the families in the area that are not able to afford to come to the Y, whether through a membership or for individual programs.

Right now, locker room renovations are underway, with the women’s locker rooms currently under construction, to be followed by construction and renovation of the men’s locker room, and then the family locker rooms.

Some upcoming fundraising events at the Smithfield YMCA include the May 18 golf tournament at Crystal Lake. May 4 is the thirteenth annual Healthy Kid and Big Truck Day, featuring trucks, of course, with local vendors, healthy snacks, eye and skin screening, music, face-painting, and a dunk tank with local school principals and YMCA staff volunteering to be dunked.

Summer day camp will be beginning before you know it. The camp at the Smithfield YMCA is always a lot of fun with activities that include free swim every day, and swim lessons one day each week. Also, there will be weekly field trips and weekly yoga classes. There will the lemonade stand and car wash fundraiser. This year they have added cardio/fitness classes for children, and kids ten to thirteen can use the fitness center during camp hours. There will be gardening and the always popular gaga pit. With a wide variety of sports, along with arts and crafts and science, there is sure to be something every child will find of interest.

Summer camp registration started in April, but as long as there is availability remaining, campers can sign up by contacting the Smithfield YMCA at http://www.ymca1.org/