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New CEO of YMCA fulfills lifelong dream
Gallagher began working for the organization at age 15
Rich Gallagher is the new president and CEO of the Gainesville-based Georgia Mountains YMCA. - photo by Tom Reed

It seems only fitting Rich Gallagher is sitting in the big chair at the Georgia Mountains YMCA.

After all, he has spent nearly all his 41 years in or around YMCAs.

"At 5, I started in Child Watch in Chicago," he said of the YMCA's child-care program. "Wherever we moved growing up, there was always a YMCA and we always got plugged in. ... It's always been a part of my family."

Since July, Gallagher has served as president and CEO of the Gainesville-based Georgia Mountains YMCA, which has branches in Hall, White and Lumpkin counties and otherwise has an eight-county service area.

He takes over for Mike Brown, who left in July to take a similar post in Rockford, Ill.

"It's been great," Gallagher said of the experience so far. "We are truly building relationships and partnerships with the community and with other counties and cities.

"In this economy, all businesses and organizations have to build partnerships. We all have to be able to help one another."

Gallagher began working for the YMCA at age 15, starting out as a lifeguard folding towels and also serving as camp counselor.

After graduating from high school in Birmingham, Ala., he went on to earn a degree in psychology from Evangel University in Springfield, Mo.

During his senior year of college, he was working at a YMCA when a youth ministry opportunity opened up at a church in Bristol, Va.

But even as he served in the church there, he didn't shed his work with the YMCA. He ended up serving as aquatics and marketing director for the Christian-based nonprofit organization.

Gallagher went on to church/YMCA employment in South Georgia and later Columbus in West Georgia.

He began working exclusively for the YMCA three years ago, when he came on staff at the Georgia Mountains YMCA, which is based at 2455 Howard Road.

"For me, it's been a life dream to be a CEO," said Gallagher, who is married and has four children, ages 4-16. "I can't wait to get up in the morning and come to work. I can't wait to see how we can help people. That's my mission."

In the past couple of years, the Georgia Mountains YMCA has reached agreements in White and Lumpkin counties to run parks and recreation programs.

The YMCA was poised to present a plan in August to take over aspects of Hall County Parks and Leisure Services. But then county officials spoke of plans to run the department on nearly half the funds it had been getting.

The YMCA responded in a statement that it didn't wish to compete with the county.

"The YMCA's intentions have always been to simply help the county and the community to be a partner not a competition," Gallagher said at the time.

The Georgia Mountains YMCA does appears poised to expand into South Hall.

Oakwood City Council voted Sept. 12 to move forward with the organization, beginning Oct. 1, to develop parks and recreation programs in the city.

"We've still got some issues to work out," such as membership fees, City Manager Stan Brown said at the time.

"What we'll try to work on during (the next) three months is try to define what kind of programs will be a good fit for our community."

The agreement goes before the YMCA board of directors for its approval later this month.

"Any way we can fill the gap, we want to fill it," Gallagher said.