Celebrating Brenda Hernandez: A Heart for Service

Published On: April 4, 2024Categories: Blog, Community & Culture, From Our Neighborhood

Brenda Hernandez will be wrapping up her YMCA career this month after nearly 22 years. From her work at the Northwest Family YMCA Welcome Center to her recent tenure as Donor Relations Manager in the Metro Office, Brenda has embodied the Y’s spirit of community service. During a recent conversation, Brenda shared some of the insights gleaned over two decades. We all owe it to ourselves to invest a few minutes to hear her words of wisdom.

How did you begin working for the Y?

We had moved from Del Rio, and we were hurting. My boys were young, and I remember passing the Y and telling my boys, “The Y is supposed to be there to support families, and we’re going to go there one day.” I am a woman of faith, and I believed it was God just drawing me to that place to do his mission, do his work. And I strongly believe, 22 years later, I feel like I’ve been able to be the hands and feet of Jesus so many times.

You have a degree in accounting. Why did you choose to stay with the Y rather than work in the corporate world? 

My background is auditing and accounting. I did that right after college all the way up to having a second child. When I came to the Y, I didn’t make the money I made being an accountant, but it just it felt good. It felt like that’s what I was supposed to be doing. I never looked back. We were a Y family. All three of my boys worked at the Y, and [my husband] Richard volunteered at the Y all the time.

What was your favorite part about working at a Y center?

Meeting people, learning their story, getting to know them. It’s really special when you get to know people so well that they come to you and share things that are going on in their lives. You are a part of that, part of that love. That’s something about working at a branch that you can never replace.

What have you enjoyed about working in the Development Department at Metro?

Being able to interact with the donors and talk to them and personally thank them for what they are doing, so that we can continue to support the YMCA and support the communities that we work in. I’m blessed, I’ve been able to see both sides of it. I get to share with them the impact that they are making, and I’ve seen the impact personally, so I can tell them what their donations are doing in the community. Being able to share both sides of that is a gift.

Is there any one memory that stands out as your favorite?

You know, since I have announced my retirement, so many faces and names have flooded into my mind. I think my all-time favorite was our service for the homeless at Northwest. Working with (board member) Roland Mason and Walmart giving us a grant. We collaborated with a church that was already working with the homeless, and we brought them in so they could take hot showers. And we would sit down and eat with them and talk to them and be there for them. And we even had somebody come and give them haircuts. I would love to see that get started again. Even after I retire, I hope to be part of that.

What about your most challenging times at the Y?

Moments I remember are ones when you get a phone call in the middle of the night from a member saying her husband passed away, saying his wife passed away. That they thought to call me, to share that moment, and for me to be with them and support them. I can’t tell you how many funerals I’ve been able to attend. But it’s a privilege. I think about the footsteps that those people left in the Y that will always be there, the impact they left in that building.

What are some of your proudest memories?

I think some of the moments when I watch our lifeguards go to work when someone has a heart attack, or there’s a near-drowning, or an accident in the gym. We develop some great young people. And you think about what we are teaching those young people, to carry someone’s life with them. Many times when something happens they’re our first responders, doing CPR or taking care of a cut, because it can take a while for the ambulances to get there. Watching them work gives me so much hope. They are special.

What have you learned from the diversity of the Y community?

The Northwest Y serves a lot of families from India and China, maybe they work in technology. And some of them haven’t been in the country very long, and they’re looking for a community. As much as they learn from us, we learn about them too. We have to recognize the differences in cultures. Maybe at the pool where there are different customs for how a woman should dress when men are around. Or in our membership policies, because in some cultures it’s common for extended family to live together in one household. Or even asking for assistance. I remember one man, I believe he was Middle Eastern. I could see that, for him, to ask for help was incredibly hard. But that’s why we’re here to do this work.

What do you think makes a great Y Changemaker?

You have to have a sense of gratitude, compassion and care for people. The technical stuff we can teach. But I can’t teach someone to care. I’d rather hire someone who doesn’t know the computer skills, but they have passion and they care about people.




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