New leadership comes to McGaw YMCA


Source: McGaw YMCA

Mark A. Dennis Jr.

Paige Leskin, Assistant City Editor

New leadership is coming to the McGaw YMCA this summer in the form of well-known Evanston pastor Mark A. Dennis Jr.

Dennis was selected to replace Bill Geiger as the organization’s CEO and president, YMCA Board of Directors chair Dan Israelite announced last week. 

“Mark is a seasoned, skilled and compassionate, visionary leader, proven throughout the Evanston community and beyond,” Israelite said in the news release. “He will greatly advance the McGaw YMCA’s mission of strengthening the foundation of the Evanston community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility.”

Dennis’ attention to respecting differences among people will help him lead the YMCA, he told The Daily. In line with the goals of the organization, Dennis said he wants to be able to bring a diverse group of people together under the same group that will eventually build a better community.

When Geiger notified the board of his resignation 18 months ago, Israelite and the Board hired search consultant group Moriarty/Fox, Inc. to lead the search for a successor. The firm hunt started broadly, including possible candidates from across the country. The firm posted job descriptions on websites and collected dozens of contacts and resumes.

The board whittled down its list of more than 80 applicants to eventually pick Dennis, a name many board members were already familiar with. Dennis has worked closely with the YMCA in the past, helping develop programs like Evanston Cradle to Career and Project SOAR, initiatives aimed at benefiting the whole city. 

Dennis has gained popularity in the Evanston community as a senior pastor at the Second Baptist Church, 1717 Benson Ave., for 10 years and counting. Along with this position, his creativity and intuitiveness make him a great fit to direct the YMCA, Maree Bullock said.

“Mark colors out of the box,” she said. “He’s a true dynamic, innovative leader. He knows how to compel people to action.”

Bullock got to know Dennis when he was president of The Alford Group, a consulting firm geared toward fund development for non-profit organizations. Bullock, the wife of the late founder of the firm, said Dennis’ energetic nature allowed him to help clients reach their fundraising goals and create effective programs.

These skills in finance, Israelite said, are some of the reasons Dennis stood out from the competition.

“He’s both youth-centric and Evanston-centric and able to raise capital,” Israelite said. “It’s our key activity for Evanston over the next five to 10 years.”

In the past, Dennis has led successful collaborations among different organizations in the Evanston community, Israelite said.

Israelite highlighted Dennis’ work in fostering a partnership between his church and Evanston’s Beth Emet The Free Synagogue. The relationship has helped the two congregations to explore other perspectives in their own city, he said.

Dennis called himself a “visionary leader,” who plans to listen to those in Evanston to hone his dream for the YMCA.

“I will articulate a vision that people can claim themselves,” he said. “It’s important that people have a chance to get a glimpse of something they haven’t seen.”

Dennis will officially take over the new position when Geiger steps down in mid-July.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @paigeleskin