Home People Profile Bham People Terri Harvill’s First-Hand Experience at YMCA Led to Position of Impact

Terri Harvill’s First-Hand Experience at YMCA Led to Position of Impact

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Terri Harvill, chief social impact officer, YMCA of Greater Birmingham
By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times

As the chief social impact officer, YMCA of Greater Birmingham, Terri Harvill, began preparation for her career long before she even knew.

She served as a summer day camp counselor at the original YMCA facility on 4th Avenue which was built specifically for African Americans and by community leaders,” she said. “When children came we left with a sense of pride. We left knowing we could be anything we wanted to be. We had doctors, lawyer’s judges and role models in that small YMCA without air conditioning in the gym; yet we had community that strengthened everybody that came in there.”

Harvill got a first-hand experience of the YMCA’s mission.

“I was a product of the YMCA Program called Youth in Government. Back in the day it was called ‘Try High Y.’ There are thousands of people in this community, Black and white, who came through that program. It teaches people hands on processes of government, legislative and judicial.”

She was always excited about the legislative sessions because her father, Charles Howard Nevett, a Democrat, served as a representative for two terms. She also got a chance to participate in a mock program that gave students an inside look at the legislative process.

“Can you imagine teenagers getting a chance to travel to Montgomery and take over the state and senate house. We had a chance to write and debate our bills on the senate and house floors,” Harvill recalled.

She learned at an early age “in order to make a change in your community, there’s an avenue to do it and its call legislation and us all can be a part of it.”

Harvill said the program still exists for young people and students get to participate in mock trials.

“They get to play the role of an attorney, witnesses and they get to decipher what laws are applicable to their case. This will help them develop communication skills, problem solving skills, and self-pride so when they are in real life situations that won’t result in a gun, but they will understand it’s ok to have difference yet communicate them verbally. It’s ok to agree to disagree and walk away to live.”

The YMCA’s programs shouldn’t be seen as after school care because it’s “absolutely not,” she said. “These programs have saved children lives.”

The executive said she has seen an abundance of students from kindergarten up until college graduation who have gone through the programs.

“Some of them still call me before they go into a job interview because they possibly don’t have a family support system. I have always been in a position to understand that this work is more than what it seems to be on the surface.”

When most people think of the YMCA they think about a gym to work out or to swim, she said. “A workout gym was never in my career path until 20 years later. It had nothing to do with why I work here it was always about helping families, helping children.”

Doing More

Harvill, who celebrated her 50th birthday on May 30, grew up in Fairfield, AL and attended Holy Family School from kindergarten through high school. “My father was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Fairfield for 21 years. He was one of the first radio pastors in the city at WENN 107.7 Radio Station.”

Her mother was a teacher who has since retired from Rutledge Middle School in the Midfield.

“Most of the adults in my life were with her educators or teachers or influencers of that nature,” Harvill said. “When I would say I work at the YMCA they would ask well when you are getting a real job because you certainly didn’t go to college to work at the gym.”

“I knew I wanted to help people but, I knew they [my parents] didn’t make enough money for what I wanted to do with my life. The more I got into understanding the operations of nonprofits I realized it’s a real business and real possibilities.”

Growing up, Harvill said she saw many in the older generation consistently have diabetes and high blood pressure which is why she has a passion for health and wellness in communities.  because growing up I saw the older generation consistently have diabetes and high blood pressure.  “One of my good friends, Jerri Haslem, who is a health educator, always said ‘diabetes and blood pressure are not a sorority you have to join.”

“[Diabetes and high blood pressure] seemed inevitable. Because everybody’s grandparents took high blood pressure medicine, everybody had sugar. I didn’t know what diabetes was until I was grown” and learned “you don’t have to shoot up insulin for the rest of your life” by making simple lifestyle changes.

In 1995, Harvill graduated from Talladega College with a public administration degree with a criminal justice minor.

During the summers while pursuing her undergraduate degree, she would return home to work at the YMCA.

Working as a summer camp counselor was supposed to be for one summer and Harvill would go into politics a few years later.

“A few years still hasn’t come yet however, I have been able to be a viable part of community and influence how legislation affects our citizens,” Harvill said. “Therefore, we have a chance to have a voice when lawmakers are looking at childcare or programs that will help our young people succeed. I have a seat at the table in a different way.”

In 2007, Harvill obtained her executive master’s degree from Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts in Organization Management with a concentration in leadership.

Asked what makes her feel more accomplished since working at the agency, she replied “seeing young people and adults who are now contributing to our communities and giving back.”

Be Who You Are

In addition to working at the Y, Harvill is a published author, speaker and a licensed minister.

“Sometimes we have to code switch and be one person in one place and another in the other. I just know how to be in all those places. I’m a firm believer that when you show up where you are, you should show up. If that’s not good enough, you may not need to be there.”

Harvill’s book is titled “Kerins Khronicles Life Lessons of a Four Year Old” which was inspired by her now 10-year-old daughter Kerin.

“Kerin used to say things that made me as an adult reflect and think. At some point I just started journaling these occasions as they would happen. Every now and then I would share them on Facebook. People started to inbox me about then and I had a professor from England to reach out and say, ‘I really enjoy these chronicles you put out but, you should stop randomly putting them out and put them in a collection because what you’re describing is a book.’”

Every Khronicle starts with a story and ends with the lesson mom learned.

To decompress from a busy schedule Harvill likes to travel to tropical countries and countries that require a passport “but I love to see the beauty of our 50 states,” she said.

“I love driving for long hours at a time, it’s relaxing for me,” she added, saying the longest drive has been from Birmingham to Columbus, Ohio

Work Across Birmingham

Harvill’s position with the Y never has the same day twice,” she said.

Some days Harvill may be out in the community doing giveaways, speaking to students or senior citizens, or attending meetings.

“I don’t have a boring day. Some days I have to do three to four wardrobe changes. Some days I may be in tennis shoes, getting sweaty, outside playing with children in the morning, then in a meeting with the CEO of a company three hours later, then at city hall two hours after that,” she said.

Harvill also added that her duties include responsibility for Jefferson County and Shelby County. The YMCA has seven membership branches, two youth centers, and one resident’s camp.

“This role, for me is exciting because I believe it’s a culmination of what I have done throughout my career which is really getting at the heart of community and identifying inequities and gaps,” she said.

In her current role, she works with local governments on diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and with health inequities.

“We are physical beings but if we don’t have our mind and spirit right, that body is going to fall no matter how much you work out. I’m a firm believer in our mission to put Christian principles into practice through our programs. That’s what I bought into 31 years ago.”