By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — It was kid stuff that first drew Crissy Jache, 41, to the YMCA.
And from time to time, you can still find the new director of the Torigian Family YMCA in Peabody mixing it up with the kids, including her 9-year-old son, Eli, playing a hectic version of Simon Says on a giant electronic board in the playroom. With all the running back and forth, the game soon has everyone trying to catch their breath, she says.
Fact is Jache’s responsibilities have her playing Simon Says all over Peabody, running and promoting an organization with 11,000 members and a building opened in 2006 that is already undergoing a 5,000-square-foot expansion.
“We’re bursting at the seams,” Jache said.
It’s a change for a woman born in Maine, who can say, “I’ve lived in every New England state.” Most of her growing up, however, was done off the beaten track in Vermont. She attended U-32 High School in Montpelier. “It sounded like a submarine to us, too,” she said with a laugh.
It was small, with fewer than 100 in each grade, a place where students had few secrets from one another.
“You called the teachers by their first name,” she said.
She delayed college. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.” Her interest in kids led her to a part-time position at the YMCA in Goffstown, N.H. Before long, she was running the after-school program. Next, she was hired to be the child care director in Londonderry.
“You just feel you’re making a difference,” she said of her interest in young people. “You feel that you’re that positive person in a child’s life. ... And you see someone develop before your eyes.”
It’s a God-given gift to be able to work with kids, Jache believes.
An increased involvement with the Y sent her to college and a satellite program of Springfield College.
“I wanted to broaden what I was doing,” she said.
Eventually, she moved up to an administrative position. That brought her to the YMCA in Malden, then to the North Shore, where she worked four years in Danvers. Meanwhile, she and husband Richie have lived in Swampscott.
“The Y is a family,” she said. “As people are coming through the lobby ... you get to know their likes and dislikes. If a husband has been ill. If a daughter had a baby.”
Her duties as director fall increasingly in the sphere of public relations. She involves herself in local institutions like the schools and the Peabody Institute Library. Fundraising is also a part of the job, along with something she seems to do as a matter of course — selling the advantages of the YMCA.
Membership fees run from $32.50 to $64.74 a month, Jache said. They open the door to indoor and outdoor pools — deep enough for diving; exercise machines, some with personal TVs; a basketball court and indoor track; saunas and a whirlpool; spin and Zumba classes; and after-school and day camps.
“We want this to be accessible to everyone,” she said, explaining that financial assistance is available.
The modern YMCA, Jache said, has adapted to the competition of for-profit gyms. Join the Peabody YMCA, and you’ll have access to YMCAs everywhere. Consequently, the Peabody Y, which opened 60 years ago, weathered both the economic slowdown and competition from the massive Lynch-Van Otterloo YMCA on the Salem/Marblehead line.
“We had a slight dip in membership,” Jache said, “but it’s starting to come back.”
In addition to dues, the Y is supported through donations and grants, Jache said. It isn’t all about kids, either. Sure, there are swimming lessons for the little ones, but there’s also a group of older women self-described as the Aquadivas. “They come in for winter aerobics.”
The Peabody Y is busy even in the off hours before working people begin showing up at the treadmills and stationary bicycles. Yet, Jache is eager to see still more people. For her, the place is irresistible. The only thing stopping people is a reluctance she overcame a long time ago.
“The hardest part to joining,” she said, “is coming in the front door.”