The Y is a place of firsts for people from all walks of life; the first personal training session, the first swimming lesson, the first day of camp. But what many may be surprised to discover is that the Y ranks near the top in the nation for another major moment: the first job. For many teens and young adults, the Y serves as a springboard into the professional world. Northwest Family YMCA Lifeguard Timothy Colpitts, 20, shares what his job has meant for him and his future since his first day more than five years ago when he was 16.
YMCA of Austin (The Y): What’s your Y story?
Timothy Colpitt (TC): Honestly, I didn’t have much of one when I was younger. I was 15 and looking for a lifeguard class when I stumbled upon an opening at the Y. I took the course and, after a week, I was asked to come in for an interview. We got all the paperwork done so that I could start working on my 16th birthday. I was so excited!
The Y: So, how long have you been working at the Y?
TC: I’ve been working at this branch since June 2013. It’s been my first and only job ever since.
The Y: What inspired you to become a lifeguard?
TC: I knew I wanted to be a lifeguard because I grew up around the pool. Every single one of my [older] sisters were lifeguards, and it just looked like a really fun thing to do. It almost seemed like a rite of passage.
The Y: The YMCA is the nation’s leading provider of first-time jobs, and many of those employees are under the age of 18. As a young person, how do you feel about the Y offering impactful employment opportunities to teens and young adults?
TC: I think the opportunities the Y offers its younger workforce are invaluable and important. I grew up following the Y Core Values, but I wasn’t much of a social person. Being employed at the Y so young allowed me to have interactions with people from all walks of life, and has helped me grow into the person I am today.
The Y: It seems like there is never a shortage of lifeguard job openings. Why did you choose the Y?
TC: Being here is less like a job and more of a community. I could work at a neighborhood pool or somewhere else that may pay more, but I wouldn’t get to truly connect with the many people who have made my job so rewarding. Here at the Y, I get to know the pool regulars, my swim lesson students, and other members and I can genuinely connect with them. I get to learn about their Y story, and it makes me feel even more connected to my job and the Y community. I can’t get that anywhere else.
The Y: The Northwest Lifeguard staff is one of the youngest in the association, and it’s a noticeably tight-knit one, also. What’s it like working together with so many young people?
TC: We just click. I think the Northwest Aquatics staff does a great job at establishing a family culture in addition to being a professional environment. We hold in-services each month, as required by law, and those are like family reunions. We learn a lot of skills in the water and stay updated on new policies, but it always ends with us going to eat together and hanging out afterward.
The Y: In your opinion, why is lifeguarding an ideal job opportunity for young people in particular?
TC: Regardless of what you want to do in the future, this is a great stepping stone. Even though we’re young, there’s a mutual understanding at our branch that we’re doing our job and that we take it very seriously. We’re here to serve, but we’re also here to become more social and to become the most genuine versions of ourselves.
The Y: You’ve got 5 years of lifeguarding under your belt. What has been the most rewarding experience you’ve had during your employment?
TC: Sometimes I teach swim lessons. During one of the classes, I taught a kid who was terrified of floating on his back without someone being there to hold him up. After a tough class, I didn’t see him in lessons for a while, and I was a little disappointed. When I finally saw him again, he was swimming confidently like a fish! It was so awesome to see because I remember when he couldn’t even float out of fear. Now, he was doing the butterfly. I’d like to think I played a role in helping him get to that point.
The Y: As a “lifelong” Y employee, what would you say to teens and young adults who may be looking for a new job as a lifeguard?
TC: I’ve been taught the Y’s Core Values [Caring, Honesty, Respect, Responsibility] my entire life, and I didn’t even know they were the Y’s until I walked through the Northwest branch’s doors. When I became an employee here, it made me appreciate those values even more. Regardless of our age, our responsibly as lifeguards is a serious one that everyone can respect. Watching out for people and making sure everyone is safe in the water is the best job ever. I couldn’t have imagined how much this job has impacted me, but I’m glad it has and I’m sure it will continue to do so in the future.