Hometown Hero: Adam Cardwell epitomizes the YMCA mission

Published 12:05 am Thursday, July 14, 2022

Adam Cardwell admitted that he never thought he would end up working for the YMCA.
But once he started, he realized he would likely never leave.
“There’s just something about the YMCA and all the great things we can do here to serve our communities and our members and program participants,” said Cardwell, who began his new role as the associate executive director at the Jerry Long Family YMCA in April. “We have the chance to leave a lasting impact on people through our mission-driven work. And that’s what working here is all about. I love it.”
Chances are good that you have seen Cardwell strolling through the facility greeting members and program participants or walking the grounds during the Clemmons Famer’s Market on Saturdays, or maybe even as the military man in the Clemmons Village People’s rousing rendition of “YMCA” during the 220th birthday party for Clemmons that was held recently.
Chances are also good that you also saw Cardwell with a grin as wide as the Grand Canyon.
He seems to have perma-grin.
“That’s just from being back here again,” Cardwell said. “I love being back in this community. Clemmons is a fun place to be. The staff here is great to work with and there is never a dull moment. Our members are so supportive of all our community activities and events and that all comes down to the relationships we have with them. I felt like I established a great bond with them when I was here before running the wellness programs and it has definitely carried over.”
Cardwell spent four years at the Jerry Long Family YMCA previously in the role of senior program director, Retention of Wellness Operations.
That meant he oversaw various fitness programs and initiatives such as LIVESTRONG, personal training, specialty training, boot camps, community integrated health programs like Know Your Numbers, Wake Forest Baptist Health (WFBH) By Design, WFBH Exert, YMCA diabetes prevention, youth wellness programs, membership retention for the branch and member engagement.
That doesn’t even take into account the staff he supervised and trained, volunteers he recruited, and money he raised for the Annual Giving Campaign.
Sounds exhausting, right?
But for Cardwell, it’s just part of his role where his job is to wear many hats and juggle numerous balls simultaneously.
And for a fitness buff, who said he still finds time to regularly exercise 4-5 times every week, it’s just a normal day’s work.
“It all comes down to our mission, which is to help all people reach their God-given potential in spirit, mind and body,” Cardwell said. “I’ve been fortunate to land in a job that is so community-oriented and focused and strives to help people. I don’t think I ever thought of the YMCA as a career, and now I can’t really think of my life without it.”
The small-town vibe of Clemmons may suit Cardwell perfectly. He grew up in Walnut Cove in Stokes County, learned to swim at the Stokes Family YMCA, and attended South Stokes High School, where his passion for fitness began. He ran cross country and track-and-field at South Stokes and even was part of a state championship 4×800 meter relay team. He originally had designs to run in college but said that a negative experience during his senior year made him change direction.
He went to Rockingham Community College and got his associate of arts degree before transferring to Appalachian State, where he graduated with a degree in health promotion with a minor in exercise science.
“I really developed a love for the outdoors when I was at Appalachian,” Cardwell said. “I did a lot of hiking and snowboarding. Even today, if you can’t find me at work, I’m probably on a trail somewhere or in a pool or riding my bike. It’s always been a way for me to get away.”
Cardwell planned to do an internship in the Washington, D.C., area after college but ended up getting a last-minute paid internship in Winston-Salem with Horizons. It was also during that internship that he started working part-time at the Robinhood Family YMCA.
“It was an instant connection to the atmosphere and the community of people who were there,” Cardwell said. “After about a year, a full-time position opened up there as a program coordinator and I jumped at it. Horizons had told me they wanted to hire me full time but went through some budget cuts and that was no longer an option, unfortunately. But what that did was lead me to my career in the YMCA.”
Cardwell was responsible for youth and teen programs, adult wellness and LIVESTRONG at the Robinhood branch, which also included teaching active older adult fitness classes and doing personal training.
“LIVESTRONG, which I’ve continued to be a part of, is very near and dear to me because my father passed away from cancer several years ago,” he said. “And working with the active older classes was always a lot of fun.”
He left the Robinhood branch in 2016 for his first stint at Jerry Long, holding three different full-time positions in the health and wellness arena. Once COVID struck in 2020, he took on another new role overseeing all the wellness programs at Jerry Long, the Davie Family YMCA and the Yadkin Family YMCA. He also had roles overseeing wellness programs at the Robinhood branch, the William G. White branch, and partner branches at Novant Health Medical Center and the Kernersville Medical Center as well as managing all aspects of marketing for group exercise initiatives and wellness for the entire YMCA of Northwest North Carolina Association.
Now back at the Jerry Long Family YMCA, Cardwell is still pursuing new programs and initiatives that he knows will benefit the Clemmons and YMCA community.
“In addition to my responsibilities overseeing branch operations, I also serve as the chair for the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) Committee, serve on the African-American Resource Network (AARN) Communications Committee and am the project manager for the Y-USA Boys and Young Men of Color (BYMOC) Initiative,” Cardwell said. “And I feel like I’m most proud of my work right now with the BYMOC Initiative. Our work with that has been recognized by the YMCA national office and we are striving to raise $37.5 million dollars to sustain. I’m also part of the national task force for that. What we do is offer memberships to teens in middle school or high school who are in certain risk categories. We get referrals from school guidance officers and social workers to help us identify them. They have to be actively attending school, in the foster care system, or at risk of not graduating or dropping out of school. They also must come from low-income, single-parent households or also can be going through Social-Emotional Learning (SEL). We have a goal of reaching 300 students in our association and right now, we have a little more than 150. I’m very proud to be a part of this. This is the good work that keeps making me want to come back every day.”
Cardwell is also gearing up for the next Mud Run in September, a fun event he has been the race director for since 2018, and Bright Beginnings, another program that serves the youth of the community by helping them shop for school clothes and supplies with a volunteer.
“These families don’t really have the money to spend on new clothes and school supplies, so we match up the students with a volunteer who takes them out and helps them pick out the necessities for the first day of school,” Cardwell said. “This is another program I am super passionate about.”

With everything that Cardwell has his hands on, he knows there is still more to accomplish.
“I’d really like to continue to build our base of volunteers and team members so we can continue to reach as many members of our community as possible and really take everything to the next level,” Cardwell said. “It comes down to relationships and finding people who have really bought in to our mission. That’s what it’s all about for me. That’s why working for the YMCA is special.”

“Hometown Hero” is a new series that will periodically appear in the paper. Have a “Hometown Hero” you’d like to nominate? Email Marc Pruitt at marc.pruitt@clemmonscourier.net.