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Jerry Gooden received the 2018 Robert C. Knox Jr. YMCA Distinguished Leadership Award at the YMCA of Greater Hartford’s 166th Annual Meeting on April 24, 2019.

This award honors the memory of the late Robert C. Knox Jr., a Hartford insurance executive who was a key volunteer leader and contributor to our YMCA in the 1960s and 1970s. It is the highest tribute our YMCA pays to its volunteer leaders, and it honors those who exemplify the ideals of our YMCA with their faithful dedication to preserving the responsibilities and opportunities our Y has to offer.

Jerry Gooden’s background aligns with Robert C. Knox Jr.’s path. Gooden is a retired senior vice president for Aetna who has served the YMCA of Greater Hartford for more than a decade. Gooden has served in many roles, including as board chair, executive search committee lead, and on the finance and governance committees. He has also served as regional chair for the YMCA of the USA Association Assemblies, and on the Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth and Family Center’s Board of Advisors. Two years ago, Gooden even traveled to South Africa, furthering the mission of the Y by helping branches there with strategic planning and programming. Gooden said he traveled to Johannesburg, Cape Town and beyond with other volunteers because “most of the Ys are in the Townships in the poorer parts of South Africa. Kids are kids everywhere. They need to be engaged, challenged and loved. I saw for myself the impact a Y can have anywhere in the world.” 

Of his time at the Y, Gooden said, “When I think about “Y guys,” I’m really wouldn’t consider myself a Y guy. I didn’t grow up in the Y and didn’t really have that history of Y experiences that many people have. But in retrospect, I think I’ve actually become a ‘Y person,’ because once you join the Y, it seeps into your body and goes into your blood stream, and it’s just part of your DNA. And the Y has indeed become part of my DNA.”

In addition to his service to the Greater Hartford YMCA, Mr. Gooden was an integral part of the creation of our community-focused Wilson-Gray YMCA on Albany Avenue in the North End of Hartford. “The CEO of the YMCA of Greater Hartford at the time, Kevin Washington, had a vision of creating a branch in the North End,” he recalls. “I grew up in San Diego, California, in a neighborhood that was a lot like the North End. The neighborhood had many of the same issues and challenges, so I felt I could provide a specific and unique perspective. I saw the north Hartford Y as an opportunity.”

Gooden's passion for service was inspired by growing up in the church and as a child of hardworking parents. They instilled in him the importance of hard work and a strong commitment to helping others. At age 23, he became a Big Brother to a 10-year-old boy named James, a relationship that has lasted more than 35 years.

After graduating from the University of San Diego, Gooden went to work for Aetna Life Insurance Company, where he spent his entire career. That dedication and loyalty shines through in his work for the YMCA, and we are proud to honor him with this award.

YMCA of Greater Hartford President and CEO Harold Sparrow, who Gooden helped to hire when our Association was in search of a new executive, said, “If you’ve ever been around Jerry long enough, you’ll hear all about his family and his son J.T. because he’s just a solid family man. When he talks about his family his eyes just light up. And when you think about leadership, when you think about integrity, when you talk about personal exemplifications of the ideals of the YMCA, you see it in Jerry.”