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New Director Brings Energy & Connection to a Coastal Georgia YMCA Branch

Aug 6 2014

by Anna Ferguson Hall

Several years ago, Zerik Samples looked up, down the path he was walking in his life. On the horizon, he didn’t like what he saw. The life he was leading wasn’t moving in a positive direction, and he needed a change. Fast.

“I looked at myself and knew how I was living, wasn’t how I needed to live,” he said. “I wasn’t healthy. My eating habits were out of control. I had gained a lot of weight, become obese even.”
Samples quickly stepped off the road he was wandering, and made a complete right turn, shedding the errors of his ways and adopting healthy living behaviors, by surrounding himself with inspirational role models and developing a strong sense of positive thinking.

Now 27-years-old, Samples continues to strive to be the best he can be, and his efforts are paying off. In June, Samples was named as the new executive branch director of the McIntosh County YMCA, replacing Haley Hill, who left her post after two years to take on the executive branch director role on Tybee Island.

Samples is quick to note that his past struggles with living a healthful lifestyle are a key reason he does what he does. For more than three years, he has been a part of the YMCA family, originally taking on posts at the YMCA branch in Savannah. There, he worked with students and families as the 21st Century School Program Coordinator, then with donors as the youth grant development administrator.

In his current and previous positions, Samples hasn’t ignored his past, but instead embraces the uphill battle he climbed and uses it as daily inspiration.

“When people first come into the YMCA, they may feel intimidated or scared, thinking they can’t reach the goals they want to set for themselves,” Samples said. “If you have a lot of weight to loss, or a long way to go to become healthy, it can be hard to take that first step. That’s why I love my job. I love that I can say, ‘Look, I know where you’ve been. I’ve been there. I am doing it, and you can, too. Let’s go at it together.’ It’s crazy how ready I am to take on this role and help be that voice of inspiration for our community.”

As much as healthful living is a key to Samples’ passion for his line of work, so, too, is promoting education. Having earned a master’s degree in Adult Education and Community Leadership from Atlantic Armstrong State University, as well as a Public and Community Health undergraduate degree from the same institution, the Brunswick native is hoping to instill a deep respect for learning within the community. Education, he said, is the key to opening all of life’s doors.

“My mom is a teacher, and she is a great role model for me. She made sure education was foremost our lives. Here, I see education as our biggest challenge,” he said. “People parish for lack of knowledge. I want people to come in, find out about our programming, find out how they can afford to be a part of our family. I want people to ask us questions, so we can help them find answers.”

Samples, though, is not one to shy away from asking questions, or asking for help. That much has been shown in his first task at the YMCA, in which Samples and his team- “Who have been so welcoming and are amazing to work with,” Samples said- collected boxes filled with donated school supplies. Samples and staff went to a spattering of area businesses, asking for donations to help send some 180 under-privileged students back to school with new backpacks and the tools they’ll need to succeed in the classroom. And those businesses responded in a big way.

“I mean, look at all this,” Samples said, pointing to a table in his office covered in pencils, crayons, backpacks, and more. “We asked, and we received. Now, we get to give it out and help students. This donation drive wasn’t only about getting backpacks and pencils, though. It is all about making children who would otherwise go to school without those supplies, now feel included, so they can feel like they are like the other kids. That feeling will put them on a good path right from the start.”

Ultimately, Samples wants to see the YMCA become a central part of the community. In his dream world, the YMCA is the gathering place for families and individuals to share in their daily experiences and connect with community resources to improve their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The YMCA should be a communal ground for inspiration and information, he said.

“My goal is to make this YMCA the community center,” Samples said. “It is not a church. It is not only a fitness hub. It is not only after school programming and summer camps. This is a place to help people move along in their lifetime, to move in a positive direction and become the person they are meant to become.”

For more information about the YMCA of Coastal Georgia, call 912-437-9622 or visit ymcaofcoastalga.org.

– By Anna Hall (Originally published in The Darien News, August 6, 2014)

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