PORTAGE | Dave Kasarda grew up with the Portage Township YMCA.
Now, the executive director, who has been a mainstay at the Portage facility for 28 years, is leaving the nest and taking a position as director of operations for the LaPorte County Family YMCA.
"This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make, to leave Portage," Kasarda said, adding he decided to take the new opportunity as a personal challenge to help the LaPorte YMCA grow.
Kasarda's last day at the Portage YMCA will be April 26.
Kasarda started at the Portage YMCA in 1985, as a 17-year-old high school student, lifeguarding, then became aquatics director. He was promoted to program director in 1990 and to executive director in 2001.
"They hired me into this position to grow this organization and we grew it. I say 'we' because I have worked with the most amazing individuals here," said Kasarda. "But, it is time to help others."
During Kasarda's tenure, the YMCA moved from a building on Evergreen Avenue to a storefront on Willowcreek Road. Officials purchased the former Off the Wall racquetball club in the early 1990s and six years ago undertook a building project that more than doubled the size of the facility.
Membership has grown from 400 to 1,800 and Kasarda said the YMCA and its various programs serve about 15,000 people annually.
Those accomplishments, however, aren't his fondest memories, Kasarda said.
"It is literally the child that just walked in and smiled at me. It is the people who come up to me and say, 'You taught me to swim.' That is what I will always hold in my heart," he said
The Portage YMCA will conduct a national search for its new executive director.
Kasarda said he will stay in Portage with his wife and two children and hopes to stay active in the community.
"I will always have Portage in my heart. But there is more out there. I want to build more Ys. I have a drive to continue to help people. I could not be more honored that I have been able to lead this organization for 12 years," he said.