Ernest Lamour has a lot of memories of the of his childhood. He remembers the smell of the chlorine, the noise of children coming in after school, and groups of adults coming in to play ball during their lunch hour.
Today, Lamour can hear the dribble of the basketball and practically smell that signature YMCA chlorine smell from his office. He has served as CEO of the YMCA since 2010 and first came on board as Senior Program Director in December 2008.
Many of the friends that Lamour made growing up at the YMCA are still his friends today and while the look of the YMCA has changed in recent years, some of the faces are the same people who influenced Lamour during his childhood.
“Horace Bryan is the facilities director here. Bobby Fischer teaches fitness classes. He and Horace stayed on top of me, kept me out of trouble. It really was a village helping to raise a kid,” Lamour said. “I never forget where I came from. It was important to come back.”
Born in Haiti, Lamour moved to Stamford with his father and three older siblings at the age of eight. Growing up in a rough area of town, Lamour remembers seeing drug deals taking place near his home and shootings happening just outside his window. The YMCA was a place to escape all of that.
“My father is a very religious man, very strict. His emphasis was to make sure you get a good education and follow the Lord,” Lamour said. “Growing up, there were only three places I was allowed to go: school, church, and the Y.”
Lamour graduated from and attended Southern Connecticut State University. After college, he returned to Stamford and worked at the as camp director and director of youth sports.
In 2008, Lamour met his predecessor at the YMCA, Mark Ketley, through a board member and began to talk about the situation at Stamford's YMCA. With the YMCA shut down, Ketley began to talk with Lamour about coming back to the Y as they worked to bring it back to life.
“He brought me down here and it truly was a ghost town,” Lamour said. “After that, Mark didn’t have to do much convincing.”
Coming on board as Senior Program Director, Lamour had plenty of ideas for revitalizing the programs, but finances in those early months proved a serious challenge.
“I was coming from a program where if you needed new basketballs, you could just put in a request to buy new ones,” Lamour said. “Now I was calling people and begging for their old basketballs.”
Through a partnership with the Board of Education, the YMCA established an after-school program, 21st Century, with that gave students a wide range of after school activities at Rippowam and weekend programs ta the YMCA.
“It really gave students a chance to get ahead,” Lamour said. “It also showed those 300 students and their families that the Y was still here.”
After Ketley left the YMCA for a position at the Wilton Teen Center, Lamour stepped into the CEO position.
Today, it’s hard not to be optimistic at the Stamford YMCA. Programs are growing and thriving, , and donations are up. Lamour takes time away from his desk to get to know the children and families that come by the YMCA — often stopping in to ask children about their day, inquire about how they’re doing in school, or playing a little basketball.
“It’s taken hard work, but every day is a good day….I learned how to play ball here, I learned how to swim here,” Lamour said. “Under my watch, this Y will never fail, this is my home.”