Merrimack Valley YMCA staff and volunteers from the US and the Albay YMCA preparing for Coral Planting off the coast of Legazpi City.

Merrimack Valley YMCA Chief Operating Officer Claudia Jin Soo Hoo has been active in the Y since childhood. Starting with preschool programs at the Andover/North Andover branch, her family embraced the Y experience as a center of community. Through the years, she learned to swim at the Y, took many sports and enrichment classes, made close friends, and volunteered at the Y.

Her most impactful YMCA memories are connected to the Y’s camping program. She started at age 10 attending Camp Nokomis for Girls on Bear Island on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Among her roles at camp was counselor-in-training, cabin counselor, unit head, and assistant waterfront director. “I learned leadership skills, independence, and loved being part of a strong team of smart and caring women at camp,” she said.

After graduating from Penn State University, she was hired at the Lawrence YMCA as Aquatics Director in 2006. An 18-year YMCA employee, she has a passion and drive for her work: “I love the people at the Y: the staff, members and volunteers. They keep me motivated. I’m lucky that I get to live, work and play in the same community. This creates a lot of blurred lines, and I love that. Every day when I come to work, I see the dividends play out in my kids’ lives, and my friends’ lives,” she said.

Claudia is also passionate about her work on the national and international level with YMCA of the USA, where she currently chairs the Asian Pacific Islander Leadership Network, a Y-USA National Employee Resource Group. As the adopted daughter of Richard and Suzanne Soo Hoo, she came to the United States from South Korea at age 15 months. “I grew up in a multi-racial family where most of my cultural competencies were not South Korean. My Dad is Chinese and my Mom is White,” Claudia said.

Claudia recently returned from a week-long mission trip to the Philippines with a coalition of YMCA staff from around the United States. They visited with staff and volunteers of the Albay YMCA, San Pablo City YMCA and Manilla YMCA to discuss strategic priorities of these YMCAs. Part of the meetings included seeing programs in action, visiting with their key partners, service learning and mini capacity-building trainings, in such areas as philanthropy. 

“The San Pablo YMCA is focused on an initiative to plant 10,000 trees and we helped with this project. We also met with a group of farmers and made squash noodles with the vegetables they grow. Our team loved working hand-in-hand with Y staff and learned a lot about their challenges and their successes. We did a Service Learning Project at the Albay Y, where aquatics, climate change and youth development is their focus areas. We had the opportunity to help replant coral off the coast of Legazpi City,” she said.

“This was a once in a lifetime experience to help another YMCA positively impact climate change. I shared with our hosts that I want to come back and do this again, and possibly retire here!,” she said. “We were welcomed with open arms during the entire week. In Manila, we stayed at the Y’s hostel. Staff, Y members and Y Board members cooked for us during our stay and we joined them for meals at the YMCA. I noted a huge parallel between our YMCAs. The passion of volunteers is the same. We all come from different cultures, different socio-economic statuses; we have different traditions and our Ys have different operations. But a common denominator is the passion of YMCA volunteers.”

Claudia believes strongly in the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion. Her focus, both within the Merrimack YMCA and on the national level “is working to make sure that the Y serves all. YMCA of the USA has committed to being an antiracist, multi-cultural organization, and this priority is important to me.”

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. YMCAs are celebrating the history of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders within the YMCA by sharing moments and individuals that were instrumental in shaping the Y movement as we know it today. 

“This month is important to me because of the vast cultures in Asia. It’s important to celebrate all of the different cultures of Asia and the Pacific Islands. There are many cultures, and we want to amplify their voice. This month is a time to recognize and celebrate the contributions, diverse cultures and the extensive histories of the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. At the Y, we believe our communities are stronger when everyone feels welcomed and we work together for the common good. This month, we’re celebrating our staff and the impact they have made on our community,” she said. “Our national committee has given local Y’s the tools to highlight and communicate the cultures of Asia and the Pacific Islands and the impact this has had on the Y.”

As part of Claudia’s commitment to global community impact and engagement, she also serves as Interim Chair of the Global Diversity Equity Inclusion (GDEI) Leadership Council for the YMCA of the USA national office and serves on the Strategic Planning Committee of YMCA of the USA.
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Claudia Jin Soo Hoo is a resident of North Andover where she lives with her husband Benny O’Leary and their children, Callie, age 14, and Ryan, age 11. Her local volunteer efforts include membership in the Rotary Club of Andover, where she is a Past President. She is also a Board Member of North Andover Youth Center, and a Board Member of Ironstone Farm.

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