When Jill Kolesar first started volunteering in 1988 at the Riverfront YMCA in Cuyahoga Falls when her three children were young, she had no idea that someday she’d become president of the Akron Area YMCA.

Those around her, though, recognized a leader in someone who worked well with others — and listened to them.

As of Jan. 1 of this year, Kolesar, 54, now runs the day-to-day operations of the organization’s 11 branches and oversees its camps, day care centers and 850 employees.

Her role frees up Doug Kohl, the chief executive officer, to focus on endowments and major gifts.

In his nomination of Kolesar as a leader, 29-year-old Akron Area YMCA Executive Director Jim Sawin said that “while not a millennial, [Kolesar] has made a real impact on millennials like myself. ... Jill is an ever-present fixture at community events and initiatives like Green and Clean and Pedal with a Purpose, to name just a few. Whether she’s there directing the efforts or wearing a volunteer T-shirt herself, she leads the Akron Area YMCA by example.”

Kolesar said she enjoys getting out to each of the YMCA branches to visit with members and employees and also tries to work out at different branches. She takes a spinning class at Riverfront.

When asked about her definition of leadership, Kolesar said it is “inspiring and motivating others to achieve a common goal or vision. It requires confidence and a willingness to listen to many options while having the ability to make tough decisions. Leadership means believing in the ability of the team you lead.”

Her association with the Y as a parent volunteer began as a way of giving back to an organization where her kids participated in the preschool and youth sports.

“It was home away from home,” she said.

The Riverfront branch invited Kolesar, who was working in banking at the time, to join an advisory committee. She was asked to work part time in the day care in 1994, and eventually went full time as a membership director. In that role, she oversaw membership at all 11 branches before moving to the post of executive director at the Nordonia Hills branch in Macedonia. She became head of the Riverfront branch in 2007 and vice president and chief operating officer in 2013.

Kolesar, a native of Bel Air, Md., received a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in management from Youngstown State University.

She said her views of leadership have changed over time.

“In the beginning when serving as a leader, I thought my way was the only way,” she said. “I now know that is not the case. To be a successful leader, you must be open to different ways of doing things. This is the value of a diverse workforce with multiple generations working together.”

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.