One of Us: Jennifer Ryan


As the new executive director of the Ponte Vedra YMCA, Jennifer Ryan oversees a wide range of health, wellness and fitness-related activities for the local community. A Nease High School graduate, Ryan has deep roots in the community. She lives in Jacksonville Beach with her husband Jason Ryan, CEO of Jacksonville Scene.

What are your primary roles and responsibilities as executive director of the Ponte Vedra Beach YMCA?

As executive director, I oversee membership, aquatics, healthy living, sports, children’s programming, wellness programs, group exercise and community outreach for the branch.  I have a hard-working team who are passionate about the work they do. In addition, I get to work with an amazing advisory board that helps with strategic planning, fundraising and outreach. My goal is to make sure that we continue to meet the needs of this community and are available to anyone regardless of ability to pay.

How did you come to take on the role as executive director?

Amazing timing! My background is in Public Health; I have a master’s degree in Public Health from Emory University and have worked at the CDC, Brooks Rehabilitation, the Duval County Health Department and the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. I was looking for something a little closer to home where I could utilize my love of community health and overall physical health. As a Nease High School grad, I could think of nothing better than coming back to the community that I grew up in and having the opportunity to give back.

You previously served as executive director of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition. What do you see as the main challenges facing our region in terms of health and wellness?

The mission of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition is to reduce infant mortality. Infant mortality is a sentinel health indicator of a community. While St. Johns County is the healthiest county in the state, infant mortality has been increasing. Things in St. Johns County contributing to this rate include the health of a woman prior to becoming pregnant, substance abuse, sleep-related deaths and women getting pregnant later in life. Other issues in our community are long commute times, automobile dominated development, mental health and teen suicide. 

Ponte Vedra Beach has a wealth of natural resources. How does the YMCA capitalize on that through healthy programs for kids?

The Ponte Vedra YMCA really prides itself on providing strong foundations for children through our sports, summer camps, swim teams, yoga, after school program, speed and agility training, arts and crafts, and family programming. We really try to incorporate the beauty of our community into our programming. For instance, this year our summer camp went to Guana Preserve to go on hikes and learn about the natural habitat that lives in the preserve. In the past, our campers have learned about mosquito control and sea turtle nesting habits, and they take nature hikes all throughout our area. Our teen camp took a trip to St. Augustine to take a scavenger hunt and learn about history.

What is the most rewarding part of your new role?  The most challenging?

This is not just a job – this is a community! The most rewarding part of my new role is seeing what we do for children. Just the other day we celebrated one of our summer camp kids, who started camp off not knowing how to swim and by the end of camp had learned how to swim. The smile on his face and pride in his accomplishment was inspirational. The most challenging aspect of my new role is communicating to the community all of the great programs we have and how we are much more than a gym, much more than a place to swim, much more than our basketball programs, much more than our group exercise classes, and much more than our family programming.

How do you enjoy spending your free time?

I love playing beach volleyball and riding my beach cruiser with my husband. We play volleyball every Sunday – not on the same team, but we are both pretty competitive. I love spending time with my family; my brother and sister-in-law live in Nocatee with my three nephews, and my parents live in Julington Creek. My three nephews love coming to the YMCA to visit me. My husband and I also love to travel – we most recently traveled to Italy on our honeymoon and are looking forward to a trip to Portland over Labor Day. I also write a blog about gluten-free restaurants and recipes called