As HHYF is counting down to their 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Goshen, NY on June 5, we sat down to hear from current President Marlys Pinske to talk about HHYF past, present and future. A woman of action and accountability, Pinske demands the same of others and the result has been expanded opportunity for harness racing’s youth.
Take me back to your beginning with HHYF.
I came onto HHYF I remember Callie inviting me when we were at the Harrisburg yearling sale. I think that was in 2003. I came onto the board shortly after that. I have served on several different boards throughout my life. I always made it a point to let people know that if I can’t make a difference I won’t be here. I’m not somebody who is going to sit on a board and just take up space. I told them the same thing, and to figure out what they needed me to do. One of the first things I got heavily involved was coming up with some more fundraising ideas. That has never really been my thing to do, but it didn’t bother me to do it. I could do it and a lot of people couldn’t. That’s probably been the biggest thing I’ve done all the way through.
13 years later, you lead the board and control of what goes on, and it’s a very pro-active organization. Do you think there’s things that we could learn industry-wide from HHYF?
Absolutely! I have a really hard time with non-profits, in our industry or wherever they are, that spend the money they work so hard to collect on things that it shouldn’t be spent on. It should be legitimate. It should go where you said it is going to go. We work really hard to do that. I think they have a lot they could learn from us just by looking internally at how we operate. One of the last few things that we’ve really changed in the last few years is that we let prospective trustees know what our expectations are. I don’t think they used to do that. I think that’s a big part of our success in the last few years.
A lot of people come and go, how have you seen the board change?
When I first came on the board there were a lot of faces. People that were there because someone had asked them to be, but that didn’t think they had to do anything. I remember that we did a long-range planning for a couple of days at Rutgers, and the whole board was there. A lot of change came after that because we started talking about different committees and when they talked about different committees, everybody was let know the committees need to do what they’re assigned to do. HHYF needs a face, and it can’t just be one.
In your first year as president, how do you want to see HHYF evolve going forward?
I want to see us continuing to enlarge on the family aspect beyond the camps. That’s the big thing that we’re known for but you can only do so many of them. We’ve started in the last few years doing one and two day seminars, going to 4H clubs and Girl Scouts and things like that. I think those things are working and they’re helping our bottom line. We try really hard not to increase the price of the camps because we want kids to participate. But by the same token, after a child has been at camp, their family gets a request to contribute so that hopefully people that can afford it will help.
What do you think is the most important thing that kids take away from the camp experience?
For many, many of these kids this is their only interaction with an animal other than the pets in their house. That’s a big, big deal. I think it gives them a lot of confidence to go for five days and learn that they don’t have to be afraid of the horses and the horses won’t be afraid of them. It does such good things for kids to gain confidence like that. I think that we just need to keep doing more of what we’re doing. But we are out and about and speaking with people. They remember who we are. They see where the money goes and what we’re doing.
Do you think that our business sometimes undervalues getting youth involved?
Yes. The hardest time is with the drivers. It has been really difficult. We have a hard time getting them to commit to helping when we have camp. They’re the toughest nut to crack. We keep working, working, working on that. They of all people have to know what the young people are. So many of them are young, where did they come from?
The current HHYF board just had three young people come on, it’s a very youthful board.
That’s a very important part of it. I’ve got this term to be the president. When I’m done with that I intend to help, but I’m 69 years-old and I want the younger people to take over. I have some more in mind and some good things that need to be done, but it’s good for the kids to have these younger people. They will recognize them, and become role models.
How rewarding is being on this board, where people are asking to be a part of it and volunteering to take on extra work?
It doesn’t happen that often in others! So many boards are afraid to ask people that are busy to be on their boards. Well I think that’s who you need. Only busy people get things done. I’ve seen that my whole life. I’ve been in the working world, running businesses and they’re the only ones that get anything done.
It’s my intention in a few years to bow out of the board. I want to see all of the young members working together and mesh well together. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to be there when they need me, but it is my intention to pass it along to the young people who serve HHYF.
What you’re doing now is cultivating HHYF’s leaders of tomorrow.
Exactly. My mantra has always been, ‘If I can’t make a difference I’m not going to be here.’