By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor
Jimmy Francis is settling into his job as president and executive director of the nonprofit Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. So far, he is impressed by the facility, which is in its 31st year.
“The aquatic center has a long history of serving the Greater San Gabriel Valley in a very impactful way,” Francis said.
“COVID put a pause on a lot of that. The energy in this building, as we see the guidelines ease and some of our programs coming back, is amazing.”
Francis comes to the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center from California State University Northridge, where he spent 10 years in various roles with the University Student Union. Prior to that, the Altadena resident worked for The Ohio State University for six years.
He said he brings a passion for building a community centered around health and wellness and recreation. For most of Francis’ career, he has worked in that industry, primarily in higher education Francis has long been interested in facility operations and management.
“I think I can bring a sense of a new perspective to the center that might allow us to look at things through a different lens,” he said. “I bring my nonprofit experience. We exist to serve. This communication exists to service the community. We understand the role we play.”
Francis is a familiar face to the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center. He served on its board of directors from July 2019 to July 2020, leaving to compete for the executive director opportunity and coordinate the CSUN Student Union’s COVID-19 health and safety response.
“We are thrilled to welcome Jimmy back to the RBAC organization in this new role,” said Robert Kamins, board of directors’ vice chairperson.
“While we knew Jimmy a little before, through the search process we truly gained an understanding of his stellar abilities. He continually distinguished himself against top national talent and I know he is the right person for the role.”
Pat Amsbry, the center’s board chairperson, added, “Jimmy’s recreational facility knowledge and nonprofit experience will be extremely beneficial to advance the RBAC. Jimmy understands our goals, vision and the increased connectivity we want between the RBAC and our diverse regional community. Our patrons, athletes, staff and community are in for a special future under his leadership.”
Open 360 days a year, the center includes two 50-meter Olympic Pools, diving platforms, a therapy pool, two hydrotherapy spas, fitness center, conference rooms, locker rooms, café and an aquatics merchandise shop.
It is home to swim, dive and water polo teams and hosts a wide variety of programs including water aerobics, warm water exercise, lap swimming, learn-to-swim lessons, adaptive aquatics, summer camp, land-based fitness and yoga. The RBAC’s staff of more than 240 provides over 100 hours of weekly programming, including partnering with the Pasadena Unified School District’s 17 elementary schools to provide all third-grade students with 15 water safety and swim lessons each year.
“We have a very robust learn-to-swim program,” he said. “We offer group and private lessons. They’ve seen hundreds of thousands of PUSD students for our third grade learn-to-swim program.
“They’re introduced to water at the crucial age when water safety becomes important. We pursue grants to fund that. There’s a therapy side to what we do. An aquatic environment might be better for people who are rehabilitating from an injury or looking to use therapy to better themselves if they have a disability or challenge.”
The Rays Programs is geared toward a wide range of folks who have a disability to join the adaptive swim program, said Francis, who graduated from The Ohio State University.
“That’s led by our staff here to get kids and adults involved, to build their confidence and to participate in a team environment.”
The Rose Bowl Aquatics Center was closed from March to November, due to the pandemic. Francis said the aquatics center was able to survive, thanks to strong leadership by the staff and board of directors.
“They were able to control the things under their control and to use the financial resources wisely,” Francis said. “Prior to COVID, the center built up reserves through wise financial planning.”