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High Point YMCA leader leaves legacy of growth

From mentoring programs to language classes, Henry Muhammad wanted the best.

On his last day in charge of the High Point YMCA on Friday, Henry Muhammad was still working to make a good impression.

Muhammad had hired a company last year to install new carpet in the center's multipurpose room, but he noticed a spot. A well-meaning worker tried to dye the spot, but he instead created three large black puddles in the carpet. The company, which did not authorize the worker to dye the carpet, said its insurance would not cover the damage.

Muhammad struck a deal with the company: The Y would pay for a new carpet in exchange for one year's worth of free carpet cleaning. And on Friday, the company installed a new carpet in the room.

Muhammad believes that while High Point may not be the most affluent neighborhood in Pinellas County, its residents deserve the same level of quality as users of other YMCAs.

"I want them to know if you come here, you should not expect dirty floors or a spotty carpet," he said. "I want them to have the best."

Muhammad, 33, is headed to Charlotte, N.C., where he will run a YMCA that has a larger annual budget than High Point's Y and is three times the size of this area's facility. Jan Smith, district coordinator for the Suncoast Family YMCAs, will be the interim director of the High Point Y until a new director is found.

In the nearly two years Muhammad served as executive director, he sought to bring the best to High Point. He created a mentoring program for boys and girls and English as a second language classes for the ethnically diverse community.

He also has pursued unconventional methods, such as computer literacy classes taught in Spanish and violin lessons for children and their parents.

"I wanted to show if you provide children with the right training and with the right instruments, even in an economically challenged community, it will work," he said of the violin program.

During Muhammad's tenure, the High Point Y's membership grew from 200 to 500 people. He also hired four people who were once part of the county's juvenile boot camp program.

Resident and community activist Fran Lever praised Muhammad's ability to work with all segments of the community, regardless of race.

"Henry has started a lot of positive programs and I think he brought a respectability for the diverse cultures that was just and fair," she said. "He will be very missed."

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