When Adrian Bracy took on her leadership role at the YWCA four years ago, she was told that the organization was one of St. Louis’ best-kept secrets. To that, she responded, “Well, we don’t want to be a secret anymore!”

Bracy came to her CEO post at the nonprofit from a very different world: the world of sports. She began with the Miami Dolphins, where she served as controller and was later promoted to CFO. Then she heard that the Los Angeles Rams were moving…to St. Louis. “As I was flying from Miami to St. Louis, I met a man from St. Louis,” she recalls. “He said, You’re leaving the Dolphins for the Rams? That’s like leaving a Rolls Royce for a Pinto! So I was a little scared at first, but then that Pinto won the Super Bowl!”

Bracy was happy working with the Rams, but after 12 years, she found herself becoming restless. One night, she wrote some goals in her diary: Among them, living in the mountains, for her husband to also find a job that would make him happy, and a certain salary number. That was when an opportunity came along to work as CFO for the Arizona Cardinals. “It was everything I’d written down: the salary was exactly what I’d wanted, my husband found a job he loved there, and it was in the mountains,” she says.

On her way to begin her new job, Bracy picked up a book in the airport: Women Don’t Ask by Linda Babcock. “The book talks about how women are so thankful and feel it’s not their place to ask for things,” she says. “I called the Cardinals and told them I’d done some research—and I was very thankful for the offer—but the cost of living was higher in Phoenix and I’d like to renegotiate my salary. I got $15,000 more because of that!”

While in Arizona, Bracy participated in a webinar that prompted her to create a personal mission statement. High on Bracy’s list were her faith and a passion for enhancing the lives of women and girls. Around the same time, a friend from St. Louis called to tell her the executive director of the YWCA was retiring, and she thought Bracy would be a great fit. “I took this position because if you follow your passion, you will find your purpose in life.”

During Bracy’s tenure, the YWCA has increased its reach and branched into new projects to help the community. Among them is an expansion of education about sexual assault for people with developmental disabilities. “It’s important that guardians, caregivers and the participants themselves understand the difference between good touch and bad touch,” she says. “Fortunately, we’re making progress and providing that service to people in need.”

Another newly minted program, the Women’s Economic Stability Partnership, helps remove barriers to education for mothers who are interested in pursuing higher education in nontraditional fields. In the first class of 10, eight participants graduated with their degrees.

Bracy’s background makes her a unique leader for the nonprofit, which also offers transitional housing , courses to help teens develop self-confidence and a Head Start program. “Typically, executives are program-driven and the finances are not always as well-kept because they are so focused on the programs. Accountability is something I’m a stickler for.”

Bracy also believes in the culture of teamwork that was prevalent in the sports organizations she’s worked for. “Dick Vermeil was a big believer that the sum is greater than its parts. He made sure we all felt important and part of the team, and I’ve tried to bring that culture here.” That can be a challenge when you’re working with 300 employees in 15 locations; but as Bracy says, it takes a village to make a nonprofit work—from a hard-working staff to a dedicated board of directors and many hours of input from volunteers.

Also part of that ‘village’ is a supportive family. Bracy credits her husband, Vernon, for leaving a job he loved in Arizona to help her follow her passion. Since moving here, he helped found technology company RVC Solutions. She also thanks son Donovan for his support in the career change: “From ages 8 to 11, he got to play in Rams Park with players like Isaac Bruce. I was the coolest mom back then!”

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