Will Steichen, recently appointed executive director of the Idyllwild Community Center.      Photo by JP Crumrine

Will Steichen is the new director of parks and recreation for the Idyllwild Community Center (ICC). The ICC board appointed Steichen at the end of August and he assumed his new position on Sept. 2.

His career and experiences bring a fresh approach to the purpose of the ICC recreation programs. He will continue the traditional sports — basketball, softball, youth and adult — but he will incorporate more educational activities into the existing youth programs at Town Hall. In addition, Steichen will explore options that involve partnerships with other organizations to expands opportunities.

Steichen grew up in St. Cloud, Minnesota, about 65 miles northwest of Minneapolis. After graduating from St. Cloud University, he began his career with IBM in Washington, D.C.

After a year, he found corporate life too desk-and-computer bound. It lacked personal interactions. 

Before jumping onto another corporate ladder, he chose to explore the world. For nearly a year, he traveled Australia, New Zealand and Vietnam. 

“It was an incredible experience,” he stated. “I backpacked through the countries and did odd jobs.”

The concept was not new to him.  Steichen studied abroad while in college and grew up with exchange students.

After this trek, he joined Robert Half, an international consulting firm based in California. His focus was business development in the Los Angeles area. This position allowed him to know clients, assess their business needs, and form cooperative relationships.

Steichen found an apartment within walking distance of his office. He became a rare person, a Los Angeles executive who walked to work.

“I want to enjoy my time, not sit in a car,” he said. 

He loved his work at Robert Half, but after four years, his brother introduced him to a bank official that led to an opportunity that combined his backgrounds in finance and client relations. The best part was that Palm Springs, the Coachella Valley, and other the desert locales were his territory.

This was also an opportunity to move to Idyllwild, which he had been visiting for eight years. “I came for a day and said, ‘I need to be here,’” he said smiling. Two years ago, he bought a house.

Although commuting to the desert was not affected by the winter storms, it was still a long drive for someone used to walking to work. ICC board member Terry Shirley was a neighbor. She introduced him to Janice Lyle and Stephanie Yost, the former and current ICC board presidents.

This was opportune timing. They needed a temporary program director after Bob Lewis departed in May.

“With the addition of the amphitheater, ICC knew it would be broadening the scope of its Town Hall programming and town-wide events,” Yost wrote in an email. “We felt that Will [Steichen], with his experience in business efficiencies and partnership building, was a great choice to provide helpful assessment and input on how best to accomplish ICC’s expanding goals.”

The idea seemed perfect to Steichen. “I see how the work of the ICC in every way affect this community. I’ve learned that my number one priority for work is building relationships.”

So just as he did at Robert Half and U.S. Bank, he is assessing the recreation programs in order to make them both more efficient and more effective. He feels this has been a very natural transition.

“We don’t want to compete with other programs, we want to find ways to partner and to expand our service to more children and families,” he emphasized. Steichen realized how much of the community he did not know and is now meeting and working with as the recreation director.

With the ICC board, Steichen has plans to gradually expand programs, not just sports, at all age levels. One of the first will be the childcare, which demonstrates his intention to work with other programs. 

During ICC’s summer day camp, preschool and young kids came to Town Hall Monday through Friday. Two or three times a week, they walked to the Idyllwild Library for its programs and activities. 

“The library got an increase in attendance and we got to participate in programs we couldn’t afford,” he emphasized. “This allowed the kids to do more. My responsibility is to reach out to organizations and to be involved.”

During the fall and winter, he wants to have specific activities that vary by day so they always have something to do and learn from. For example, working with the community garden offers learning opportunities about plants, gardening, caring and more, he explained.

He also is hoping a youth theater group can be established this year, presenting an opportunity for homeschooled students.

Steichen is also looking at the possibility of expanding the preschool program to three hours, giving parents a larger block of time to accomplish their errands.

Some of these changes may not be implemented until the spring, and since Town Hall is changing ownership, the activities will have to be flexible in case any work on the building occurs.

His role, Steichen says, is to listen to the community. What is it discussing, what do people want and try to bring these ideas to life. He wants to serve all age groups and provide various programs. 

For example, the “Fit after 50” program is sponsored by Riverside County’s Office on Aging. It is for anyone over 50 and he has three to four classes a week now.

The educational programs are not just for the youth. Two weeks ago, ICC sponsored the utility assistance program. County officials came to Idyllwild to describe programs that could help with winter energy and heating costs. Fifteen people applied that day with the County of Riverside Community Action Partnership. 

“We want to be a central hub about issues that affect the community,” he said. “We can’t force it on the community, but we want to offer things that really benefit it.”

Last month, the ICC board did not hesitate to make Steichen its permanent director. “[Will] has not only shown that he can manage the day-to-day current Town Hall operations, he has already reached out to other organizations in the Idyllwild community to begin building future joint programs and projects,” Yost said. “And, he was invaluable this summer with the opening of the Butterfield Amphitheater.”

ICC has a survey form at Town Hall so people can provide their thoughts about current activities and programs as well as new suggestions. So far, ICC has received about 250 surveys.