Kevin Washington’s ability to think strategically, push boundaries, and see the big picture helped him nearly double the membership of the Greater Boston Y to more than 40,000 households and forge a common identity among what were 13 turf-conscious branches.

Now, after four years, Washington is moving to Chicago in February to take the reins of the national Y, making history, as he did in Boston, as the first African-American to serve as the organization's chief executive. Selected in September from a field of 100 applicants, Washington will oversee a federation that serves 22 million people at 2,700 branches. He is already thinking big, hoping to expand a pilot academic program that last summer served 1,000 students to eventually reach 1 million.

He aims to make the Y a national leader in diabetes prevention. And he wants to get out the message — listen up, philanthropists — that the Y is much more than “gym and swim.”