YWCA's closing in Raleigh shakes regulars

Many relied on its services

mquillin@newsobserver.comajames@newsobserver.comMarch 2, 2012 

Former clients and area social service providers scrambled Thursday to find ways to fill some of the gaps left by Wednesday's sudden closure of the YWCA of the Greater Triangle.

Dozens of children relied on the facility for after-school care. Older adults came every weekday morning for classes, social activities and hot meals. Uninsured women had breast exams and mammograms scheduled though the YWCA in coming weeks. Others had rented space in the East Hargett Street building for future birthday parties or receptions.

"It's a little upsetting," said Rita Anderson, 68, who came to the YWCA every weekday for the past six years. "If you're a senior citizen, you're sitting in the house all day long. You've looked at all you can on TV, there's nothing out the window but cars going up and down the street. I've got to mingle with people.

"And it's not just the senior citizens," she said. "What's going to happen to those kids? What's going to happen to the pregnant teens that come in for their classes?"

Board members had known since last fall that the 110-year-old YWCA was in serious financial trouble, and staff members realized it as programs were trimmed and their colleagues were laid off in waves. When the facility closed Wednesday, all 14 of its remaining staff lost their jobs and were told they wouldn't be paid for the period that had just ended.

Several of the YWCA's community partners, however, said they didn't know the agency was in so much trouble, and observed that it will be harder to restart the agency than it would have been to keep it afloat.

"We would have offered all the support that we could," said Alan Winstead, executive director of Meals on Wheels, which served meals to seniors at the Y.

Maria Spaulding, a member of the agency's board of directors, said the board kept hoping its management staff was right that grants they had applied for would come in as promised. "We probably didn't reach out enough," Spaulding said.

Anderson, who lives in North Raleigh, said she's lucky; she gets around easily and was able to catch a bus every day to make the hour-long trip to the YWCA, where she played bingo, exercised, watched movies, then had lunch every day, cooked and delivered by Meals on Wheels and served hot by a YWCA staffer through the agency's Golden Oaks program.

Thursday morning, she caught a different bus to Whitaker Mill Senior Center, one of seven other dining rooms used by Meals on Wheels of Wake County. A handful of her regular dining companions from the YWCA also came. Some days, 60 older adults participated in Golden Oaks activities at the YWCA.

Whitaker Mill is nice, Anderson said, "but I liked it down there," at 554 E. Hargett St.

Winstead said he has funding for the meals provided at the YWCA and there is space for them in the other dining rooms. The challenge, he said, is transportation; the YWCA used a van to pick up seniors and bring them to its facility or to other dining rooms where Meals on Wheels are served.

Finding affordable after-school care for 50 or so children who had received it through the YWCA was another challenge. Eddenia Wilson waited at the Martin Street Baptist Church on Thursday afternoon to make sure her two kids arrived safely. The church is temporarily looking after some of the kids who had been in the YWCA's after-school program. Wilson said she had learned late Wednesday morning that the Y program was shutting down.

"There was no warning," she said. "If I decided to take my kids out of the program, I'd be required to give them 30 days notice."

Spaulding said the board is talking with several churches that might be able to take in some of the kids.

Board members also are holding frequent meetings, Spaulding said, to figure out what to do next. If the YWCA does come back to life, she said, it will have to be as a more sustainable organization with more stable funding sources. Also, she said, while the board has no reason to suspect malfeasance by the staff, they are aware of widely held suspicions of it.

"I don't believe there has been any embezzlement or fraud, but we will have to demonstrate that to the community," she said. "We'll have to address that."

Bridget Burge, director of Racial Justice Programs at the Y, said former staff members are holding a community meeting Monday night at the YWCA, with Dr. Earl Johnson, the reverend at Martin Street Baptist. The church is accepting baby items and donations for the seniors, newborns, and after-school students.

Burge said former staff also are trying to raise money to help the 14 who were laid off Wednesday.

"This is the worst way they could have done it," she said of the board's decision to close with no notice.

Quillin: 919-829-8989

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service