160 upset employees, patrons discuss Raleigh's shuttered YWCA

kjahner@newsobserver.comMarch 5, 2012 

Last week, employees, seniors and students saw the programs of the YWCA of the Greater Triangle they rely on figuratively locked up. Tonight, the locks were real.

More than 160 community members gathered as speakers expressed anger Monday night at the way the employees were terminated and programs were cut off with only 24 hours notice last Wednesday.

The meeting, scheduled for the YWCA facility at 554 E. Hargett St., was moved a few blocks to Martin Street Baptist Church – much like the YWCA's after-school program last week. The group was told the board could not open the YWCA doors for liability reasons.

The YWCA served about 12,000 people, with much of its work centered around after-school programs, programs for seniors, and career services classes.

“Our programs at the YW are survival programs,” laid-off employee Crystal Hayes told the crowd, one of more than a dozen people who spoke Monday night.

Employees were notified of their termination on their last day by phone, and told they would not be paid for their last two weeks or any accrued vacation days, Hayes said.

Though invited, no board members attended the meeting. An emailed statement, sent while the meeting was under way, said the board is working meet its obligation “to the community, its former employees, and its creditors.”

“The Board is working very hard with its professional advisors to find workable solutions as quickly as possible to the challenges that now face the YWCA,” the email said. “The Board does not believe that its attendance at the meeting tonight would advance these efforts.”

Hayes, speaking to the crowd about the board members’ absence, had another theory.

“You are cowards,” she said.

Former employee Omisade Burney-Scott read the employees’ open letter to the board. It called the board’s actions “unconscionable, incompetent, cruel, disrespectful and unjust.” It also demanded restoration of programs and jobs, payment of debt, and apologies to those affected, including “seniors left without their one reliable hot meal for the day” and parents “left scrambling to find childcare.”

Some speakers focused on how the closures brought the community together. The YWCA had been a part of the community for over 100 years. Others led songs and called for prayer.

“I broke down and cried when I heard,” Bernadette McAllister said before the meeting. McAllister teaches at Wake Tech and offers career services classes at the YWCA. “I remember walking to go to the Y as a little girl. It was a safe place for us to go.”

City Councilman Eugene Weeks spoke briefly, asking for a list of the programs, promising the city would find ways to accommodate them until the YWCA could reopen. Wake School Board member Keith Sutton said starting March 7, Powell elementary would begin an after-school program to pick up the slack for many of its students, and that 14 students from six other schools would begin meeting at the Daniel Center.

Hayes said the Board could have handled the situation better.

“They should have had a conversation with all of us,” Hayes said of the board. “They should have said, here is the situation we are in, this is a terrible circumstance, we don’t know how much longer we are able to remain open, but we need consultation from you all to find the best way forward.”

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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