LEWISTON, Maine — Two years after its rescue from the brink of closure, the 134-year-old YWCA of Central Maine is thriving.
Donations and grants arrive. Bills are paid. And most importantly, more people are using the East Avenue facility than they have in years, board Chairwoman Lee Young said.
“It’s truly been a place that is hopping, exciting and creative, all those things that you want your organization to be,” Young said. “We’ve got lots of people in the community that are aware of us now that maybe had forgotten us.”
Memberships have more than doubled in the past year. There were 305 paid memberships — kids, individual adults, seniors and families — in the year ending in June 2011. By June 2012, the number swelled to 650, Executive Director Kathy Durgin-Leighton said Thursday.
“We’ve been able to become less and less anxious and more productive,” Young said. “Now we’re at the stage where we are getting back to where we were years ago. ”
And they aim to put their dark days far behind.
“We have really been in a crisis mode,” Young said. “No more.”
It seems so far from the situation in August 2010, when Young gathered staff and told them the YWCA was closing.
The institution had become mired in debt. It owed $167,000 to vendors and $565,000 on its mortgage. Its building on Lewiston’s East Avenue needed repairs.
Four days after the public announcement, the closure was called off.
More than $75,000 in donations had come in. By the following week, the total hit $200,000. By week three, the pool of money was at $300,000.
For a year, the YWCA raised money, searched for leadership and sought to end the money drain that threatened to sink the institution.
After several changes, the YWCA hired Durgin-Leighton, who had served as the town manager in Bowdoinham.
She and the board worked to bring in grant money and build new connections across Lewiston-Auburn.
“It has been strategic. We wanted to reach out as a community partner,” Durgin-Leighton said. They’ve worked on alliances with groups such as Tree Street Youth, the Lewiston Housing Authority, Lisbon Recreation Department, the Boys and Girls Clubs’ Auburn/Lewiston Clubhouse and Bates College’s Harward Center for Community Partnerships.
This fall, the YMCA is gearing up for a first collaboration with the Dempsey Center.
Aided by a $6,000 gift from Procter & Gamble, the YWCA will offer free warm water exercise sessions for women who have experienced breast cancer. It’s called YWCA Encore. Its aim is to help women who have had breast cancer move better and feel better.
And since it’s not a females-only group, the YWCA made a point of hiring a few young men to work on select programs.
“We wanted people to come into our facility who reflected what the cities of Lewiston and Auburn look like,” Durgin-Leighton said.
It’s working, she said.
This summer, about 75 kids are participating in the YWCA’s summer camp and day care program, so many that staff had to be added to keep up with the growing numbers. Last summer, the program had half as many kids.
This fall, the Board of Directors, which had fallen to only three members, will be expanding. And Young, the former mayor of Auburn, aims to enhance the formal structure of the YWCA, which had become too loose in recent years.
“We’re going to have more board members,” she said. “We’re going to have more committees.”
Either way, Young and Durgin-Leighton hope this winter will be easier than last.
Three days before Christmas, the aging oil-consuming boiler that heated the building, the pool and the showers broke. For several days, including the holiday, people worked around the clock to nurse the broken heater.
For the following four months, a portable boiler kept the building and its water warm. In April, a new natural gas system was installed.
“We were able to figure out a way to pay for that,” Young said. “We got a little bit of new money for it, and we still had a little bit of money in savings. It was magical.”
The bigger magic will come this winter when massive oil bills will be replaced with the newer, more efficient system, Durgin-Leighton said.
Last year, they budgeted $30,000 for heating oil. At its worst, the old boiler used $5,000 in one week.
“We don’t know what it will cost this season, but it will be less, a lot less,” Durgin-Leighton said.