As former presidents of the YWCA board of directors and business owners, Sandra Miller Jones (from 2012 to 2014) and I applaud the YWCA board’s decision to sell the Gateway building. A wise business decision, it enables the YWCA to provide an enhanced fitness program for its diverse membership and invest in its unique mission programs that change lives in our community.
When women founded the local YWCA in 1908, they wanted to help girls be successful who were moving to the city for jobs at Reynolds Tobacco and Hanes Knitting. In 1917, when the YWCA board built a dormitory with gymnasium and pool, their motivation was to help the women be safe and healthy. Recreation was just a part of the equation. Today, the national YWCA states its mission as dedication to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
With this mission in mind, the Gateway facility was built to support a vision promoted in the City-County Planning Board’s 2001 plan. The plan envisioned more livable diverse neighborhoods with access to shopping, services and recreational and educational opportunities. In 2004, developers announced plans for the Southeast Gateway project, which would have 200 condos, 70,000 square feet of retail space, 70,000 square feet of office space, a private school and a 90,000-square-foot YWCA.
The YWCA’s Gateway building opened in 2007, the same year the Great Recession began. One mixed-use building was the only other building completed in the area, and the YWCA was saddled with debt and a building that were much too large for the small organization.
Capital campaigns, staff reductions, new sources of revenue from lease agreements and increased fundraising — all helped; but by 2015, the board knew if the YWCA wanted to remain viable, it must resolve the debt on the Gateway building.cc
In-depth discussions with educational, medical and fitness organizations followed. Some did due diligence and found it was not cost effective for them to share in the expense of the aquatics center.
The YWCA had exhausted all efforts to secure a partner for the aquatics center when Elevation Church (which had rented the Gateway gymnasium for church services since 2017) made its offer to purchase the building. The YWCA negotiated a 25-year lease, retaining all its second-floor fitness and studio space and gaining 17,000 square feet for fitness and medical partnerships on the first floor, including a new indoor track. The YWCA and Elevation Church remain separate organizations, managed by separate boards.
Swapping roles as tenant and landlord enables both organizations to achieve important goals — the YWCA can continue its fitness program at the building for a diverse membership without the financial responsibility of loan payments and building ownership, and the church gets a permanent location for its Sunday services and a reliable tenant.
With no debt, the YWCA will be able to focus on its mission programs, three of which — described below — are important community assets.
Launched in 2016, Gateway to Success, the YWCA’s partnership with Wake Forest Baptist Health and Novant Health, helps low income adults manage their diabetes. Participants receive a membership to the Gateway fitness program, and a team of professionals — behavioral health specialist, dietitian, wellness coach, and YWCA staff — supports the participants through an intensive year of exercise and nutritional education. Last year, 71% of program participants improved their Body Mass Index (BMI) score; 86% improved or maintained their A1C score, and 77% improved or maintained their overall Wellness Score.
The YWCA’s Best Choice Center provides academic afterschool and summer camp programs for Winston-Salem/Forsyth County K-8th grade students from low to moderate-resourced families. Ninety-five percent of students in the after-school program maintained a “C” or higher in math, and 92% achieved a “C” or higher in reading. Third graders, with few exceptions, pass the third-grade reading test each year.
The YWCA’s Hawley House is the only state licensed residential recovery program in Forsyth County for women diagnosed with Substance Use Disorder. The comprehensive program provides healthcare referrals, counseling, life skills training, employment connections, educational opportunities and transportation. Seventy-five to 80% of Hawley House graduates remain substance-free, employed and reunited with their families a year after graduating from the program.
As United Way CEO Cindy Gordineer wrote recently, “The YWCA is not a building, but a mission.” The strategic decision by the YWCA board and CEO Christy Respess will ensure that the YWCA will continue to fulfill its important mission for years to come.