YWCA drive remembers the forgotten
Seattle Times staff reporter
Some of this region's most invisible women — the destitute, the mentally ill, the addicts — are the focus of an unprecedented fund-raising effort, and some of Seattle's most visible women are writing the checks and leading the charge.
The YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish counties is more than three-quarters of the way to its goal of raising $39.2 million for new programs and facilities to help women and families from Everett to South King County get jobs, housing and other necessities.
It's the biggest capital campaign ever in the Puget Sound region by a nonprofit agency for human-service needs, more than double the size of the 1998 campaign by the YMCA of Greater Seattle. The effort is succeeding even as a number of service and arts projects compete for philanthropists' dollars.
Leading the YWCA campaign are high-tech moguls, bank executives, TV anchors and arts patrons, some of the most recognizable names and faces in Seattle. Among them: Patty Stonesifer of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Patsy Collins, King Broadcasting heiress and environmental and arts philanthropist; Mimi Gardner Gates, Seattle Art Museum director.
"Mother's Day is one of the absolute saddest days here," said Diane Powers, the YWCA's regional director for homeless services.
About 70 percent of the women who pass through Angeline's struggle with mental illness and substance abuse. Many have had their children taken away or have given them up. The Mother's Day event launches the last phase of fund raising: the lemonade-stands-and-bake-sales stage when the YWCA reaches out to smaller donors and the broader community, said Rita Ryder, YWCA executive director.
"My goal is for every woman in this community to be involved with this somehow," Ryder said.
About 180 women have given gifts of $10,000 or more, a total of nearly $13.8 million, Ryder said. In all, more than 3,200 women have given to the campaign.
Virtually all of the 158 people on the agency's capital-campaign committee are women, and all five campaign co-chairs are women.
"I'm so proud that it's women leading the way on this," Ryder said. "I think these are women who realize that if things had been different ... this could have been them, and they want to help."
The YWCA's mission and approach resonate with female givers, said Laura Jennings, the board president and a venture capitalist who was formerly a Microsoft executive.
"Homelessness has a male face ... but the reality is a lot of those people are women and children. When people hear that, and the danger that these women face on the streets, these are issues women can relate to," Jennings said.
The YWCA estimates there are 1,400 single, chronically homeless women in Seattle.
The money will pay for new or improved buildings for YWCA programs in six communities, including new, affordable housing on the Eastside and a new youth center in Southeast Seattle.
The biggest project is a $30 million, seven-story building at Third Avenue and Lenora Street in Belltown called YWCA Opportunity Place. It will include an expanded day center for homeless women, retail space, employment services and 145 subsidized studio and one-bedroom apartments.
Construction crews have cleared a half-block-sized lot across the street from Angeline's current, cramped quarters, and Ryder said she hopes the new facility will open by Thanksgiving 2003.
When all the projects are complete, the YWCA expects it will serve 10,000 more people, up from 35,000 now. A tour of the YWCA's day center for homeless women makes clear the need for new space.
On a recent sunny day, about 75 women were packed into Angeline's day room in a space the size of a kindergarten classroom, reading the newspaper, sleeping, doing their makeup.
On a rainy, winter day, the crowd can more than triple in the course of the day.
The TV room doubles as a meeting place for sexual-abuse support groups and other activities. The two washers and four dryers run around the clock. Nine women at a time can sleep for three-hour stretches on mats in the "quiet room." The mental-health specialist's office is, literally, a closet inside a closet.
The new day center will have more than twice the space and will include some thoughtful touches: a fireplace, a dining room that will serve three meals a day, a protected entrance that prevents intruders from seeing who is inside (an important feature because more than half the women at Angeline's have been victims of domestic violence, Ryder said).
Ryder is optimistic the campaign can reach its goal by Dec. 31, the self-imposed deadline. But it has been a challenging campaign, started in fall 2000 just as the dot-com bubble burst and a few months before the region officially entered a recession.
Still, the effort has had considerable success. The YWCA raised $743,000 in 90 minutes at a recent Seattle fund-raising luncheon, a 40 percent increase from last year's event.
At Christmastime, a number of checks came in from husbands making donations in their wives' names, including two checks of $1 million each.
The YWCA fund-raising drive is the largest of a dozen or so capital campaigns going on, many of which have been surprisingly successful given the weak economy.
They include campaigns by nonprofit organizations such as Childhaven, Senior Services and Ronald McDonald House. A number of arts groups also are running capital campaigns, including the Tacoma Art Museum, the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall and the Seattle Art Museum's sculpture garden.
"We think people are really focusing on what matters to them, giving gifts to things they feel passionate about," said Stuart Grover, president of the Collins Group, the Northwest's largest fund-raising consulting firm.
"We're doing 12 or 15 campaigns throughout the region right now, across four states. All except two are performing as well or better than we would have projected without Sept. 11," Grover said. Ryder believes the YWCA will need the remaining seven months to raise the last $7 million.
"But if you have an initiative that deals very substantially with important problems, people are going to step forward," she said.
Jolayne Houtz can be reached at 206-464-3122 or email@example.com.