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Symbol of YWCA's past may soon get new owner: Women's organization carries on without building; new mission focused on scholarships, mentoring

June 18, 2007

The former home of the YWCA is about to change hands, but even without its own building, the organization once known for housing women plans to grow its scholarship programs and support other not-for-profits that advocate for women's issues.

The 4460 Guion Road facility is under contract to be sold "and we expect to close on it shortly," said Greg Lynn, vice president of real estate for the Central Indiana Community Foundation.

Lynn said he could not elaborate on the sale negotiations. Initially, the 29,000 square foor building on 23 acres-with a swimming pool and gymnasium-listed for $1.2 million. A number of church and social services groups inquired about it but couldn't afford it.

Several years ago, the foundation provided the YWCA financial assistance to keep it open. But with the cost of repairs mounting, the YWCA abandoned it in 2003 and decided to direct all its resources to outreach. It bucked its century-old, building-centric model that included recreational facilities and, at one time, lodging for women.

Sale proceeds will cover financial assistance the foundation granted the YWCA years ago and will help recoup other costs of the building borne by the foundation. Any remaining amount would flow to the YWCA.

"We would expect to get something, but I know the expense of keeping the building saleable has been extensive," said Susan Ellis, president and CEO of the YWCA of Indianapolis.

The association has been tightly associated with a building since its Indianapolis chapter was founded in Indianapolis 112 years ago. Back then, it opened at 139 N. Meridian St. It later moved to North Pennsylvania Street and at one time had the state's first indoor swimming pool.

The local chapter of the Young Women's Christian Association moved to the Guion Road location in 1976.

Whether the facilities were used to train women to work in factories during the world wars or for language classes, they seemed to offer it all over the years.

But, about five years ago, the YWCA board decided amenities like pools and day care weren't core to the mission of helping empower women.

"We decided to take a pretty bold move and shutter the mission that was buildingbased," said Vicki Yamasaki, vice president of strategic planning for One America, and a former YWCA board member.

For a time, the move might have been a little too bold. According to the association's financial statements, contributions plummeted from $403,101 in 2003 to $85,222 in 2004.

"That was a direct result of closing the building and not having as much visibility," Ellis said.

Support has recovered in recent years, especially as the YWCA's scholarship programs have gained prominence. One is the Salute to a Fresh Start Scholarship that helps women receiving Temporary Assistance For Needy Families assistance to pay for postsecondary education.

The other-the Salute to a Woman of Promise Scholarship, for women age 18 to 55-also goes for educational costs. Each scholarship recipient gets $2,500.

Last year, with financial assistance from Macy's, the YWCA created a mentoring program that matches each recipient with a woman mentor for one year. Mentors like Yamasaki pass on essentials about career development, such as the need for networking.

Meanwhile, the association plans to expand its support for programs of other not-for-profits that dovetail with its own mission.

"We don't want to reinvent the wheel. We don't want to duplicate services," Ellis said.

It has partnered with Clarian Health Partners and Rehabilitation Hospital of Indiana Sports on "Girl Power," which is promoting fitness and proper nutrition for girls ages 7 to 14. That event is set for Sept. 29 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

"This is really our first foray into that major piece of [partnerships]," Ellis said. "We'll certainly go beyond that."

Ellis noted that while the association no longer has a building, it might revisit offerings it once had at those facilities, to the extent they fit into the larger mission of advocacy for women. She's mindful that the organization has a legacy to preserve.

"I had a gentleman the other day say, 'You know, I was a young parent, and went to a parenting class [YWCA] offered in my community and it really made all the difference in the world.'"
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