A past-president of the YWCA in St. John’s is among a group of women who hopes the organization has a future in the city if the Northeast Avalon YMCA-YWCA follows through on plans to end its 37-year relationship with YWCA Canada.
In April, the Northeast Avalon YMCA-YWCA announced in a news release its board had notified voting members of its intention to withdraw from the national body.
Mary Andrews, who was president of the YWCA in St. John’s when it amalgamated with the local YMCA in 1975, was disappointed to learn of the latest developments.
“To me, as an outsider looking in now, it seems to me the focus is that it’s become almost like an executive club or a corporate fitness club,” said Andrews, who also spent time as president of the St. John’s YM-YWCA following the amalgamation.
In light of the YMCA-YWCA’s campaign to build the new Ches Penney Family Y on Higgins Line, Andrews was surprised to learn the campaign took place while discussions were already underway between the local group and YWCA Canada concerning a withdrawal of membership.
The Northeast Avalon YMCA-YWCA’s news release from April states discussions between the two sides concerning “voluntary withdrawal” had been taking place for two years.
“I would say that YMCAs around the world have become family-focused associations that serve the whole community,” said Northeast Avalon YMCA-YWCA president and CEO Chris Roos, explaining why the group is looking to end its relationship with YWCA Canada. “The YWCA‘s philosophy has primarily remained serving women.”
Roos said voting members unanimously approved a motion to withdraw its membership from YWCA Canada at a meeting May 31. Another vote is scheduled for June 15, and if results fall in line with those of the first vote, the group will likely become the Northeast Avalon YMCA.
Andrews said a 30-member action committee was formed to help give the YWCA a new lease on life in St. John’s.
It includes women representing a variety of organizations, she said.
YWCA Canada CEO Paulette Senior said she was not surprised by the Northeast Avalon YMCA-YWCA’s decision to withdraw from her organization. She said her focus now is to work with the group in order to help secure the YWCA’s future in St. John’s.
“Our job now becomes facilitating what that support looks like and to make sure that there is some sort of support.”
Senior said her organization has committed funds to hire an outreach consultant to work with the committee in St. John’s to figure out what the new St. John’s YWCA will look like.
“The level of high interest from women in the community has just been phenomenal,” she said, adding it’s her hope more people interested in programs that empower young girls and women will also look to get involved in efforts to form a St. John’s YWCA.
“We know there can never be enough services to address the need,” said Senior.
She said the job posting has already been advertised and applications have been received.
Working with the women in St. John’s, Senior hopes to have a candidate in place within the next week-and-a-half.
Approximately $1 million will be required to cover the first few years of operation, she said.
As for the Northeast Avalon’s YMCA-YWCA’s potential role in the formation of a new St. John’s YWCA, Senior said her organization is not necessarily looking for financial support.
“Every not-for-profit has its challenges, and these days those challenges are primarily financial, and so our intent is not to break the back of that association, but to allow them to find a way to support us so we can establish ourself.”
At the time of amalgamation in 1975, Andrews said St. John’s YWCA’s assets included a building on Military Road and a property at Tors Cove Pond.
Roos said his group will offer help once the withdrawal is formalized.
“Our board is working on a joint communication strategy, and should the separation become a reality … we’ll begin discussions on how to bring YWCA programs into St. John’s.”
Roos added the move will not change the way it operates as a charity and said new programming will likely be introduced as a result.