Genesee County YWCA

             It was all over the local news. The YWCA of Genesee County was in trouble, and its doors were not expected to stay open. “There was a significant amount of debt with no cash reserves, 0, not a penny. Everything had been depleted,” YWCA Executive Director Millie Tomidy-Pepper explained. “The mound of bills simply sat here. Payroll was due, but there wasn’t any money.” Millie Tomidy-Pepper, who took over as the Executive Director of the YWCA in Genesee county on February 5, 2018, describes the situation as dire and partially due to a delayed system of resources which requires billing for payment after services are rendered. “We do depend on a lot of grant funding, which is always 3 months in arears,” explained Tomidy-Pepper. “We have to voucher for it. So, you could be looking at up to 4 months to receive the money necessary for agency expenses including payroll.” By the time Tomidy-Pepper came onboard, there was no credit and no more endowment. “There was nowhere to go,” stated Tomidy-Pepper. “The phone calls kept coming in, demanding money, and the Board decided they had to close their doors.” It was in this darkest hour that a generous community member came forward and donated enough money to keep the YWCA afloat for a few months so that the Board could evaluate its programs and figure out how to continue to serve its community.

             “We had to evaluate the inflow of money with the outflow of services,” explained Tomidy-Pepper. “We evaluated all the programs, and we cut the ones that were losing money and were not viable. We determined what services we offered that were unique to the YWCA. Our domestic violence program, including our safe house, was one such program. Another was our program at the courts and our children’s center, which provides free daycare. Another was My Sister’s Closet which supports the domestic violence program by providing clothing for women and their children.” Tomidy-Pepper said that YWCA kept these programs under its own umbrella. However, she explained that the YWCA was not willing to simply abandon their other programs. “We looked to see what businesses were in place to take over our other programs. Our after-school Adventure Program, which provided after school care in 8 school districts was taken over by Healthy Kids. We transitioned CACFP, which was a food reimbursement program for daycare providers, to Healthy Kids, also, and our Care and Crisis hotline for mental health was assumed by Niagara County.” Tomidy-Pepper explained that the YWCA was especially concerned that the daycare and after-school care programs not suffer, see any cost increases, cut staff salaries or lose any staff. Thankfully, the transitions were seamless.

             With fiscal stability restored, it was time to plan for the present. “We paid down smaller debts, negotiated and fundraised,” said Tomidy-Pepper. Now, we are in the black on a month to month basis.” Still, she explained, there had been a truckload of debt, so it was necessary to put their beloved building up for sale. Even this difficult decision became something positive. “We found a female pediatrician to buy it,” enthused Tomidy-Pepper. “Dr. Emily Fraser-Branche and her husband Greg are amazingly wonderful people. We will lease part of the building from them. They will be renovating, and we are going to stay. It is a win-win-win. A win for her, a win for us and a win for the community.” Tomidy-Pepper explained that this was just the boost the YWCA needed, eliminating all its debt, giving it money to invest and giving it cash flow once again.

             This is just the beginning. The YWCA started support groups and educational groups. It started an 8-week, Teen Support group and an 8-week Empowering Women group, which are concluding this month. The YWCA will begin its second round of classes and groups in March, including a 4-week Adult Self-Esteem class, a 6-week Parenting After Violence class and a Help Restoring Hope group. “We are re-establishing ourselves in the community while staying true to our roots,” explains Tomidy-Pepper. “We are the oldest women’s organization in the world and the first women’s organization in Genesee County. In fact, we are celebrating our branch’s 110th anniversary in 2020 and we are already planning for the celebration.”

             When describing the Genesee County YWCA’s vision for the future, Tomidy-Pepper draws inspiration from the past. “We have always been a social justice organization,” she said. “Our history shows how hard women worked to get organizations like ours going. The YWCA mission—eliminate racism and empower women—remains our vision today.” Tomidy-Pepper explained that when the YWCA is asked why racism comes first in its mission statement, she replies, “If any woman is discriminated against, then none of us are empowered.” Tomidy-Pepper also stated that the YWCA recognizes that women’s needs are different than they were when it was formed 110 years ago, and meeting those 21st century needs will be part of its strategic planning process moving forward.

             Already in 2019, the YWCA participated in the January 19th Women’s March in Batavia and plans to hold a Stand Against Racism event in April. “In recognition of our 110-year Anniversary we will be offering a commemorative calendar highlighting the YWCA of Genesee County throughout the decades as well as ceramic purse banks in honor of Susan B. Anthony who is quoted as saying ‘Every women deserves a purse of her own,’” added Lucile DiSanto Secretary and Fundraising Chair of the YWCA. “We will also host our YWCA Spring Fest on June 9th which will include tons of family-friendly fun. There will be over 130 vendors, 10 food trucks, face painting, bounce houses and much more.” With its struggles behind and a promising year ahead, both DiSanto and Tomidy-Pepper confidently state, “The YWCA of Genesee County is here to stay.”

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