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Charlotte YMCA reaches out

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Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Through 18 branches in four counties, and two resident camps in Wilkes County and at Lake Wylie in South Carolina, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte serves 160,000 people a year.

One in 10 of those customers are able to participate in the Y’s recreation and education programs through nearly $5 million in scholarships.

Supporting those scholarships are dollars the Y receives through its annual fundraising and through contributions that donors have made to an endowment that now totals $14 million, with another $4 million in pledges due, says Dean Jones, senior vice president for financial development.

Annual fundraising at the Y, and its endowment, both have grown as a result of a capital campaign that ran through 2006 and raised $57 million, exceeding its goal by $7 million.

The five-year campaign generated $9 million for the endowment, and just over $15 million in annual giving, which doubled to roughly $4 million over the course of the campaign, Jones says.

Borrowing a page from Davidson College, where he served as director of development before joining the YMCA just over seven years ago, Jones says, the campaign asked major donors and prospects to combine their annual giving with their contributions to the capital campaign.

Chaired by Ken Thompson, chairman and CEO of Wachovia, the campaign raised $27 million for new buildings and renovation of existing buildings.

New buildings include the Stratford Richardson YMCA on West Boulevard near Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and the Lowe’s YMCA in Mooresville.

Most of the Y’s endowment supports scholarships and programs at the Stratford Richardson Y and at three other branches that also are in low-income neighborhoods, including the McCrorey YMCA near Johnson C. Smith University, the Simmons YMCA in East Charlotte, and the Johnston YMCA in the North Davidson area.

With an annual budget of $70 million and 325 full-time employees, the YMCA of Greater Charlotte also counts on annual giving to support programs and scholarships, many of them at those four branches.

Teaming up with 11 elementary schools in the Charlotte Mecklenburg system that have the highest percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, for example, the YMCA provides a literacy program for rising third-graders who have fallen behind in their reading competency.

At a cost of $1,200 per child, roughly 425 students participate in the summer program, which combines camp activities with reading programs taught by public-school teachers.

Last year, 89 percent of children in the program improved their reading level over the course of the summer, Jones says.

The program also is economical, even for children who participate year-round at a cost of $2,800, he says.

By comparison, the cost to the school system to educate a student who repeats a grade is roughly $7,000, he says.

“It’s an investment in our kids to get them up to speed so they’re ready for the third-grade end-of-grade tests,” he says.

The YMCA also employs seven social workers, each working with about 25 families in their homes to help them thrive, including preparing them for jobs, helping children with school work, and providing support for other needs such as housing.

Annual giving and the endowment also support services for the region’s rapidly-growing Latino population, such as classes in English as a second language and classes leading to a degree that is equivalent to a high school diploma.

Efforts to build the endowment are designed “to make the Y accessible and affordable to anyone who walks in,” Jones says. “We invite people to come in. It’s a way they can have access.”

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