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Woonsocket, Central Falls YWCA to merge

January 31, 2012

WOONSOCKET — YWCA Northern Rhode Island, located at 514 Blackstone St., will merge with the faltering Central Falls-based YWCA of Greater Rhode Island in a deal expected to be finalized by March 1.
“This is not a hostile take-over,” said Deborah Perry, president and CEO of YWCA Northern Rhode Island. “We’re both in favor,” and the news is in the ambitious plans she has for the new YWCA Rhode Island.
Her plans include maintaining Greater Rhode Island’s existing shelter for homeless women in transition, adding a “clubhouse” program for after-school and summer activities, operating a charter school specifically for pregnant and parenting teens, and running health-oriented classes.
YWCA Northern Rhode Island is prepared to invest $600,000 in the project, Perry said, largely to pay off mortgages.
She added, however, “This YWCA (Northern Rhode Island) is very healthy and in a position to make a bigger, better and stronger YWCA.”
At 145 years old, the YWCA of Greater Rhode Island, formerly known as the YWCA of Central Falls and Pawtucket, is the third oldest YWCA in the country.
Its notable history includes founding the organization that now is Crossroads Rhode Island, which serves the homeless population, and the International Institute in Providence, which provides educational, legal and social services to immigrant, refugee and native-born individuals.
It is a co-founder of the Blackstone Valley Women’s Shelter and an organizer of the Youth Pride movement.
But it has been struggling in recent years and had approached YWCA Northern Rhode Island for help. Except for the shelter, there were no programs; only about 20 members, most on a board of directors; and two paid staffers, a full-time operations director and a part-time bookkeeper.
Both paid staffers will be retained, Perry said, but their duties will change during the reorganization.
The agency still owns just over two acres of land and three buildings at Broad and Hawes streets in Central Falls, at the Pawtucket line. A 10-room Victorian house now is the residence for women in transition. A newer, 4,500 square foot building, known as the “school building,” was a child care center until last August and now is leased to the city of Central Falls for use as a high school building.
The third building, a former carriage house, is where Perry will locate Rosie’s Clubhouse, named, she said, for Rosie the Riveter, the woman symbolic of World War II female factory workers.
It will be a place where middle-school age girls can learn non-traditional skills that may help them in life, like knowing how to change the oil in their cars, or open doors to careers.
Appropriately, the National Association of Women in Construction, Rhode Island Chapter, will donate approximately $200,000 worth of labor and materials toward refurbishing the building and will be teaching construction skills.
Both the Victorian house and the school building are in good condition, Perry said. The former was rehabbed in the 1990s, and the latter was built during that decade. The city’s lease ends in June, and then the building will be available for the envisioned charter school.
“It is a natural growth of the Parenting in Progress program,” at YWCA Northern Rhode Island, which allows pregnant and parenting teens to earn a high school diploma and teaches them childcare and life skills, Perry said. The proposed charter school, however, will be a full-fledged school, with enrollment open to pregnant teens and teenage mothers by lottery, as other charter schools do.
Perry also has plans to build on YWCA Northern Rhode Island’s health outreach activities, focusing on diabetes, obesity and chronic disease. Her staff already is certified to teach courses on those topics, and she expects to hold classes in both YWCA locations.
Perry is confident the merger offers opportunities because she says they are financially feasible.
“That’s where I start, with finances,” she said. “You can have a great vision, but if it doesn’t make sense financially, you don’t go there.”
She and her board of directors, a group she calls “business savvy,” always are on the lookout for expansion and business opportunities, and she has made it her responsibility to diversify sources of income to YWCA Northern Rhode Island, which has made it viable throughout the economic downturn.
The agency operates on a combination of private pay, state reimbursements, support from foundations, grants, private philanthropy and local fundraising, including an annual golf tournament and a Women of Achievement awards luncheon.
Perry will continue her financial and strategic planning responsibilities as president and CEO of YWCA Rhode Island, while chief operating officers, one at each location, will oversee day-to-day business. The Woonsocket site already has Meghan Grady in that position, and Perry expects to hire for the Central Falls location.
The board of directors will be reconfigured to add two representatives from the Greater Rhode Island board, and a subcommittee comprising other Greater Rhode Island board members will be created.

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