Keep the Feith organizers scramble to raise $1 million in time for Sept. 29 auction
With a court-ordered auction set for Sept. 29, organizers of a Keep the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA fundraising campaign are scrambling to raise $1 million to support the Kettle Moraine YMCA’s $2 million offer to purchase the facility.
A bankruptcy court judge on Tuesday set forth procedures for the auction of both the Feith Family Ozaukee and the Waukesha YMCAs, with a closing date for the sales set for Oct. 15.
The Keep the Feith campaign on Tuesday announced its first major gift, a $100,000 challenge grant from the Charter Manufacturing Co. Foundation.
“That’s an incredible first gift,” said Rob Johnson, executive director of the Kettle Moraine YMCA, which has offered to buy the Saukville facility for $2 million.
“Helping to save the YMCA 15 years after they invested in the Y the first time around shows the level of commitment they have to the community.”
With the auction for the Feith Family YMCA set, Kettle Moraine has just more than a month to raise not just the $500,000 it pledged for the purchase — it will borrow the remaining $1.5 million — but a total of $1 million so it is in a position to try to outbid others seeking to buy the facility.
Kettle Moraine’s $2 million offer will be the base price for the auction.
“If we just raise $500,000 and the starting bid is $2.1 million, we’re out,” Johnson said.
If the Kettle Moraine Y isn’t successful in its fundraising, or if it raises the money and is still outbid, the Ozaukee Y will close it doors by Oct. 15, officials said. Funds raised for the purchase will then be returned to donors.
“I think the reality is setting in and the community is becoming more and more aware of that fact — if it doesn’t stay a Y, everything disappears,” said Tom Didier, a member of the Feith board of directors. “If we want to keep the Y, we have to do it together.
“We’ve been thinking it’s going to take $1 million in fundraising, but it’s anybody’s guess if that’s enough.”
But 15 years after the community came together and raised millions of dollars to create a YMCA in Ozaukee County, it’s hard to ask people to give more money, whether the amount is large or small, to purchase the facility back from the YMCA of Metropolitan Milwaukee, officials said.
Add to that the fact that the money must be raised in a little more than a month, and the challenge is even more daunting, they said.
“It’s a lot of money in a short amount of time, and that starts with education and letting people know what they stand to lose. The Y could just close its doors at the end of September,” said Renee Johnson, president of the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA board of directors.
“If somebody else comes in to bid, they’re going to be a for-profit fitness center. They would not offer the same programming as the Y. There would be no Silver Sneakers program, no TrY Club, no youth programs — that would all go away. It would be a drastic change.”
To help with the education effort, the Save the Y committee is holding a 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26, meeting at the Ozaukee Humane Society in Saukville.
Campaign organizers started by talking to major donors, past and present, but quickly realized they need to reach everyone, Renee Johnson said.
Some people are leery about donating to an organization they once supported because of the bankruptcy, organizers said.
They counter that by pointing out it is the Metro Milwaukee YMCA in bankruptcy, Renee Johnson said, adding that the Feith board of directors had no say in the branch’s operations or budget.
“Right now, we are just an advisory board,” she said.
The Kettle Moraine YMCA, which she called a fiscally minded organization, has proposed giving the Feith Family board the power to oversee its own finances, programming, facility management and philanthropy, she said. The Feith Family board would also have representation on the Kettle Moraine governing board.
The Kettle Moraine board is expected to approve this governance policy when it meets Sept. 16, Rob Johnson said.
“There is going to be a local board of directors that will have control of the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA — that’s a critical aspect to this,” he said.
The Save the Y group also needs to remind people how important the Feith Family YMCA is to the community, said Sarah Paque, a member of the board.
“We need to remind them we are doing a lot of good in the community and are worth saving,” Paque said. “Can you imagine that space if it wasn’t a Y?
“It’s heartbreaking we’re up for auction to the highest bidder. We’re not a piece of furniture. We’re not an asset. We’re a community.”
Funds raised for the purchase of the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA are tax deductible and will be held in a trust for the purchase, Rob Johnson said. Donors can either pledge funds or pay cash, he said.
If Kettle Moraine is successful in buying the Saukville Y and has raised more money than is needed, the excess funds will go toward capital improvements, he said.
The challenge grant from the Mellowes family and the Charter Manufacturing Foundation is a good start, Rob Johnson said, adding that the YMCA also has several verbal pledges toward the purchase.
Linda Mellowes, president of the foundation, said the programming offered by the Feith Family YMCA is important to families, noting that 40% of the members and participants come from Port Washington, 25% from Grafton and 15% from both Cedarburg and Saukville.
“We believe in the programs and services provided for our community by the YMCA and want to encourage others to support the Y,” Mellowes said
So far, potential donors have all been supportive of the Feith Family YMCA, Rob Johnson said.
“Everyone says the Y is a great thing and they want to see it stay,” he said. “But the ability of people to make decisions in this short time frame adds stress.”
Didier noted that when the Ozaukee YMCA opened in 1999, it was through the grassroots efforts of community members who saw a need and worked to meet it.
“We’ll find out how important the Y really is to people,” Didier said. “If it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be. But we certainly won’t go down without a fight.”