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At midway point, Y’s campaign has raised $12K

Lake County Family YMCA plans close Waukegan branch Oct. 31. | File photo

Lake County Family YMCA plans to close the Waukegan branch on Oct. 31. | File photo

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Lake County Family YMCA facts

Memberships: 2,300

Members: 7,000

Employees: 132

Loss due to declining membership: $450.000 per year

Updated: December 19, 2012 11:55AM

WAUKEGAN — The “Save the Y” effort over the last two weeks has raised $12,000, a tidy sum that unfortunately amounts to a drop in a very leaky bucket.

The Lake County Family YMCA needs between $5 and $8 million to pay off its debt and keep going. The fledgling Save the Y campaign was hastily launched in response to an outcry by members after the agency abruptly announced that it is going broke and plans to close its facilities in Waukegan and Vernon Hills on Oct. 31.

The YMCA has been a staple in Waukegan for 100 years. It has operated in Vernon Hills since 2001.

The campaign has spawned two initiatives: A drive to recruit donors and the organizing of community leaders to find ways to ensure the Y’s long-term financial viability.

Members of the Waukegan Y met on Friday for the second time since the planned closure was announced Sept. 28. In Vernon Hills, where members also have gathered, the village is exploring the possible purchase of the Central Lake YMCA, which would then be operated by the Vernon Hill Park District through an intergovernmental agreement.

When a member asked what that would mean for the Northern Lake facility in Waukegan, Y interim CEO Hal Katz admitted that while divesting of the Vernon Hills facility would cut overhead, long-term sustainability is still an issue.

While the Y will consider selling its holdings, Katz said, it hopes to keep offering services — including fitness programs, before-and after-school care, summer day camp, and swim teams and lessons.

Members raised options including asking willing members to pay double dues, tapping larger philanthropic organizations and swaying the Waukegan Park District toward partnership.

“The park district spent tons of money on the (Hinkston Park) fieldhouse,” said Joan Mullejans, of Waukegan, a former Waukegan Y board member, who suggested the district might buy the building at 2000 Western Ave., operate the pool and lease-out the rest.

“From the YMCA perspective, we’d love that,” said Katz. “But the park district has not expressed an interest.”

Katz said that he and other Y leaders, plus Mayor Robert Sabonjian and other city officials, are meeting in person or by conference call to “brainstorm” and share contacts for “organizations and wealthy individuals.” The leading two options are formation of a community partnership and the hiring of an outside “hired gun” or fund-raiser who specializes in working with nonprofits.

“If we can bring in some capital, maybe $300,000, we can stay open for a few more months,” Katz said. “We’re working feverishly. We’re making phone calls and discussions are on-going. The urgency of the situation has changed dramatically and that’s being communicated. Staying open past Oct. 31 is everybody’s goal.”

Waukegan Township Supervisor Patricia Jones urged members to call their city, county and state representatives to urge support for the Save the Y effort.

“We the people can make the difference,” she said.

Y board member Claudia Hoogasian sounded a note of caution.

“We’re running out of money,” she said. “We still owe the bank. We’re current on the loan, but we’re running close to the edge. The bank has board oversight. They could call the loan at any time if we deviate from the path set out in the loan documents.”

Mullejans recalled that the members of her water aerobics group cried when they learned the Waukegan Y could close.

“These are women in their 70s and 80s,” Mullejans said. “They depend on the Y. And what about the employees? I hope the Y can stay open and these people can keep their jobs, because they give so much.”

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