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“Dear Friends – It’s Time to Make A Choice”

A letter to the editor from Westport resident Matt Smith.

I recently sent a letter to a number of friends in Westport and Weston, motivated by the fact that our community is at a critical juncture in its relationship with the .  Choices made over a number of years have the Y on a path to relocate to Mahackeno or to close.  Some believe that there are other options for the Y still yet available.  The Y however, believes that it is required to choose by mid-May between the only two options that it sees as currently available – to relocate to Mahackeno, or to close in 2014.  It is my hope in sharing this letter more broadly to raise awareness of the choice that each of us now has to make – to support the Family Y in its efforts, or not.

My family’s choice to support the Y, shared first with friends and now being shared more publicly, has two foundations.  First, we have greatly appreciated the Y since we moved to Westport in 2007, both through the use of the Y and its programs and also by seeing its actions for our greater community.  We strongly believe that our community is simply, and significantly, better with the Y than it would be without it.  Second, we believe that the leaders in our community – elected representatives, the directors and employees of the Y, and other principals in the community – are working in the best interests of our community as they consider the future of the Y.  Some would call this naive.  We call it trust.  We trust that these leaders will be wise stewards of any support that we provide.

 

Dear Friends:

My father-in-law was great at giving advice, and one of his sayings has been resonating with me recently: “To have a friend, you need to be a friend.”  You may have heard it before.  It has felt increasingly relevant to me in this time of social media and political partisanship where it’s too easy to lose friendships, or to lose the opportunity for new friendships, in an instant.

I am fortunate to be friends with Rob Reeves, who you may know is the CEO of the Westport Weston Family Y.  You may also know something about the Y’s efforts to raise a tremendous amount of money to stay in our community, a fundraising effort which began formally in January 2011 but much earlier for Rob and his colleagues.  Although I generally feel that I know Rob and his wife Joanne well enough to appreciate the key points surrounding that effort, I still find myself taken aback by recent news coverage and discussions on the amount of funds they need to raise by mid-May.

As you may have seen, debate about the future location of the Y also continues, leaving many at a loss about how or when to get involved.  It’s not my intention to add to that debate here.  I trust that the leaders and experts in our community who are engaged in any debate about location will do so capably, from either side.  The issue that I see bearing down upon us now is one of funding, and location doesn’t really matter when it comes to funding.  At any location in this community the Y would have a gap in its funding, whether for capital or for operations.  The funding issue only goes away if the gap is closed through fundraising – or if there’s no Y.

I recently spoke to Rob and told him that it looks like they could use a few “angels” in more ways than one, and soon.  It does seem that angels are needed more and more to make things happen and to fund the endless stream of needs in our society.  Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono, Oprah Winfrey, Paul Newman, Melissa and Doug, and yes, even Sheldon Adelson, come to mind.  Sometimes though, great things are also accomplished because of coins collected at the local diner or McDonald’s, through kids’ lemonade stands, or as a result of small amounts contributed by many individuals to a political campaign.

In reading the news coverage I realized that I hadn’t really appreciated what Rob and the Y are trying to accomplish.  And I also hadn’t fully appreciated what the Y has meant to my family and our community in just the few years that we’ve been fortunate to be part of it.  Who hasn’t spent time watching magicians or listening to music during First Night festivities at the Y, or had their children take gymnastics or swim lessons or enjoy a Youth Fun Night at the Y, or known someone who’s needed the services provided by the Y after devastating storms (or simply been proud of the fact that the Y is able to do so), or felt the friendship of the Y in their families or in the community in some other way?  I wondered: am I – are we – willing to take the risk that this all falls by the wayside if the Y has no other option but to close and is no longer able to continue to be a leader and benefactor in our community?

Unfortunately, I’m unable to be a six or seven-figure angel for the Y, and as with many of us there already seem to be too many opportunities to share or spend what we’ve been blessed with.  But it’s made me think: is my family able to make the Y a priority and will that make a difference?  Should we acknowledge that the Y is what we believe our community needs?  Do we make clear that we want to be part of a community that includes the friendship of the Y?  And are thousands of families in our community who share these beliefs willing to pledge a meaningful, perhaps even four or five-figure contribution to close the large gap in funding?

Can we collectively make a difference?  I have no idea.  I hope so.  What if we don’t?

My friends, our Family Y needs some friends.

Best regards,

Matt Smith

Westport, CT

Don Bergmann April 07, 2012 at 01:58 PM
A very few in our Town will be pleased if the Y closes. Among their reasons is a judgment that the Mahackeno site is very wrong. A few in our Town believe the Mahackeno site is ideal. Some in our Town support a Y at Mahackeno because they believe it is the only site possible. Others, I among them, believe that a new Y can, without difficulty, be located on the Imperial Avenue Parking lot. The Imperial Avenue Parking Lot site is gaining momemtum. That momentum will become a clear path upon the occurrence of two events, first, the Y fails to raise by May 15th the $6.2 million required to proceed with a facility at Mahackeno, a facility far smaller and with far fewer services that desired, and second, our Town and its leaders work for an Imperial Avenue site. With those two occurrences, I predict the fund raising effort by the Y will advance rapidly and successfully. Don Bergmann
Gus Fernandez April 07, 2012 at 03:44 PM
Agree with Don, simple and to the point.....and will continue the rejuvenation of Downtown Westport. Gus Fernandez

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