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Op-ed: The Family Y Needs Friends

The following article was written by Matt Smith of Westport. We greatly appreciate Matt’s eloquent show of support for our “Building What Matters” campaign to fund construction of a new home for the Family Y.

Let us know why the Y Matters to you by clicking on the Comments button. For more information about our new Family Y at Mahackeno, please click here.

A schematic of Phase I of the new Family Y, with future additions outlined to the right.

“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.” This truism 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 Family 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 specifically the March 20 article in The Hour by Robin Kaminski, “Westport Weston Family Y project needs to raise $6 million by May.” In the article, the urgency of the effort is reflected in Rob’s comments:

“It’s do or die so to speak,” said Rob Reeves, Family Y CEO. “We don’t have any easy answers, but there is certainly a risk of the project not going forward if we don’t raise the money. We’re not trying to scare anyone, but this is a reality check. If the community wants the Y around, this is what it’s going to take.”

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 spoke with Rob after seeing the article, 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 article 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 make or 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.”