Minding The (Y’s Funding) Gap

“No one wakes up in the morning and asks, ‘How much money should I give the Y today?’ People don’t walk into the lobby with bags of money.”

Too bad. If they did, Paul Bernetsky’s job would be a lot easier.

The 51-year-old Watertown native is the Westport YMCA‘s new chief development officer. His job is to raise the $3.2 million still remaining to build a 54,000-square foot facility at Mahackeno.

When he’s done, he’ll start raising money for Phase 2 of the new building — the 50,000 or so square feet that were deferred when the Y’s initial campaign fell short.

All along, he’ll oversee the Strong Kids Campaign — the Y’s annual fundraising effort.

Fortunately, Paul is a big believer in the importance of non-profits.

Paul Bernetsky, with the Y’s capital campaign slogan.

He’s spent his career in that world. He began with the Boy Scouts, then served as executive director of Youth for the Third Millenium, a Catholic youth missionary organization. Most recently, he managed St. Joseph High School‘s development campaign and marketing program.

About the only thing the Y shares with those organizations is its non-profit status.

“It’s been a long process, I know,” Paul says, referring to the many years the Y has spent trying to build a new facility — and of donor fatigue.

“Some people wonder if it’s every going to happen. When we get shovels in the ground, people will really start to believe what we’re doing.”

Paul adds, “I’m a glass-is-half-full guy. If I can bring my passion for this great, exciting facility, we’ll bring more volunteers forward. The staff can’t do this alone.

Plans for the new YMCA facility at Mahackeno.

So far, the Y has solicited funds from “folks with means,” Paul says. The next step is smaller donations, from families and individuals. Many, he said, have not yet been solicited.

“I’m not naive,” Paul notes. “I know it will take hard work.”

He took his new post with eyes wide open. CEO Rob Reeves and fundraising consultant Jon Simons sent him background material dating to 1995.

“I know folks are disappointed the Y is moving out of downtown,” Paul says.

“Change is difficult. I’m a traditionalist too. But this facility will serve the 21st century. We’re thinking ahead, to the next 50 years.

“We’re at a crucial point in the history of this Y. It’s a privilege for me to be part of this organization.”

Was there any hesitation in accepting the position?

“A little,” Paul admits. “But as I dug deeper, I saw that most questions and concerns have been addressed, time and time again.

“I have faith in the goodwill of the people in Westport and Weston. It takes courage to tackle something new like this. I give lots of credit to the board. They’ve made some tough decisions, and stood by them.”

His job, he says, is to “educate, inspire and invite people to be part of this project. I’m not going to be walking around with a club, hitting them over the head.”

He looks forward to building confidence, opening doors, helping people feel comfortable donating money, and asking others to do the same.

The dicey national economy does not help. But, Paul says, after the sharp drop in philanthropy in 2008-09, people are starting to donate again.

“If there’s a cause you believe in, you’ll give year after year,” he notes. “That’s the great thing about our country.”

He calls it a “blessing” that Westporters and Westonites have the means to help the Y. Of course, they do not wake up every morning planning to donate. And they sure don’t walk through the door offering bags of money.

So Paul Bernetsky will ask.

21 responses to “Minding The (Y’s Funding) Gap

  1. I am new to town and I am curious as to why the Y relocation is such a hot issue. Is it primarily that they want to move it out of downtown or that the process has dragged out. I realize its not a simple answer and that people are passionate about this, but was just interested in some of the background/history.

  2. sad to lose the peace and quiet

    Sorry to be a NIMBY but what is going to be done to control the traffic. The Y is great but I live in a quiet neighborhood that will soon become a traffic nightmare. The Y should try to come up with a solution to this.
    Hindsight is 20/20 but the Baron’s south was a better idea.

    • The Baron’s South was not available. Gordon has his own special plans for that parcel; almost as worthy as the $10,000,000 dog toliet.

    • My bet is the increase in traffic will be iperceptible.

    • PS – You must really hate summers in your neighborhood when the traffic increases 10 fold to/from Mahackeno with all of the the day campers and staff.

      • Silly stupid sarcasm. Get a tuneup, Wrecker…and a new handle. The “sad” poster makes sense, you make poop. Your attitude type and comments are the reason the Y will NEVER be funded.

        • Awwww……don’t get your “little” Speedo in a Bunch Speedo. You might restrict the blood fliow to your brain.

          PS – I will never change my handle because I am a “Wrecker” which I bet you never were (that is If you even know what it means!)

  3. Wilton Road Resident

    You must not live in the neighborhood. If you did, you would understand what a nightmare it already is, the different seasons notwithstanding.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s summer, winter, or fall. We get all of the work traffic coming to and from Wilton (where many corporations are based out of). In the mornings, it is a mess. In the early evenings, from around 5:00 to 6:30, it is even worse as there is the add-on of commuters exiting the Merritt from their work in Stamford and NYC.

    This construction, and subsequent extra activity, will create hell on the roads for us. I guarantee you that. I wish we could move. Stupid YMCA.

    • Then why did you buy a house in that neighborhood to begin with?

      “It doesn’t matter if it’s summer, winter, or fall. We get all of the work traffic coming to and from Wilton (where many corporations are based out of). In the mornings, it is a mess. In the early evenings, from around 5:00 to 6:30, it is even worse as there is the add-on of commuters exiting the Merritt from their work in Stamford and NYC.”

      • Wilton Road Resident

        BECAUSE IT IS TOLERABLE. But just barely.

        Are you really naive enough to not think this will increase traffic volume by, at least, 30 – 40 percent? I would be happy to bet on it. This will push the Wilton Road / Newtown Turnpike / Red Coat / Hermit Lane community to their limits!!!

        Here is my question… Why the heck didn’t the YMCA do any impact study on the surrounding neighborhoods, roads, etc., prior to the campaign? And if they did, WHERE is the report?

        The only thing remotely close to that, which I have heard directly from YMCA, is the request to seek aid from the state because it needs to modify the current traffic flow at exit 41 ramp on Merritt NB.

      • For years, Westport politicians complained about regional traffic problems. Complaining about traffic was a political win win. Everyone agreed with you, but you never had to put your convictions on the line with a vote. Then came the Y’s Mahackeno project – a moment when those opposed to excess development and sprawl had an opportunity to take a stand – and suddenly a worsening regional traffic problem became a case of neighborhood NIMBY that could be corrected with an improved traffic light. I believe the political repercussions of this poor judgement are still be felt.

        • Wilton Road Resident

          It will be felt for years and years to come, Anon. I guarantee it. How pathetic of that clown Joseloff.

  4. As someone who commutes regularly through the Wilton Road / Exit 41 area, the traffic right now is an absolute mess during the rush hours. Merritt 7 and Wilton commuters who live north and east of Westport use Exit 41 as their gateway to the Merritt. The upcoming construction will only make it worse.

    So, yeah welcome to the neighborhood, and good luck with all that fundraising.

  5. melody james

    I wonder if those with means would be GIVING if this facility was coming to their residential neighborhoods? FYI brokers, real estate people and builders are all shying away from any properties in this Mahakeno area since the Y won their approvals to build their two phased extravaganza. I grew up with a vibrant YMCA downtown; I believe that’s where it belongs and is NEEDED as a community resource. Like so many, I grew up loving the Y, and members of my family went to the camp for YEARS too; my parents were on the Board and committees over the years. I think this was a very divisive act on the YMCA’s part, so their fund raising appeal does not appeal to those of us who feel the impact more personally. Interestingly, the Y moving to the camp location was never pursued while the Y board had a member residing on Rice’s Lane. It stinks if you’re in that residential neighborhood already suffering with bad traffic.

  6. The carping and whining about the Y’s choice is getting old. There was no viable downtown alternative, to say otherwise is to deal in revisionist history.

  7. Wilton Road Resident

    Can someone shed more light on the rumor that the YMCA’s Board bought out several residents on Sunny Lane and/or Rice’s Lane when pursuing this site?

    I have only heard mumblings but do not know any of the details. Curious to hear if the seed of corruption was already planted years ago…

  8. Yes, it’s true that the Y bought all the houses on Sunny Lane both before and during their application for a special permit to build at Mahackeno. The Fiorenzas, who did not want to sell, were ultimately forced to when theirs was the last remaining privately owned house, and it was clear their property would soon be surrounded by asphalt, cars and lights.

    All those houses will ultimately be torn down and paved over for the Y’s giant parking lot. Yep, you heard that right… just like Joni Mitchell’s song.