YMCA Provides Mitigation Funds for Powerful Schools Closure

by Erin Okuno, Heather Hart, and Idil Danan

At the end of last school year, a group of parents requested the YMCA of Greater Seattle provide $20,000 in mitigation funding to schools because the Y was closing its long-serving and popular Powerful Schools programs. The YMCA honored this request at eight schools that had comprehensive Powerful Schools programs.

We thank the Y for honoring our request and recognizing the need of our South Seattle students with this one-time payment to the schools. This was one of three asks we had of the YMCA due to the program’s closure, the other two asks are to diversify their boards and to provide follow-up information which has been done.

We appreciate and note this goodwill gesture; it is an opening of a new relationship and chapter for Y’s involvement in South Seattle. We also hope the Y is genuine at wanting to continue to work with the community and to figure out where we go together next.

While we recognize the Y for their financial support, we don’t excuse the way decisions were made in closing a long-serving homegrown program. One of the reasons our group decided to publish the first Op-Ed was to hold the Y’s leadership more accountable to our community.

Decisions to close the program were made behind closed doors and with little transparency or conversation with the community. We wanted to make the story known so the Y and other organizations operating in the South Seattle community understand they must be accountable and be in conversation with our families and educators. We only decided to publish the article after repeated attempts to communicate with Y leadership failed both in person and in writing.

In a meeting between parents from three different schools where Powerful School’s had operated, board members and a staff person from the Y talked about how the decision was made and how the Y must now work to rebuild trust with the community. Trust building takes time, and the Y will need to change the way it currently operates to authentically build relationships with community members.

We value the responsive listening and the money to schools, and we still believe the Y has more work to do to prevent another situation like this from happening again. The mitigation funding was only one of our three asks; all three asks go together. We want to see the Y continue their work of building authentic relationships with community partners by showing up and listening to community partners.

Tom Hull, former YMCA Association Board Chair, said the Y is looking to create a process to diversify board membership across the entire association. Our ask of diversifying the Association Board to include at least two community connected board members stands. Representation matters in leadership, especially for organizations with missions of serving people of color and communities impacted by poverty.

We also want to thank Mahogany Villars for stepping in to facilitate the meeting between YMCA board members and parents where we were able to begin a process of reconciliation and rebuilding trust. The journey is far from complete for the YMCA and we hope they will continue their work to stay community focused and accountable to communities of color.

Erin Okuno, Heather Hart, and Idil Danan are parents of children in two different public schools in SE Seattle.

YMCA Provides Mitigation Funds for Powerful Schools Closure — A response

by Tom Hull, Immediate Past Board Chair and Board Member – YMCA of Greater Seattle

Erin, Heather, and Idil have kindly offered me the opportunity to share my thoughts alongside theirs as a follow-up to the Op-Ed article they published last May.

On behalf of the board of the YMCA of Greater Seattle, I want to thank the South Seattle parents and school officials who worked with the Y this summer to reach agreement on a total of $160,000 in mitigation funding for schools most directly impacted by closure of the Y’s Powerful Schools program. During the month of August, eight elementary and middle schools (or their PTAs) each received a $20,000 check from the Y to help pay for academic enrichment programming to replace what was previously offered by the Y.

Confronting the issues that led to this situation has been an important learning opportunity for the Y. In July, I joined two of my board colleagues and a member of the Y’s senior leadership team for a meeting with a group of South Seattle parent representatives who shared their candid views about the closure of Powerful Schools. Hearing their stories helped us recognize the importance of deepening the Y’s community engagement. Throughout Greater Seattle, tens of thousands of parents trust the Y to help their kids get a fair chance in life, and we never want to let them down.

Going forward, the Y has launched a variety of steps to address the issues we’ve identified. Actions are underway to improve how we communicate with partners and community members and to strengthen our program management. Understanding the impact of potential changes in our programs and their funding is a responsibility we take seriously.

Meaningful discussions are also taking place on ways to expand community participation in the governing entities that oversee our thirteen branches, two overnight camps, and extensive social service operations. The list of communities we serve is long: Beacon Hill, Auburn, Kent, Shoreline, SeaTac, Central District, Snoqualmie, and many more. We want all voices at the table, and we always welcome recommendations of people willing to serve on our branch and association boards.

What unites everyone in this discussion is a commitment to providing more equitable education opportunities for kids of color. As a Y board member, I look forward to supporting the constructive dialogue and accountability necessary for the Y to do its best in helping communities achieve this goal.

Finally, I want to join Erin, Heather, and Idil in thanking Mahogany Villars for facilitating the bridge-building process that led to agreement on mitigation funding and a path forward. Her spirit is something we can all channel to help us succeed in the work ahead.