With whirlwind 90-day effort, YMCA inks victory in capital campaign

The Salem YMCA under construction on Feb. 16, 2022 (Rachel Alexander/Salem Reporter)

After more than four years of lobbying and courting donors, leaders at Salem’s YMCA are declaring victory.

The nonprofit last week succeeded in a challenge to raise $3 million toward its new building from donors in 90 days, triggering a matching donation that brings the capital campaign to a long-awaited end.

“We are so delighted. It is a true blessing,” said Tim Sinatra, the YMCA’s CEO.

The funds are being used to construct the new downtown gym, child care facility and community center scheduled to open this summer.

The project, now expected to cost $30.5 million due to rising construction costs, has been in the works for years with delays due to fundraising challenges, the pandemic and more. It’s also expanded in scope, with a significant portion of the floor space dedicated to a child care program intended to help alleviate a local shortage of providers.

The final fundraising push began in November after the Mountain West Investment Corporation issued Sinatra’s team a challenge: raise $3 million by Feb. 8, and the real estate company would chip in the final $1 million.

(Disclosure: Larry Tokarski, Mountain West president, is also a co-founder of Salem Reporter.)

The YMCA crossed the finish line at 2:30 p.m. on deadline day with hours to spare, though that didn’t stop enthusiastic supporters from reaching out well into the evening.

“People (were) calling up at 11:58 p.m. saying, ‘Whatever’s left, I’ll cover,” Sinatra said.

The final total raised was $86,252 over the $3 million goal, Sinatra said. The millions came from 311 donors, most of whom contributed under $1,000.

Sinatra said some of that total is multi-year gifts. The final total includes about $145,000 in in-kind contributions from subcontractors on the construction project.

The project is the largest capital campaign in recent Salem history and initially struggled to raise funds in part because of the high price tag.

Lottery bonds and other state support were early sources of funding, buoyed by support from Senate President Peter Courtney, a longtime YMCA member who lived in the association’s rental housing after arriving in Salem for a law clerk job in 1969.

State lottery bonds provided $12 million toward construction, and Courtney successfully pushed for another $4 million in Oregon’s Covid relief funds to go toward the project in the 2021 legislative session.

Sinatra, who came to the YMCA in the summer of 2020, focused his fundraising push on telling stories. He reached out to donors with examples of the YMCA’s long history helping generations of Salem families connect. Kids took swim lessons in the pool and attended summer camps.

He also shared a vision for the role the building could play in Salem’s future.

The idea was for the three-story building, just blocks from the Capitol, to be more than a gym. It would offer space for community members of every age to live healthier lives by hosting senior triathlons, tutoring and job preparation for teens, swim lessons and child care.

Jessica Otjen, the YMCA’s resource development director, said the final days of the campaign were emotional for employees as they saw an internal “scorecard” of the campaign’s status tick closer toward the goal.

“I think for us it was those gifts of $20, $25, $50 that were just so meaningful,” she said. “It was almost like people were feeling now that their contributions were going to make a dent. Three million dollars is a big number, but on that last day when we were within reach, we really saw a huge amount of donations come in.”

Otjen said with the building’s cost successfully raised, YMCA employees can now return their focus to the organization’s programs.

She’s now working on fundraising for scholarships ensuring the Y never has to turn a family away because they can’t afford the cost of a membership or program fee.

Like many YMCA employees, she has childhood memories of attending programs at the old facility.

“It was super meaningful for me because it was … where I went to spend time with my parents,” she said. “To be back here and be in a position where I get to help make opportunities for kids like me when I was growing up, that’s super special.”

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter starting at $5 a month. Click I want to subscribe!