The Greater Trenton YMCA will celebrate its 150th anniversary this month, a celebration not just of its past, but of its continuing presence in a city that has changed dramatically in recent decades, says executive director Melvin Hill. To emphasize its continuing presence in the community, the anniversary celebration comes at a time when the Y is planning a major expansion of its facility.

The anniversary dinner takes place on Wednesday, September 27, at 6 p.m., at the Trenton Marriott at Lafayette Yard. Cost: $75. For reservations and information call 609-989-9622.

“A major reason for this celebration is to highlight the long history of the YMCA in Trenton and to increase its visibility in the community,” says Hill. The Trenton Y was founded in the same year that the program was started in Boston and Montreal.

A video presentation during the dinner focuses on “what has been done at the Y in the past, what we are doing, and what we will do,” he says.The facility is currently housed at 439 Broad Street. The newest expansion is slated to occupy the former Apex Lumber property at 641 Broad Street.

The $18.2 million expansion will include space for what Hill calls, “the five jewels of the Trenton Y: preschool progams, after school programs, day camp, youth sports, and health, wellness, and fitness programs. It will include a gymnastics area, aquatics, a fitness center for teens and adults, a preschool education center, and locker rooms and meeting space.

It has taken several years for the dream of expanding the Y to come close to reality. While the capital campaign officially kicked off in January, 2004, the program was in “the concept stages long before that, but the board was having difficulty getting it off the ground,” says Hill.

Hill grew up outside of Pittsburgh, where his father was a steelworker. He recalls swimming at his local YMCA when he was a child, and first began working for a YMCA in 1970 in Lower Bucks County soon after graduating from Penn State (Class of 1968).

“I had to work in education and coaching, but I found it wasn’t the right place for me,” he says. “I was working part-time at the Y when the director retired and I was offered the job.”

Each YMCA is community-based. The Trenton YMCA draws people not only from the city but from Ewing and Lawrence Townships as well. Because of that autonomy each YMCA can decide which programs are most important in the community it serves.

While there are membership fees, all YMCAs are “truly charitable organizations,” says Hill. “They are based on the basic founding principle that we are all one. The YMCA is open to all with no prohibitions for race, creed, color, or ability to pay.”

At the upcoming anniversary dinner Hill will be announcing a $300,000 donation by the Kearney Foundation, an organization founded by the former owners of the Trenton Times. In addition, Hill hopes to make “an announcement about some community partnerships.”

The Trenton YMCA is now two-thirds of the way to its $18.2 million goal. The campaign is far enough along that Hill can say with certainty that groundbreaking will begin in early 2007. It will take approximately a year-and-a-half to complete the construction.

This large fundraising campaign has taken good planning, and cooperation on the part of both volunteers and staff. Here are some of its key elements:

Hire assistance. The first step in any major campaign is to hire a fundraising company to assist with advice and planning, says Hill. The Trenton YMCA has used TTP Enterprises. Finding a company isn’t difficult, Hill says. “As soon as the announcement of a capital campaign is made the companies are knocking on your door.” He chose TTP because the company is local, has a good track record of running capital campaigns like the one

he is heading, and “came highly recommended.”

The role of the fundraising company is to help set up the campaign and suggest prospects, but “90 percent of the work is up to the volunteers and the board,” says Hill. ”

Develop a plan. The staff and volunteers must work to constantly review the plan and to develop prospective contributors. “They need to be trained in how to ask for the donation,” says Hill. Then they make a list of all the prospects and begin to work from the top, the “six figure contributors,” on down to individual contributions.

Hill says that his YMCA will begin its individual contribution drive within the next few months, and that it will include direct mail, face-to-face meetings, cable television, and the organization’s website.

Make connections. Only after all of the plans are made clear to volunteers and staff can the process of contacting prospective donors begin. It takes a lot of time to get to this point, says Hill.

It can be difficult to get appointments with the decision makers who control the funds. “You need meet the person and explain the program before expecting money to be donated,” says Hill. Having volunteers, board members, and staff who can make those appointments to talk with the decision makers is crucial to the success of any fundraising campaign.

The real key to any fundraising campaign, he says, is the ability

of the staff and the volunteers to form relationships with potential contributors.

A major fundraising campaign is difficult in any setting, but can be particularly challenging in a city like Trenton, which does not have a large upper middle class population and is home to very few large corporations. Hill is pleased that the Trenton YMCA’s fundraising efforts are poised to bear fruit in the form of a facility that promises to be an unvaluable home away from home for thousands of city children — and a social, athletic, and recreational hub for the whole city and for its immediate suburban neighbors.

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