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Elyria YWCA celebrates 98 years as director marks 35 with group

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ELYRIA — When the board and staff of the Elyria YWCA gather next Friday to celebrate the 98th anniversary of the organization’s founding, Executive Director Jeanine Donaldson said she hopes no one makes a big fuss over her.

Yes, she has been there for 35 years, and she values the good she has been able to accomplish during that time, but no one needs to turn the shindig into a time to praise her, she said.

“Um, the first woman chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court (Maureen O’Connor) is going to be there, and I think people will be very interested in what she has to say over me,” Donaldson said. “The funny thing is, unless you work with me every day, you will never know I have been here for 35 years unless I was the one to tell you. ... I have been telling people, because if I can get one more person in the door to hear this amazing woman because they for some reason want to celebrate me, then I guess I’m OK with that. But, really, I don’t need it because the Elyria YWCA has been very good to me over the years.”

Donaldson, a petite powerhouse who radiates a positive personality and is passionate about the mission of the YWCA, came to Elyria in October 1976. Three years later, she was appointed executive director and quickly became recognized as a community leader and advocate for women and minorities.

She remembers the first few years of her career as some of the best times of her life, even if social work wasn’t her original plan. Donaldson worked for a year as a music teacher in Lorain Schools and then decided it wasn’t for her.

“Much to my mother’s horror,” she said with a smile. “You know I went to college to be a teacher, and in her eyes, I was supposed to be a teacher.”

So instead of teaching, Donaldson went back to what she loved. She spent her summers after high school and during college working as a parks supervisor in Sandusky and Oberlin and adored the work she did with kids in that capacity.

“I quickly saw a lot of kids that needed a lot more,” she said. “Kids were coming there that hadn’t eaten breakfast or knew they were not going to eat dinner. Eventually, it became apparent to me they were coming there for me. I was giving them encouragement, telling them they could go to college and follow their dreams. So I guess you can say in a lot of ways social work was in my blood.”

It goes without saying that the Elyria YWCA has thrived under Donaldson’s leadership.

In 1985, she successfully led a building renovation fundraising drive. In 1995, she secured more than $700,000 in federal funds to establish the first transitional housing program for women in Lorain County and then followed that up with another award to establish a permanent supportive housing program for women with disabilities in downtown Lorain.

Some would call it work, but Donaldson said for her it’s as effortless as breathing.

“There are so many aspects of the job that are important, whether you are looking at it from an administrative perspective and focuses on fundraising to the program side where we are engaging women and empowering them,” she said.

Still, instead of recognition, Donaldson said she just wants the Elyria YWCA to be around to serve woman for as long as possible. In a time when nonprofit organizations are struggling to remain relevant and financially sound, Donaldson said the Elyria YWCA is still here.

“I like to say the W stands for ‘We are still here,’ ” she said. “The fact that we are still here and that we continue to advocate for women, girls and people of color. That is our mission, and I like to say we are the conscience of the community in those areas.”

YWCA celebration

  • When: 5:30 p.m. Nov. 4
  • Where: Lorain County Transportation Center, 40 East Ave., Elyria
  • Cost: Tickets are $60 for dinner and a private reception with Maureen O’Connor; $40 for dinner
  • Contact: (440) 322-6308

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.

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