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Major donation kicks off campaign
Well-known philanthropist contributes $100,000 to YMCA-YWCA of Northeast Avalon

Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Source: The Telegram (St. John's), p. A4

by Terry Roberts

Elinor Gill Ratcliffe fondly remembers going to teenage dances at the Y in St. John's.

Her late aunt, Kay Hibbs, stayed at the Y when she moved to St. John's from Carbonear in the 1920s.

Years later, Gill Ratcliffe - who grew up in St. John's - recalls interacting with some of her aunt's old friends from the Y.

And when the country switched from the Imperial to the metric system of measurement in the early 1970s, she learned about centimetres, metres and kilometres at the Y.

"It has been part of my life since I was a child," Gill Ratcliffe said during an interview Tuesday.

Her late husband's sister, Bettina Campbell, was the national president of the YWCA.

So, when Gill Ratcliffe heard about an ambitious plan by the YMCA-YWCA of Northeast Avalon to build a new facility in the capital city, the well-known philanthropist immediately took an interest.

She became the first person to contribute to the fundraising campaign last week by donating $100,000, and she encourages others to do the same.

"It would be a wonderful place to put your money," she said.

The St. John's Y has plans to build a new $9-million facility, and is expected to officially launch the fundraising campaign in the spring.

It's hoped the new 50,000-square-foot facility will be open in three or four years.

Vacant property in Pippy Park at the corner of Ridge Road and Higgins Line has been identified as the preferred site.

The Y has asked to lease the property and the Pippy Park Commission is recommending approval, but formal approval by the commission's partners - the provincial government, the City of St. John's and Memorial University - is still needed.

Jason Brown, the Y's chief executive officer, said he's thrilled by Gill Ratcliffe's support.

"She's a great Y person and I think she's a great role model, too," Brown said.

It's not the first time that Gill Ratcliffe, through her charitable foundation, has contributed to the St. John's Y.

She has donated thousands to the Y assistance program and an all-day child-care program.

"We couldn't imagine our Y without Elinor," Brown added.

The Y hopes to raise $2 million locally, and is lobbying all three levels of government to pick up half the costs.

Brown said about a dozen new Ys have been built across Canada in recent years, and all received generous government support.

"We're hopeful the same can happen here," he said.

The current facility on New Cove Road is too small and too old, and will be sold, Brown explained.

Adding to the urgency of the situation is the fact that membership in the Y's health, fitness and recreation programs grew by 1,200 last year.

Private fitness centres in other areas of the country have complained about government support for the Y, but Brown challenges the argument that the Y is competing with private enterprise.

"We don't set out to compete with anybody. The Y is a unique organization," Brown said.

The Y is a non-profit organization that specializes in family-oriented activities and services.

Brown said prospective members are never turned away if they cannot pay the fees.

He said there's a need to offer expanded health, fitness and recreation programs in a province where obesity and inactivity are among the highest in the country.

The Y is the largest provider of licenced child-care services in the province, and runs an employment and enterprise program.

"We help thousands of people find jobs and start businesses. That means they can stay in Newfoundland and Labrador," Brown said.

"Those locations are in rental spaces and we would like to consolidate some of our locations under one roof so we can operate more efficiently and help more people."

The new facility will have an indoor pool, which the facility lacks.

Brown said surveys conducted recently throughout Atlantic Canada found that people are generally supportive of the Y and its mandate.

"It's very clear our community is expecting us to deliver these programs, and certainly a new building will help us deliver these programs to more people in a more comprehensive way."

© YMCA of Newfoundland and Labrador, Newfoundland and Labrador