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YWCA announces plans to sell building to local doctor, continue services on North Street

By Howard B. Owens

The financially troubled YWCA in Batavia has reached an agreement to sell its building at 301 North St., Batavia, to Dr. Emily Fraser-Branche, a pediatrician in Batavia who will relocate her practice to the building and lease back space to the YWCA.

The sale of the property is contingent on Fraser-Branche obtaining a use variance from the City of Batavia for a medical office at the location.

When the YWCA opened in 1968 at 301 North, the neighborhood had not yet been declared R-1 (single-family residential) so while the YWCA's use of the property is grandfathered in, any other non-single-family use requires a variance.

The planned sale was announced to a group of YWCA supporters and area residents at a meeting Wednesday night.

Reid Whiting, a municipal attorney with an office in Le Roy, explained to the audience the basis of the variance application, which must be approved by the city's planning board and zoning board of appeals.

There are three criteria that must be met for the variance to be approved, Whiting said.

First, that the change is needed because the current building cannot make a reasonable rate of return; second, that the building is experiencing a unique hardship; and third, that the hardship was not created by the YWCA.

On the first point, the building is not suitable as a single-family residence and therefore couldn't be sold at a reasonable rate of return and further, the YWCA's financial difficulties demonstrate that its current use is not generating enough revenue to maintain a reasonable rate of return.

On the second, because of the building's size and location in an R-1 zone, it creates a hardship on other uses for the building.

And on the third, the financial difficulty of the why and the city's decision to change the zoning is what created the hardship that necessitates the need for a variance, Whiting said.

Fraser-Branche grew up in Batavia and obtained her medical degree from Univerity at Buffalo. She returned to Batavia to practice medicine in Batavia and a few years ago opened Three Little Birds Pediatrics at 314 Ellicott St.

At Wednesday's meeting, she explained that it was the death of her father who inspired her to open her own practice. He encouraged her to strike out on her own and follow her passion.

She's been able, she said, to avoid being swallowed up by a regional hospital group and remain independent. Her practice she said is focused on taking care of her patient's physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

When she realized she might be able to acquire the YWCA building and move her practice there, she said it was an opportunity beyond her dreams to give her practice room to grow. It was a big decision, she said, that led to a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of prayer but in the end, it just seemed like the right thing to do.

“This is my home community," Fraser-Branche said. "I want to remain here. I want to continue to practice here. I want to continue to watch families grow and thrive.”

In response to residents' questions at the meeting, she said her office will only be open during standard, daytime business hours. Her business doesn't require big dumpsters and what little medical waste is generated by the business, it is safely stored in regular-sized, but sealed, garbage bins and safely removed from the property.

Whiting, in answer to a question, said a variance for the YWCA will not make it possible for other properties in the community to open businesses.

Whiting also said that if, for whatever reason some time down the road, another business wants to use the building, that business would require its own variance unless it was also a medical practice.

If the variance is to be granted, Whiting suggested, community members who support the YWCA will need to speak up in support of the variance.

"We hope anybody here who feels strongly about the future of the YWCA, its place in this community, and the chance to foster a great pediatric practice within this community, we hope that some of you, if not all of you, would take some time out of your busy schedules, particularly around this time of year, to put in favorable word to the planning board and the zoning board," Whiting said. "It’s very important because frequently the only people who show up at variance application hearings are opponents of the variance."

One argument in favor of the variance, Whiting said, is there is already medical uses in that part of Batavia, from UMMC to several medical offices. He said residents won't notice anything different with Three Little Birds Pediatrics than what they're used to from either those medical practices or the YWCA.

The medical practice will be in the back, roughly two-thirds of the building, while the YWCA will continue to operate in the front of the building, still offering its current programs and services, with My Sister's Closet moving to a room in the front of the building.

Millie Tomidy-Pepper, the current executive director, said the YWCA's office hours will remain the same, which are weekday, daytime hours.

The Batavia YWCA, founded in 1910, served the community from various locations, including its own downtown building for many years, until launching a building fund in the 1960s, raising more than $200,000, purchasing the property at 301 North, and finally opening the new building in 1968.

This spring, it looked briefly like the YWCA in Batavia was going to have to close up shop. It was out of money and Executive Director Jeanne Walton was replaced by Tomidy-Pepper, who took over an organization with debt and no reserves. The community rallied around the YW and between donations and the support of other YWCA's Tomidy-Pepper and the board, they were able to keep the doors open.

The sale of the building will help the YWCA continue to serve the community, Tomidy-Pepper said.

"I think it’s a good fit," Tomidy-Pepper said. "I can’t think of anybody else who could have put an offer in on the building who could have fit any better, honestly."

Dr. Emily Fraser-Branche

Millie Tomidy-Pepper

Reid Whiting

Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden raise $400 to support local YWCA

By Billie Owens

Pictured from left are: Ellen Bachorski, Carol Grosso, Millie Tomidy-Pepper, and Barb Toal.

Submitted photo and press release:

On Tuesday, July 23rd, officers of the Friends of Batavia Peace Garden presented Millie Tomidy-Pepper, director of the YWCA, with a donation in the amount of $400.

The gift came as a result of a hot dog sale fundraiser hosted by the Peace Garden committee on Saturday, July 7th.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to this outstanding organization that does so much for our community," said Barb Toal, co-president of the Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden. "When the going gets tough we need to stick together. Our community needs the services of the YWCA. We want to support that and do our part.”

Tomidy-Pepper was delighted to receive such a generous donation and stressed that “the mission of the YWCA is to eliminate racism and empower women. We will strive to keep this mission alive and going."

The Friends of the Batavia Peace Garden gained nonprofit status in 2013. They continue to partner with other community organizations including Domestic Violence Against Children, Holland Land Office Museum, United Way and Crossroads House.

"Although the Garden is a thing of beauty it also symbolizes a sense of pride for this community and all who dwell here," Toal said. "It takes a lot of effort to maintain it. Volunteers are needed. If you enjoy gardening we have just the right spot for you. An hour or two of your time once a week can make a big difference.”

Visit or text 585-300-9252.

Photo: $1 tacos at Cedar Street for Cinco de Mayo benefited YWCA

By Howard B. Owens

For Cinco de Mayo yesterday, Cedar Street Sales and Rentals, served up $1 tacos to store visitors. The proceeds, along with any donations, are going to the local YWCA to help the 109-year-old service organization out of its financial difficulties.

Spring cleaning and fresh start for Genesee County YWCA

By Howard B. Owens

Saturday morning was cool, damp and overcast but the mood at the YWCA on North Street, Batavia, was anything but downcast as more than 20 volunteers tackled a massive spring cleanup of the building and grounds in the belief that community organization has a new, brighter future.

Just a few weeks ago, the outlook for the YW was dire. Executive Director Millie Tomidy-Pepper announced the YW was out of money, in debt, and couldn't continue to operate without assistance.

"The community is showing an outpouring of support," Tomidy-Pepper said. "They want us to be here. This organization has helped so many people and I honestly didn’t know how much until I got here. Everybody has a story of how this organization helped them or they had a piece involved in it at some point."

The clean-up effort Saturday was massive, clearing away old broken toys, gardening supplies, and decorations, broken office furniture, and junk piled in the boiler room.

It felt like a fresh start.

The volunteers were among the 40 who showed up at the First Presbyterian of Batavia -- coming from churches in Byron, Corfu, Le Roy, Attica, Bergen, Batavia, and East Bethany -- that morning for three "Mission Day" projects, at Crossroads House, the Child Advocacy Center, and the YWCA.

"There are so many people here today helping," Tomidy-Pepper said. "There are people here rolling up their sleeves because this means so much to the community. My biggest thing is, we're open. We're open for business. We never stopped being open for business."

But some things have changed. The Crisis and Care Hotline is now run out of Niagara County and a group called Healthy Kids has taken over the before-school and after-school child-care programs.

"We realized that as we regroup and as we take a step back to analyze, that we can get stronger and go forward, we needed to kind of downsize a little bit," Tomidy-Pepper said. "We didn't want to do it haphazardly. We wanted to do it in a well-thought-out plan in order to transition to quality services so people will never know anything is different than it's being done by somebody else now."

Parents in the daycare programs won't notice a difference, she said. Healthy Kids is retaining all the staff at the same pay, all the same locations, the same hours, at no price difference for parents.

"They (Healthy Kids) are the rock stars here," Tomidy-Pepper said. "They really are. They did everything we asked."

Tomidy-Pepper is also getting help from the national YWCA. 

Eileen Mershart, a retired YWCA executive director, is in Batavia for more than a week to help Tomidy-Pepper and the board, with an assessment of their situation and strategic planning.

"After about a two-hour board meeting last night, I told them, they are a pretty feisty group," Mershart said. "They are committed to turning this organization around.  With that board support and the community support that I see today, and the interest from a variety of people, as the outpouring of people for friends and fundraisers, I see a path forward here.

"It may not look like it did before, but we will stay true to the domestic violence program and stay true to the mission to take this time to look at the community and community-wide needs."

Going forward, Tomidy-Pepper said there are other programs she things the YW can take on. At the top of the mission statement for the YWCA is eliminating racism. Tomidy-Pepper said she doesn't have specific ideas for programs at this time but that is important to her, she said. 

The YW also has a mission of empowering women, especially women going through difficult times, so she would like to bring back a program called "Power Up."

Along those lines, Tomidy-Pepper decorated her office with two pictures of purses from the 1970s that she found in storage at the YW and a quote from Susan B. Anthony, "Every woman should have a purse of her own."

Among the people in the community coming forward to support the YW is Guy Clark Jr., owner of Cedar Street Sales and Rentals. He's holding a Cinco de Mayo celebration May 5 and $1 from every taco sold will go to the YWCA.

That's the first of a new series of fundraisers. The second one is hosted by Rick Mancuso, owner of T.F. Brown's. The date in May hasn't been selected yet and there are still details to finalize but it will be at the restaurant.

Tomidy-Pepper also praised Bob Swinarksi and students from Genesee Community College who have come in and taken care of all the YW's IT needs, including the computer system, the website, and social media.

"I remember in the interview process (for the executive director's job), I talked about how the foundation of any organization needs to be on a solid foundation before you build a house on top of it," Tomidy-Pepper said. "We’re rebuilding the foundation."

Even with the difficult transition, Tomidy-Pepper said, "I'm staying."

She added, "There on of people who came before me. The women 108 years ago (who founded the Batavia YWCA) had more challenges than I do right now. They’re the people who worked for the right to vote. They’re the ones who went into jails. They’re the ones that risked their lives.

"I’m not risking my life here, but it’s a mission and I believe in the mission and I believe it’s going to work out."

Millie Tomidy-Pepper, left, and Eileen Mershart, under the picture of purses and the quote from Susan B. Anthony.

YWCA's daycare program will reopen Monday with all the same services at the same locations

By Howard B. Owens

Good news for parents who have depended on the YWCA for after-school child care -- the YW's program will be running as normal at all locations starting Monday.

The Children's Center at the County Courthouse will also remain open.

Earlier this week, the YW announced that because of financial difficulties, all programs and services were being terminated immediately.

Executive Director Millie Tomidy-Pepper has been working the phones to find ways to keep vital community programs going and staff from the YWCA in Niagara County rode to the rescue yesterday.

According to board members Roula Alkhouri and Patti Michalak, staff from the YW in Niagara visited 301 North St., Batavia, yesterday and provided the help needed to get the necessary vouchers filled out to keep the funds flowing from the state to pay for the daycare program.

Parents can expect that by Monday everything with YWCA-provided daycare will be back to normal.

The Batavian was speaking with Alkhouri and Michalak at the YW's office while Tomidy-Pepper was in a meeting with a staff member when a pair of parents walked in to confirm the news, which was sent out this afternoon to parents in the program in an email, that the daycare program was saved.

They said all of the current board members and Tomidy-Pepper have been working hard to save YW programs and bring the 108-year-old Genesee County chapter of the YWCA back from near extinction.

"We don't want this to go under and it's not going to go under," said Michalak, who became a board member two weeks ago.

She said Tomidy-Pepper has been putting in 12 hour days both to save programs and to save the YW.

There has been a tremendous outpouring of support from the community, they said.

The Crisis Care Hotline will also continue but outside of the YWCA. The Crisis Care Hotline call center in Niagara County started today receiving calls to the Genesee County number.

Message from county Mental Health about YWCA closure

By Howard B. Owens

We received a copy of this county communication about the closure, possibly temporary, of YWCA services related to mental health and domestic violence:

"In light of the current YWCA closure situation, most recent update as of 11 a.m. 4/4/18 is as follows:

The Genesee and Orleans County Mental Health (GCMH and OCMH) departments are working together to address contracted services previously provided by the Care & Crisis Helpline.

Another vendor is being secured as a temporary service for crisis patients. GCMH is working with Verizon to keep the current Care + Crisis Helpline number and have it (with minimal rings) be transferred to the temporary crisis call center. Verizon is working to have the switch-over process happen as soon as possible.

Orleans County Mental Health Dept. is taking similar steps.

Both Genesee and Orleans Mental Health departments have provided the temporary crisis call center with general county information to assist with information-only calls.

Domestic Violence services fall under the Department of Social Services. DSS is currently in the process of working out an arrangement with a local entity (likely our local Genesee Justice Program). Genesee County Mental Health will continue to take referrals from that program.

GCMH and Orleans County Mental Health departments are working to develop next steps for a long-term solution."

YWCA finances: No credit, no reserves, no clear explanation of how it got this way

By Howard B. Owens

Millie Tomidy-Pepper and YWCA board members spent the day hunkered down in an office trying to figure out how to keep key programs running after yesterday's announcement that the 150-year-old community support organization is buried under a pile of debt, has no cash reserves, and can't continue to operate the multiple services it provides to the community.

The situation appears dire but Tomidy-Pepper today said she wants to emphasize this may not be the end for the YW.

"The news to bring to the community is that just because we're going through a really rough patch right now, the board hasgrown and is committed to helping us get through this," Tomidy-Pepper said.

She became executive director of the YWCA on Feb. 5, replacing Jeanne Walton, who served as director from July 2011 until Tomidy-Pepper was hired to replace her. Tomidy-Pepper said when she started there were only four board members and she made it one of her goals to increase board membership and the board's diversity of experience. There are now 11 board members, including ministers, educators, and people with business and nonprofit backgrounds.

That's the good news.

The bad news is, there is no guarantee the YW can be resuscitated.

A source tells The Batavian there have been pay periods recently when the YW couldn't make it's more than $20,000 payroll; that credit cards are maxed out at $53,000; that the YW is behind in sales tax payments for My Sister's Closet, (there are, however, no tax warrants outstanding with the state); that grant reimbursement requests are behind; and that the city was recently close to shutting off the water for the YW's building at 301 North St., Batavia.

It's through the generosity of a local, unnamed donor, that some of these issues, including payroll, have been resolved.

Thanks to this donation, Tomidy-Pepper and key staff members are still working, but reduced to 20 hours for the week and only for one more week of work.

Tomidy-Pepper said she will be putting in a lot more hours than just 20 in the coming week and beyond trying to help get things turned around for the YW and working to ensure key services, one way or another, continue.

How the YWCA sunk to this financial low is unclear.

In a statement released to local media tonight, Walton said the financial struggles of the YWCA of Genesee County started long before she became director and that under tough circumstances she did her best to hold things together.

"Managing the finances of a nonprofit is a constant challenge," Walton said. "As with most nonprofits, the YWCA has not been sitting on a large reserve of money in recent decades. Due to this, the organization has had to live 'paycheck to paycheck,' just as many households do."

Walton said she rejects the suggestion that the financial condition of the YWCA is currently any worse than what she dealt with during her entire seven years at the helm. She doesn't believe it was necessary for the YW to pull the plug on so many key services in the community.

As a nonprofit, the YW is required to file a Form 990 with the IRS each year. These public documents, available online, provide a summary of revenue and expenses. It also lists "net assets or fund balances" -- how much money the entity has in the bank.

For tax year 2001, the oldest 990 available online, says the YWCA had $462,390 in assets. There was $850,650 in revenue against $782,823 in expenses, so in the year 2000, the YW was cash flow positive by $4,929. That year, the YW did spend $61,000 of fund balance.

The next year, the YW lost $31,900 on operations and also withdrew $111,612 from reserves (CLARIFICATION: A closer reading of the Form 990, this was a loss in value of the YW's securities investment (stocks)). Some fund balance was restored the next year but over the next 15 years or so, the YW has been slowly bleeding down its fund balance with only a couple of years of small replenishment, including two years while Walton was the director.

Here's a year-by-year breakdown:

  • 2001 fund balance: $462,390
  • 2002: $318,878
  • 2003: $365,632
  • 2004: $280,724
  • 2005: $237,785
  • 2006: Not Available
  • 2007: $210,566
  • 2008: $228,934
  • 2009: $124,799
  • 2010: $93,109
  • 2011: $122,391
  • 2012: $74,300
  • 2013: $77,783
  • 2014: $97,601
  • 2015: $70,003
  • 2016: Not Available
  • 2017: Would not be available yet

The tax returns show Walton earned from $48,400 to $52,400 during the years reported that she was executive director, which is comparable to executive compensation for prior directors. Barbara Hale, for example, earned $48,277 in 2008.

The picture painted by Tomidy-Pepper of the current financial condition of the YWCA is that there simply isn't enough free cash flow to operate and no available credit or line of credit to float expenses until expected revenue arrives.

Termination of YWCA services, however, leaves county officials, local school officials, parents, and others scrambling to find ways to meet community needs.

One of the biggest services provided by the YW -- 40 percent of $1.1 million in expenses according to the nonprofits 2015 tax return -- is providing daycare services for students at eight school districts in the county.

Tomidy-Pepper she said she realizes shutting down this program suddenly is a hardship on local parents, and she's received complaints about the short notice. But she said she hopes that with the announcement of the possible closure coming during spring break, parents will have a week to make other arrangements for their children if the YW can't come up with another solution.

She's hopeful the YW will find a way to fill the gap.

"We know it's a huge burden on families," she said. "We're working diligently with other service providers and hoping by Monday to have an answer. I want people to know we're not giving up. We're not throwing in the towel."

She thinks a solution has been found but can't announce it yet.

"If that happens, hopefully, that will keep our employees employed," Tomidy-Pepper said. "That would be wonderful. That would take 18 people off the unemployment line."

The county has $160,000 in contracts with the YWCA for the Care and Crisis Helpline, the Domestic Violence Safe House, and other programs. County officials were meeting today to figure out how to meet the needs of these programs without the YW but Tomidy Pepper said she and the board members are also working on these issues.

She said they expect Verizon to soon provide another number for the helpline and the board will meet with officials in Niagara County about helping with the safe house and the domestic violence program. (The County also has a domestic violence program available through Genesee Justice.)

The YWCA also staffs a daycare center for Family Court in the County Courts facility. Tomidy-Pepper said she and the board members haven't figure out yet what to do with that program.

She did say the building at 301 North will remain open. Besides My Sister's Closet, which is staffed by volunteers, there are tenants in the building.

"We're not locking the doors and shutting down completely," she said. "We want people in the building."

When she started, Tomidy-Pepper, who has nearly 20 years experience in the nonprofit sector, said she was told of the YW had an annual operations budget of $1.2 million.

She did explain that there was another recent audit but that auditor was never paid in full so the auditor wouldn't release the results. Tomidy-Pepper tried to hire a second auditor but that auditor wouldn't do the job without seeing the first auditor's findings. A community member -- the donor mentioned above -- provide funds to pay the first auditor and hire the second auditor.

It was that second auditor who said there was no realistic way to complete an audit.

One issue Tomidy-Pepper said she uncovered is that the YW needed to apply for grant reimbursements but the vouchers needed for the reimbursements were either missing or not completed.

She said with the help of former and current staff, she has been able to resolve that issue and the grant reimbursements are in the works with the state.

"We've faced many challenges and we're meeting that challenge," she said.

Tomidy-Pepper said she really wants to see the YWCA of Genesee County come back strong and she is grateful for the help she's receiving.

"The board members, the people in the community, want to help," she said. "They want to help. They want us to succeed."

We also reached out to YWCA USA to try and find out more information about whatever oversight the national organization might provide and how one of the national organization's affiliates could reach the state of near if not total financial collapse.

A spokeswoman declined an interview request and issued this statement:

Statement by Alejandra Y. Castillo, YWCA USA, CEO
YWCA USA recognizes the critical role YWCA Genesee County plays in the community and we are dedicated to providing tactical support to help them during this difficult time. Our chief concern is for the women and families who rely on YWCA services and we are collaborating with our strong network of New York YWCAs to identify alternative programs and resources to assist through this transition.

Here is the statement released by Jeanne Walton:

The financial struggles experienced by the YWCA of Genesee County predated my tenure as Executive Director and continued during the nearly seven years I served in that capacity. Managing the finances of a nonprofit is a constant challenge. As with most nonprofits, the YWCA has not been sitting on a large reserve of money in recent decades. Due to this, the organization has had to live “paycheck to paycheck”, just as many households do. Over the years, I learned to manage this so that the organization remained solvent. The YWCA USA and Board of Directors of the YWCA of Genesee County were kept apprised of the organization’s financial condition. As required by law, independent audits were conducted annually. Corresponding tax returns (990s) were filed and these records are publically available.

Five months ago I announced my decision to resign as Executive Director and offered to assist with the process of selecting and training my successor. In January 2018 my replacement was chosen, and it was agreed that during my last weeks at the YWCA I would focus on working with the new Executive Director to educate her on all of the financial and executive level challenges faced by the organization. I felt this would be a great deal to accomplish in a short period of time, and was quite surprised when I was informed that, while I would be paid for my last two weeks, it would not be necessary for me to work with the new Executive Director. Nonetheless, I recently reached out to the Board of Directors Executive Committee, the auditor, the Executive Director and the YWCA USA to offer my assistance.

Nothing about the YWCA’s financial situation changed for the worse during my years of service. The challenges currently faced by the YWCA are nothing different than what I handled along with our Finance Manager the entire time I was there. Strategizing and having a full understanding of the cash flow are imperative to the financial health of the organization. The finances of this organization are extremely complicated and it is a necessity to have an individual familiar with them involved in the audit process and the ongoing financial operations. Prior to my departure, my leadership team suggested changes to my successor and the board President that we felt were necessary for the financial health of the organization.

After my many years with the YWCA and the expansion of services provided, I am heartbroken that the decision was made to terminate the programs that are vital to this community. I cannot understand how it makes sense to end programs that are 100-percent grant funded, such as Domestic Violence Crisis and Prevention Services, Care + Crisis Helpline and the Children’s Center at the Courthouse. I am shocked by this news and know that it is an extreme decision that could have been avoided.

In wake of YWCA closing, Sheriff reminds public of services available through Genesee Justice

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

Genesee County Sheriff William A. Sheron Jr. would like to remind the public that one of the many roles of Genesee Justice, a division of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, is to provide assistance to crime victims, including domestic violence victims.

For more information, please contact Genesee Justice, located at 14 W. Main St. in the City of Batavia, (585) 815-7821.

Information from the Genesee Justice Web Page:

Becoming a victim of a criminal act is often a traumatic and disorienting experience for individuals. Victims are faced with an increased sense of vulnerability and threat to their personal autonomy and independence. Victims can also question their beliefs on safety and the order that they have come to expect from the community that they live in.

Genesee Justice works with victims to help them attain a more personal sense of justice. The investigation and prosecution of offenders within the criminal justice system is complex and foreign to most people, particularly as to how it impacts victims. Dignity doesn’t often come easy within the courtroom or the community. We encourage victims to empower themselves, which is critical to the healing process.

We will keep victims informed of what is happening with the investigation of the accused and guide them through any role they may need to play; we will take the time to explain to victims what they can expect during the proceedings of a case when it goes into court; we will accompany victims to any process and court proceedings; and we will assist victims in seeking counseling services; we will also help to address financial losses incurred as a result of the crime, including assisting victims in filling out applications for the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS), if they are eligible.

The OVS helps victims with unexpected or unaffordable medical or funeral expenses, loss of work and counseling services.

A victim may be referred to Genesee Justice by the District Attorney’s Office, Family Court, or Law Enforcement. Our door is always open for victims to walk in themselves.

Victim Assistance Services include:

  • Assistance in filing Office of Victim Services application;
  • Provide information on VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday) and assist victim with VINE registration, if interested;
  • Provide updates on status of court case;
  • Assistance in preparing pre-sentence investigation packet:
    • Restitution information
    • Victim impact statementProvide home visits
  • Refer clients to appropriate agencies for further assistance;
  • Assistance in preparing right of allocution; (the victim’s right to speak in front of the Court at sentencing)
  • Assistance in preparing application for orders of protection;
  • Assistance in filing paperwork with surrogates court;
  • Accompaniment to court appearances;
  • Provide referrals for counseling;
  • Provide referrals for emergency items if needed by victims;
  • Assistance in writing letters to Parole Board;
  • Offer opportunity for victim/offender conference if desired by the victim.

YWCA in Batavia announces closure, immediate termination of all programs, including domestic violence

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

After several weeks, nearly daily meetings with the Board of Directors and many sleepless nights, YWCA Executive Director Millie Tomidy-Pepper and board members made a decision Monday that will affect agency employees, programs and services.

“The cash position is such that we can’t continue to operate,” Tomidy-Pepper said. “When I was interviewed I was told that there was a first quarter cash-flow problem. Ever since I began here I have uncovered that it was much more than that.”

As a result of lack of funding, all YWCA programs are going to cease immediately. Those include domestic violence, before and after school child care, courthouse daycare, a food reimbursement program for home daycare providers, and crisis helpline services.

This move will put 36 YWCA staff members in the unemployment line, however, she doesn’t know if there will be anything for them when they get there.

“The history of the organization using an unemployment services trust, and the fact that it was not kept up-to-date by being paid, it’s questionable whether employees will be able to get unemployment insurance,” she said.

Tomidy-Pepper has been executive director since Feb. 5. During the interview process nothing was disclosed about the current fiscal condition of the nonprofit. The agency’s financial records are in such disarray that an audit cannot be properly conducted.

“We’re working to keep the doors open but right now we have to close, and we’re reviewing the finances,” she said. “There’s considerable longstanding debt and there’s no money on reserve to get us through this situation.”

The lack of funds is further exacerbated by a maxed-out line of credit and credit card, she said.

“I was not made aware of any of this,” she said. “I thought I could get past the first quarter, but there’s a mountain of debt and this has been a longtime problem. The finances are being looked into in depth.”

 A veteran executive, Tomidy-Pepper was assistant executive director of the Mental Health Association in Genesee County for seven years and another 12 years as executive director. She not only ran a nonprofit with a balanced budget but one with a surplus, which demonstrated her understanding of expenses and revenue and her management skills.

“I want my reputation to exceed me,” she said.

The site at 301 North St. will remain open to accommodate current tenants and My Sister’s Closet Boutique, a women’s and children’s clothing and accessories thrift shop.

The agency has been the sole provider of domestic violence services in Genesee County and has served about 650 new victims each year. The agency has also provided before and after school child care for hundreds of families and answered the call for thousands of people in crisis. It is uncertain as to how those people will be taken care of in the future.

The board, which has grown from four to 11 members since Tomidy-Pepper took the helm, will embark on a “Save the YWCA” campaign. Up to this point the new executive director has experienced open arms to welcome her.

“The community has been reaching out to help us any way they can,” she said. “We have been working day in and day out trying to figure out what happened and how to put a plan in place to move us forward.”

YWCA to hire auditor to examine organization's financial difficulties

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

YWCA of Genesee County is facing major financial challenges, including problems of cash flow. The Board of Directors, working with newly appointed Executive Director Millie Tomidy-Pepper, who began Feb. 5, has retained an independent auditor to assist in determining the extent and causes of the problems.

They are also actively pursuing financing options and revenue-generation opportunities to enable the 150-year-old organization to continue its mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Details will be shared with the community as soon as they become available.

YWCA announces change in local leadership

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

Timing is everything, and now is the time to leave as executive director of YWCA of Genesee County after six and a half years, Jeanne Walton says.

“I have been fortunate to work with a lot of people and take the organization to a new level,” Walton said. “And we’re at a point where a lot of things need to be addressed and we need a person with a different skill set to work on them.”

When Walton took the position in July 2011, her goals were to work with staff to increase exposure and awareness of YWCA, its offerings and mission to empower women and families and eliminate racism.

That tall order was achieved with the addition of the Care+Crisis Helpline in 2015; a total renovation of the My Sister’s Closet thrift shop; expanding the agency’s awards event into a nationally aligned Women of Distinction function; and increased devotion to serving the needs of domestic violence victims and child care families.

“Being here has taught me a lot about the need for these services in the community. I was not aware, especially, for the need of crisis services,” Walton said. “We’ve worked hard to change things in the domestic violence department to provide services we hope will urge clients to make significant transformations in their lives.

"For the past four years we’ve really brought some significant change to the lives of people, especially those who have gone into our Safe House; some have completely turned their lives around. And the Care+Crisis Helpline has filled a huge void.”

Although some ventures have come and gone, such as the Artisans at North Street and a teen youth program, they have all been important “to the process and to our learning development,” Walton said.

She is proud of the agency’s more recent and ongoing programs and events, which have also included the Stiletto & Sneaker 5K, a Healthy Relationships course taught in local schools, peace and justice vigils, support groups and the You Engaging Success transition program for domestic violence victims.

They all prove that the agency’s vision can be interpreted in a variety of ways, she said.

“I’m appreciative of the continuous support the community has offered to me, but more importantly, to YWCA as a whole in supporting new ventures we’ve undertaken,” Walton said.  

On behalf of the Board of Directors, Board Member Roula Alkhouri said that Walton’s experience in management and business helped YWCA raise awareness about the needs of those affected by domestic violence and other related struggles.

“Her personal passion for helping others has enabled the YWCA to grow its programs and increase its outreach and funding,” Alkhouri said. “We are indebted to Jeanne’s steadfastness, commitment and vision for all the new programs that YWCA offered in our community.”

Millie Tomidy-Pepper has begun her new role as executive director and looks forward to working on agency initiatives to eliminate racism and empower women.

As a former executive director of the Mental Health Association in Genesee County, Tomidy-Pepper brings several years of experience and a background in nonprofit management, including the oversight of fiscal stability and growth, employee and facility management, advocating for clients at a national, state and local level and strategic planning to reach fiscal stability, quality service and enhanced community awareness.

She has a bachelor’s degree in organizational management and has received many awards for significant accomplishments in leadership, staff management and community involvement.

"At this time in our nation’s history, when women's rights and civil rights are being challenged every day, I cannot think of a place I would rather be working than the YWCA, an organization whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower women,” Tomidy-Pepper said. “This job is a dream come true for me."

YWCA of Genesee County’s three primary programs are Domestic Violence Crisis & Prevention Services, Children & Family Services and the 24-hour Care+Crisis Helpline.

The agency is the sole provider of domestic violence services in Genesee County and offers before and after school child care at seven sites in Genesee and Livingston counties. For more information, call (585) 343-5808.

YWCA hosts discussion on resolving conflicts

By Howard B. Owens

Dealing with conflict in the era of hyper-disagreement was the subject of a symposium Thursday night at the YWCA.

Professor Barry Gan, director of the Center for Nonviolence at St. Bonaventure University, opened the discussion talking about some of his own experiences in working out conflicts in his life and then handed out a brochure listing steps to dealing with conflict.

The steps start with "Calm Down," which includes distracting yourself (count backward from 10, for example), relaxing, talking to yourself, and if all else fails, leave.

If you don't leave, try to reach an agreement to work it out. As the other person, "If I listen to you, will you listen to me?"

Gan promotes active listening, which includes paraphrasing the other person's concerns and asking if you are stating their position correctly.

If the disagreement is over something that needs a solution, agree to terms for a concrete solution.

Also participating in the panel were Rev. Roula Alkhouri, left in the photo, above, City Council President Eugene Jankowski and representing a gun-rights position in a later discussion, and Gary Pudup (not pictured), Upstate coordinator of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.

Event coordinators were Alkhouri, Rev. James Morasco, Morganville United Church of Christ, and Joanne Beck, Batavia YWCA.

'Can We Talk?' gathering at YWCA Jan. 18 hopes to foster greater understanding in the community

By Billie Owens

Press release:

There’s so much talk these days about how polarized we have become as a nation. People digging in and unable to hear what others are saying. Trying to turn differences of opinions into win – lose arguments.

We also may feel so resentful of people who disagree with us that we want to dominate or eliminate them. People are hurt, and we walk away shaking our heads, wondering why. But what if there was another way?

We would like to invite you to an event to talk about some of our struggles. We will be holding a community event called “Can We Talk?" on Thursday, Jan. 18th, 7 p.m. at the YWCA, 301 North St. in Batavia.

We will be joined by Professor Barry Gan, director of the Center for Nonviolence at St. Bonaventure University, along with Gary Pudup, Upstate coordinator of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, and Eugene Jankowski, Batavia City Council president and gun rights advocate.

Professor Gan will help us experience how we can talk about issues of disagreement and work to foster understanding and common solutions in our daily interaction with others.

We encourage everyone to bring friends and family, and participate in this opportunity to make your world a more peaceful place.

Event Planning Committee:

Reverend Roula Alkhouri, Ph.D., YWCA Board Member

Reverend James Morasco, Morganville United Church of Christ

Joanne Beck, Batavia YWCA

Ranzenhofer announces $25,000 for domestic violence services

By Billie Owens

Press release:

State Senator Michael H. Ranzenhofer today announced $25,000 in state funding to support domestic violence crisis and prevention services at the YWCA of Genesee County.

“Victims of domestic violence don’t have to live in fear. Support, counseling and other helpful resources are available at the YWCA of Genesee County, and I am proud to provide the financial support for these important services. Together, we are working to end domestic abuse,” Ranzenhofer said.

YWCA’s staff worked with more than 700 domestic violence victims last year and is on track to serve about the same number this year.

“These victims’ lives are often uprooted due to domestic abuse, and they need to abandon all that is familiar to them, including their home, neighborhood and job,” said Assistant Executive Director Joanne Beck.

“Thanks to this grant from Senator Ranzenhofer, we will be able to ramp up our efforts to meet and work with other service agencies to provide the most well-rounded care and minimize further trauma to these victims.”

YWCA’s Coordinated Community Response efforts include establishing strong working relationships with other providers, such as law enforcement, the court system, fire departments and urgent care, in order to respond quickly and appropriately in times of any domestic violence crisis.

Grant funds will also be used for YWCA’s Prevention Education curriculum, which is presented to every school district in Genesee County. The course focuses on healthy versus unhealthy relationships and involves the characteristics of each, related activities and an overview of the programs and services available at YWCA.

Prevention education materials are distributed to students to share YWCA’s Care+Crisis Helpline number, which can be accessed via phone and text at (585) 344-4400, Live Chat at or call toll-free at (844) 345-4400.

About Domestic Violence Crisis & Prevention Services at YWCA of Genesee County YWCA of Genesee County is the sole provider of domestic violence services, including safe shelter, for victims in Genesee County. YWCA USA is the largest provider of these services across the country. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and by appointment at our main site, 301 North St., Batavia, or through a 24-hour domestic violence hotline at (585) 343-7513. Walk-ins are welcome during the above designated hours.

Services include:
• Assistance with getting orders of protection, going to court and filing custody and support petitions;
• One-on-one counseling about aspects of an unhealthy relationship and making a safety plan for leaving an unhealthy relationship;
• Information and referral for community services;
• Support and self-esteem groups; and
• Transitional support for those in need of safe housing.

YWCA hosts annual Stiletto & Sneaker 5K

By Howard B. Owens

The YWCA hosted its annual Stiletto & Sneaker 5K yesterday at its facility on North Street in Batavia. The event was followed by its annual Harvest Supper.

Kevin Sheehan (photo) won the men's division of the race with a time of 18:27. Heather Burger won the women's division with a time of 24:39, but was no longer present for a photo when the trophies were handed out.

After the awards presentation, there was a color toss (bottom photo). The original schedule included a sky lantern lighting, but Director Jeanne Walton said it was canceled when the wind kicked up.

Color toss: Note, you can just catch the Wilson school bus starting to get stuck on the sidewalk in the background (see yesterday's story).

Rochester area school bus full of athletes gets stuck when driver tries to turn around

By Billie Owens

A school bus out of Rochester City School District is stuck at North Street and Columbia Avenue in the City of Batavia.

No injuries are reported. Batavia PD is not yet on scene. The bus was transporting 26 members of the Wilson High School junior varsity football team from a game when it encountered a roadblock set up at that intersection for this evening's 5K run and walk sponsored by the YWCA.

The driver attempted to turn the bus around when the tires got wedged in a gully at a grassy area. The Wilson athletes tried vainly to push the bus; it remains there for now.

UPDATE 7:21 p.m.: Batavia police are on scene. Parises Towing is en route to assist. The athletes are being treated to a hot and hearty Harvest Supper, which is also being served at the YWCA tonight, courtesy of the YWCA. The players were eager to tell every adult who approached them -- reporters, police, staff from the Y -- "we beat Batavia." First words out of their mouths, no matter the question.

Motorcycle ride, 5K, Harvest Supper, disco party all on YWCA's calendar

By Howard B. Owens

Press release:

The countdown is on for several exciting happenings that will help to launch Domestic Violence Awareness Month at YWCA of Genesee County.

A motorcycle ride, 5K, Harvest Supper and disco party are events that begin this weekend and move through October.

“We’re thrilled to be able to highlight the heavy topic of domestic violence with some upbeat, family-friendly events that help to pull the community together for a great cause,” YWCA Executive Director Jeanne Walton said.

“We never want to lose sight of those affected by domestic violence, and these events complement the programs and services that we offer year-round.”

There are only four days until bikers of all kinds take to the road for a 90-mile Kickstands Up for Domestic Violence Awareness trip through Genesee, Wyoming and Livingston counties.

Riders pay $20 for the map and a chicken barbecue, and passengers pay just $5 more, meal included. There will be a silent auction with everything from a basket of edible treats and salon gift certificates to motorcycle-related goods.

Kickstands are up at 1 p.m. Saturday at YWCA, 301 North St., Batavia, for the start of this event.

In seven days, runners and walkers will take to the streets for the second annual Stiletto & Sneaker 5K. The USA Track and Field certified race will be followed with awards by age category, a purple celebration with a powder toss, lantern release, cotton candy and snow cones, a balloon artist and a brief message in support of victims and survivors of domestic violence.

The 5K takes off at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5, at YWCA. Registration is $30 for individuals and $40 for teams of up to 10 middle and high school students.

Meanwhile, for those looking for a hearty meal of local produce, the Harvest Supper will serve up an array of succulent dishes from 4 to 7 p.m. that same evening. Culled from local farms and agricultural producers, the menu includes bean and kale soup, beef stew, zucchini bread, roasted potatoes, sausage with peppers and onions, roast chicken, pumpkin bars, apple crisp with fresh whipped cream and hot mulled cider.

Community discusses domestic violence with assemblymen

By Maria Pericozzi

Victims of domestic violence, community-based domestic violence experts, representatives from nonprofit organizations, and members of the community gathered Tuesday night at the YWCA to raise questions and address concerns.

The regional event was hosted by Assemblyman Steve Hawley and included members of the New York State Assembly Minority Steering Committee.

“There is one overwhelming thing we all agree on, whether we’re from Downstate, Long Island, the city, North Country or Western New York,” Assemblyman Hawley said. “We all agree that there is a huge issue that used to be hidden, but is no longer hidden. It’s domestic violence.”

Assemblyman Al Graf showed the attendees a stack of “really stupid bills” that they had for domestic abuse, one of which included having victims wear an ankle bracelet monitor to track the victims.

Graf said they are hoping to continue to use technology to their advantage to come up with a better solution than an ankle bracelet monitor for victims.

“An alert button that would notify the police that a domestic violence alert button was sounded and here is the location,” Graf said. “That’s one of the things we’re looking at.”

Most panic buttons are inside homes, which won’t help, if the victim is not in their home, Graf said.

Assemblyman Joseph Giglio asked an attendee and survivor of domestic violence, “How would we protect you when your abuser gets out of jail?”

“The panic button alert system is something I would be comfortable with,” she said. “A name change, anything, so that I don’t exist anymore.”

Some communities use Justice Centers, which has everything that would be needed under one roof, providing services to get families back on their feet after the trauma. Graf said it would provide a one-stop shop.

Jeanne Walton, the executive director of the YWCA of Genesee County in Batavia, said they serve 30-40 individuals with domestic violence issues annually and what they could do with more resources for people would be unbelievable.

“If you gave us $75,000 tomorrow, we could set up a justice center right now in this room,” Walton said.

Walton said there needs to be a unified front for domestic abuse issues. Having counseling, education, and other services all under one roof is a start.

Diane Watts, of Shelby, spoke about her personal experiences and beliefs that there should be education in schools to stop it before it starts.

Watts shot and killed her abuser in 2002, after being a victim of domestic abuse for years. She was later found not guilty by reason of justification. She said the family of her abuser is into the sixth generation of abusers.

“You’ve got to find some way to stop that cycle,” Watts said. “We need to get it into the schools, we need to get it into the churches, and we need to get it anywhere we can to stop that cycle.”

Walton said the YWCA has been in the schools for the last two years, speaking to students during Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

“We went to every school in the county except one last year, and just about all of them the year before,” Walton said. “It was groundbreaking, the effect it had on people. Dedicating funding for that would be tremendous.”

Assemblyman Steve Hawley, left, and Assemblyman Al Graf with some "really stupid bills" from his filing cabinet.

Ladies Night at YWCA is Sept. 26: 'How to Fill Your Personal Bucket', free, must RSVP by Sept. 22

By Billie Owens

Press release:

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County presents:

Passion for a purpose! "How to Fill Your Personal Bucket" with guest speaker Sherry Crumity, YWCA Domestic Violence Support Services coordinator.

Tuesday, Sept. 26 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the YWCA of Genesee County, located at 301 North St., Batavia.

Join us as we learn tips on how to identify what drains your bucket, and the tools necessary to fill it up again.

Sherry Crumity is a Masters Level Clinical Mental Health counselor with 10 years experience working in therapeutic settings and 12 years experience working in not-for-profit and public school settings.

Light refreshments will be served at 5:30, program begins at 6.

There is limited seating, please register by Sept. 22 by calling the Care and Crisis Helpline at (585) 344-4400 or email

Ladies Night is provided free of charge through the support of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Genesee County, the YWCA of Genesee County and Zonta Club of Batavia-Genesee County.

Regional forum on domestic violence and its impact to be held at YWCA on Sept. 19

By Billie Owens

Press release:

The consequences of domestic violence can last a lifetime. It is an epidemic that affects individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, race or religion. It takes place in many forms – physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse – and the results are devastating. For that reason, the Assembly Minority Conference Steering Committee has been tasked to address the complex issues involved in the prevention of, and response to, domestic violence in New York communities.

The committee will hold regional forums focused on identifying gaps in services and programs for domestic violence victims, enhancing and creating pathways which ensure greater safety for victims and ensuring law enforcement measures are in place to hold abusers accountable. The third event will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 19 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the YWCA of Genesee County, 301 North St., Batavia.

“Domestic violence is a scourge that affects the lives of its victims forever. We must employ every tool to combat its devastating impact and protect those who have suffered under its oppressive grasp,” said Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R,C,I-Batavia). ”By hosting this event, those impacted by domestic violence and those who work to prevent it can open up a dialogue and search together for new, innovative ways to mitigate domestic violence for its countless victims.”

Representatives from nonprofit service providers, community-based domestic violence experts, law enforcement and the criminal justice system have been invited to attend and provide testimony. Additionally, the committee will welcome written and/or oral testimony from families and those with firsthand experience of the tragic devastation domestic violence can inflict. 

“Domestic violence continues to tragically impact families across the state. As a former police officer, I have seen firsthand the toll these incidents can cause,” said Assemblyman Al Graf (R,C,I,Ref-Holbrook). “We must remain committed to a comprehensive approach which provides victims with the necessary tools and support to escape dangerous situations and holds abusers accountable for their gross actions.”

“Every day, victims of domestic abuse are forced to live in fear, suffer debilitating anxiety and face uncertainty about the well-being of themselves and their loved ones. This is simply unacceptable,” said Assemblyman Joseph M. Giglio (R,C,I-Gowanda) Steering Committee Chairman.

“These forums will provide an opportunity to gather information about what is and isn’t working from all stakeholders involved, including those in law enforcement, the criminal justice system and community support programs. We want to help make our communities safer by providing greater protections for victims of domestic abuse and enacting policies that further prevent these situations from occurring.”

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