Remarks by M. Christine DeVita
DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund
Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund


The YMCA of the USA
General Assembly
Friday, June 20, 1997
St. Louis


I've been in this business for 10 years. Yet every time we consider awarding a new grant, I feel like I'm about to go on a first date with someone I just met.

I find myself asking the obvious questions: Do we have enough in common? Do we share the same goals? Do we respect each other? Can we work hard to build something that lasts? Bottom line--are we a good match?

To me, that gets to the heart of what funding is all about. Finding the right relationship--one built on mutual interests, trust, and an ability to work together as partners.

Which leads me to three very simple points I'd like to make this afternoon.

First of all--The YMCA and the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund are indeed a good match. And that's because we share a vision of strong, vibrant communities that offer a wide-range of opportunities for children and families to enrich and better their lives. I've heard that the YMCA stands for everyone; so do we.

My next point is that this common purpose has enabled us to work together as exemplary community partners on two groundbreaking initiatives. One has been our support for the training of staff--particularly adults who serve youth--throughout YMCAs nationwide. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that well-trained staff are essential for delivering better, more effective services for young people.

The other work we've done together has resulted in the creation of a network of literary centers throughout the YMCA. The success of that program--particularly the strong response in communities where these literary centers have been operating--has since led to a decision to make the arts and humanities an integral part of the Y's strategic focus.

And finally, the third point I want to make today, is that the true test of our partnership lies with each of you. For you are the real source of the Y's boundless potential. Although we provide "seed" money to get these programs off the ground, their ultimate success stems from your hard work.

If your program fails, then we have failed. Likewise, your success becomes our success. In other words, without you, we simply would have little to show for our efforts.

So, returning to my first point, let me tell you exactly what we have in common.

Your mission is to create programs that build healthy spirit, mind, and body for all.

The Funds' missions are two-fold. On the DeWitt side we strive to improve the quality of educational and career opportunities for all school-age youth, especially for those in low-income communities. We accomplish this in lots of ways--including support for staff development in youth-serving organizations and other community-based organizations.
On the Lila side we invest in programs that enhance the cultural life of communities and encourage people to make the arts part of their everyday lives. For example, we increase opportunities for people to participate in theater, music, dance, and the visual, literary and folk arts.

We also invest in improving urban parks and support efforts to increase and enhance literacy instruction for adults.

Talk about a good match! If providing more kids, especially disadvantaged ones, with better educational and job opportunities and if encouraging more folks to enrich their lives by becoming more involved in cultural activities doesn't ultimately nourish the mind, body and spirit, then I don't know what does.

In a few minutes I'll tell you more about the power of our partnership--how together we are helping to "build strong kids, strong families and strong communities."

But first, let me tell you about another project that shares our goals--one that truly puts our partnership on the cutting edge.

Less than two months ago I was privileged to travel to Philadelphia to attend The Presidents' Summit for America's Future.

I was gratified to learn that the goals of this historic conference mesh beautifully with ours and that all of us here in this room have already taken a giant leap into the future that our country's leaders envision.

For what the Summit leaders want is what we're already doing: Giving our children access to safe places and structured activities during non-school hours, maintaining relationships between children and caring adults, teaching kids marketable skills, and providing them an opportunity to give back to others in the same spirit of community service.

But why all this hoopla about investing in our kids and in our communities? Why now?

Because this is a very different country than the one you or I grew up in--demographically, educationally, economically and socially.


A third program that has proven quite successful in Scottsdale, Arizona, pairs creative writing students from Arizona State University with Alzheimer's patients who reside at a special care facility. The patients are asked to respond to evocative smells or objects that stimulate childhood memories and the writing students work with them to transcribe their words into phrases and poems.

It has been the success of the full range of the Writer's Voice programs--and that appetite among community members for more opportunities to engage in the arts--that has led to the decision by the YMCA to make the arts an integral part of programming in local chapters nationwide.

We are pleased to be supporting the new initiative I mentioned earlier called "Sharing our Voices." We think it will help advance both our work and yours in an important way.

One of the lessons we have learned over the years--largely through the Writer's Voice Project--is that many people form relationships with the arts within their local communities, and often times through programs offered in community-based organizations.

To us, there's no organization better positioned than the YMCA to play this role. As Lynn Vaughn, the YMCA's director of program services told us recently, "We see this as an opportunity to make the arts available to everybody, because the Y serves everybody."

Our grant will be used to expand the Writer's Voice project and also help local Ys develop programs in dance, theater and drawing. Training programs will be established in 22 locations so leaders like yourself can learn about the arts.

We look forward to the day--say five years from now--when there are arts directors in Ys nationwide. People who know professional arts quality, working side-by-side with directors of health, aquatics and fitness.

And just as important, these arts programs will be different from Y to Y, reflecting local interests, talents and the diversity of the people each branch serves.

Now that you've heard me speak about why we're such a good match and the successful creations our partnership has spawned, let me finish by asking why we do it. What are we ultimately getting out of all this?

The answer, I think, is simple. The true power of our partnership is in its never-ending potential. It's in the vision that each of you has for how your community can be a better place. It's in the leadership it inspires in each of you to make your Y even more vital than it is now. It's in the realization that your combined efforts can take you places you've never imagined.

In the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

I stand before you today in order to help you do that--in order to help you push the envelope a little further. Remember: The only reason we exist is to help organizations like yours to succeed.

We are very proud to be your partner.

Thank you.