HURON — Chances are you’re not familiar with the WINGS Foundation of Huron. If you are, however, chances are better than average that you know what they do, who they help and why, and just how far back its story goes.
On Feb. 15, the Huron Community Foundation will begin accepting applications for its 2021 grant season. With additional donors coming on board this year, the opportunity to assist more people will be there — which is good — as the area recovers from 2020 and organizations get back to helping others in the community.
Some of those applications will find their way to the WINGS board of directors, who, with an eye toward programs that specifically assist women and children, will be able to direct funds to help.
Having a new grantee on board not only offers more opportunities to help those who need it, it can also free up HCF funding for other, less specific purposes.
WINGS – which stands for Women In Network Growing Stronger, is a foundation founded barely a year ago and is the product of its board who were determined to help those in the future while honoring the wishes of those in the past.
It’s a foundation that has grown from the roots of the former YMCA of Huron.
Its board members include chair Dawn Mutchelknaus, Paullyn Carey, Sara Newman, Laura McGirr, Janice Christensen, Jennifer Fuchs and Heather Rozell.
“Our board is made up of women who had been past board members of the Y, had worked for the Y or were in a partnership with the Y,” Mutchelknaus said. “I felt it was important to gather people who knew the value of the organization’s history.”
Several years ago, the board of directors for the Huron YWCA (Young Christian Women’s Association) were facing an uncomfortable, yet somewhat inevitable decision. The Y, which had roots running more than 100 years deep in Huron’s past, had been flexible and changed with the times. But too many similar groups, providing many of the same services, continually sliced the grant monies available into smaller and smaller pieces.
“The Y has a history that goes back generations in Huron,” said Mutchelknaus. “Early on, the classes were for teaching young women to sew, how to host a tea, how to dance or how to know your salad fork from your dessert fork.” All things that a young woman preparing for life as a suburban housewife would find useful.
The times changed and so did the Y. As the country moved from the 1920s to the ‘70s, the focus had changed to supporting equal rights and equal pay for women. “The focus changed but the overall mission was the same,” Mutchelknaus said, “supporting, educating and empowering women.”
As the world moved forward, Mutchelknaus noted, the focus moved to being a support agency for women in need of shelter, protection, or perhaps some job training and so on. Still it sserved women, many of whom found themselves in immediate need at some point in their life.
“At one time we had safe houses in Huron and in Redfield and we were helping people in a seven-county area,” Mutchelknaus said.
However, class sizes for programs at ‘The Y’ dwindled and over several years a strange conundrum was apparent. “We were asset rich, but cash poor,” Mutchelknaus said. The organization owned its administrative building, two houses in Huron and other properties — asset rich — but had trouble maintaining them and sometimes meeting payroll. Cash poor.
The decision was made to close the doors and re-evaluate how to move forward. “We were still the YWCA, but we were sort of in limbo,” Mutchelknaus said.
It would have been easy, she recalls, after trying a myriad of different ideas to address the bottom line, for the board to just toss up its hands, turn over the sizeable assets of the organization and simply tell some other organization ‘Here, you do it. We can’t anymore.’
But they didn’t do that.
“There are so many of our donors and benefactors whose connection to the Y goes back decades,” Mutchelknaus said. “They made those donations —money, property, some of it as a final bequest in a will years after the woman was no longer around Huron — to support the idea of helping women improve. We as a board didn’t want those wishes to go by the wayside, just because it would be the easy way thing to do.”
Eventually, someone on the board said two magical words…”What if…”
“We talked about selling assets and melding with another organization,” Mutchelknaus said, “but that would have led to us giving up control of the monies in the fund, which belonged to this community.” Eventually ‘What If’ turned into WINGS.
The board opted to sell outright its administration building, instead of continuing to lease it to the current tenant. It sold both houses and other property it owned in the area and set it all aside in preparation for the next step, whatever that was. Suddenly, Mutchelknaus said, meetings that were bleak and cumbersome became lighter, with a viable future on the horizon.
After careful consideration, the board voted to disenfranchise itself from the YWCA-USA, the organization that oversees all local Ys. “We did that on May 20, 2019,” Mutchelknaus said. And on December 5, 2019, the nonprofit foundation “WINGS” was formed and became a part of the the South Dakota Community Foundation.
“We are enthused about what is ahead for this foundation,” Mutchelknaus said. “We were able last year, to take approximately $30,000 in income from the foundation to assist local organizations, with an eye toward those that assist women and children.”
Specifically, the Huron Backpack Program and some targeted assistance to the Huron Salvation Army were among those local organizations that benefitted last year.
“We are extremely happy to know where the money came from and that it is being used as it was intended,” Mutchelknaus said. “We have made the transition from the YWCA, and not knowing what to do to keep past benefactor’s wishes alive, to re-inventing this dream and forming a foundation that will be there to help women for years and years to come.”
Mutchelknaus said that her boards went through 12 years of not having much fun, to emerge on the other side, through work and dedication, with a powerful tool to help and serve.
“The first check of support that the WINGS board was able to write on the new foundation, was truly a milestone and left us all knowing the view was worth the climb.”