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At 125, Waypoint adapts to changing needs

Meeting vital community services emerges from former YWCA

Robin Wagner plays June 25 with 2-year-olds in her care, from left, James Garsayne, LaMeah Williams and Langston Lucas, at KidsPoint in Cedar Rapids. “There’s something about walking around and they give you those big bear hugs around your legs that warm your heart,” Wagner said. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Robin Wagner plays June 25 with 2-year-olds in her care, from left, James Garsayne, LaMeah Williams and Langston Lucas, at KidsPoint in Cedar Rapids. “There’s something about walking around and they give you those big bear hugs around your legs that warm your heart,” Wagner said. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As Maureen Osako steps into Waypoint’s headquarters across from Greene Square, she can vividly remember taking her young daughter to the YWCA for swimming lessons in the building some 36 years ago.

A volunteer since the late 1990s, and now a member of Waypoint’s board of trustees, Osako has witnessed the transformative change from the organization being a local chapter of the YWCA to offering the domestic violence, homelessness and child-care services in Eastern Iowa it does today.

Although Waypoint is marking its 125 birthday this year, it was not until 2001 that it officially ended its affiliation with the YWCA after seeing local needs diverge from what the Y offered alone.

“We have really been able to chart our own way, if you will, based on what the needs are,” said Waypoint Chief Executive Officer Jaye Kennedy.

The disaffiliation meant Waypoint no longer needed to focus on fitness programs, although the nonprofit still was handling an assortment of women’s and family issues.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office later accelerated the process by dividing Iowa into various regions, assigning a different nonprofit for domestic violence and sexual violence services to each. Kennedy said this allowed Waypoint to become “an expert in a few services” rather than being thinly-spread on a variety of topics.

“You can be called on as a nonprofit to offer a lot of different services,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to be the expert in those services.”

Move toward rapid rehousing program

That “expert” status has allowed Waypoint to try innovative practices.

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Instead of seeking to curb homelessness by providing shelter alone, for instance, Waypoint has adopted “rapid rehousing,” which helps homeless people find and pay for a place to live.

Sometimes that might mean help paying for a month of rent. Other times, it might mean paying a utility deposit.

Homelessness stood out to Osako when she started volunteering on the marketing committee in the late 1990s.

“I really wasn’t aware there was such an issue in the community with homelessness,” she said. “That really opened my eyes.”

Waypoint still uses its homeless shelter, despite the push toward rapid rehousing. The average stay for someone at the shelter is 28 days.

Focus on curbing domestic violence

Waypoint’s biggest operation is helping people who are subjected to domestic violence.

That includes operating a safe room in Waypoint’s shelter and a mobile advocacy program.

To accommodate many of the people farther away from the Cedar Rapids office, its offices in Waterloo and Dubuque have advocates willing to meet with domestic violence victims where and when it fits into their routines.

The practice is available across its coverage zone, including Cedar Rapids.

Kennedy used a hypothetical of someone going to the grocery store every Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ll meet her Tuesday at 3, walking up and down those aisles with her and sharing with her what her options are,” Kennedy said. “When we meet them, they’re on time (and) nothing is out of place so that more trouble isn’t created.”

Sometimes clients need one meeting, and others will meet with advocates from Waypoint several times.

The cause hits home for Kennedy, whose sister died because of domestic violence. The organization declined to provide additional details of her sister’s death.

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“It’s really near and dear to my heart to be involved in this kind of organization,” Kennedy said. “We save lives. I know we do.”

KidsPoint serves diverse community

Kennedy estimated Waypoint takes care of 575 kids each day through its KidsPoint child care program, which includes services at two early learning centers and before-and-after-school care at nine Cedar Rapids schools.

Robin Wagner, 65, has taught in the program for the last six years, working with 2-year-olds after more than three decades teaching third through fifth-graders.

“There’s something about walking around and they give you those big bear hugs around your legs that warm your heart,” Wagner said.

Wagner said teaching at Waypoint allows her to teach a diverse group of students.

“We have kids in there that come from families that have a lot of money and those that can barely make ends meet,” Wagner said. “I love it because the kids don’t care about all that crap. ... ‘You take my toy and I’m going to knock the snot out of you,’ but other than that, they don’t care about all that garbage.”

Surviving financially for 125 years

The nonprofit reported having 244 employees and 190 volunteers in its most recent tax filing, which is publicly available. Its operating deficit decreased from $298,492 to $31,320 annually.

Autumn Craft, the chief development and marketing officer, said Waypoint “is always looking for funding opportunities” to avoid a deficit.

Osako said Waypoint’s current financial state is significantly better than when the YWCA affiliation was in place.

“Operating and thinking with a business hat on, we have to make sure we’re operating in a responsible manner,” Osako said. “Waypoint has always done that. We’re just doing that a lot more efficiently now.”

The organization is running its “I Believe in Waypoint” campaign to raise $125,000 for its 125th anniversary — a stretch goal from the more usual $100,000 campaign. The funds will go to its general operations.

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Waypoint came $20,000 short at the end of the fiscal year, but Craft is hopeful the nonprofit will hit the $125,000 mark in the next few months.

Kennedy said she expects the money to also help Waypoint overcome the ups and downs of income from grants.

There will be an event celebrating the anniversary in the fall, but Waypoint officials have not released details yet.

Osako said she hopes the event causes more people to know what Waypoint is.

“There’s still a lot of people that don’t know us,” she said.

A couple decades after taking her daughter to swimming lessons at the organization’s Fifth Street SE location, Osako walks in with a much different title — a member of the board of trustees — and her daughter, 37, is an excellent swimmer.

“She is an avid swimmer,” Osako said with a big laugh. “I do attribute her love of swimming to the fact that she started here as a little infant.”

l Comments: john.steppe@thegazette.com

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