Mary Beth Rogers said she arrived at the Columbus YWCA in 2010 "broken and confused."
Now, the 62-year-old is living a new life in the newly renovated YWCA center Downtown.
“This is more than I ever could have imagined,” Rogers said, perched on the couch of her new apartment unit following the grand-opening ceremony for the center's makeover.
“And,” she continued excitedly, almost in a whisper, “I have a view of the Statehouse.”
Community members gathered Wednesday evening to celebrate the YWCA’s $25 million renovation, an undertaking its leaders say was important in order to carry on its mission of helping Rogers and other central Ohio women.
Five women founded Columbus’ YWCA in 1886, offering shelter to 25 young women in a 12-room house. In 1929, Mary Griswold donated $400,000 for the construction of the YMCA’s first permanent home Downtown at 64. S. 4th St.
On Wednesday, community members filled the 4th Street location to celebrate the completed project and the organization’s continued commitment to Columbus women.
“While times have changed, certainly the need for an organization like ours, dedicated to the ever-changing needs of women and their lives, has not,” Columbus YWCA CEO Elfi Di Bella said to guests before a sea of orange and white balloons descended upon them from the ceiling.
The renovation, which began during the summer of 2015, increased the number of YWCA women’s residents from 60 to 91. The new units, which house low-income, vulnerable women, each include a private kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The renovation project also created a new co-working area with computer stations, redesigned administrative offices and a new ballroom in the space that once held a swimming pool. Many of those common spaces can be rented out for community use.
The multimillion-dollar project was possible thanks to about $15 million in tax credits and another $10 million in donations from the community.
“Today shows that the public and private sectors can work together,” said Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof. “In addition to providing a home here today, you are providing the opportunity for hope, the opportunity for improvement, the opportunity to turn somebody’s life around and the opportunity to thrive.”
The YWCA women’s residency provides affordable housing for low-income women, many of whom are victims of domestic violence, chronically homeless or dealing with mental illness or addiction. It offers women wellness and recovery support, employment assistance, a GED program and financial-literacy classes. Tenants pay what they are able and can stay for an indefinite period.
“They wouldn’t have a place to stay if it were not for this particular building,” said American Electric Power CEO Nick Akins, who helped spearhead the fundraising efforts for the project. “This is truly a life-changing opportunity for many of these women.”
Rogers, a former substitute teacher, preferred not to talk of specifics about what drove her to seek the YWCA's help. She said her new space — where inspirational sayings, prayers and her artwork fill the walls — offers her something she can’t put a price on.
“This is such a great place to live because I feel safe,” she said. “It’s my home.”