Following a series of unfortunate events, Wainwright House is now on the mend.
By Maureen Mancini Amaturo
Following a series of unfortunate events, Wainwright House is now on the mend. These events contributed to a detrimental financial situation, a debt that tallies into a multiple-six-digit-figure, and that, until now, threatened the sustainability of this unique non-profit community center serving Rye, the region, and nation since 1951. A reevaluation and strategic rethinking of their mission, audience, and marketing are only part of the prescription for bringing it back to life.
In addition, a committed and rejuvenated Board, once they discovered some of the recent issues, acted quickly and efficiently to support plans to reduce the deep debt in tandem with healing Wainwright’s reputation and bad press. The remaining Board members initiated a review of every nook and cranny, implemented cost cutting initiatives, and hired a consultant – Peggy Hill, formerly Executive Director of The Rye Arts Center – to lead the rehabilitation and provide consistency. Previously, Wainwright House had welcomed a new Executive Director every 12 to 18 months, which left it without institutional consistency.
According to Hill, her strategy for reaffirming the value of having an institution like Wainwright House alive and well in the community begins with “… looking at the financial issues and then the mission. This is the same M.O. that was used at The Rye Arts Center in 2001 when they, too, had financial stress. Wainwright needs to build diversified, consistent, on-going programs that support their mission. Together we are examining the needs but starting at the root system by enriching the Board of Trustees with new members from around the county and reaching out to supporters whether in wealth, wisdom, or in work, who will help meet those needs.”
Facing financial difficulty, environmental issues, and a receding program of activities, Hill is addressing the problems with all engines fired. “Everyone who walks through the door,” she says, “sees the jewel that this is to the community, the contribution to the quality of life, and taking care of you inner self. It’s here. I’m not really sure the community realizes the economic impact Wainwright can have on downtown.” Hill believes that when retreats are revitalized, visitors such as those from Oregon who visited Wainwright last month, shop Purchase Street.
Wainwright’s rich history has also attracted businesses, such as Pepsico, Montefiore Hospital, and others. As Hill sees it, this is not about re-inventing the wheel as much as finding what worked in the past and embellishing it today.
The increase in programming, events, and retreats is a strategic move. Controversy arose when Wainwright House had shifted to depending on revenue from hosting weddings rather than expanding their educational programs, enlightening offerings that the region expects.
Peggy Hill says there are a few things she sees that will benefit from change–one of which is the name and logo. Wainwright will always remain, but what is it has always been a question. The Board, recognizing this, has already started brainstorming this issue. “A committee will be formed and will include the Board, members of the holistic community, staff, Wainwright members, and the general public at large just for this task.”
A varied menu of workshops and classes that appeal to a broad audience, the whole family, are already in play for this summer with celebrity power, i.e., Yogi Gwen Lawrence, and classes in mommy/baby message. On September 29 Wainwright plans to debut its fall programs at their Healing, Holistic and Whole Family Day. While keeping with the Wainwright mission statement, Hill promises new classes and new perspectives on topics of importance today. National and International mindful personalities are scheduled at Wainwright to promote a sense of conscious living and well-being, featuring forms of expression to soothe the soul, challenge your sense of expression, and generate environmental awareness. Wainwright staff will soon be working with local schools to plan trips that will teach students about the rich history of the Wainwright family, their presence in the revolutionary war, and Wainwright’s ties to the United Nations.
Along with the new classes, Wainwright House began a series of special events, including “Spring Awakening” in, followed by a free program, “Stars Over the Harbor,” in mid-June with Westchester Amateur Astronomers, and Laughter for the Soul. Proceeds benefit Wainwright House, its programs, building, and natural habitat.
In addition, Hill would like to increase the list of affinity groups who call Wainwright House home. Affinity groups provide the opportunity for members to gather around a shared perspective or interest and to learn from each other. All participants pay $5 per meeting to help support Wainwright House. The website provides information for anyone interested in having their group meet on the premises.
Last but not least, Hill has championed open communication and community education on the Wainwright House policy of organic, environmentally friendly operations. “I feel the Wainwright House was totally misunderstood. They may have been the most misunderstood organization around.”
Wainwright House, located at 260 Stuyvesant Avenue, is the oldest non-profit, non-sectarian holistic learning and environmental center in the United States and is dedicated to inspiring greater understanding through body, mind, spirit and community. Their mission statement says, “In this scared space we seek to inspire by offering initiatives in spiritual exploration, health, healing and environmental awareness.”
It looks like Wainwright House is well on its way to its own health and healing.