Bonnie Lewis, 63, considers her position as executive director of the YWCA of Westmoreland County one of the true blessings of her life. But after nearly a quarter century at the helm, she has decided to retire.
"I loved every minute, but feel now is the time to retire and let someone else take the organization to the next level," she said. "Working at the YWCA is definitely a team effort, and I'll miss being part of this amazing organization. I'll also miss the camaraderie, the advice on life and, especially, the laughter we shared."
Her official retirement date is June 30.
Mrs. Lewis started her career as a staff person for the American Red Cross but left after three years to raise her two children. Even then, she volunteered some of her time over a 10-year period traveling throughout the Mid-Atlantic states teaching a week-long class every two months titled "The Art of Helping."
She also served on the board of the Westmoreland County YWCA, including a stint as chair of the finance committee, which familiarized her with the workings of the organization.
When she was first hired as Y director, she said the organization served the community with programs that were meeting the needs of women back then, with activities such as cooking, crafts, exercise and bridge classes and preschool programs. However, the needs of women began to change as more entered the workplace.
"As more women entered the work force, they needed child care and networking and job readiness skills. We developed our first strategic plan over the first couple of years I was in office to meet these needs."
Significant growth has been a hallmark of her more than 24 years at the helm. When she first took over, the organizational budget was $100,000 a year. Since then the annual budget has grown to nearly $1 million and the Y has expanded out of Greensburg into several other neighborhoods of the county.
While the major goals of the YWCA are to empower women economically and eliminate racism around the world, local programs include teaching adult literacy and GED classes and offering English as a second language to the county's growing international community.
The Westmoreland Y also maintains a Pa. Workwear Program that provides interview and in-training clothing to women entering the work force through its YWCA Thrift Shop, located at 221 S. Maple Ave. in Greensburg.
For the past 10 years, Mrs. Lewis has also served on the YWCA USA International Relations Committee, which works to understand the issues facing women worldwide and find solutions to global inequalities women face
"You can read about women's issues -- poverty, AIDS, violence and trafficking -- but to get to travel to see how the lives of women are impacted by the work of the YWCA has been inspiring and broadened my understanding," she said.
In 2002, she was asked to represent the USA at the World YWCA International Training Institute in Geneva, Switzerland. There she served on the steering committee and led a session on strategic planning. In 2007, she was invited to represent the YWCA of the USA as a voting delegate at the World YWCA quadrennial meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.
As a result of her travels she said she made friends with women from Bangladesh, Japan, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Kenya.
"I can't imagine that I won't continue to be engaged in community service in some way," she said of retirement.
" It's been a joy to work for an organization that contributes to the community and is something to believe in. I've learned that together we can do so much."
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.