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Longtime director of YWCA of Westmoreland County to retire

| Monday, Feb. 18, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Tribune-Review
Bonnie Lewis will step down in June from her position as executive director of the YWCA of Westmoreland County. Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review

Pinned to Bonnie Lewis' bulletin board is this quote from George Elliott: “What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?”

That philosophy sums up the YWCA of Westmoreland County and Lewis, its executive director for 24 years.

Lewis, 63, will retire in June from the organization that has evolved to help women help themselves.

From providing child care to offering computer and literacy classes, Lewis said, the organization has met the changing lifestyles of clients.

“I think the YWCA has done a good job identifying the needs of women and reaching out to meet those needs,” she said.

Lewis said she believes the Westmoreland group is ready for change.

“I think it will be good for this organization to have someone with new ideas. I was excited to come in with new thoughts and ideas. I think it will be exciting for the YWCA,” she said.

Lewis joined the staff in 1989, after serving as volunteer with the American Red Cross and the YWCA.

She graduated from Grove City College, where she studied psychology and sociology.

“Sometimes I think I should have studied business. In some ways, I ended up running a small business,” she said.

Board President Jan Merriman said a search committee will hire Lewis's successor.

“I'm going to miss her. ... Her professional skills, her compassion for the organization. She was just a perfect fit,” Merriman said. “One of the cute things about Bonnie is, when she is wearing a nice outfit, usually she says she got it from the (YWCA) thrift shop. Our inside joke is that the executive director gets first pick.

“I don't even know how to begin to phrase what she's done, from capital campaigns to keeping the building and grounds beautiful,” she said. “Some of our financial supporters are devastated. They knew they could trust her with their donations.”

Lewis said volunteers are crucial in their service as board members, literacy program and thrift shop workers and fundraisers.

“I don't think we could do what we do without them,” she said. “I read somewhere that leadership is the art of accomplishing goals through other people. ... I will miss being part of this amazing team.”

Lewis oversaw five major capital campaigns, along with property expansion at the North Main Street site and construction of a new thrift shop on South Maple Avenue.

“She has contributed to the direction the Y has taken, on a national and international scale,” said Carolyn Falcon, who was board president when Lewis was hired.

A member of the National Reorganizational Task Force, Lewis served as a voting delegate at the World YWCA quadrennial meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. She received the 2000 Winner's Circle Athena Award, which honors community leaders and mentors.

She worked with the mid-Atlantic YWCA to aid women in Sierra Leone with a water well project. The work is important because trekking to a distant water source can cause girls to miss school and put women in danger of physically assaults, Lewis said.

“YWCAs all over the world are doing life-changing things,” she said.

Lewis lives in Unity with her husband. Jay, the pastor of Mt. Hope Church in Penn Hills. She is looking forward to reading, traveling and serving as a volunteer again.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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