Christopher Bayley, delighted with his new-found mobility, crawled around the oriental carpet at a baby's breakneck speed while Ovid (Mack) Butler, sitting in a nearby room, contemplated his bridge hand.
Close by, three volunteers quietly conferred on a future fund-raising event, and upstairs, a Lamaze class was in progress. In the office, several more volunteers, fortified by a box of fudge, solicited donations by phone.
It's a typical Tuesday night at the Alexandria Community Y. If nothing else, that means busy.
Housed in a 117-year-old brick building on South Washington Street, once the private Washington School, the Y is one of Alexandria's most robust and energetic organizations. Here behind the dark green awning that graces its entrance, the accent is on service to the community. In a town where a development boom has widened the gap between rich and poor, its activism has brought together some of the city's wealthier families with those who have much less.
Year-round, its programs, some of which have won national recognition, are geared to meeting the needs of women, children and families of the city. Runaway children, working parents needing day care, women prisoners at the local jail, children who have a tough time reading, and couples contemplating adoption are just a few of the groups on whom the Y has focused its attention.
"We're not a recreational Y, we're a service Y," said its executive director, Diane Halbrook. Translated into numbers, that means the Y served 498 clients a day and provided 487,215 hours of service in the past year, she said.
"They are an extremely flexible, responsive and professionally run organization," said Gary Cyphers, Alexandria's assistant city manager for human services. The city, he said, repeatedly turns to the Y when it wants services to be provided by a nonprofit center, and "they are frequently the agency that comes to us and says: 'There is a need here.' "
Supporting its 65-member paid staff is a phalanx of 600 volunteers who contribute their time to the programs and raise the funds that provide one-third of the Y's $1.3 million budget. Much of this money is raised in two events that have become annual city celebrations: the springtime "Toast to Alexandria" and the Christmastide "Scottish Walk" that is sponsored with the city and the St. Andrews' Society. The rest of the Y's funds come from federal grants and the city.
Its focus on local needs, the source of its strength, was also the reason the Y, which began in 1945 as a YWCA, broke with the national organization in 1973. Chafing under the demands and controls exerted on it by the metropolitan area YWCA chapter, which members of the Alexandria group felt did not address problems closer to home, it decided to go it alone.
"From that point, the Y took off like greased lightning," said Marion Galland, a former state delegate from Alexandria, who once served as president of the Y's 33-member elected board, now headed by Peggy Anschutz.
With the formal changing of its name to the Alexandria Community Y came a lawsuit for copyright infringement by the national YWCA. The Y won the case. "Nobody has a monopoly on the letter Y," scoffs its longtime director and now its director emeritus, 67-year-old Elizabeth Anne Campagna.
"The holding hands of privileged women, who had advantages, with the disadvantaged . . . made an unusual combination for an agency," said Campagna, who began working with the Y's youth program in 1961.
"The Alexandria Y never lacked support of the city's elected officials," she added. "I think that's the secret of its success."
More than a decade after the break, nobody seems to regret it and the Y has flourished in many ways.
For the past 15 years, Sarah McCotter, 58, has been a volunteer with the "Fifty More or Less" program, "a support group for ladies who have been mentally ill," she explains. "Every Tuesday, we do something." Some of the women, recently released from institutions, need help only in learning how to ride the bus or the subway. For others, the weekly excursion provides contact with others and reassurance.
Mickey Lutz runs the Y's course on adoption and parenting. It was this program that brought Christopher Bayley, along with four other newly adopted infants, to the Y on a recent night. As they slept, smiled, squealed or dined on formula, their parents spoke with eight other couples intending to adopt of the joys and travails of adoption.
"It was just nice to sit in a roomful of people going through the same thing as you," said Ginna Chambers of Vienna, who with her husband, William, had brought along their new arrival, William Nathaniel.
Chambers said Lutz's course was her first and only contact with the Alexandria Community Y. But she has decided "to make a small donation from here on out, simply because it was here for us when we needed it."
For children of working parents, the Y has hired people such as Cheryl Martin, who teaches at one of the summer day camps operated at four local schools. Martin instructs her charges at the Mount Vernon Elementary School for 11 hours a day in the intricacies of softball, courtesy to others, and what Martin calls "survival skills," which she describes as such things "The holding hands of privileged women, who had advantages, with the disadvantaged . . . made an unusual combination for an agency."
-- Elizabeth Anne Campagna
as saying 'no' to strangers and knowing your home telephone number.
The Y began Alexandria's first Head Start class 20 years ago and federal officials recently selected it as part of a study for model programs, Halbrook said. And for the past 10 years, before "latch-key" kids were identified by the media as a trend, the Y has offered extended day care programs before and after school hours. Both programs are subsidized by the city.
In addition, Project Pulse Point aims to identify and help troubled youths. The Y-run This-Way House, a three-bedroom house opened in May 1985, has given temporary shelter to 250 youths who ran away from home or needed a place to stay.
Volunteers also help run the Women's Resource Center to assist women left without husbands because of desertion, divorce or death to get back on their feet. "A lot of what we do is helping people find the right place for what they need," said Halbrook. "Coming here is not associated with any particular stigma."
Behind the Y's programs is a network of volunteers who help staff them and raise funds. Older, longtime Y supporters belong to "Friends of the Y"; their younger counterparts are "Junior Friends," and their spouses constitute the "Y's Men."
For many families active in the Y, it is a social network as well as a way to volunteer. "Through the 'Junior Friends,' we've become acquainted with 200 people . . . some of whom have become good friends," said Warren Glimpse, Alexandria businessman and new chairman of the "Y's Men." His wife, Cynthia, is a board member.
"It provides a community environment which is missing in the Washington metropolitan area," said Glimpse, who added that he hopes to get more local businessmen to support Y programs, such as day care. "I want to see it expand," he said.
"I consider the Y as the heart of the city and each of us are one of the beats," said Y volunteer Billie Tedards, who was among the women soliciting donations by phone on a recent evening.
"Junior Friends" Chairwoman Marti Myers said three-quarters of her members "have children and half are working outside the home. That's what makes the group so unique -- they do find the time to volunteer."
"It's usually by invitation, like a legacy that's passed on," said Marion Griscom, explaining how she got involved in "Junior Friends."
Although its emphasis is on community service, the Y also has 1,200 paid members who enjoy recreational activities that include classes in writing and French. Members can also purchase swimming passes for nearby hotels, because the Y does not have a pool.
Each weekday noon, the public is welcome in the Y's "Tea Room." Here, diners can lunch on a bargain-priced selection of dishes served at tables with blue tablecloths and accented with fresh flowers.
On Tuesday nights, the bridge players set up card tables in a room furnished with French provincial sofas and large oil paintings in gold leaf frames. The only sounds are the steady hum of window air conditioners, the flick of a card being dealt and the small talk of the regulars.
Mack Butler, a retired naval officer, said he and his wife Dorothy organized the Tuesday might bridge group 10 years ago after taking bridge lessons at the Y. The only requirement for joining is that the players become Y members and pay $1 each time they show up for bridge.
Dorothy Butler became active in Y after her family moved to Alexandria in 1963, she said. "It's just been a part of my life and my husband's life and our children's lives.
"Every March," she said, the bridge group has "a birthday party with cake and champagne . . . . It's a fun thing; I think it's unique."