Ames, Iowa

Preserving the Past – Preparing for the Future

Builders and architects acknowledge that starting from scratch is easier than renovating an existing structure. Easier, but not necessarily better. The imagination and ingenuity it took to resurrect the long-vacant Ames Municipal Building was not only an investment in bricks and mortar, but also a metaphor for the work of its new owner, Youth and Shelter Services, Inc. of Ames, Iowa.

In its first 20 years, YSS helped restore and preserve the lives of more than 20,000 troubled young people by offering residential treatment programs, counseling, and assistance with family foster care and adoption. In addition, over 100,000 children, students, and parents have benefited from YSS comprehensive prevention and education programs. The capital campaign Preserving the Past – Preparing for the Future began with the dual goals of bringing many YSS programs to one central location, and strengthening the YSS Foundation endowment.

The renovated building pulled together programs such as: Pathways and Young Parents Center, Family House Counseling Center, Volunteer Programs, Child Safety/Parenting Education, Family Foster Care, Independent Living Programs, Delinquency and Violence Prevention, Substance Abuse Prevention and Education, and Administrative Support Services.

The municipal building sat empty for about five years after the previous owner, the city of Ames, moved its offices to another location. Youth and Shelter Services offered to buy the 17,500-square-foot building from the city for $500.00 and remodel and expand it to suit YSS’ needs. The agency promised to maintain the historic exterior and asked the city to make parking available near the building. In 1995, the Ames City Council agreed on both counts – price and parking.

George Belitsos, YSS’s founder and its only executive director had a vision for the old building, that could not be dimmed by accumulated dust, dank smelling rooms, or the $2 million needed to renovate and fill the empty facility. The building was slated for demolition. It had served as City Hall from 1915 until the City offices were moved in 1991.

“We had engineers inspect the building and they found it to be structurally sound. In fact, it was the first building west of the Mississippi River built with reinforced steel. We approached the opportunity from the historic value of the building and the architects made renovations in keeping with the buildings classic American Revival architectural style,” said Belitsos. Like many of the clients YSS serves, the building was rescued from difficult circumstances and given a second chance.

With its unique choice of location, (youth services are rarely housed in historically preserved buildings), YSS stepped away from the crowd and earned, in its bold venture, a new place of visibility in the community.

YSS selected local residents to serve on a Historic Preservation Committee to ensure that renovations of the exterior took into account the significance of the building. The architects and contractor took great care in restoration and came in under budget on the remodeling. The building, now accepted as part of the National Register of Historic Places, retains the structure’s overall integrity in its classic American Revival architectural style. Accessibility was what YSS needed – a centralized location, set in the heart of downtown Ames. History was a bonus; visibility was a byproduct of both.

A feasibility study conducted at the beginning of 1995, and presented in March 1995, set the campaign goal at $2 million for capital needs and $500,000 for endowment. The silent phase of the campaign started right away. The lead gift was announced fairly early in the campaign, strategically before the City sold the $500.00 building to Youth and Shelter Services.

It was a wonderful lead gift. A board member had a relationship with a long-time Iowa philanthropist. He was interviewed as part of the feasibility study and asked in June for a gift. The philanthropist was very interested in the work of YSS and especially taken with the idea of saving the old city hall. His $500,000 gift not only gave the campaign momentum, but also provided a new name for an old building. The Preserving the Past – Preparing for the Future campaign forever changed the historic Ames Municipal Building to the Richard O. Jacobson Youth and Family Center.

This relationship opened the door for a challenge from the Variety Club of Iowa. The match was a 3 to 1 gift. YSS would raise $1.2 million to receive Variety Club’s $400,000 gift, all for capital costs. To raise endowment, YSS initiated an integrated capital and endowment campaign piece. The bulk of that goal was met through planned gifts, wills, insurance, bequests, and so on. Donors had to document gifts as endowment, but when it came time for recognition, capital and endowment gifts were honored equally and identically. The capstone donor was unexpected. The family, new to the Ames community, was introduced to YSS by an agency volunteer.

Renovations on the building started early in 1996. Once YSS secured it from the City, an inspiration turned almost magical. Executive Director Belitsos already had plans to place a time capsule into the building, to be opened by a future generation. In an uncanny twist of past and present, a time capsule from a previous generation was discovered in the wall of the old building.

After 81 years, the contents of the time capsule were removed as part of Iowa’s 150th birthday celebration. The capsule could not be dislodged from the wall, so on January 24, 1996, items were removed piece by piece – to the delight of attendees – and the contents turned over to Iowa State University’s Parks Library Conservator for cleaning and preservation. The items are now on display at the Ames Public Library.

A new time capsule was filled using ideas from a Sesquicentennial Time Capsule Contest in cooperation with YSS and the Story County Sesquicentennial Commission. Story County youth contributed suggestions for a new time capsule, placed in the remodeled building, to be opened on Iowa’s 300th birthday in the year 2146.

YSS moved into the renovated building in April 1997. Outside the main entrance, donor bricks, honoring a donor’s family and the date of their arrival in Ames, were engraved and set into the Family History Plaza. Again, the past meets the future, as new generations walk along the Family History Plaza and remember the connection.

YSS raised $ 2.78 million toward its capital and endowment campaign, exceeding the $2.5 million goal on the capital side. The actual pledge goal was met within nine months of the public announcement in December 1996 – bringing the capstone in September 1997.

“The building lent itself to remodeling,” said Belitsos. “The result was a pleasure for YSS staff and clients. The renovation and campaign brought us greater visibility in the community. Our annual campaigns have gone up since then, due to the recognition YSS received from this successful capital campaign. My advice to other nonprofits would be to think big. Have a vision that people can quickly identify and support. The more imaginative, the more visible, the more money you will raise. Don’t be afraid to combine things that don’t normally get combined – historic preservation and youth, for example.”

The new Richard O. Jacobson Youth and Family Center makes services more accessible to central Iowa clients, increases space for individual and family counseling, redirects some current expenses to human needs, enhances productivity, provides handicapped accessibility, and promotes collaboration between staff and volunteers.

In restoring the Ames Municipal building, YSS exemplified the nature of philanthropy. The time and resources they invested in the building have come back to them in many ways. As philanthropist and YSS lead donor Richard Jacobson put it, in his speech at the 18th Annual Meeting of Youth and Shelter Services on May 18, 1994, “People often ask me why I continue to work and continue to make deals, when I could retire. The answer is easy – so that I can give more money and effort away to worthy causes. Giving is living because in giving, our lives are made better in every conceivable way. When we give to others – when we share our time, talent, and money – we do not end up with less in our accounts, but more.”