MANSFIELD -- Dawn Kitchen knew her fellow Woodland Club members just needed a spark to save their community pool. Turns out, that spark was her.
Kitchen and a committee of dedicated fundraisers are currently in the midst of a Hail Mary to save the 70-year-old club after a letter from its board stated the pool would be forced to close on July 23 due to lack of funding.
After receiving the letter, Kitchen set up a meeting on July 2 between the board and the membership to brainstorm strategies to save the pool. Just one week later, Kitchen and her committee had raised $9,600 towards a $15,000 goal to keep the pool open until Labor Day.
"It really did surprise me," Kitchen said of the effort. "I felt positive we could do it, but I had no idea how many people would feel the same way. I think they were looking for a rally cry."
The Woodland Club board stated in a letter to members that the club would need $30,000 to keep the pool open until Labor Day, and even then the pool is beyond its life expectancy. Declining membership and a rapidly-aging facility were cited as the reasons for this summer's dire financial situation.
"Seeing the Woodland Club shut its doors is not what our board looks forward to," the letter stated.
Turns out, the Woodland Club community wasn't ready to see the club close its doors, either. More than 70 people attended the standing-room only meeting on July 2, and a fundraising committee spearheaded by Kitchen was launched the next day.
"I felt there might be a disconnect between the board and the membership," Kitchen said. "The board has reached out to the membership to say we're in trouble, and the membership didn't quite realize how bad things were or what was really necessary."
The committee had three goals to jumpstart funds for the Woodland Club: bring in more memberships, sell business advertisements, and promote the club on social media.
In the week since the committee launched, 24 memberships have been paid for at a new discounted rate. For the rest of the summer, family memberships will cost $200 and single memberships will cost $100.
The biggest hurdle, according to Kitchen, was helping the community understand that the Woodland Club is not a Woodland-exclusive pool.
"The community didn't realize anybody could join and this wasn't some neighborhood-only sort of thing," she said. "It's not a public pool, but it's public in the sense that anyone can join. We expect you to fill out a form so we know who you are, but the membership is open to the public."
The committee has also reached out to local businesses to advertise at the Woodland Club. At least 14 businesses have signed on to contribute to the club, and signs are being hung at the pool just in time for the GMAC swimming championships this weekend.
Finally, the committee launched a massive social media campaign in order to spread the word about advertising and joining the Woodland Club.
"I don't think people realized before how much social media could increase our numbers," Kitchen said. "We were doing a lot of word of mouth, some mailing advertisements, but the world has changed and social media is the way to advertise now."
As of Monday evening, Kitchen had $9,600 in hand toward saving the Woodland Club. Including promised memberships and advertisements to come, the committee has an expected $13,000 raised in a little more than a week.
For Kitchen, a member of the Woodland Club since 2005, the past week has felt a bit surreal. Seeing her kids participate on the club's swim team and spend their summer days walking to the pool is reminiscent of her youth.
"It means so much to me because it means family time outside," she said. "It means community, and to see my kids getting to spend their time there is really important to me. I want to make sure other families have the opportunity to do that as well."
Still, the work isn't done. Kitchen has her sights set on long-term goals for the Woodland Club, including starting a membership drive for next year as early as this coming fall. She also believes that more volunteer maintenance work from members can delay purchasing a new pool for a few years - at least until a capital campaign can begin.
Kitchen hopes the community realizes that saving the Woodland Club from closing its doors goes far beyond just saving the pool.
"We know a bunch of community pools have closed; it's a sign of the times, kids are doing sports and are more into video games and less into the outdoors, but we recognize the importance of the community pool, being outside and being physical and meeting new friends," she said.
"This means more than just the Woodland Club or neighborhood, this means something to Mansfield."