The executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center announced this week that he will step down next month.
’Dolph Ward Goldenburg, who’s headed the center for more than six years, will serve his last day Nov. 13, before he heads back to his home state of Georgia.
Goldenburg has been in a more-than three-year long-distance relationship with his partner, Frank, who lives in Atlanta.
Goldenburg said Frank, an attorney, had been actively looking for work in Philadelphia to no avail.
“He’d been looking for about half a year, but it’s a pretty tough legal market right now, so I told him I’d be willing to consider moving back to Atlanta if I found a job there that met a long list of criteria,” he said.
Goldenburg did find such a position, as the executive director of the Living Room, an organization that provides housing, counseling and case management for people living with HIV/AIDS. He said that leaving William Way, meanwhile, will be bittersweet, adding that he’s confident the work he and other center staff and volunteers have done will ensure continued success.
When Goldenburg took the helm of the organization in June 2003, he was the only full-time staff person, along with three part-timers; today, the center employs six full-time and nine part-time staffers.
The number of annual visitors has jumped from about 24,000 to nearly 50,000, and Goldenburg said the organization’s budget has also grown “tremendously.”
Rhonda Cook, who became co-chair of the center’s board shortly after Goldenburg was hired and stayed in that position for about two years, said the agency was in dire financial straits when he took over.
“At that time, there really was a question of whether or not the center would survive,” Cook said. “When he first came onboard, I was treasurer and, at the time, we just had no financial statements produced and we’d open drawers and find bills we had to pay. We were operating completely in the red and had no real steady income stream and just didn’t know if we’d survive.”
Cook said that through Goldenburg’s “tenacity and vision,” the organization gradually got its finances in order and began to branch out into the community to seek new fundraising opportunities.
“We were able to steadily pay down our bills and at the same time increase our revenue stream by recruiting donors, working on grant applications and tightening down on finances, so we were able to get out of that crisis,” she said. “When we got our first accounts receivable, I remember everybody cheered because someone actually owed us money. ’Dolph led the center out of that very perilous time when the center was on the brink of potentially not even existing. As an organization goes through the different stages of its life cycle, it needs different kinds of leadership, and we were very, very lucky to get ’Dolph at the time that we did. He was the right guy at the right time.”
Emilie Carr, the board’s current co-chair, said Goldenburg still employs that same level of determination in his efforts to grow the organization’s donor base and continually recruit new supporters.
She noted that the countless hours of work he invested in garnering funding for the installation of an elevator in the center eventually paid off earlier this year when the device was unveiled.
“He is a fantastic fundraiser,” Carr said. “The elevator was something that was really important to him, and he went around and got a lot of support from beyond just the LGBT community; went to senators and got their support, and did a wonderful job on that.”
Goldenburg acknowledged the sense of accomplishment he felt when the elevator doors opened for the first time.
“My very first week here, I scrawled several things on a sheet of paper and taped it to the wall, and it was taped there through most of my time at the center. On the list of things was the elevator, and while I might have been a little overambitious on the timelines in that original scrawlings, I’m so glad it’s something that I eventually got to see happen,” he said.
Goldenburg said he’s accumulated a wealth of memories over the past six years, and among his favorites are Mel Heiftz’s announcement that he was paying off the remainder of the center’s mortgage; former Mayor John Street’s declaration that the city would fund a portion of the elevator construction; and the day the center launched its Way Gay U programs — complete with a Way Gay U cheer squad.
“There have been so many highlights over the past few years, whether it’s facilities or programs, but while they did happen in my tenure, they’ve all been the work of anywhere from dozens of hundreds of people,” he said.
Although Goldenburg credited a team of helpers with the center’s successes, Cook noted that he’s been the driving force behind the organization’s revitalization.
Just a few weeks ago, the facility hosted more than 70 LGBT community-center representatives from around the world for a conference, something Cook said she “never could have imagined happening five or six years ago.”
“[Goldenburg] has been absolutely critical in changing the image of the center,” she said. “He’s not only raised its profile in the LGBT community nationally, but in an even larger sense he’s been able to raise the profile of the entire gay community in Philadelphia.”
Carr noted that the local LGBT community itself has also become more involved and integrated into the center because of Goldenburg’s leadership.
“He’s given people the opportunity to come in and talk about programs, fundraisers, any concerns that they have,” she said. “He’s very accessible and he’s able to see what happens at the center because he’s always there. He knows the center inside and out and it’s very welcoming to have him there.”
Goldenburg said he is not selling his South Philadelphia house and would like to return from time to time for center events, adding he and Frank would ideally like to live in the Philadelphia area one day. The couple has also made a three-year commitment as members of the Cornerstone Society, the highest level of donor support.
Carr said the organization is currently searching for an interim executive director and, once someone is identified, will launch a national search for a permanent leader.
Goldenburg said he’s confident the next director will be able to work with the center’s countless supporters to build upon the organization’s growth and bring it to its next stage of development.
“The work of building a community center is never done. The board, the volunteers, the staff and the community are always going to have to be working on the next big initiative to keep building the community and the center,” he said. “A community center is made up of more than one person, and our center is literally thousands of people coming together, each with something different to bring to it. When I look at the future of the center, I really think it’s incredibly bright and in a very strong position.”
The community is invited to a farewell reception for ’Dolph Ward Goldenburg Nov. 17 at the center, 1315 Spruce St., following the organization’s public board meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.