LEWISTON — Kathy Durgin-Leighton swam for Yarmouth in high school.

“I remember coming through those doors at the age of 16, 17, 18,” she said Thursday afternoon, nodding to the big glass front of the YWCA on East Avenue.

Durgin-Leighton, a former Bowdoinham town manager, started this week as the Y’s new executive director. For now, she has set up in the former aquatic director’s office, within sight of the glass entrance.

“I like it because I’m available,” she said. “My door is always going to be open, all the time.”

Lee Young, president of the YWCA of Central Maine, said a search committee received 19 applications and interviewed four candidates for the position, looking for someone who had experience with budgets and grant-writing and who was a people person.

“We have little children and we have women that are 90 years old that are still moving and grooving in our aquatics exercise program,” Young said.

Durgin-Leighton had the right personality, Young said, a good background and “stellar references.” She was offered the position last week and started spending time in the office Tuesday.

“It’s very unusual to have someone of her quality to be available to jump in right away,” Young said. “We are just so fortunate that’s how it worked. It’s a boon for us.”

A Maine native, Durgin-Leighton, 53, graduated from the University of Maine with a degree in social work. She spent the past 13 years with the town of Bowdoinham, as its first recreation director, then as economic development director. For the past five years, she’s been town manager.

It was time for a change, she said.

“My love has always been being in an advocacy role — women’s issues, health, recreation,” she said. “This is the only position I applied for. I was delighted to be asked.”

Durgin-Leighton is taking the helm after an uncertain period for the nonprofit, which has roots back to 1878.

Under mounting bills last August, the board of directors announced the YWCA would close, then reversed its decision days later when the community stepped in with donations. The accounting firm Austin Associates has headed it for the past several months, looking at direction and expenses. More than $500,000 has been raised so far, with a goal of $1 million toward old debts and improvements, Young said.

“It’s a very happy place to be; it’s (also) a challenge,” Durgin-Leighton said. “I told Lee, ‘It’s the right Kathy project.’ This organization is going to thrive. It’s here to stay. There won’t be any doors closed.”

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