YWCA Northcentral PA celebrates 125 years

This year, the YWCA Northcentral PA, 815 W. Fourth St., celebrated their 125th anniversary in Lycoming County on Jan. 17. The YWCA is “eliminating racism and empowering women” by providing programs that are needed in the area and by helping those to become who they want to be.

The YWCA

The YWCA, or Young Women’s Christian Association, was established during the industrial revolution in London, England, by Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts in 1855. Kinnaird raised money for housing for young women that were traveling for new jobs while Robarts hosted prayer circles. Their mission and values traveled overseas and the first YWCA founded in the U.S. was in New York City.

On Jan. 17, 1893, Emma Carter had her sister, a member of the Harlem YWCA, speak to Williamsport. Two weeks later, the Women’s Friendly Society of Williamsport was founded by Carter and, in December of 1893, they became the YWCA of Williamsport.

“Our beginnings are … born out of a group of individuals that were very civic-minded, concerned about the welfare of women and girls, and it was out of a church,” Dawn Lynn, CEO of the YWCA Northcentral PA, said.

“They were working with women in the factories, making sure they had rest areas and clubs,” said Anna Thompson, communications and development director. “They always provided a lot of classes for women to have personal enhancement, like typing, French. One of my favorites is they had classes that were about reading stock reports so women could invest and read financial reports.”

The YWCA still is trying to find and fill the need for the local community today by providing programs such as Girls First or The Boutique.

Wise Options

In 1977, the YWCA reached out to the community to see what they needed — they needed a service for women of sexual assault and domestic violence. They created Wise Options, a 24/7 service that is free and confidential for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and violent crimes.

They bought a building next door for Wise Options. They offer emergency shelter, counseling services, safety planning, accompaniment for individuals to court and education, such as healthy touch and safe dating.

They also support friends and significant others when a loved one has been assaulted by providing counseling to help them cope and support others affected, Thompson said.

“With Wise Option, domestic violence and sexual assault, it is not just women. It is all walks of life, women and men, that we serve here,” Lynn said.

The Liberty House

“In Jan. 2002, a woman and her child showed up to the YWCA, and they didn’t have anywhere to go,” said Thompson. “They said ‘we are homeless. We are not victims of domestic violence, we are just homeless and don’t have anywhere to go.’ “

The YWCA made partnerships with the United Way and other organizations and created the Liberty House as a way to meet the community’s needs. The Liberty House is available 24/7 and started with five rooms that housed eight individuals, women and children, and has grown to hold 39 beds.

The Liberty House is transitional housing for homeless women to learn skills and have the confidence to maintain and own a home when they leave. The percentage for when women leave the shelter for permanent housing for them and their families is in a high 80 percent, which is higher than the national average of 60 percent, said Lynn. In Oct. 2017, they had 100 percent.

The YWCA’s Impact

The YWCA provides many opportunities to empower women, whether that be by reuniting them with their families, helping an individual fight addiction, finding the right healthcare facility, bringing children out of their shells or overcoming domestic violence. Stories like this happen every day.

A woman stayed at the YWCA during the ’50s and ’60s. There, she met her bridesmaid and they are still in contact today, said Tho­mpson. During the holiday season, a gentleman stopped in to reminisce about high school dances they used to hold in the building; he “s­aid ‘I won every jitterbug contest.’ “

“It is … fulfilling for me to tell the stories of the individuals who stayed here and the lives that have changed with the work that we do here because I think it is just beautiful to see them start at one spot and come out successful at the other side,” said Megan E. Bloom, communications associate.

“I have a daughter who is 6 and my decisions with her, the books I read to her, the things we do in the community, the bedtime prayers we say at night are a lot more focusing on caring for others and supporting others,” said Thompson. “You never know someone else’s struggle. She’ll tell me ‘someone’s being mean at school’ and I’ll say ‘you don’t know what that kid is going through, just be nice to them anyway.’ “

The YWCA is looking towards their future by “studying their past. They now are looking forward to empowering and supporting young leaders to make sure their future is just as successful as their past is,” said Lynn.

The YWCA will be celebrating their 125th anniversary throughout the year with events, such as the Voices of the YWCA, 2 p.m. on March 11, the Race Against Racism, 9 to 11 a.m. on June 9, and highlighting and honoring women in our community at the 10th-annual Women of Excellence, 6 p.m. on Nov. 8.

“It’s this community that supported this and started this,” said Thompson. “We are supported by our community. We couldn’t do this without the guidance of our volunteers, the donors who have cared about the mission. We are here because of the community and we are here to serve.”

For more information about the YMCA Northcentral PA, history, upcoming events or programs, visit http://www.ywcawilliamsport.org or on the YWCA’s Facebook, YWCA Northcentral PA.

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