(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each day, the staff and volunteers of the YWCA Northcentral PA face the darkest secrets of Lycoming County. The goal of this column is to shed new light on the realities of domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes happening every day in our community. Additionally, this column will include information on the programs, the people and the history that culminates as the beacon of hope that is the YWCA.)
In case you are unfamiliar with the YWCA Northcentral PA, who we are and what we stand for, consider this your crash course in YWCA 101.
In 1893, "The Girl's Friendly" formed to create a place for local working girls to find recreation and relaxation.
The cover of a 1927 pamphlet distributed sought to raise the $450,000 required to build the current YWCA building.
This innovative, forward-thinking group hosted a library, religious studies and an employment bureau, which were all heavily used.
In 1912, similar services were made available to African-American girls and women. Pioneering always has come naturally to the volunteers and leaders of this group that morphed into the YWCA.
Suffrage, temperance, women's health and equal rights are all impassioned undertakings in the annals of the local association. Services greatly expanded in 1928 when the current 70,000-square-foot building opened at 815 W. Fourth St. Classes and programs kept womens' "physical, mental, social and spiritual" health at the forefront with classes in synchronized swimming, foreign languages, child care and dance courses like "Tiny Tot's Rhythm."
As the needs of the local women changed, the YWCA evolved to remain a relevant and necessary pillar in the community. In 1976, a committee realized the need for domestic violence services.
Wise Options for Women opened with a 24-hour crisis hotline, walk-in service and community education and consultation - services unchanged for more than 30 years. In 2002, a young mother appeared at the YWCA doorstep - with nowhere to turn except the street.
The mindful gears of Liberty House began turning immediately and the program began the next year.
The Liberty House pioneers realized the need for the shelter to have required educational programming. By providing skills in money management, parenting, job hunting and nutrition, Liberty House truly has a goal of self-sufficiency. A goal realized by a sweet, 74-year-old veteran who moved into her own apartment in December after more than a year in Liberty House.
"I'm so thankful for all of you," she told staff upon her exit. "I wouldn't have had the courage to do any of this without all of your help."
In 2003, the YWCA also became the home of Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) of Lycoming County.
With a skeleton staff, CASA provides training and resources for thoroughly trained volunteers to devote hours of research to an abused or neglected child in foster care.
CASA then presents the information to the judge to assist in placing the child in the safest permanent family possible. While our focus and programming has changed over time, the YWCA is forever dedicated to improving and saving lives.
For women and children facing crises and homelessness and carrying painful pasts and secrets - the YWCA is here, eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
Thompson is the communications and development manager at the YWCA Northcentral PA. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her column is published on the second Sunday of each month.