YWCA has a proud history of promoting justice (column)

The following is a column from Stacie Blake first printed in LNP/Lancaster Online on August 14, 2022. Read it on LNP

When I first walked through the doors at YWCA Lancaster on North Lime Street in 2019, I knew immediately that I was part of something bigger than just a building, beautiful as it is.

Something stronger than just a team of dedicated professionals, extraordinary as they are.

Something more than our letters, YWCA, proud as I am to find a strong positive association with our national family of agencies no matter where I go.

It was clear that this organization was both deeply embedded in our community’s history, but also part of its future. And it was not alone.

I have come to work to find a woman in labor right on our couch in the lobby. And I have come to work to find that a resident has passed away in the night, having taken their last breaths in a room here. I see young, single parents juggling three or four children through our doors each morning and safely into child care rooms staffed with caring professionals.

YWCA Lancaster — like so many organizations in Lancaster County — is part of an immense legacy of community care, civic leadership and advocacy for the needs of residents. A legacy that I am honored to continue. The role of this organization and so many others in the social sector is both interwoven with, and supported by, the business and government sectors, and it is intentionally separate. This separation helps us center and support our community’s most important resource: its people.

The social sector includes so much of what keeps our community strong: fraternal organizations, social and recreational organizations, community and private foundations, churches and religious organizations. Our scope as a sector is vast, but we all have a similar foundation, to undertake private action for public good.

YWCA Lancaster’s mission was questioned recently by two Lancaster County commissioners; at issue was whether our organization “crossed over into political advocacy.”

Our mission at YWCA Lancaster is simple, but far from easy: We strive to eliminate racism and empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. It’s a mission that is apolitical, as well as universal. It’s a mission that centers our community’s most pressing needs. It’s also a mission that has supporters on all sides of the political spectrum and champions in elected offices at all levels throughout Lancaster County.

Our history is proud. YWCA Lancaster has been here since 1889 with women leading every step of the way. That means that this is, in fact, our second global pandemic. We have been in advocating for women’s empowerment since before women could vote — our organization was the first in Lancaster to offer voter registration and education in 1920, work that continues to this day. We have been steadfast in our work to counter racism since before the rights of Black Americans were codified. We pressed local hotels in Lancaster to allow Black delegates to our regional conference to use their facilities in the mid-1950s. We have been a voice for reproductive justice since before Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973 and will continue to be that voice in its absence.

Our present is active. Last year we reached more than 8,000 Lancaster County residents with services including child care for working parents; counseling and support for victim/survivors of sexual abuse or assault; new career pathways for individuals in transition; training to learn more about equity and bias; support for parents struggling with court involvement with their families and dozens of individuals who reside in our Lime Street building. Every program we offer has a wait list and our list of partner agencies and donors is long.

Our future is just, because it is being built in partnership with you to respond to community needs. For us, that means a future in which victim survivors of abuse can heal from past trauma, and sexual assault is prevented entirely. We are expanding our Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center and adding a private, accessible entrance to better meet the needs we see. It means a future in which residents of our community have access to affordable housing, so we are working to add 16 units of low-income housing right here in our building by repurposing existing space and adding a full-size elevator. You can find examples of these important community responses all across Lancaster County, powered by our social sector.

As we await one of the largest investments in our community in recent history through the American Rescue Plan, our community has a profound opportunity to create lasting and just change if we focus on the needs of the most marginalized and leverage the unique power of the social sector to address these needs.

This is a future we all should want, because it’s a future bigger than ourselves. We center eliminating racism and empowering women — just as it says on the side of our building — because if we do this everyone will prosper, and our community’s future will be just.

I am proud to be part of YWCA Lancaster’s mission: a call that has endured for decades, and one that will continue until the mission is met. And, as I learned when I first started, we are not alone. I am proud to be in community with so many other local organizations working for emergent causes, and leaders of all levels who are working to make positive change. We value our community — our people — and will not stop advocating for their needs, or for their voice to be heard, to build a just future together.