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Harnessing the regional power of YWCA

While the mission of YWCA Lancaster is rooted in the Lancaster County community, there is immense power to the national model that helps support more than 1,000 YWCA’s across the United States, as well as 120 countries around the world. We’re proud to be able to leverage that power to share resources, learnings, and ideas that can help bring new strategies and uplift more voices than ever before to help us better partner with you to eliminate racism and empower women.

Last month we had the honor of hosting four CEOs and Executive Director’s of regional YWCA’s, some of whom had recently joined their associations and are able to bring their extensive expertise to the YWCA family. Joining us in Lancaster were Delia Marerro of YWCA Bethlehem, Kim Bracey of YWCA York, Tymia Green of YWCA Gettysburg and Adams County, and Stacey Woodland of YWCA Tri-County Area. These exceptional leaders have an immense background of experience ranging from community activism, to former Mayor of York, and we were proud to share the table with such local brilliance!

Sharing insights, centering community

Though we are part of a national network, all dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women, each specific YWCA’s scope, approach, and services is tailored to the communities we serve. For example, YWCA Lancaster is proud to be our community’s rape crisis center through our Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center, and other associations offer vital physical fitness and wellness services to keep our community healthy and strong.

As part of our gathering, we discussed the differences between our communities, as well as the opportunities to learn from each other, to better uplift historically marginalized voices and to challenge our communities to build more just systems where everyone can thrive. As part of this discussion, we’re working to create a more consistent way of sharing insights across associations to further strengthen all of our programming.

Reaffirming our mission

 

In the coming months, every YWCA association across the country will be reconfirming their agreements with YWCA USA. This is a way of ensuring that every YWCA, regardless of where you are in the United States and regardless of the specific program offerings, upholds the same dedication to eliminating racism and empowering women, and is also remaining emergent to the changing needs of our communities. We, along with our fellow YWCA associations, are proud to be part of a network unlike anything else in the country: a collective of dedicated organizations working to build a just future that can learn, adapt, and uplift the brilliance of our respective communities. Since 1858, YWCA has been leading the way for the issues that will create that future, and we are honored to continue that legacy with you, our County, and our regional YWCA family!

Racial Equity Institute and Community Immersion

A new way of creating community

True community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.”

-Pauli Murray

In order to create true change, you need to take lessons out of the workshop and into the community. Last month, in partnership with Franklin & Marshall College, we reimagined our traditional Racial Equity Institute to create a new, multi-disciplinary look at racial justice, equity, and how those principles can be–and are–applied to Lancaster County and beyond.

This new, multi-day approach was part workshop, part community immersion. The morning featured content from our  Racial Equity Institute curricula, where participants worked on developing a common language and understanding needed to dismantle racism and to communicate with others about its manifestations, while also developing working tools to identify and address racism within themselves and their everyday lives.

In the afternoon, participants partnered with local grassroots organizations that were embedded in this work to do service projects and to learn from leaders who were translating ideas into action on the ground in Lancaster. Thank you to Lititz Chooses Love, F&M Blackbirds, and Nelson Polite Jr. for their partnership!

 

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We are all connected

As our community continues to grapple with challenges from the pandemic, restriction of women’s rights, and the ongoing pursuit of racial justice, we need each other more than ever. Building understanding, shared language, and deeper knowledge around the importance of eliminating racism and empowering women in Lancaster County and beyond will help our entire community to thrive. Through partnership with community organizations and leaders, we can better learn from each other, and build solidarity around our shared future.

YWCA Lancaster, along with other community partners, is preparing to launch our County’s first Racial Equity Profile in fall of 2022, an interactive resource that can help us to better understand not just the obstacles we face as a community, but the rich opportunity available to us when we invest in ways to support all of our residents.

We’re proud to continue to partner with you, community organizations, and local leaders to learn together, and to build a just future.

Want to be part of our next Racial Equity Institute? Learn more here or contact Tess Feiler at TFeiler@ywcalancaster.org

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.

New and Continued Investment in YWCA Lancaster

At YWCA Lancaster, our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women is more vital than ever. We’re thankful to have an incredible community behind us–from organizations to corporations, individuals to elected officials from all parties– who want to join together to meet our mission!

We are proud to update our community on some important recent investments in our programming: these grants, donations, and contract renewals help us to continue to meet the needs Lancaster County, in all parts of the county, and in so many areas of residents’ lives. Whether it’s childcare, counseling, career development, parent empowerment, or community building, YWCA Lancaster is proud to join with you in promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.

 

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Trust in our community, trust from our community

With support from the Lancaster County government, as well as community partners both nonprofit and corporate, we’re proud to announce some recent new and continued investment in YWCA Lancaster:

Every contract with Lancaster County has been renewed for 2022-3, an investment totaling more than half a million dollars

YWCA Lancaster received funding from the Lancaster County Community Foundation to support the re-launch of the Black Artist Waystation, and the Touchstone Foundation for Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center curricula

  • Black Artist Waystation was conceived to increase the visibility and support of Black Artists in the Lancaster community. Through the program, our aim is to be a catalyst for artists who create works that define the movement toward freedom and recognize the many efforts that brought us to this moment. Details about the 2022-3 program will be available soon!
  • We’re also partnering with the Touchstone Foundation to implement the Healthy Relationship Project: a researched-based, trauma-informed, and age-appropriate child sexual abuse prevention curriculum created by Prevent Child Abuse Vermont!

We were honored to receive investments from corporate partners, such as the Hershey Company, Truist, Erie Insurance, the PPL Foundation, and more!

Until Our Mission is Met

The mission of YWCA Lancaster has not changed since the 70’s and remains, to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. We’re proud to partner with community members, elected officials, leaders, organizations, and businesses to help make that mission a reality.

Since 1889, since before women had the right to vote, since before the equal rights for Black Americans were codified, and through two global pandemics we have remained steadfast in our service to community. We have been in this community for more than 130 years, and continually adapt to meet community needs until our mission is met.

Join us!

Local Voices: Dobbs decision will harm sexual assault survivors

The following is a Local Voices piece originally published in LNP on July 15, 2022. Read on LNP

We are practicing clinicians at YWCA Lancaster: Our work in preventing sexual assault, abuse and harassment is built on choice and consent. It’s a value we center, and a value that is in jeopardy in our community, and country.

The recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, has had a significant impact for the Lancaster County victims and survivors we serve. Community members are reaching out to express feelings of unease, anger, fear and frustration with the loss of rights due to the recent decision. Traumas are being resurfaced and painful memories revived. For those in this situation, we are here for you.

The YWCA Lancaster’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center has been serving this community as our county’s only rape crisis center for more than 35 years. We have a presence at colleges and universities across the county, offer a 24-hour hotline, provide support at hospitals for sexual assault exams, and offer prevention programs at schools and no-cost group and individual counseling in multiple locations. Adults and children across our county are impacted by sexual violence, harassment and abuse every day, and calls to our hotline are increasing.

 

It’s a misconception that sexual violence is about lust. It’s about power. When sexual assault occurs, bodily autonomy and control are taken from an individual by the perpetrator. Working with our community, we help survivors determine who to tell and when, what to share and what to hold, whether to report and how best to seek protection. We seek consent, centering the power of choice in how one’s own body is used.

It’s also a misconception that this latest Supreme Court ruling is about “life.” It’s about power. Each state now can decide if an individual should carry any pregnancy, no matter the source, the age, the impact. The right to choose is gone. The power to control and manage one’s own body is gone. Just as it was during the assault.

Pregnancy resulting from sexual violence is not uncommon and being forced to carry a pregnancy under these circumstances feels like punishment for being assaulted, one that manifests repeatedly over time in multiple ways. We know this because we hear it from our clients; it is sometimes a minute-by-minute reminder of your assault.

Following are some of our other concerns.

— This ruling will force survivors to disclose their assault before they are ready or to lie about how the pregnancy occurred. What if you are not prepared to tell your parents or partner of an assault?

— This ruling may force survivors to maintain ties to the perpetrator and in some states, perpetrators can maintain custodial rights. Why are we forcing people who are pregnant to remain in unsafe situations, for them and the baby they’re being mandated to carry?

 

— This ruling leaves the door open for trauma as a prerequisite for care. Some supporters of abortion bans claim that allowing exceptions in cases of incest or rape protects survivors. Why must individuals have to endure trauma to be allowed control over their own bodies?

— This ruling will disproportionately harm the Black community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of dying from pregnancy is three times more likely for Black women. Why are we forcing this risk on members of our community?

— Survivors who are nonbinary, transgender or gender-expansive may feel left out by exclusive language about who is impacted by the Supreme Court decision. We know that all people of all gender identities can — and do — get pregnant and need abortions. We serve these individuals every day, and we work to advocate for their needs and place in this movement.

While we work with law enforcement and prosecution professionals, the fact remains that we have a criminal justice system, not a victim justice system. Assault survivors already face barriers to being believed and to navigating systems of support and response. Adding a lifetime of impact to survivors through forced birth is unthinkable.

Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania, but some members of the state Legislature are actively working to end this choice. It is up to us as a community to make our voice heard, protect our rights and ensure our community does not suffer the consequences of these harmful, anti-choice policies. We invite you to visit YWCALancaster.org to learn more and take action. Believing survivors means centering their best interests, their choices.

YWCA Lancaster has always been at the forefront of making sure our community members are able to decide when, and if, to grow their families. Abortion is a personal decision. Abortion is health care. Abortion is a fundamental right. And we will never back down.

The column was authored by the staff of YWCA Lancaster’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center: Susan Hall, Mandy Billman, Danielle Perez, Yoangelys Cedeno, Danielle Harvey and Aleah Tyson.

YWCA Lancaster runs a 24-hour, locally operated sexual assault hotline, 717-392-7273, that connects callers to free, confidential counseling and therapy services for community members impacted by sexual abuse, harassment or assault.