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Capital YWCA hits 100 (with video)

Read a related YWCA story here.

 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It began in the early 20th century as a safe haven for women from rural communities who came to Charleston seeking a job and a life for themselves.

A century later, the YWCA of Charleston is still meeting the needs of women -- although the needs, and the women, have changed over the years. But some things are still the same.

"The YWCA is still living out our mission today in some ways that were very similar to how we were living out our mission when this organization birthed in this community in 1912," said YWCA Charleston Executive Director Debby Weinstein, who has worked for the organization for more than 25 years.

Founded in 1912, Charleston's YWCA is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.

The local chapter began when five members of the Baptist Temple in Charleston -- Daisy Stromstadt, Rose Shelton, Louise Tuxbury, Mrs. James Montgomery and Eleanor Hopper -- formed it in the Payne Building at the corner of Virginia and McFarland streets. The first building had 23 bedrooms, a parlor, dining room, kitchen, laundry and a gymnasium.

During those days, Weinstein said, women came to the city to seek opportunities that their smaller hometowns did not offer.

"In rural communities, the only opportunities they had were to hope to find someone to marry and to be dependent on the gentleman," Weinstein said. "That clearly was a phenomenon that had started changing. Women were seeking the opportunity to be self-sufficient. If you look at the beginning of the women's movement, it really had some legs back in the very early 1900s."

In the early days, the YWCA's programming included physical fitness, education, sewing, cooking, dressmaking, millinery and religious education.

The organization built its own building in 1922 on a vacant lot at 1114 Quarrier St.

The YWCA worked hard to stay relevant during each of the decades of the past century, Wein-stein said.

In 1937, the organization created the area's first childcare center. That became especially important in the 1940s as men left for World War II and women joined the work force in their stead.

Today, the YWCA continues to offer childcare service for low-income parents at the Mel Wolf Child Development Center. The center serves 135 children from newborn to school age.

Children from low-income homes have different needs from those where financial restraints are less of an issue, Weinstein said.

"Oftentimes, when you have single parents, they're working two and three jobs just to make ends meet," Weinstein said. "They do not understand that their kids have got to get the skills in the preschool arena in order for these children to have a successful academic experience right out of the gate."

The Child Development Center serves breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack to students as well as a light supper to students who attend in the afternoon, said Elizabeth Teel, the center's director.

"We make sure that we are serving the components that are required by federal food guidelines," Teel said. "[We are] making sure that the children are provided nutritious meals while they're here."

The meals are sometimes the only nutritious ones the students get, she said.

In 1944, the local YWCA took a controversial stance against racism with the national YWCA organization and supported putting black women into leadership positions.

"Certainly, the YWCA of the United States was way ahead of its time," Weinstein said. "The fact that this community got behind the national YWCA so early on in terms of its commitment to empowering women to lead self-sufficient lives, as well as promoting racial justice and working hard to eliminate racism, I think speaks volumes about this community, not just this organization. This community has been behind the YWCA since its inception 100 years ago."

In 1981, the YWCA opened the community's first emergency domestic-violence shelter as violence in relationships was being reported more and more. Today, the Resolve Family Abuse Program offers round-the-clock shelter, a crisis hot line and other services for domestic-violence victims in Kanawha, Clay and Boone counties.

Homelessness and poverty, too, were on the rise in the early 1980s.

"[There were] large numbers of women with children becoming homeless," Weinstein said. "That was a relatively new phenomena in this community and in this country, [and the YWCA] offered to open up a shelter for homeless women and children in its building."

The YWCA's homeless shelter, Sojourner's, exists today as a 75-bed facility on Washington Street East.

"We wrap many services around these women and children in order to have them move out of the cycle of homelessness to becoming self-sufficient and self-reliant human beings," Weinstein said.

The YWCA also offers permanent housing for the chronically homeless with its Empowerment Homes for Women.

In the early 2000s, the YWCA opened up a used clothing store and a used furniture store to help fund its programs. Revenue from the Past & Present Gently Used Clothing Store offsets the operating costs for the YWCA's transitional housing for battered women. Known as the Alicia McCormick Homes for Battered and Homeless Women and Children, the program offers 18 months of housing to residents who contribute a third of their income to offset costs.

The used furniture store, 2nd Seating, opened in 2003 at 412 Elizabeth St. to help offset the costs of the YWCA Elder Abuse Initiative, which was in the development stages.

"We were seeing more and more elderly and disabled women who were being exploited, victimized and were experiencing homelessness because of it," Weinstein said. "[They were] landing in our homeless shelter. Thus, we created programming to address these needs."

In 2006, the YWCA opened the Shanklin Center for Senior Enrichment, a permanent supportive-housing program for disabled women who were victims of elder abuse and are homeless because of the abuse.

The eight apartments stay full, Weinstein said. She added that the elder-abuse problem in the United States is much like domestic violence was in the 1970s. People talk about it, but not much is being done to stop it at this point, she said.

"The YWCA is trying to take some leadership here in trying to create some programming," Weinstein said.

Last year, the YWCA moved its headquarters to the previous home of the Clay Foundation, on Kanawha Boulevard, after the foundation's board members voted to donate the building to the YWCA. The Clay Foundation also gave the organization an endowment of $2 million, which the organization matched with fundraising.

The YWCA continues to offer physical activity services through its partnership with Nautilus at the Quarrier Street location.

Looking to the future, Weinstein said elder abuse and women in war are two areas that perhaps the YWCA will focus on next.

"[Women in the military] is a whole new phenomenon for our country," she said. "Women are on the front lines. In the '40s, the YWCA helped to recruit women to join the military and the war effort, but we are, only now in the last five years, seeing women join the military and getting up to the front lines.

"This is going to have tremendous ramifications for women who are single women and women with families."

One of those ramifications is post-traumatic stress disorder, which Weinstein said is likely to affect the day-to-day lives of women differently than it does men.

"That's an issue we're looking at," she said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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