Monday, May 7, 2012

Empowering Choice

Over the past several years, YWCA Clark County has adopted core values that guide the way we do things. Our core values of empowerment, diversity, teamwork, commitment, service and respect are built into our job descriptions, policies, procedures and overall structure.

Looking at one value in particular – empowerment – the Board of Directors has recently approved a few revisions to the reproductive rights policy statement for YWCA Clark County.

As an organization, we strive to model empowerment in many ways. Our SafeChoice domestic violence advocates work with individuals to identify whether or not they will choose to leave an abusive relationship. Our ILS advocates work with foster care alumni to create a future for themselves that they choose, whether that be through education, employment, or another path. The advocates in the Sexual Assault Program help victim-survivors and their families identify whether legal action is the right choice for their family. By acknowledging that each individual has the right to make choices that impact their own lives – the staff at YWCA work daily to embody the value of empowerment.

The issue of reproductive rights is truly about empowerment. One way we strive to empower women is by insisting on every woman’s individual right to make her own choices about hOer own body and reproductive health. The full policy statement approved by the board is below.

reproductive rights


YWCA Clark County is a pro-choice organization.

The issue of reproductive rights is about empowering women to be able to make decisions
about their own bodies and lives. The YWCA position on reproductive rights is based on the
following principles:


  • Reproductive choice means that every woman has the freedom to make decisions about her body that best suit her physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and economic needs, making her own health care decisions privately.
  • Women must have the freedom to decide whether or not to have sex, become pregnant, and have children to be truly empowered.
  • They have the right to be informed about and have access to all legal contraceptive and reproductive options.
  • These decisions must be each woman’s without government interference or pressure from other individuals or groups.


  • In order to make reproductive decisions, women need education about the full range of reproductive health options.
  • This means age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education that teaches young people about all of their reproductive health choices, including information about abstinence, contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, adoption and parenthood.
  • This also means that women seeking health services should not be refused information about their health options based on a health care provider’s religious or moral beliefs.


  • All women must have access to quality health care, including reproductive health services, regardless of their race or ethnic background, socioeconomic status, age or where they live.
  • It is especially important that women and girls who have been raped or sexually assaulted have access to a full range of reproductive health care options, that they receive sensitive and 
  • understanding medical treatment and advocacy, and that they are supported in whatever personal decisions they may make.

YWCA Clark County supports policies that affirm these principles, and it opposes efforts to reduce or deny reproductive choices.

policy statement on reproductive rights

YWCA Clark County defines pro choice as every woman and girl having the following rights:

  • access to comprehensive quality care,
  • the education to make informed decisions about her reproductive health,
  • the freedom to make decisions about her reproductive health care based on her own beliefs and values.

Volunteers Phyllis and Bob Burger

Maintaining a shelter is not an easy job. It takes a team of dedicated individuals. YWCA’s SafeChoice Domestic Violence Shelter has 10 rooms, private and shared bathrooms, a shared kitchen, pantry, donation closet, laundry facilities and shared spaces for children, youth and adults. With an average of 25 residents living in the shelter daily, you can only imagine the degree of regular service and maintenance that’s needed to sustain a well-functioning operation.

Debbi Cawthon, Director of Shelter Services leads the charge with the staff support of Beth Landry, Shelter Facilities Specialist and Melissa Heiskari, Facilities Coordinator. Because the responsibilities these individuals have reach far beyond building and inventory maintenance, they rely on the dedicated service of volunteers to help fill the gap.
Phyllis Burger

Phyllis and Bob Burger have been filling that gap since 2007. In the last 5 years, Phyllis has found a perfect fit at the shelter. “I don’t mind doing odd jobs that no one else wants to do,” Phyllis said. She spends 10-20 hours a week there, where most of her work is focused on organizing the constant stream of donations received. Yet, her commitment doesn’t stop there. When Phyllis isn’t sorting diapers and blankets, she’s painting, doing laundry, or organizing the pantry. Occasionally she’ll discover a broken chair, ruffled blinds or a faulty door knob. Most businesses would trash the item and buy a new one, but for the shelter this is not always the best option. That’s when Phyllis calls on Bob. As Bob sees it, “She’s always finding volunteer types of jobs to do, and I’m the tag-a-long.”

Bob enjoys fixing things and joins Phyllis from time to time for small projects. Most recently, the couple worked together on some projects in the building. Now, they’re looking forward to working together on painting the door frames, the elevator and maybe even some of the rooms. The work of these two is especially meaningful to shelter staff. “Phyllis and Bob seem to complement each other, and they’re part of the shelter family. Like many non-profits, we’ve had some struggles, and these two consistently step up and support the program,” said Landry.

Besides the work they do at the shelter, Phyllis and Bob are known throughout the community as committed volunteers. They’re both involved in FISH of Vancouver and their local church. Phyllis also volunteers for RSVP, SHIBA, Volunteer Connections and the Vancouver Food Bank. With so much experience volunteering, YWCA Clark County has utilized Phyllis’ expertise far beyond her shelter work. Stephanie Barr, Director of Volunteer Development has recently worked with her on recruitment and training efforts, “She’s willing to help in any way she can and always has a great attitude. She sees a need and offers to help. It’s wonderful!”

It seems the feeling is mutual. Phyllis says the work YWCA does is amazing and she’s especially fond of the free training sessions that YWCA offers to staff and volunteers. “I learn so much. It’s like taking a college course, and I recommend them to anyone and everyone,” said Phyllis. She especially enjoys learning about equality efforts and gaining insight on domestic violence and sex trafficking issues. “I think it’s one of the strengths of the Y that they do have good training sessions, and they do have a lot of outside people come in to lead the training.”

YWCA Clark County is grateful for the time and talents of this thoughtful and committed couple.  Their service goes above and beyond all expectations and this dedication is recognized by so many in our community. In March of this year, Phyllis received a letter of recognition on behalf of Governor Christine Gregoire and the Washington Commission for National and Community Service, congratulating her on her outstanding volunteer efforts in the community. She was invited to receive an award at the Executive Mansion in Olympia and to attend a public recognition Salute to Volunteers at a Mariners pre-game event. We congratulate Phyllis for her well-deserved award and also extend congratulations to her husband Bob, who has also done so much to support this organization, and our community.

Classic Wines is a Classic Win

We often are asked why YWCA Clark County participates in the annual Classic Wines Auction after more than a decade of hosting its own auction. Although the name and venue are different, the mission of this fundraiser has not changed.

What began as a small group of friends exchanging wine from personal collections to raise funds for women, children and families, became the Classic Wines Auction; one of the top ten charity wine auctions in the United States according to Wine Spectator magazine, prompting organizers to form a separate nonprofit entity in July 2004 supporting five Portland-based charities.

In 2008, YWCA leadership recognized that after 15 years of holding its own highly visible and successful auction, it was showing signs of strain. In our final year, it was more difficult to get attendees, items and sponsors. There were so many more events than there used to be – more non-profits raising money – that there was auction fatigue throughout the philanthropic community.

Around this time Classic Wines Auction asked YWCA Clark County to apply to be one of their partnership charities. YWCA leadership thought it was a good opportunity and good timing with the way things were trending.

Classic Wines Auction partners with non-profit organizations with the following characteristics: mission compatibility, effective organizational management, sound financial practices, Board-led fundraising, sustainability, and a solid volunteer network. The opportunity to marry our fundraising efforts with an organization that could widen our financial base was a great fit.

YWCA plays an active role in the success of the main auction and other supporting events. We offer opportunities for event underwriting, table sponsorships, procurement and attendance. Because of this, our staff, volunteer base and time is only one fourth the investment of our own auction. By having an organizing charity take the lead on logistics, YWCA does not have to secure venues, caterers, florists and a number of other items required to make an event this size flow smoothly.
The “Wine Working Wonders” is the main auction that takes place the first Saturday each March. The week preceding the auction, offers nearly thirty Winemaker Dinners and other wine functions. These are open to the public and a great alternative for people unable to attend the main auction.

Our involvement at this year’s event, which raised $2.47 million, proved to be very valuable to our organization. Total revenue is divided among Class Wines Auction and the partner charities. This month, YWCA will receive $350,000 in event proceeds. Only 23% of the YWCA’s revenue comes from philanthropy giving, of which Classic Wines revenue accounts for 58%. It is clear that YWCA Clark County truly benefits from this partnership.

Young Women Honored for Service and Leadership

On May 6, 2012 YWCA Clark County honored ten young women from Clark County high schools at its Young Women of Achievement Honoree Tea. Award recipients were recognized for outstanding community service, achievement in academic and volunteer roles, and demonstrated leadership.

Skylar Hoss, Southwest Washington Representative for Governor Gregoire, and Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt joined Sherri Bennett, Executive Director, Kelly Walsh, Board President and Megan Vaughn, keynote speaker in congratulating the winners during the second annual Honoree Tea, held this year at the Marshall House. Four recipients received scholarships made possible by the generous support from First Independent, Donna Roberge Scholarship Fund, Soroptimist International of Vancouver, and an anonymous donor.

Award recipients were Hannah Barclay, Miranda Bean, Chelsea Christian, Sabrina Sears, Kaleigh Supe-Klensch and Rebecca Myre. Scholarship award recipients were Annie Baker (Soroptomist International Scholarship), Hannah Chong (First Independent Scholarship), Kaitlyn Lee (Donna Roberge Fund Scholarship), and Eveling Cabello Ramirez (scholarship from anonymous donor).

“Each of the award recipients is immensely talented and dedicated. YWCA Clark County and generous scholarship donors could not be more proud to have honored their hard work. These young women are wonderful models of the Y’s mission and I know they will continue to positively impact their communities as they move forward on their journeys,“ said Megan Vaughn.

About the YWCA awards program

In 1985 YWCA created an awards program to recognize young women for their volunteer community service and leadership. Since then, YWCA has honored nearly 230 students from Clark County high schools for their efforts to build a stronger, healthier and more vibrant community. Click here to view more photos from the event.

Plant a Seed and Grow the Future

Our second annual spring campaign is focused on the great work of YWCA’s Y’s Care Children’s Program, and on how innovative curriculum like Seeds of Empathy impacts children and families by inspiring change in their personal and social lives.
We first mentioned Seeds of Empathy in our November Newsletter, providing an overview and history of the curriculum and insight on how Y’s Care came to be the 2nd in the nation to adopt this cutting-edge style of learning. For a brief review, the program was developed by Mary Gordon and had its start in Canada, and now has programs all over the world both for preschoolers and school age children. In a nutshell, the Seeds of Empathy Program goals are:

  • To foster the development of empathy and emotional literacy
  • To build social and emotional understanding
  • To reduce aggression and increase pro-social behavior
  • To develop positive attitudes toward and competencies in early literacy

We’re nearing the end of the 10 visit cycle and the kids are really enjoying watching baby Jocelyn grow and develop. She and mom visit the classroom every three weeks during a family visit. The teacher spreads out the big lavender blanket, the students sing a hello song and get down to the business of watching this amazing baby grow!

To prepare for each visit, teachers Laura and Leann each read two books from the current theme and the children complete projects related to the books. The ten themes, including feeling angry, feeling scared and getting bigger resonate with 3-5 year olds and the curriculum relates to the children’s social emotional development as well as to their early literacy learning.

A study of Gordon’s longer-running and comparable program aimed at K-8th grades, Roots of Empathy (ROE) shows the following key findings:

  • Decrease in aggression: While children in the ROE program showed decreases in aggression from pre-test to post-test, comparison children increased in aggression.
  • Creates more caring children: ROE students showed significantly better social and emotional competence than comparison children.
  • Increase in knowledge of parenting: Students in ROE programs had significantly more knowledge about how to help a baby and were more confident in their ability to be a parent.
  • Perceptions of a caring classroom environment: Students in ROE classes felt more supported by their classmates and teacher and felt more autonomous than children in the comparison groups.
  • Lasting results: Researchers found that the ROE group had reduced aggression and improved pro-social behavior immediately after completing the program and those outcomes were maintained or further enhanced over the three years after the program ended.

Seeds of Empathy was introduced in 2005 and while formal results of studies have not yet been produced, we feel the success of ROE is an indicator of the changes Seeds of Empathy is making right now in the lives of preschoolers in the Y’s Care Program.

Y’s Care doesn’t only help create change in the lives of these wonderful children, but also provides solace, confidence and inspiration to parents involved with the program. Rachel Collins is one such parent, who first entered YWCA with her two youngest children in 2010.

When Rachel left her abusive husband, she knew she needed to secure employment and housing immediately to support herself and her five children. Her biggest barrier was finding affordable day care that would permit her time to work. Rachel went looking for day care, but found so much more.

“The program saved my life; it gave me hope and faith. I now had affordable childcare and I was going to be able to work in order to provide a safe home and a good life for my children. I could finally be free and begin to heal, we were going to be alright and my children and myself were going to be something and not statistics. This was one of the best days of my life.”

Rachel is able to work at Second Step Housing, a local non-profit that helps women in troubled circumstances find affordable housing, with the comfort of knowing her children are thriving at Y’s Care. She also volunteers at YWCA Clark County, HeadStart and Second Step, and is an active advocate for legislation that supports this community.

It is this “pay it forward” type of attitude that consistently emerges from YWCA program participants whether they be 3, or 33 years old. We believe this is due to the over 70 employees and hundreds of volunteers and donors who believe in and support the innovative and inspiring programs that serve the underprivileged members of our great community.

However, programs like Y’s Care would not be possible without the supporters like you. During our spring campaign, we ask you to “grow the future” of our children and of our community by making a donation to YWCA Clark County. Donations can be made online, in person, or by mail to YWCA Clark County, 3609 Main St., Vancouver, WA 98660. Many employers will match your donation, so be sure to check with your HR representative if you think this will be an option for you.

Y's Words May 2012

Support.  It’s a wonderful thing to give and receive.  In this month’s newsletter you’ll find inspiring stories and articles regarding our volunteers, community members, and donors and their efforts to support our organization and ultimately our mission.

This season we are hoping to “grow the future” with our spring campaign.  By supporting the Y’s Care Children’s Program and our six other programs you are planting priceless “seeds” for our community’s future.

We have more individuals in our community helping to create social change than we can count, let alone encounter.  The Val Joshua Racial Justice and the Youth Social Justice Awards are two ways you can help us recognize the amazing social change efforts occurring in Clark County.  Be sure to read the article highlighting these two awards so you can nominate a deserving individual and/or group. Applications are due May 31st, 2012.

Bob and Phyllis Burger have been volunteering at our SafeChoice Domestic Violence Shelter since 2007.  In addition to spending several hours per week at the shelter, it’s not uncommon for Phyllis to attend workshops and events pertaining to eliminating racism and empowering women.  They lead by example which helps advance our mission in the best possible way.

The Young Women of Achievement Award winners were recognized this past Sunday for their leadership and volunteer efforts in their schools and their community. Learn more about these amazing young women in the following article.

YWCA Clark County is a pro-choice organization.  We strive to model choice and empowerment in many ways.  We believe in supporting and empowering women to be able to make decisions about their own bodies and lives.  YWCA has updated our reproductive rights policy statement.

We were fortunate to be able to participate once again in the Classic Wines Auction.  Due to the collective efforts of the Classic Wines Auction board and staff, generous sponsors and donors, three Portland area non-profits, and YWCA Clark County board and staff we will receive…$350,000!  This month you’ll find out how and why we became involved.

Strong Alone.  Fearless Together.