Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Volunteer Spotlight: Blayne Amson

“There’s a camaraderie among the staff who work here, but also within the SafeChoice Program – to advocate for me, to recognize the gift that I bring to the program and to acknowledge those unique understandings that I might bring.” These are just a few of the things that inspires him to stay, says Blayne Amson, whose been with YWCA for about a year – first as an intern and later as a volunteer. Also impactful has been his experiences as an advocate as well as the organization’s dedication to model their mission. In addition, Blayne is passionate about promoting inclusive and empowering behavior, especially as it relates to ablism. With 6 years of women’s studies and a selfless, compassionate personality, Blayne is a welcomed advocate in the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program and within the organization as a whole.

While Blayne was an intern, he gained 6 college credits and the advocate training required to support those affected by domestic violence. Now, as a volunteer advocate, he finds the work more rewarding than he ever expected. “I came in here with a lot of fears about how I would be perceived by survivors who are predominantly women, and ironically I found it to be a lot more of asset that I’m a man, than a deficit,” said Blayne. Additionally, he had some fears about advocating for those affected by domestic violence, being that it’s such an intense stage of life the participants are experiencing. But, within the first few minutes of talking with those he advocates for, he’s found his fears quickly slip away and are replaced with hope and joy. It’s provided him the perspective to truly value the relationships he does have and the pride in knowing that he helps people out of abusive situations so that they can regain their passion for life.

Blayne’s not the only one who finds value in his dedication to the organization. Saron Nehf, who works with Blayne said, “He is one of the most amazing allies I have ever met. He is thoughtful, driven, educated, dedicated, compassionate and I cannot wait to see how he will rock the world we live in, in the near future. I feel blessed to have met him and strongly believe that what he brings to our work is revolutionary and priceless.”

Blayne’s contributions to the organization are vast. Beyond advocacy support, he provides strong personal testimony regarding ableism which has engaged the support of many staff members at YWCA clark county. Blayne recognized that at YWCA, he has an opportunity to educate staff about oppression as it relates to people with disabilities. As someone who spends much of his time in a wheelchair, Blayne understands first-hand what it’s like to be the target of ableism. The majority of staff at YWCA don’t have any obvious physical disabilities, so from a target/agent perspective, most staff would be considered the agent, or the person in power who is also the potential source of oppression. This dynamic naturally puts able-bodied staff in an opportune position. Just as males are in a primary position to speak out against sexism, the able-bodied are in a primary position to speak out against ableism. With such an empowering culture, YWCA Clark County is fertile soil for growing Blayne’s dreams of empowering disabled populations. He quickly discovered that compared to his experiences volunteering in numerous other agencies, he needed to do the least amount of work to enlighten people and to create change. “The path has already been blazed for me,” he said, noting YWCA’s powerful mission, wonderful staff and bold anti-discrimination statement.

YWCA Clark County’s mission to empower women, eliminate racism and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all resonates strongly with Blayne. He wakes up at 7:30 in the morning and takes 2 busses to arrive at 9:00am, but he says it’s worth the effort to come in and see the mission statement on the wall and think to himself, “yeah, me too.” Blayne admits that his work here is sometimes challenging, stressful and even draining, but with staff support, he personally feels empowered in a very unique way. “I’m given a lot of freedom while also having the ability to ask for guidance, and not being left to my own devices.” In addition, he feels secure in knowing he can bring concerns forward to his supervisor without being devalued.

Speaking of his supervisor, Lee Watts has only good things to share about Blayne, “He’s so compassionate, kind and provides a strength-based approach with the people he meets with.  I have so much gratitude for his decision to share his advocacy skills with SafeChoice. I couldn’t express it any better than a survivor who left a comment for Blayne after seeing him recently, ‘Thank you for HOPE!’ Blayne has given her and many others who have come through our doors hope for a better future—leaving here feeling empowered to change their lives. He really is an amazing advocate.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Unique Struggles of Foster Youth

By Claire Morgan and Sharon Svec

More than 10,000 children are in foster care in the state of Washington. Each year, a number of them will turn 18 or graduate from high school, and begin living as independent adults. This process is known as “aging out” of foster care, and can be problematic for some people. Often, young people will go from having zero experience managing money or a budget to being expected to obtain an apartment, pay rent, provide food for themselves, and generally take on adult responsibilities.

YWCA’s Independent Living Skills Program (ILS) is dedicated to assisting young adults between the ages of 15 and 21 who are or were in foster care. This program helps young people develop the necessary skills for transitioning to independent life by providing assistance with housing, budgeting, and employment. Through advocacy, resources, and education, young adults aging out of foster care are given the tools and support that they need to become successful adults. ILS is also able to help young people obtain a GED, complete college applications, complex financial aid forms, and navigate the healthcare system.

From L-R: Tyler, Tyler, Shaylee, and Jaime

ILS hosted a panel on June 10th, featuring four admirable youth who shared their experiences with the program and the foster care system. Shaylee, Jaime, Tyler K. and Tyler H. fought against overwhelming adversity to become strong members of our community. Each story was unique. One youth shared her passionate journey of motherhood while she was a ward of the court. Another spoke on his struggles with staying in school and off drugs, and how ILS helped him outline and achieve goals such as getting his own apartment. After living in multiple homes for much of her life, one youth was adopted by her social worker and now is on a path to becoming a social worker herself. The final panelist shared his experiences of abuse and neglect and his drive for success.

The audience mostly comprised of CASA volunteers and YWCA staff had a number of questions for the panel of youth. Each shared thoughtful and varied responses regarding their perspectives on family; past and present, and on what kind of support they might have benefited from during their time in foster care. Jaime encouraged those who might be frustrated with the behavior of foster children to respond with empathy and to, “ask why” instead of making assumptions which could cripple a delicate relationship.
An engaged audience listens to ILS panelists

The panel discussion came to a close with the speakers sharing their value of CASAs and the ILS Program, with a couple shout-outs to program specialist Robbie Orr. Guests at the event shared their admiration and respect for these courageous youth who are overcoming a difficult past to achieve a bright and purposeful future.

July 2013 Y's Words

At the most recent board meeting, we were pleased to welcome Pam Loh Veljacic and Sherri Falker to the organization. We also said goodbye to Kelly Walsh, who served two terms with YWCA Clark County and Alan Ford who served two years. With us since 2007, Kelly also served as board president from 2010-2012. The heart and dedication she has for YWCA is incredible. Through her various leadership roles she inspired others to be more and do more. Alan served as Vice President of Board Development for one year. He brought a great spirit and sense of humor to our meetings. Both individuals will be missed.

In June, I attended YWCA National conference in Washington DC. It was my first time at the conference and it was exciting to see and feel the spirit of YWCA. I was most inspired during lobby day when YWCA visited Capital Hill en mass to facilitate change. Board Member Dena Horton, who joined me in DC, provides a great review of the experience in this newsletter.

Also this month, read about two of our award-winning employees. Michelle Hurdle-Bradford and Heidi Hiatt have provided unique and exceptional service to our communities and I am proud to have them on our team. Michelle also was a major planner of the Community Celebration; an event that honors Val Joshua Racial Justice Award recipients and is covered in this edition of “Our Voice.”

YWCA provides services to children and youth in foster care. In this issue we recognize the great work of our Independent Living Skills (ILS) Program and feature Rafik Fouad, long time volunteer with ILS. Our Sexual Assault and SafeChoice Domestic Violence Programs are also featured this month as we share success of the great improvements made to our facility, thanks to a grant from United Way.

Finally, we celebrate the results of our spring giving campaign. We received $23,875 from our generous community! This money will go directly to the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program to support families participating in our Children’s Advocacy Program. Thank YOU.

Strong Alone. Fearless Together.

Sherri Bennett
Executive Director

Meet Michelle Hurdle-Bradford

By: Emily Ostrowski

 Michelle Hurdle-Bradford has been at YWCA Clark County for the past eight years. Started as a volunteer as a trainer of diversity classes,she was then hired four years ago as the Social Change Program Manager. Before coming to YWCA, Michelle worked 25 years as Vice President of Operations for a major bank. She began her foray into the social service world in 2001, working as a Workfirst counselor. While there, Michelle attended the Dynamic Works Institute to earn National Certifications as a WorkForce professional, both as an administrator, as well as a supervisor. She was also a Loaned Executive for United Way.

  Michelle was drawn to YWCA because her values of eliminating racism and empowering women align so well with the organization. Her role as Social Change Program Manager includes imparting a great deal of education. She runs the Eliminating Racism classes, providing training to high school and college students, as well as companies. The Social Change Program, through Michelle’s leadership, hosts the annual Community Celebration and monthly Conversations in the Community. 
Michelle Hurdle-Bradford

The Community Celebration is a public commemoration of diversity, racial justice and social change. Each year, the Val Joshua Awards are bestowed to people who demonstrate leadership in eliminating racism and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

 Conversations in the Community is a monthly lunch series, held every first Monday, that explores issues of discrimination and cultural challenges in a safe, respectful, discussion oriented environment. shared, Every meeting starts by having attendees introduce themselves and discuss their business or any events in which they are involved. Next, staff of a featured YWCA program gives a presentation. June featured YWCA’s Independent Learning Skills Program. Afterwards, participants present news articles or issues they’d like to discuss and everyone engages in a roundtable discussion. This past meeting attendees discussed, among other things, the Boy Scouts new policy allowing openly gay youth, the controversy over the recent Cheerios ad that featured a biracial family, and bullying in school. Bev Collins, ILS Program Director, worked with Michelle at both these events shared, “Michelle knows how to relate to all individuals and truly makes you feel like a valuable part of the team. Her vast amount of experience with the public offers you great opportunities to build on your personal development and goals.”

 Recently Michelle was honored with by Educational Opportunities for Children and Families (EOCF) and received their Early Learning Community Partner Award to recognize her outstanding leadership and contributions to the early learning community. “They (EOCF) had a luncheon with over 200 attendees at Club Green Meadows. I had 20 of my co-workers and friends attend the event. It was wonderful.”

 While Michelle is very proud of receiving this recognition, her greatest joy from her job comes from the citizens she engages, especially those who are initially hesitant to participate. “I love it when I am teaching a class and a few of the attendees come in mad, or with an attitude that they are in the class. I get excited when those folks contribute to the class, and at the end, they come up to let me know they really learned a lot. That makes me feel like it’s all worth it.

A Solid Foundation for Survivors

By: Emily Ostrowski

 Often at people’s darkest hours is when YWCA provides the help they seek. When those people come into our office, we want them to feel at ease and empowered. One of the first and most fundamental ways to do this is to create an environment that feels comfortable and have available up-to-date resources to assist them and their families.

Earlier this year, YWCA completed a facilities upgrade for a Survivors of Violence project thanks to a generous grant from United Way, an organization with a long history of commitment to healthy families and communities.

The grant of $13,120 focused on two important facilities upgrades. First, the grant allowed us to replace 15-year-old carpet in the wing of the building which houses the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program and Sexual Assault Program. Nancy Prager, Office and Facilities Manager, worked side-by-side with volunteers to help remove and replace the carpet in January. She was excited to learn that some of the volunteers were from United Way; the same individuals who approved the grant in the first place. They were able to see firsthand just how much their contribution improved our facilities.

 The second part of the upgrade provided new equipment to the adult resource room, the teen resource room, and the interview room used by advocates during their sessions. Among these items were two new, high-speed computers, new printers, a flat screen television, and a new DVD player. 

The benefits of these upgrades go far beyond just improving our facilities' aesthetic. It’s about making people feel empowered. The new computers make it easier for people to access resources, look for jobs or housing, stay in contact with loved ones, or just unwind and browse the internet. Children can watch a movie, or play with some of the new toys purchased for SafeChoice while their parents work with an advocate. It’s about making people feel empowered.

 When talking about the impact these upgrades have on the people we serve, Nancy puts it simply, “Without the facility you can’t provide advocacy and services.” Thanks to the generosity and wonderful support YWCA received from United Way we now have a facility which is vastly better equipped to advocate for and empower survivors of domestic and sexual abuse, and help build healthier, safer lives for themselves and their families.

Bridging Generations

By Emily Ostrowski

 YWCA’s annual Community Celebration was held on June, 18th – a celebration of diversity, racial justice, and social change; three ideals at the core of YWCA’s values and mission. This year’s theme was “Bridging Generations.” City of Vancouver Councilman Jack Burkman lead off with the opening remarks including, “Social change is simply about creating a better place for all of us to live. Our YWCA has been a leader in this work for decades and I was honored to help celebrate and acknowledge some of our powerful young leaders.”

 One highlight of the evening was the presentation of the Val Joshua Awards, which are presented to those who demonstrate leadership in eliminating racism and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people. Val Joshua was a tireless advocate for education, racial justice, and equality, and her spirit and activism left an indelible mark on YWCA Clark County and our community. 
Amanda and Michelle celebrating.

Amanda Marchak is the recipient of the Val Joshua Racial Justice Award. Amanda is the Associated Student Body (ASB) Vice President at Columbia River High School. She planned “Love Month” at her school, an event that encourages students to treat each other with respect, compassion, and kindness. The event was capped off with an anti-bullying rally. Bullying is an incredibly important cause to Amanda, who attended a cyber bullying conference earlier in the year. She also led another school campaign called “Spread the Word to End the Word” which fought against use of the word “retarded.” Amanda participated in Mr. and Miss Columbia River, an event that raised $105,000 for Dorenbecher Children’s Hospital. Amanda’s commitment to giving back is not limited to large scale events, as she makes a point to contribute to her community in smaller ways as well. She volunteers regularly at a food bank and homeless shelter, and every day makes sure to greet all the students she can at the entrance of the school.

Estefania with her award.

Estefania Medina recieved the Val Joshua Youth Social Justice Award. Estefania is heading into her last year at Mountain View High School, and her accomplishments thus far are nothing short of outstanding. Estefania founded and served as the president of the Latino Club at her school. She organized a fundraiser to send 15 students to the Caesar Chavez Leadership Conference. She also created and taught an English class for Spanish speaking adults. Estefania is incredibly passionate about social issues that affect the Latino community, and speaks about them frequently. She held a meeting with legal experts to discuss the implications of Deferred Action, which calls for prosecutorial discretion when dealing with people who were brought to the United States undocumented as children, and talked with other students about how it impacted them.

 Michelle Hurdle-Bradford, Social Change Program Manager, believes the celebration is an inspiration for all. “Every year I am amazed by the attendees and their willingness to meet new people, learn about a new culture and recognize our recipients. I love helping people to relax, laugh and enjoy themselves. This makes a stronger community.”

Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Report from the YWCA USA National Conference and Lobby Day Event

By Dena Horton, VP Public Policy Committee

YWCAs from across the country recently joined forces in Washington, DC from June 5 – 8, 2013 to lobby Congress and key staff to pass comprehensive immigration reform and participate in the YWCA USA national conference. YWCA Clark County Executive Director Sherri Bennett and I attended the national conference and lobby day events.  The primary issue focus of the lobby day was comprehensive immigration reform. YWCA was highly visible at the Capitol as all 281 YWCA participants wore persimmon scarves during their legislative visits. Our mission was to get Members of Congress to view comprehensive immigration reform as an issue affecting women, children and families and not simply as a border protection, amnesty, or economic issue.

The YWCAs of Washington State met to collaborate on the presentation and messaging for our meetings with Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R) and staff from Senators Patty Murray (D) and Maria Cantwell (D). We encouraged our congressional delegation to pass comprehensive immigration reform with the following caveats:

1. Include a path to citizenship for the 11 million aspiring Americans already living in the US as reunification of families is a high priority.
2. Include access to health care and other financial supports with no waiting periods.
3. Support the DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) allowing children of undocumented parents to begin the process for obtaining citizenship and access to education and higher education.
4. Include siblings and older married children as categories in the family visa program as many families rely on these extended family members for financial support, day care and caring for elderly family members.
5. Include U-Visas so women and young girls brought to our country to be trafficked can use this path to separate themselves from their abuser (who may also be their sponsor) and protect the women from deportation and retaliation by their abuser in the immigration process.

In keeping with YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism, we also encouraged the Members of Congress to:

1. Eliminate racial profiling.
2. Leave US Immigration policy enforcement to federal agencies rather than local law enforcement.

All of our congressional delegation meetings went well. Representative Herrera Beutler stated she is following the work of a task force formed in the US House to review immigration reform and is not sure if a comprehensive package will be put forward or if the House will tackle each piece as a separate issue.  She also indicated the costs of the provisions (as yet undetermined) could be too high for some Members to vote for it.  Key staff from Senators Murray and Cantwell stated the senators were largely supportive of all the positions taken by YWCA USA and encouraged YWCAs to submit real-life stories and data to help them encourage other Members to support these provisions. We encourage people to reach out to their congressional delegation to voice your support and provide examples for them to use in their efforts to push comprehensive immigration forward.

Following lobby day, Sherri and I enjoyed meeting with YWCAs from many other states and our counterparts in Oregon.  At the national conference, we heard from experts on immigration policy, participated in workshops, met with other YWCAs in our network, heard reports from YWCA USA and YWCA International organizations, and voted to elect thirteen new YWCA USA board members. To save money, Sherri and I did not participate in the YWCA USA Women of Distinction Awards Gala and dinner. However, actress/Latino community activist, Eva Longoria, was in attendance and won the Dorothy Height Racial Justice Award. YWCA USA CEO Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron vowed to increase YWCA USA visibility and media relations, training opportunities for local YWCAs, and fundraising and development efforts. Although we did not hear more information about YWCA USA Strong Foundation Fearless Future (SFFF) initiative and did not cover recent hot button issues, such as sexual assault in the military, we look forward to seeing YWCA USA deliver on the vision outlined at the conference.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Empowerment Through Art

YWCA’s 3rd Annual SAAM Art Exhibit Allows Survivors to Take Back Their Voice 

 By: Emily Ostrowski

 In recognition of April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month, YWCA held several events throughout the month in order to raise awareness about sexual violence, and encourage prevention techniques in our community. YWCA is well aware our community is far from immune to sexual violence. According to Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, one out of every three Washingtonian women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.
Corey Jewell-Jenson

 At the beginning of the month, YWCA hosted speaker Cory Jewell-Jensen, Co-Director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention, and a leading expert on adult sex offenders having worked with them for over 28 years. She spoke to a packed room of concerned citizens and addressed myths surrounding sexual abuse, as well as what parents and communities can do to protect their children. On April 27th Yoga Calm partnered with YWCA to offer a free yoga session to mothers and teens. 

The month was rounded out On April 29th, when YWCA of Clark County hosted its 3rd annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month Art Reception.. The goal of the exhibit is to “empower survivors and allies to raise their voices and create community awareness around sexual assault.”

 The art show was open to all, and 46 participants expressed themselves in a variety of different medium including paintings, drawings, collages, sculpture and poems. Additionally, over 50 attendees were at the event, and were able to enjoy light refreshments while viewing the artwork and voting on their three favorite pieces. Both the number of participants as well as attendees were significantly higher than our two previous art shows.
"Fight Like a Girl"

 While much of the artwork was submitted anonymously, some artists were on hand at the reception, and open to speaking about their pieces. Rubyna Ali submitted her poem, “Strike Back,” which she presented as a spoken word piece, played on loop on her laptop. Rubyna developed an interest in poetry at age 13, and was particularly drawn to spoken word poetry, describing it as “finding your own kind of advocacy through voice.“ She’s performed her work before at school assemblies, and this was her first time participating in YWCA’s art show after being encouraged to enter by a former art teacher. She enjoyed the experience saying, “I think it’s really great for a community to come together through art and a common purpose.”

 Another artist who also participated in last year’s show, Amy Meyer, submitted her drawing “Fearless,” which showed a woman in a bright teal dress running against a coral backdrop. Meyer explained her motivation by noting that the official color for sexual assault awareness is teal, and by using the complementary color (the color that is opposite in hue) as the backdrop it represents a breaking away from the opposition, or the shadows of abuse, and coming forward. She was later awarded 2nd place for her work.

 YWCA Sexual Assault Advocate Shari Lachin, emphasized the importance of expression through art for victims and survivors of sexual abuse:

 “Art provides survivors a space to express their emotions around this horrendous crime that has been done to them with a positive and cathartic lens. Survivors can express themselves in a safe space that allows them to have control over the pace and response their healing is taking. It’s more than just creating the piece itself but also the process the artist goes through creating their artwork. The thought and emotion that goes behind creating their piece can be an empowering expression of their feelings.” She continued, “Sometimes survivors of sexual assault have to tell and repeat their experience multiple times which can be re-victimizing and triggering. Art is an opportunity to express yourself and feelings on your own terms, which is empowering for survivors. It’s empowering to have control over your story how you would like it conveyed.”

"Consumed Torso"

 We appreciate every artist who participated this year, and are pleased to announce the winners as:

1st Place: Michelle Atkin: Fight Like a Girl
2nd Place: Amy Meyer: Fearless
3rd Place: Jennifer Gilmore Consumed Torso

 More photos from the art show will be available on Facebook later this month.

Meet Irma Magana

By Emily Ostrowski

Irma Magana has served YWCA Clark County as a bilingual advocate for the Sexual Assault Program for the past seven years, and has an undeniable enthusiasm for the work she does. “Everything I do I enjoy, even if sometimes it’s a little scary,” she says.

As a bilingual advocate, Irma works with Spanish speaking victims and survivors of sexual and
Irma Magana
domestic abuse. She’s there at every stage of the process, from helping them seek medical attention and offering emotional support to navigating the legal system throughout a case if they go to trial. Irma also works to help women obtain a U Visa, which gives victims of certain crimes, like sexual assault, temporary legal status and work eligibility for up to four years. Recently, Irma spoke at the 10th Annual Western Regional International Health Conference, hosted by the OHSU Global Health Center Student Interest Group, about how the medical community can better serve victims and survivors of sexual assault.

Another of Irma’s responsibilities is co-facilitator of the Latina Support Group with Beatriz Velasquez, bilingual advocate in the SafeChoice Program. The group, which started over 10 years ago, meets every Thursday from 12 to 2pm, is free and provides childcare. Initially, there were just one or two people meeting in an office, but the group has since grown and now Irma estimates that roughly 15-20 women attend each week. Irma notes that Latina women are often more hesitant to report abuse, and can isolate themselves from seeking out help, which is part of the reason she sees this support group as so important.

“The more we talk about these issues, the more we let them know that this is a safe place, where they can talk in their own language, and see that we are very competent in understanding their struggles, the less isolated they become.” She continues, “Families get broken by domestic and sexual abuse. Victims lose their family, their friends, their income. Everything falls apart, and they need someone to talk to, someone who is going to be supportive, to help them come back into their normal lives.”

Irma is incredibly proud of the work she’s done in the group and the lives she’s affected. One story in particular stays with her as a reminder of all the good the group can provide. Three years ago a mother and daughter from Guatemala came to YWCA for help dealing with both sexual and domestic abuse within their family. The family was torn apart, but they kept coming to meetings. The case eventually went to trial and the assailant was put in jail for 16 years. The daughter continued her education, and is now studying to become a nurse. The mother continues to attend group, and has now gained her work permit and is on the path to citizenship. Both still keep in regular contact with Irma, even though the case has closed, and she sees these relationships as her job’s greatest reward.

“That for me is the pay. I love seeing those families who know and appreciate everything that we’re doing for them. It makes me feel really good about the work I do.”

May 2013 Y's Words

“YWCA Clark County saved my life”, I recently overhead a volunteer say. Is there a better compliment?  We kicked off National Volunteer Appreciation Week on April 22nd.  Thank you to all our volunteers who help change lives and save lives on a daily basis.

April was Sexual Assault Awareness month and we are very proud of the amazing and powerful events we put on, including our 3rd annual Sexual Assault Awareness Month Art Exhibit. We are thrilled to announce that this year’s show attracted more participants and attendees than the previous two years, and want to thank everyone who made the show such a success!

YWCA continues to be a fierce advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, as well as a strong believer in diversity. We have a featured interview with Irma Magana, Bilingual Advocate for the Sexual Assault Program where she discusses the weekly Latina Support Group she co-facilitates for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse.

In April we were also pleased to honor three young women with Young Women of Achievement scholarships. Congratulations to Sarah Case, Kate Orsi, and Karishma Patel for being outstanding examples of leadership, academic achievement, and community involvement!

Our Spring Appeal is well underway, with already over $13,000 raised through generous contributions. We’re hoping for a big push through the rest of the month, as all donations made before June 30th will go to assist children and families participating in YWCA’s SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program. Please give what you can to help heal families and protect the children of Clark County.

Lastly, we look forward to June 18th when YWCA will host the 3rd Annual Community Celebration. Please join us this year and celebrate the differences between generations, and the diversity each generation brings to our community.

Strong Alone.  Fearless Together.

2013 Young Women of Achievement

In 1989, YWCA Clark County created an awards program to recognize young women for their volunteer community service and leadership. Since then, we have honored close to 230 students from Clark County high schools for their efforts to build a stronger, healthier and more vibrant community. This year, we are proud to recognize three more amazing women as Young Women of Achievement.

The process for receiving a Young Woman of Achievement scholarship is competitive. Applicants must demonstrate outstanding achievement in volunteer and school leadership roles, community involvement, commitment to YWCA’s mission, and must serve as a role model for their peers. Applications are reviewed by a selection committee, who this year selected six young women to be interviewed. Interviewees answer questions about their leadership, community service and future academic plans. From this, three young women are awarded the Young Women of Achievement designation.

Sarah Case from Columbia River High School received the YWCA Scholarship Award. Sarah served the community through the National Honor Society, Key Club, Oregon Food Bank and more. In 2012 she embarked on a service trip to Costa Rica. This journey inspired Sarah to pursue even more opportunities to support the local community and to broaden her international service. Since that time, she has served as LINK crew member, volunteered for the Clark County Food Bank and joined the Interact Club, a service club dedicated to eradicating polio. Sarah is looking forward to traveling to Haiti this Spring for another service trip.

Kate Orsi from Skyview High School received the Donna Roberge Scholarship Award. Kate is active in her school and community, serving as president of the National Red Cross Club, secretary of the National Honor Society and secretary of the Women in Action Club. Kate also volunteers on a Teen-to-Teen peer support line each week. Kate realized that many of her peers were feeling trapped and overwhelmed, and they were unaware of the resources available to them. Inspired by this observation, she petitioned to have the teen support line information included on student identification cards, and was able to bring students in touch with resources available to them. Kate is continually inspired by positively influencing her community and her peers.

Karishma Patel from Mountain View High School received the Soroptimist International of Vancouver Scholarship Award. Karishma serves as an officer with her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society. She also volunteers at the Southwest Washington Medical Center’s Cardiovascular Observatory and works as an intern for SEH, a silicon manufacturing company. Karishma is an accomplished Musician, athlete, and dancer, and she serves as a choreographer for Bollywood dances at the Gujarti Samaj community center. Through the National Honor Society, Karishma conceived and executed an AP study materials book drive, opening up the joys and benefits of AP studies to all students, regardless of economic standing. Karishma hopes to attend medical school and continue empowering women and making a difference in her community.

Congratulations to these three impressive young women. Their outstanding academic achievement and commitment to the community through volunteerism and leadership demonstrate passion and dedication in alignment with YWCA’s mission. With strong leaders like Sarah, Kate and Karishma, our local and international communities are well supported in the elimination of racism, empowerment of women, and promotion of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

Five Reasons to Give This Spring

By Claire Morgan

This year’s Spring Appeal is in full swing, and it is time to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity that will have a lasting impact for generations to come. All donations made before June 30th assist families and individuals participating in the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program of YWCA. The Children’s Advocacy Program is just one of the many great services offered by SafeChoice, and is dedicated to helping families heal from difficult pasts and embrace hopeful futures. Listed here are five ways your donation will make a difference for those families engaged with this program.

Your donation will…

1. Improve Our Community

Last year in Clark County over 1,500 cases of domestic violence reported to the police, and over half of these cases involved children. These children are the future of our community. Your donation will help these children find solace and enrichment.

2. Help Youth Identify and Avoid Abuse

A child who learns to recognize the escalating signs of control and abuse is empowered to prevent and avoid that abuse in the future. When parents are able to model healthy relationships, children are able to learn from them and apply healthy models to their own relationships throughout their lives. Your donation will help our advocates teach children to recognize healthy relationships and develop strong families that contribute to and empower the entire community.

3. Break the Cycle Often

Children learn from and imitate the people around them. This can have a devastating impact on a child who has only been exposed to violence and abuse. He or she might be more likely to perpetuate or accept abuse. Our advocates work tirelessly to help parents and families break the cycle and learn healthy relationship and behavior patterns. Safety planning and parental education allow these children to recover, grow and flourish as strong members of the community.

4. Reduce the Effects of Violence

Studies show that the effects of violence last a lifetime. Children exposed to violence in the home have an increased rate of anxiety, fear and anger. They may also experience poor sleeping patterns and decreased verbal ability. This leads to poor performance in school and behavior problems with other children. From the first day that children come to the shelter, advocates begin working to counteract these effects so that these children can be healthy and happy.

5. Support a Program Unparalleled In Service and Reach

The SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program administrates the only domestic violence shelter in Clark County. With strong ties to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, area homeless shelters, Portland shelters, and the police department, the program maintains a network of support for victims and survivors of domestic violence. In addition to helping people with their immediate needs, the program’s prevention efforts seek to improve the future of our families and our community.

Overall, your donation will be the change for hundreds of people and families seeking a future free of violence. As of Monday, May 20, $18,090 has been raised to support future generations. With 40 days left and $2,690 to go, we need your help to reach the $45,000 needed to fully fund the CAP program. Please give today.

You may be able to double your donations impact through an employee match program. Many employers support employees who donate to charitable organizations, and will match employees/retirees contribution dollars. Contact your company’s Human Resources Department to find out if your employer will match your tax-deductible gift, or view this partial list of match donor businesses to see if your employer is listed: Adidas, Bank of America, First Interstate Bank, , Gas Transmission Northwest, Georgia-Pacific Corporation, The Home Depot, Hewlett Packard, IBM Corporation, Intel, Key Bank, Macy’s, NIKE, Inc., NW Natural, Prudential, Starbucks, Stream International, Inc., Sterling Bank, Sun Microsystems, Tektronix, U.S. Bank, UPS, US West, VERITAS Software, Verizon and Wells Fargo.

The Immigration Debate: Focus on Protecting Families

By Natalie Wood

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have been an essential part of American society since our country’s inception. According to the Census Bureau’s 2011 American Community Survey, there are currently more than 40.3 million immigrants in the United States, representing 13% of the total population. This number includes those who are considered citizens (approximately 18 million) and those who are not (approximately 22 million).

An estimated one-in-five children in the United States is the child of an immigrant. These immigrants and their children enrich our culture and contribute to our economic growth, making the United States one of the most diverse nations on the planet.

The current immigration debate covers a range of issues from border security to the economy, but does not always focus on how immigration policies and practices impact immigrant families, women, and children in terms of their social and economic status. Immigrant women may face unique situations, including domestic violence and being trafficked into the United States. These women are also more likely to experience poverty. In Washington State, female immigrant workers earned approximately $9,000 dollars less than male immigrant workers in 2011. In the same year, more than 19% of all immigrant families with children under eighteen lived below the poverty level in Washington State, compared to 12% of native families with children under eighteen.

While border security and the economic needs of our country are important aspects of the immigration debate, the discussion should not be limited to these two issues. Any discussion on immigration reform should include how to best protect the welfare of both documented and undocumented immigrant women, children and their families, including those who are victims of violence and trafficking.

YWCA’s history, both locally and nationally, is one of empowering and strengthening our communities. This includes every individual, regardless of documentation or citizenship status. We will continue to strive for the elimination of racism, the empowerment of women, and peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. YWCA Clark County and YWCA USA both have policy statements on immigration.

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt

Celebrate with Us

By: Claire Morgan

Please join us Tuesday, June 18 for the 3rd Annual Community Celebration. The Celebration will be held in YWCA’s Community Room, 3609 Main Street from 5:30–7:30pm. The theme of this year’s celebration is Generations, and we will be exploring the changes between the past and the present and the ways that differences between generations contribute to community and diversity. Mayor Tim Leavitt will speak, and there will be a performance by a local belly dancing group.

The Community Celebration also honors this year’s recipients of the Val Joshua Racial Justice Award and the Youth Social Justice Award, which are awarded by YWCA Clark County’s Social Change Program. Val Joshua worked tirelessly throughout her life for equality and dignity for all people. She served two terms on the board of YWCA and reached out to the community in a variety of ways to promote social change. In 1989 she became the first recipient of the Racial Justice Award, and it has been bestowed in her name every year since. Although Val passed away in December of last year, her legacy continues to serve as an inspiration to all who believe in equality and dignity for all people.

The Val Joshua Racial Justice Award and the Youth Social Justice Award are bestowed to those who demonstrate leadership in working to eliminate racism and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people. Recipients are leaders in civil rights and work to eliminate racism and exhibit a commitment to self-determined social change for all people. Community members between the ages of 14 and 20 are eligible for the Youth Social Justice Award, and those 18 and over are eligible for the Val Joshua Racial Justice Award. You may nominate yourself or someone else for this award by submitting a nomination form. Entries should be completed no later than May 23, 2013.

Michelle Hurdle-Bradford, the manager of the Social Change Program states, “The annual Community Celebration is an opportunity for us to recognize outstanding members of our community, bring community members of all ages together, meet new people, and learn about other cultures.” Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to celebrate our community. If you have any questions about the nomination process, please contact To RSVP, please email

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

YWCA Clark County Raises Awareness About Sexual Assault

April Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and YWCA Clark County is hosting a series of events to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate local communities on prevention. This April, events for SAAM are sponsored in part by a generous grant from the Church of the Good Shepherd.

On Tuesday, April 9th from 6-8pm, YWCA will host Cory Jewell-Jenson, M.S. who will discuss protecting children from sexual assault. She is Co-Director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention, one of the largest and oldest sex offender evaluation and treatment programs in Oregon. Cory has worked with adult sex offenders and their families for 28 years. Ms. Jewell-Jensen has provided training and consultation to a number of advocacy organizations throughout North America. She has also published a number of articles about sex offenders and risk management, received numerous awards for her work and has been a featured guest on radio talk shows and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Space is limited, please RSVP to or call 360 906 9132.

On Saturday, April 27th at 2:00pm, Yoga Calm will visit YWCA Clark County to offer a free yoga session for mothers and 9-14 year daughters. Julie Wiesner, licensed clinical social worker and certified instructor will be joined by Kristin Harper, a child and family therapist and long-time practitioner of yoga. Space is limited. Preregistration is required. Contact Shari at or 360 906 9132.

On Monday, April 29th from 5:30-7:30pm, YWCA’s Sexual Assault Program will also host the third annual SAAM Art Show to empower survivors and allies to raise their voice and create community awareness around this topic. The theme is “It’s time to talk about it. Talk early, talk often. Prevent sexual violence.” Submission guidelines are available on YWCA’s Facebook page. Contact Shari at 360 906 9132 or for more information.

Sexual assault locally and nationally

According to Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, 33% of Washingtonian women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. That is one in three women in the state. Sexual assault is a complex topic and affects men, women and children. Nationwide, 3% of sexual assault victims are men, 17.6% are women and 15% are under the age of 12, according to Sexual assault occurs when someone is coerced or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity. The dynamics of sexual assault can take on various forms and affect survivors and their families in many different ways. YWCA Clark County’s Sexual Assault Program helps survivors of sexual assault and their families overcome and heal from their trauma. To learn more about the Sexual Assault Program of YWCA please visit .

A 24-hour hotline is available to victims and survivors of sexual assault at 360 695 0501 or 800 695 0167.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thank You Washington Legislators

By Natalie Wood

Visiting our legislators.
January was a busy time for many, but few  were as tightly scheduled as our state legislators as they prepared to head to Olympia for the legislative session. That did not deter our local representatives from taking time out of their day to come to YWCA Clark County and learn about our programs. Senator Cleveland and Representatives Harris, Moeller, Pike, Stonier, Vick and Wylie all joined us for a tour of YWCA to learn about services we provide to Clark County.

Without the support of our legislators, the work that we do would be difficult. On average, nearly half of our revenue is from government funding. It is our state legislators who create policies that directly impact our work. From confidentiality rights to mandated reporting, our services are often defined by the policies and allocations put into place by these individuals. As an organization, we would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to each of the legislators who made time to meet with us. Their recognition of the work that we do is greatly appreciated.

We encourage you to reach out to your representatives and share your gratitude as well. They have a tough job, and we appreciate their efforts to keep our community safe and thriving!

Meet Barbara Kuzmic

YWCA Clark County welcomes Barbara Kuzmic as the new Director of the Clark County CASA Program. Since early January 2013, when Barbara moved to the Pacific Northwest from the mountains of Colorado, YWCA Clark County has been fortunate to have her unique skills and experiences driving the CASA program.
Barbara Kuzmic

CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a nationally accredited advocacy program administered for Clark County by YWCA. CASA’s are specially trained volunteers who advocate for children that are involved in the court or foster care system. As a voice for the child, a CASA ensures that the child’s interests are represented.  Barbara says, “Our volunteers are extremely brave and have huge hearts, and I’m very impressed by that.”

Barbara advocates for women and children throughout her entire career. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Applied Behavioral Science at Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington, using her knowledge to empower women and enhance the lives of members of underserved communities ever since. After completing Masters coursework at the California Institute of Integral Studies, she worked as a private psychotherapist specializing in treating victims and perpetrators of criminal violence of physical and emotional abuse.

She also served as a private consultant for behavioral health companies, assisting them with recruiting, structuring and training. She honed her expertise with several organizations in different states, managing social programs, counseling and advocating for adults and juveniles with substance abuse problems, liaising between families, police and courts, and establishing organizational policies regarding drug testing. This work required sensitivity to the cultural norms of the communities she was working with, including American Indians and Native Hawaiians.

These experiences makes Barbara uniquely suited for directing the CASA program here in Clark County. Her work with perpetrators and victims, as well as her strong organizational background, allow her to bring a mixture of compassion and common sense to the position so that CASA can help as many children as possible. Her primary goal as CASA director is to ensure that all of the children in the CASA program are assigned an advocate. National standards dictate that there must be one paid staff member to every 30 CASA volunteers, so Barbara is in the process of obtaining funds in order to hire more staff to support more volunteers. This will ensure that all of the approximately 800 Clark County children who require advocacy receive it.

April is Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention Month nationwide, and it is an ideal time for communities to raise awareness of child abuse and prevention. Barbara encourages anyone in the community who would like to make a difference in the life of a child to visit YWCA Clark County, and sign up to volunteer. Contact Stephanie Barr, Director of Volunteer Development at 360 906 9112 or to learn more about volunteering with CASA.

March 2013 Y's Words

Spring is right around the corner, and YWCA Clark County is budding with excitement. We have many success stories to share from earlier this year, and much to look forward to on the horizon.

On March 2nd, we were honored to partake in the Classic Wines Auction, where $2.9 million was raised for five charities: Friends of the Children – Portland, New Avenues for Youth, Metropolitan Family Service, Randall Children’s Hospital and YWCA Clark County. A special thank you to our sponsors and guests.  Their generosity helps save lives and change lives. The amazing commitment and support of volunteers and staff, who worked tirelessly over the past several months, helped create a magical evening.  Thank You! The Classic Wines Auction is in the process of reconciling all donations, and by early May we should know how much revenue YWCA will receive from the auction.

We also met with state legislators earlier this year to share our gratitude for their time and our needs for future support. Natalie Wood, Director of Programs, provides a brief review in this month’s newsletter. We’re also grateful to United Way, Hands On Greater Portland and Kohl’s Cares who provided support for the new carpet covering the East wing of our community building. Stephanie Barr, Director of Volunteer Development, mentions this and more exciting developments in the Volunteer Venue: a special section of the newsletter focused on volunteers.  Also in this month’s newsletter, meet CASA Program Director, Barbara Kuzmic, whose strong background in advocacy and cultural awareness make her well suited for the position.

April is Child Abuse and Neglect Awareness Month as well as Sexual Assault Awareness Month. YWCA will be hosting awareness activities throughout April. Some dates are still being finalized, so keep your mailbox open and watch for an announcement later this month. We will also be raising funds this spring for the  Children’s Advocacy Program, a division of our SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program which empowers  parents and children to re-define a future through strength-based planning. Every dollar makes a difference. Please give what you can to support these families seeking a better future .

Lastly, we are gearing up for our benefit luncheon and invite you to secure your sponsorship early. Although the luncheon isn’t until September, now is the best time to secure your sponsorship to take advantage of all the benefits. Consider signing up today!

Strong Alone.  Fearless Together.

Sherri Bennett

Raising Awareness About Sexual Assault

By Shari Lachin

As we transition from winter to spring here in the Pacific Northwest, YWCA Clark County is preparing for Sexual Assault Awareness month (SAAM) in April.  The goal of SAAM is to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to educate local communities on prevention.  This April, YWCA Clark County is hosting a series of events to support SAAM efforts nationwide. Events for SAAM are sponsored in part by a generous grant from the Church of the Good Shepherd.

According to Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs, 33 percent of Washingtonian women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  That is one in three women in the state!  Sexual assault is a complex topic and affects men, women and children.  Nationwide, 3% of sexual assault victims are men, 17.6% are women and 15% are under the age of 12, according to  We know that sexual assault occurs when someone is coerced or manipulated into any unwanted sexual activity.   The dynamics of sexual assault can take on various forms and affect survivors and their families in many different ways.  YWCA Clark County’s Sexual Assault Program helps survivors of sexual assault and their families overcome and heal from their trauma.  If you are interested in understanding more about the Sexual Assault Program of YWCA please visit

On Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 6:30pm, YWCA will host Cory Jewell-Jensen, M.S., in an open-to-the-public forum.  She is Co-Director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention, one of the largest and oldest sex offender evaluation and treatment programs in Oregon. Cory has worked with adult sex offenders and their families for 28 years.  Ms. Jewell-Jensen has provided training and consultation to a number of advocacy organizations throughout North America.   She has also published a number of articles about sex offenders and risk management, received numerous awards for her work and has been a featured guest on radio talk shows and the Oprah Winfrey Show.  For more information or to attend this free presentation, please RSVP to or call 360 906 9132.

YWCA’s Sexual Assault Program will also host the third annual SAAM Art Show that empowers survivors and allies to raise their voice and create community awareness around this topic.  If you are interested in submitting art for the show, please deliver your submission to  YWCA Clark County by Thursday, April 11, at 5pm.  If approved, submissions will be on display at YWCA’s community room beginning Monday, April 22.  An artist reception and contest will be held on Monday, April 29.  Further details regarding this and other events in April will be shared on our facebook page at  We look forward to seeing you in April for SAAM events!

Sponsoring Hope and Success

By Sharon Svec

Education, awareness, donations, volunteering; there are many ways to support the community you love, yet sponsorship offers an unmatched degree of visibility and name recognition. By sponsoring a YWCA event, your group or business gains visibility and support from local leaders of social justice and women’s empowerment. This month, YWCA Clark County is opening up dozens of sponsor opportunities with a range of giving levels for our 19th annual benefit luncheon to be held in September. This year, the luncheon takes a dramatic approach toward enlightenment and engagement. Whether or not you plan on sponsoring , reserve September 18th on your calendars for a luncheon you’ll never forget.

Columbia Credit Union understands the value of sponsoring YWCA’s dynamic and inspiring luncheons and has already agreed to be the lead sponsor this year. “With nearly 1 in 3 Clark County families banking with Columbia Credit Union, we know that what’s good for our community can be really great for our members. One organization that we’ve stood alongside for 18 years is YWCA Clark County” said Colleen Boccia, SVP Marketing and Chief Deposit Officer of Columbia Credit Union. Along two dozen other sponsors and 14 table sponsors, it was possible to underwrite all expenses of YWCA’s 2012 benefit luncheon and invest money raised from the event back into YWCA’s seven life-changing programs.

Sponsor levels range from $1000 to $5000 with varying degrees of benefits, including logo or name recognition on event advertising and collateral, a table for 10 at the luncheon, social media recognition, and more. Potential sponsors should contact Lisa Bechtold at 360 906 9157 or Lisa is happy to discuss your sponsorship options, provide a tour of our facilities, and establish a meaningful connection between your business and YWCA Clark County – our area’s leader of social service and social justice.

The Children's Advocacy Program of YWCA

By Megan Dixon and Claire Morgan

Clark County has the feel of a small-town, suburban city, yet the prevalence of domestic violence mirrors that of larger metropolitan areas. Last year in Clark County, over 1,500 cases of domestic violence were reported to the police, and there were 8 domestic violence related homicides; the same number as King County. Additionally in 2011, YWCA’ SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program provided 8,389 bed nights at its local shelter to women, children, and men escaping violence. Half of domestic violence cases involve children in the home; the effects of which are detrimental.

Some believe that children who have never experienced physical pain from an abuser are immune to the effects of violence in the home; this simply isn’t the case. Studies show that children who are exposed to violence have an increased rate of anxiety, fear, and anger as well as poor sleeping patterns, withdrawal from social interactions, and decreased verbal ability. Domestic violence has damaging effects on the parent-child relationship such as a decrease in the children’s trust in parents, undermining of parental authority, and an eroding view of positive family interactions. These effects, if not addressed properly, can impact a child’s future and make the child more prone to tolerate further abuse and/or perpetuate abuse as an adult.

Fortunately for our community, the SafeChoice Children’s Advocacy Program is working to end the cycle of violence by empowering families and elevating the parent/child bond. A family support specialist works with parents and children to create a strength-based plan unique to their situation. After school, the program offers free play and structured activities for children in a safe and enriching environment. With staff and volunteer support, families participating in the Children’s Advocacy Program enrich relationships, receive resources and advocacy, and become empowered to pursue a strong and secure future.

This spring, the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program of YWCA Clark County is raising $15,000 to strengthen the Children’s Advocacy Program and help ensure children healing from a violent past can have a successful future. Through the generosity of loyal supporters, every dollar that you give through June 30th will be matched, dollar for dollar up to $5,000.  Will you donate today and support future generations through this preventative program?

Friday, January 4, 2013

January 2013 Y's Words

Dear Friends,

In December, we lost a beloved and respected community leader. Val Joshua was passionate about eliminating racism and oppression. Learn how Val influenced our community and the work of YWCA Clark County in this month’s newsletter. An inspiration for all, Ms. Joshua will be forever missed and never forgotten.

Also in December, YWCA held our 10th annual Holiday Shop – a no charge ‘shopping’ opportunity for participants in need during the holiday season. The Youth Philanthropy group from Community Foundation of Southwest Washington made up a handful of the more than 70 volunteers who stepped up to make the shop a success. Our annual holiday campaign also ran last month and continues until January 15th.

If you are a senior citizen considering a donation, pay special attention to the tax break announcement which outlines a federal tax break available for a short time only. If you’ve already donated, thank you.

We are overwhelmed with gratitude to the many people and businesses who have given both to the Holiday Shop and to the holiday campaign this year.

Coming up in the new year are two awareness months that aim to fight oppression. This January and February, we will focus on stalking and teen dating violence awareness. Read “Violence Prevention and Awareness” to learn how stalking and dating violence affects our community and what you can do about it. Also, meet Cecily Griffus, LGBTQ Advocacy and Dating Violence Prevention Specialist, whose prevention work helps area teens recognize signs of violence and
seek help.

Also in January, YWCA is offering a five week group for men who love someone who is healing from sexual assault or abuse. Laurie Schacht and Rick Sievers will co-facilitate this group in a casual, respectful and empowering atmosphere.

If you’re a volunteer or interested in volunteering, be sure to check out the Volunteer Venue, a new section of YWCA’s newsletter that is news specific for YWCA volunteers. This month Stephanie Barr, Director of Volunteer Development interviews WORTH volunteer Skyler Dorsey-Schlenker. We’re also recruiting volunteers and are offering an open house January 29th for those who want to learn more.

Strong Alone. Fearless Together. Happy New Year!


Meet Cecily Griffus

By Sharon Svec

Sherri Bennett, Executive Director at YWCA signs her e-mails with the phrase, “Strong Alone. Fearless Together.” In each newsletter we’ve introduced you to one strong volunteer from our fearless team. In 2013, we will introduce you to our strong staff, but you can still meet our great volunteers in the volunteer venue. With more than 600 people actively involved in YWCA Clark County, we cannot feature every staff, or volunteer. Our hope is that by meeting a handful of us each year, you will feel the passion and hope that runs through all of our veins and makes us “Fearless Together.”

This month, meet Cecily Griffus, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and queer) Advocacy and Dating Violence Prevention Specialist. Cecily has been with YWCA for 4 years. She started as an intern with the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program in 2008. Since that time, she has grown to be an expert in violence prevention. Cecily serves on a number of YWCA committees. I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with her on our upcoming Dynamics of Oppression Training, and found her endless passion for humanity to be remarkable. Cecily specializes in culture-specific advocacy and prevention for dating youth and the LGBTQ community.

Cecily Griffus
Teen dating violence is common in Clark County, with most abuse taking the form of manipulation, isolation, verbal abuse and threats. Stalking is another form of violence, and is also common in Clark County. Cecily emphasized that “Stalking is NOT romantic.” She continues with the stark fact that one in 12 women is stalked in her lifetime and over 75% of attempted femicides were preceded by stalking behavior by the perpetrator towards the victim.

Cecily believes an upstream approach to ending violence is integral to ending violence in our communities. With increased violence and mixed messages in the media, Cecily feels it’s difficult for youth to understand the elements of a healthy relationship. As a prevention educator, she can serve as a guiding voice among the confusing messages, but she emphasizes that anyone can help, “If they are in the position of a teacher, parent, or otherwise in direct contact with youth, they can talk to kids about the reality of abuse and try to be a role model as a healthy, safe person that those kids can look up to.  If they have money to donate, they might donate to research efforts on effective violence prevention programs.  If they have time to donate, they might become a volunteer for SafeChoice or a similar program to further the work that is being done to prevent violence.” Teens and youth today have their own culture, and because Cecily is able to relate to this group it makes her prevention-related messages easy for this group to understand.

Just as teens have a culture, so does the LGBTQ community. As an LGBTQ advocate, Cecily uses her personal experiences and cultural-specific resources to relate to survivors from this minority group. She stated that, “A survivor who identifies as LBTGQ may not feel comfortable working with someone who is not from the LBTGQ community.” Like services provided to Latina or senior populations, the existence of a culturally specific advocate can be a huge deciding factor in whether or not the person will even approach an agency for services.

The work that Cecily does for this community aligns well with her personal goals of helping to advance effective prevention education, integrating information and solutions to relationship violence in to mainstream culture, and eliminating a need for domestic and sexual violence services. If you too are interested in violence prevention, or want to learn more about dating violence and LGBTQ-related services you can contact Cecily at 360 696 0167 or

Val Joshua, Dedicated Leader

By Sharon Svec

Val Joshua
Champion, hero, leader, dedicated, patient, inspiring, sweet, great; these words can only describe one person. Valree Jacqueline Joshua was a beacon of light for struggling souls and a model of social justice. As I connect with co-workers, family and friends of Val, I see one common theme: dedication. Val was dedicated to her family, her church, and to her community.

Val spent her youth in Gilmer, Texas and it was then that she first joined YWCA. She was 22 years old when she moved to Vancouver in 1942. She quickly became a part of the community through her church and participation in organizations such as YWCA Clark County, the Urban League or Portland and the NAACP. Through her involvement, Val extended her passion for human rights into the community. In the last 70 years of her life, she witnessed the growth of Vancouver in size and in social justice. Her efforts in the community lead to desegregation of housing, teaching, and places of worship in Clark County.

Val recognized discrimination beyond racism. Daughter, Jackie Webster thinks that may have been what prompted Val to start her work with women inmates at the jail. Most jail and prison systems in the United States are designed to address the needs of men, but by 1993 women accounted for 9.3% of the jail population nationwide.  In addition to the unique medical needs of women, the majority of women in jail are mothers. Because many facilities do not take females, many are displaced from their communities, making it even more difficult for children or family members to visit. Family ties could quickly unravel without means of communication.

Along with friends Helen Bussey and Margaret Crandall, Val started the WORTH Program in 1973 to bring equality and hope to women in Clark County jail.  Val’s dedication shined stronger than ever. “She truly believed in it and wanted to try and make a difference in the lives of these women,” said Jackie, who now serves as Custody Chief at the Clark County Jail. For nearly two decades, WORTH primarily supplied women with cards, envelopes, nail polish and undergarments. Val was responsible for the cards, envelopes and paper. She would bring them to the jail every Tuesday. Each woman could write two letters, and Val would take the letters back and mail them for the women. By empowering incarcerated women to write, Val opened communication lines and gave them a voice they had never known before.

Val’s dedication to eliminating racism and empowering women did not go unnoticed. She served two terms on the YWCA Clark County board of directors, was voted Board President in 1976 and is honored annually at our Community Celebration where the Val Joshua Racial Justice award is presented to an individual, business, or organization whose efforts support the mission of YWCA Clark County. The award was originally presented to Val in 1989 for her lifelong commitment to, and work for the elimination of racism. Val’s dedication to eliminating racism was exemplified in her community outreach to schools and community leaders.

In an interview for “The Center for Columbia River History’s Vancouver African American History Project,” Val shared an example of how she always “rolled up her sleeves” and went out to talk with anybody who expressed a need to learn more about racial equality:

“In the YWCA, the friend that was CEO at that time is still living, and she and I became very good friends. She started her life membership with the local chapter and anytime there was anything going on we could always gather people. One time we went down to a forest area somewhere down the Columbia River Gorge to a black girl who was teaching there. Her husband was a forester and they had three children and I can’t remember exactly what the issues were, but we went and they were having a board meeting that night and would not let us stay at the board meeting… Of course, they wanted their children to grow up in an integrated area, so she moved to Vancouver and she’s still teaching in Portland, but the husband and father lives back East. We’ve always taken an interest. Anybody that calls me and wants me to go with them to court, to a school, I will go if I’m not already doing something.”

It’s that commitment and dedication that made Val’s work in racism and at the Clark County jail so successful. YWCA Clark County will continue to honor Val annually with the Val Joshua Racial Justice Award. Beyond our humble efforts to memorialize Ms. Joshua, her legacy will surely thrive in Clark County where she reached out to so many community members personally, touched so many hearts and inspired so many with her good nature and strong values.

Violence Prevention and Awareness

Contributors: Heather Tom, Cecily Griffus & Sharon Svec

Have you ever been stalked? Did you, or someone you know experience emotional or physical violence as a teen? Stalking and teen violence are both difficult to recognize because they don’t always leave physical scars. But both are very damaging. which is why awareness of these topics is so important. A 2008 survey from the National Violence Against Women Prevention Research Center found that “1 out of every 12 women, and 1 out of 45 men have been stalked at some time during their lives.” According to a 2008 study by Liz Claiborne and, “One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.”

January is National Stalking Awareness Month, and February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Now is the perfect time to talk with those you love and care for about stalking and dating violence. Together, a community can support victims and survivors by educating and empowering one another. Anyone can help, no matter who they are or what position they are in. If you are a teacher, parent or otherwise in direct contact with youth, talk to your kids about the reality of abuse. Try to be a healthy and safe role model.  Do some reading or studying about the complexities of abuse and trauma. Share that information with others.

Stalking is a crime in all 50 states, the U.S. Territories and the District of Columbia that affects 6.6 million victims a year. Yet, many victims and criminal justice professionals underestimate its seriousness and impact.  In one of five cases, stalkers use weapons to harm or threaten victims and stalking is one of the significant risk factors for femicide (homicide of women) in abusive relationships. Victims suffer anxiety, social dysfunction, and severe depression at much higher rates than the general population, and many lose time from work or have to move as a result of their victimization.

Stalking is difficult to recognize, investigate, and prosecute. Unlike other crimes, stalking is not a single, easily identifiable crime but a series of acts, a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause that person fear.  Stalking may take many forms, such as assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary, or animal abuse, as well as unwanted cards, calls, gifts, or visits. Stalkers fit no standard psychological profile, and many stalkers follow their victims from one jurisdiction to another, making it difficult for authorities to investigate and prosecute their crimes.

Teen dating violence also affects millions. Nearly 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner in a single year. Teen dating violence can happen in opposite- or same-sex relationships and can be physical, emotional or sexual. It’s very common in Clark County, with most violence taking the form of manipulation, isolation, verbal abuse and threats. Victims are at higher risk for substance abuse, eating disorders, risky sexual behavior, suicide and adult re-victimization. A teen’s confusion about law, and the desire for confidentiality are two of the most significant barriers to young victims of violence seeking help.

Technology is commonly used in stalking and in teen dating violence. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime and the Stalking research center, “1 in 4 victims report being stalked through the use of some form of technology (such as e-mail or instant messaging).” A 2007 Liz Claiborne survey noted that 25% of teens in relationships have received harassing or degrading text messages from their partner.

You can help stalking victims and dating abuse victims in your community. Take action, and share information about stalking and dating abuse. Educate the teens in your life about the subtleties and nuances of violent behavior. Tell them where to get support and be available for questions. Stalking is considered a crime by the State of Washington and is punishable by law. For teens experiencing dating violence, a report may be filed with Child Protection Services (CPS). YWCA’s abuse hotline (360 695 0501) is anonymous and available to anyone seeking help.

A 2008 resolution presented by the National Association of Attorneys General encourages schools to develop teen dating violence awareness curriculum. YWCA Clark County has resources to support these efforts. If you are a parent or a student and you would like a visit from a violence prevention specialist to your class or school, talk to your teacher, school counselor, or administrator who can make arrangements with Cecily Griffus by calling 360-696-0167 or email her at

Sometimes a teen will need services if they are already in the midst of a violent relationship.  Advocates at YWCA Clark County can help create a safety plan, offer support, and help with filing a protection order if needed.  It is important for youth to identify safe adults they can talk to.  Youth can call the 24-hour hotline (360 695 0501) anonymously with questions.  Finally, YWCA will offer a training this February called In Their Shoes, an activity designed for adults who work with youth that puts them in the “shoes” of the youth survivor.  The training is free to adults in Clark County.  To sign up, call 360 696 0167.

Youth Philanthropy Group Visits YWCA

By Stephanie Barr

Over 70 volunteers dedicated their time and holiday spirit to make YWCA Clark County’s 2012 Holiday Shop a success. The Holiday Shop is a one-day ‘shopping’ experience for YWCA program participant to personally select donated gifts for their family members.  Joining this year’s volunteers were Anne Digenis, Donor Services and Grants Coordinator for The Community Foundation of Southwest Washington, and members of their Youth Philanthropy Program. According to the Community Foundation website, the Youth Philanthropy Program gives juniors and seniors in high school the “opportunity to learn more about their community’s needs and about the many different ways in which they can help address those needs.” The members eventually make grant recommendations to the Community Foundation Board of Directors based on the needs they discover through their experiences volunteering.

To support YWCA’s Holiday Shop, Anne and the Youth Philanthropy members wrapped the gifts YWCA program participants selected for their families. I asked Donnie Rhoads, a junior at Columbia River High School and Youth Philanthropy member, about his experience volunteering at the Holiday Shop. “I honestly had a great time,” he said. “I’ve learned that I can do something as simple as wrapping presents to make someone’s day better. I didn’t think that such a small action could have much of an impact on someone’s night.”
Volunteers hard at work.
The generosity of the Clark County community enabled YWCA to provide gifts to 405 people through this year’s Holiday Shop. An essential piece of that generosity is the commitment of volunteers who organize the donations, bake cookies, add an extra bow to a special gift, and smile as they wish YWCA participants “happy holidays.”  Donnie was struck by that as well, sharing, “I liked seeing how much support the YWCA gives to those in need, especially during the holiday season.”

In addition to gift wrapping, Youth Philanthropy volunteers demonstrated flexibility and initiative, stepping in to meet unexpected needs as they arose. For some volunteers that meant accompanying program participants through the shop as they searched for something special for their families. For another it meant carrying a woman’s packages across the street to the bus stop in the rain. The Youth Philanthropy volunteers were willing to look beyond their initial task and seek new ways to make a difference.

In order for the Holiday Shop to feel empowering and respectful to program participants who may be in the midst of crisis, YWCA relies on volunteers to provide welcoming, compassionate service. Donnie expressed his enthusiasm for that dynamic of the Holiday Shop, sharing, “I especially enjoyed being able to talk and be social with the people I was helping.”

“I was able to witness the impact [philanthropy and volunteerism make] firsthand at the Holiday Shop,” Donnie reflected. YWCA staff witnessed a group of young volunteers, passionate to make the holidays a little brighter for families in need.

Partners in Healing

By Rick Sievers

YWCA Clark County is offering a five week group for men who are a partner or spouse of someone who has experienced sexual assault or childhood sexual abuse. The group meets weekly from January through February 2013 and is offered at no charge.  Space is limited. Please call the number below to see if this group would be right for you.

Laurie Schacht, Interim Director of Sexual Assault Program, and Rick Sievers, Volunteer Advocate in the Sexual Assault Program,  will co facilitate a group for men who wish to learn more about supporting their partner who has survived sexual assault.

Questions we will address in the group include:

  • How do you remain present and solid for a partner in crisis?
  • What are the issues that affect men in our society when facing the difficult reality of a loved one’s past sexual abuse?
  • How do we support and empathize without losing our own sense of balance and compassion?
  • What can you do with anger or grief caused by the events that have so hurt your loved one?

Our approach will be both educational and supportive. The leaders of the group are not the experts on realities of your life. We will offer ideas and facilitate insights from the great wisdom that a group of men have to offer one another. This is not a therapy group. Our approach will be both educational and supportive. Skill building and respectful witnessing of each other’s process will be explored.

This is not a group to get lost in the details of our partner’s stories. In fact, out of respect, it will not be a place to tell a partner’s story at all. Instead, we will co create a process which builds a sense of personal empowerment and a better understanding of the effects of sexual assault. We hope that the end result will be that participants will have a little more peace of mind and a little more compassion for themselves and their partner.

If this group sounds like it could aid your marriage or partnership, please contact Laurie at 360 906 9116 or You can also view or print a flyer here.