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.