Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Voice of CASA

By Heidi Hiatt, CASA Volunteer Manager

The Clark County CASA Program of YWCA invites residents to delight in the season by celebrating the joys of giving back. Extend the warm feelings of the holiday season by embracing a long-term volunteer commitment with the Clark County CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Program.

The CASA Program is proud of the 161 community volunteers that are currently committed to representing the voices of 357 children in our county child welfare system. There are an additional 260 children who are currently waiting for a volunteer to be assigned to their case. Until a volunteer is assigned, CASA staff work hard to represent their best interests in court. The primary goal is to have all 617 children assigned a CASA volunteer who can help ensure that each child finds the safe, permanent home they deserve.

Why should you choose to volunteer with CASA? Just ask our program’s longest-serving CASA volunteer, Judy Fortlage. Judy was sworn in as a CASA at the Clark County Juvenile Court on March 1, 1990. During her almost 25 years of volunteer service she has represented 100 children in the Clark County Dependency Court system. She has mentored dozens of new CASAs, been on the Board of the Washington State CASA Association, and helped establish the legislative advocacy efforts of our program. In 2010, Judy was awarded the G.F. Bettineski Child Advocate of the Year by the National CASA Association. Judy is diligent, persistence and has shown exemplary commitment to children who have experienced abuse and neglect.

Judy Fortlage, CASA Volunteer for 25 years.
We recently asked Judy to share why she has chosen to volunteer with CASA for almost 25 years. Here is her response:

Why CASA? There are children in our community who have no voice. They are in unfortunate, often dangerous circumstances. They are all our children. The CASA volunteer advocates for the best interests of the child. I once heard a judge say that the CASA is “the voice of common sense.” We ask for not what is expedient, but what is necessary. Our paramount focus is the child. We are not bound by the constraints of organizational policy, but by what is going to be safe and nurturing for that child.

We meet some children who are wary of us at first. They have not learned to trust adults and the dependency process has brought into their lives many adult strangers. Our task is to gain their trust and speak for them in court. Is this easy? It is not. Is it important? Yes, it is important. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing a family whole again, when that is possible, or seeing a resolution that will allow the child to thrive. We talk to the parents, other relatives, social workers, teachers, counselors, physicians and therapists, friends of the family and others. The most significant person we talk to, however, is the child.

Clark County CASA, which trains volunteers to serve as advocates for abused and neglected children as they navigate the child welfare system, is asking you to give back during the holidays. Like other nonprofits that rely on volunteers to deliver on our mission, we appreciate community members’ year-round dedication to our cause. CASA volunteers change lives. What could be more fulfilling than that?

We are privileged to have Judy and 160 other community members volunteer their time with our program. Please join us to ensure that the 260 children who do not have a CASA volunteer assigned to their case today, can have a volunteer appointed to them in 2015.

CASA’s winter training will begin on January 8, 2015. To learn how you can become a CASA volunteer, contact Nichole Peppers at

Friday, November 14, 2014

November 2014 Program Highlights

Clark County CASA

Program The Clark County CASA Program is full of activity! CASA is proud to announce that Heidi Hiatt has been given a new title of Volunteer Manager. This promotion gives Heidi the full spectrum of volunteer and intern management around recruitment, hiring, training, retention, tracking and termination. Thank you Heidi for your ongoing hard work and commitment! We’re also pleased to welcome our two newest staff members, Christine Waldo and Sheryl Thierry. Both women were CASA volunteers prior to being hired and now supervise their own team of volunteers. CASA staff are looking forward to attending the Annual State CASA Conference this November in Tacoma, WA where we’ll gain new insight from CASAs around the globe. We are very excited about the launch of our CASA volunteer webpage! Thank you to Heidi Hiatt, Sharon Svec and Sheri Lum for getting this valuable resource up and running. Finally, we saw 24 new Volunteer Advocates swear in this month! Volunteers are crucial to our program and we are eagerly looking for new volunteers for our upcoming training cycle. Please contact for information about becoming a child advocate.

 WORTH Program 

 WORTH Program volunteers continue to provide amazing services to incarcerated women serving sentences at the Clark County Jail. We are grateful to Umpqua Bank for highlighting the program at their most recent Bella Voce luncheon – a series of events hosted by the bank that celebrates women readers, hosts the authors they are inspired by, and supports community efforts like WORTH. Umpqua Bank’s Bella Voce group also donated $2,000 to the program which will be used specifically to purchase needed program supplies offered to women participating in the WORTH program. Thank you Bella Voce!

 SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program 

 Thank you to the dedicated volunteers who helped raise awareness about domestic violence this October! Your support helped make the Domestic Violence Awareness Month kickoff event and the Clothesline Project such an amazing success. We couldn’t have done it without you—thank you! 

Sexual Assault Program 

 The Sexual Assault Program is making an impact in Clark County and Statewide. YWCA’s Traci Cole was a co-trainer of the “Where We Live” child sexual assault prevention curriculum in Wenatchee. She shared valuable information with leaders of other community sexual assault programs operating throughout the region. In addition, we recently participated on a statewide coordinating committee on sex trafficking, resulting in recommendations for addressing sex trafficking in Washington State. We’ve established several new support groups for sexual assault survivors and their families, including a group specifically for parents of children who have been sexually assaulted which will begin again November 18th. Please contact Traci for details at 360-906-9151

 YWCA Clark County regularly provides a variety of trainings for first responders and others working to prevent sexual abuse. We provided training to CRESA 911, Clark Count’s first responders, one on CSEC (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children) for service providers and community members. In partnership with the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s office, we offered a full day training on sex offenders in the faith community where over twenty faith communities were represented. Community outreach and education remains an important part of the ongoing work we do to support and advocate for sexual assault survivors and their families. Unfortunately, we are also responding to a record number of hospital calls from victims of sexual assault. We’re grateful for the compassionate work of truly incredible volunteers and staff.

 Independent Living Skills Program

 In October, ILS collaborated with the SafeChoice Program to host a DVAM event specifically for youth. This super-hero-themed event created a space for the youth to talk about how to recognize unhealthy relationships and what each of us can do and say to be allies to our friends. The ILS team is also spending time supporting the youth and young adults in preparation for secondary education. This is one of the many times throughout the year that we focus on SAT’s, financial aid applications, and identifying the steps each participant can take to prepare for their future in education.

 Y’s Care Children’s Program

 Y’s Care children and families had a blast at a Halloween carnival held at YWCA. Several moms helped out by making signs and hosting various attractions. We had a fortune teller, fishing, ghost bowling, pin the nose on the jack-o-lantern, mummy wrapping and a spooky maze. At the end we had an ad hoc fashion show so the kids could show off their costumes. We also recently celebrated acceptance into Early Achievers, Washington’s Quality Rating and Improvement System. Participation will provide tools, resources and coaching to improve development and education offered to children and families.

The Joy of Giving

By Rachel Pinsky, Volunteer

We find comfort and cheer among family and friends. We give gifts to show love and friendship. We wish our loved ones a happy new year. Why not reach out to someone in our community—a neighbor, and share some of that cheer and good will with them? Through YWCA Clark County, you can.

YWCA services help people from all walks of life. Many are familiar with our domestic violence program, but did you also know that we provide services for youth in foster care?

Our Independent Living Skills Program (ILS) helps keep foster youth off the streets by helping them define and achieve the future they would like to see for themselves. With the help of ILS, Tavia and her 2-year-old daughter successfully transitioned from foster care to independence. With YWCA’s help, Tavia rents her own home, is now in school and working full time. Her goal is to help other at risk children, “I also want to be there for my daughter, and show her that if you set your mind into something, you can achieve anything.”

Tavia's strong will along with the help of ILS is helping her reach her goals.
ILS also helped Amanda, a young mother who switched schools many times due to being moved around in the foster care system. Amanda was an excellent student, however she was unable to transfer all of the credits from her various high schools. To graduate on time, Amanda needed to complete two years worth of work in one year. She was determined and focused to achieve this goal.

Amanda worked extremely hard, while caring for her young child, and completed the school credits needed to graduate on time. Knowing that Amanda did not have the necessary funds, the ILS Program happily purchased her cap and gown. Amanda proudly walked her graduation, received her high school diploma, and continued to make a good life for herself and young daughter.

These stories demonstrate the many barriers that young adults face as they transition from the foster care system.  Large and small barriers prevent them from establishing a stable living situation.  In many cases, a small thing like a cap and gown, or knowing they have somewhere to go when they need help, can make the difference in a young person’s future.

More than one in five youth experience homelessness within a year of leaving foster care.  One third of foster care alumni live at or below the poverty line – three times the national rate.  Many also need mental health services to recover from the trauma of their early years.  Over half the foster care alumni (54.4%) have current mental health problems, compared to 22.1% of the general population.  These young adults need the support and resources that only ILS can provide.

YWCA Clark County Provides Help and Support for Many

YWCA Clark County programs served 11,800 individuals in 2013 including over 160 foster youth. In that same year, our Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program advocated for the health and safety of 883 children. Our SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program answered 15,091 hotline calls, and provided life-saving services and shelter to 793 citizens of Clark County. Hundreds of thousands of Clark County residents benefit from our direct services, community outreach and prevention education programs.

There are many ways that you can reach out to someone in our community and help bring joy to our Clark County neighbors who have struggled, and sought help for a new beginning.

Holiday Shop

Many seeking the services of YWCA are, for one reason or another, unable to experience the joy of giving with loved ones. But, on one special day in December, YWCA is transformed into a fun holiday shop—complete with elves and cookies. Through our Holiday Shop, YWCA participants can shop for free; providing a means to give new gifts and holiday joy to their families.

This joyous day couldn’t happen without community members, organizations, and businesses who donate gifts to the holiday shop year after year. When you are out doing your holiday shopping, think of those served by YWCA. Purchase some new gifts for a family escaping violence, or a youth caught up in the foster care system. To help spread joy through gift giving this holiday, please deliver your in-kind donations to YWCA by Monday, December 15th.

Drop by 3609 Main Street to learn more, or contact Erin Smiley at 360-906-9157 or


Community members are also supported by the services and resources provided by YWCA staff and volunteers. You can help fund these services by donating cash before December 31st. Your donation makes it possible for us to provide the specialized services that assisted Tavia and her daughter as they established a stable and rewarding foundation.

Make a secure online donation today or deliver it to 3609 Main Street, Vancouver, WA.


Every program and department of YWCA utilizes the support of volunteers.  Opportunities range from advocacy to office work and provide flexible time commitments.  Volunteers receive training and support throughout their time with YWCA, so that they may have a rewarding and beneficial experience.

To volunteer at YWCA please contact Nichole Peppers at 360-906-9112 or

Court Communication

By Stephanie Barr, Interim Director of SafeChoice Program

At our October meeting, the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Task Force had the honor of hosting a panel discussion on domestic violence and the court system with panelists Judge Sonya Langsdorf, DVPC Unit Coordinator Jennifer Nugent, and Vancouver Public Defenders Attorney Christie Emrich.  We began the discussion by asking each member to give a brief introduction of her role in addressing domestic violence in Clark County. Judge Langsdorf emphasized the importance of a judge’s impartiality, while Jennifer Nugent and Christie Emrich expressed the unique perspectives and priorities of prosecuting and defense attorneys. The conversation explored ways to improve collaboration and communication among victim/survivor services, batterer’s intervention programs, and the criminal justice system, while acknowledging the differences in each position’s objectives.

Having joined the Task Force this Spring, I found this opportunity to hear directly from the panelists incredibly valuable. Although every case is different, Judge Langsdorf explained her approach to sentencing and what factors she considers relevant to ordering treatment or incarceration. The attorneys described how they approach negotiations, including what influences their recommendations to the judge. We explored gaps in communication and looked for ways to enhance our collaboration without comprising the boundaries of each person’s role. Though we come at it from different perspectives, each of us has a part to play in fostering a safe, healthy community. I am grateful that we could take time to come together and examine how our shared commitment to a domestic violence free community can be strengthened.

Addressing Sexual Assault in Our Community

By Kai Hill, Program Specialist

For the first time in Clark County, 65 individuals representing more than 20 faith communities came together to participate in an all-day training on Sex Offenders in the Faith Community, led by Cory Jewell Jensen, MS.  The training was provided by YWCA Clark County's Sexual Assault Program in conjunction with the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s office and the Center for Behavioral Intervention. Tony Golik, Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, offered opening remarks thanking the attendees and reaffirming the necessity of protecting children in our community. Deputy Prosecutor Luka Vitasovic provided a brief presentation on mandatory reporting.
Cory Jewell Jenson

Co-director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention in Beaverton, Oregon, Cory Jewell Jensen, MS. has over thirty years of experience as a treatment provider working with sex offenders and their families. The daughter of a minister, Cory understands the unique factors that make faith communities and their children particularly vulnerable to predators. She stressed that we are not doing enough to educate our kids. Parents may be comfortable talking about stranger danger, but that is insufficient and even misleading given that more than 90% of kids who report abuse know the offender. That said, we also cannot expect children to protect themselves from the adults who would prey on them.

During the month of October, the Sexual Assault Program of YWCA also offered “Where We Live” a 4-week series that engages parents and community members, offering tools for comfortable discussions with kids about healthy sexuality, identifying tactics sex offenders use, and practicing bystander intervention skills. YWCA was recently invited to present the workshop at Bethel Lutheran Community Church in Brush Prairie.
Traci Cole

In spite of the tough topic, participants were engaged in the conversation.  New partnerships were envisioned and participants were grateful for the chance to learn in a safe, quiet venue with the support of YWCA staff and volunteers. For more information on the next series of “Where We Live,” or to host a workshop, contact Traci Cole at 360-906-9151 or

Nourishing Community

By Sharon Svec, Communication

You know those popular gummy vitamins, Li’l Critters? They were the brainchild of a long-time Vancouver couple. Kate and Marty Rifkin became successful entrepreneurs from a simple desire to make healthy living fun for kids. Their product became very well known, and the Rifkin’s product can now be found all over the nation.

Smart investments and goodwill inspired the Kate and Marty to start a foundation that would help support local causes related to children, education and families. The KMR foundation was born. As their website states, “The KMR Group Foundation aspires to give disadvantaged children an equal opportunity to grow up educated, purpose-driven and confident. Through the creation and sponsorship of innovative programs and academic scholarships, KMR seeks to promote sound nutrition, good health, and a love of learning in students of all ages. Beneficiaries of KMR’s support are offered ways to remain connected with the foundation, extending help in turn to subsequent recipients.” YWCA Clark County is fortunate to be a recent recipient of a $10,000 donation from KMR; funds that will support the growth of children and families living at the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Shelter.

“We are grateful to the KMR Foundation for their generous donation, and for their faith in the success of our services.” says Interim SafeChoice Director Stephanie Barr.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Program Highlights for September 2014

Independent Living Skills Program

As we are halfway through the summer, it is that time again when students are preparing for college, or perhaps returning to high school. Nonetheless, it has been a rather busy summer with some great activities shared along the way. The ILS program has had three barbecues celebrating the end of the school year, as well as those who have graduated from high school. What an accomplishment! We are so proud of those who received their diplomas or have chosen to graduate from an alternative school. We have also been rather busy in our garden, making sure the weeds didn’t consume all of our thriving vegetables. The youth were able to pick squash and lettuce from the garden and prepare a lovely meal that included parmesan crusted squash, a nutritious salad, along with hotdogs in a blanket. Yes, it was a hit!

Clark County CASA Program

CASA has proudly sworn in 12 new volunteers from our summer training. Heidi Hiatt, our Volunteer Manager is busy interviewing potential volunteer advocates for our fall training session; please contact Heidi Hiatt at 906-9142 or for more information about opportunities to advocate for abused and neglected children in our community. Wendy Lenz is the new Interim Program Director for the CASA program. She can be reached at 906-9141 or

Sexual Assault Program

The Sexual Assault Program has some exciting things going on! In September, staff member Traci Cole will be one of the trainers for a statewide training of the Where We Live curriculum held in Wenatchee. We then offer our next Where We Live series beginning October 1st from 6-8pm for 4 weeks at the Bethel Lutheran Church in Brush Prairie. They are hosting this training to engage and support a safer community. Register by emailing We also have our next Women, Trauma and Healing workshop in early October for any women who have experienced trauma. Last but not least, De Stewart reached over 500 hours of volunteer service!

SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program

The SafeChoice Program welcomes two new members to the SafeChoice team! Jennifer Lulé has started at the DSHS office as well as helping out at shelter, and Tamara Ryan will be one of the new bilingual advocates at the DVPC. SafeChoice is also excited to be in the beginning stages of planning for Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October! The annual candlelight vigil will be held at Latte Da this year on October 1st at 6pm. We will also be creating our own version of the Clothesline Project, a way for survivors and their allies/supporters to create a visual for how domestic violence impacts us and how we are empowered to help ourselves and others. If you are interested in getting involved with DVAM in any way we would love to have volunteers and donations. Please contact with questions and follow us on Facebook for more details.

WORTH Program

The WORTH Program is working hard to provide resources and training for individuals in the Clark County Jail. WORTH is currently accepting donations of quilt batting, sewing machines, gently used or new bras, socks, and underwear.

Social Change Program

There will be no Conversations in the Community for the month of September, but they will resume in October. Michelle Hurdle-Bradford is currently out of the office. Questions about the Social Change Program can be directed to Natalie Wood, Director of Programs at

Y’s Care Children’s Program

Special thanks to Mark Matthias, Ali Novinger and the Beaches Cruisin’ for a donation of $10,000. These funds will help Y’s Care continue to provide high-quality education for children, regardless of income level. Read more here! Our baby for the 2014-15 school year is none other than Ellis Peter Hayes. He’s Val Anderson’s grandson and he was born August 7th.  His mom, Erin is a fifth grade teacher. We are grateful for Ellis and Erin’s participation and look forward to watching little Ellis grow! The school year starts September 3rd. We’re excited to learn and grow with 12 ECEAP kids and 8 community kids.

Our Partnership with United Way to End the Cycle of Poverty

YWCA Clark County is pleased to announce that it has been chosen as one of 30 select organizations to participate in United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s new Community Strengthening collaborative cohort designed to improve outcomes for low-income children and their families, and ultimately break the cycle of childhood poverty in the four-county (Clackamas, Clark, Multnomah and Washington) region.

 The collaborative cohort, which is based on the “collective impact” approach, is part of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s new strategic direction to leverage the expertise, resources, and effort of multiple organizations across the region in working together toward one common goal: breaking the cycle of childhood poverty.

 United Way’s Community Strengthening cohort is comprised of 30 emerging and established non-profits serving low income and culturally specific communities across the metropolitan area. The cohort will work together for a period of three years (July 2014 through June 2017) to create and participate in learning communities designed to share experiences, exchange data and information, and build collective knowledge around new and promising practices to improve outcomes for low-income families and their children. Each member of the Community Strengthening cohort will be awarded up to $50,000 per year, to complete this critical work. (*Funding to YWCA Clark County and the other non-profits in the cohort is contingent on the funding United Way receives as an organization to its Breaking the Cycle fund.)

 “We are pleased to participate in United Way’s Community Strengthening cohort because it will not only help ensure the sustainability of our programs, but it will ensure a concerted effort to integrate best practices in effectively addressing the root causes of poverty.,” said YWCA’s Director of Programs, Natalie Wood. “We hope to work collaboratively to better identify how poverty is intertwined with the prevention and crisis intervention services we provide, assess our strengths and growth areas to determine what organizational changes we can make to directly address the root causes of poverty more effectively, and ultimately adopt new practices that allow us to have an even greater impact in the community.”

 Each non-profit organization participating in United Way of the Columbia-Willamette’s Community Strengthening cohort has agreed to share their results through a common measurement framework, to work together on critical problems and innovations in the field, and to build a common knowledge base about collective impact on childhood poverty in our region.

 “We are ecstatic to be collaborating with the outstanding organizations selected to be a part of our Community Strengthening cohort on breaking the cycle of childhood poverty. The issue of poverty is incredibly complex, with multiple facets; it’s a far greater issue than any one organization can resolve alone,” said Keith Thomajan, CEO of United Way of the Columbia-Willamette. “In utilizing the collective impact model, we are confident we can amplify and accelerate the impact we are making in our community specific to student success, family stability, and connected communities to give every child, regardless of their socioeconomic status, a fair chance at success. Quite simply, we are better together.”

The Collective Impact Model 

 The collective impact model, as articulated by the non-profit consulting group Foundation Strategy Group (FSG), is a model of work that brings people together, in a structured way, to achieve social change. There are five conditions** of “collective impact” that lead to meaningful results:

1. A common agenda: All participants have a shared vision for change including a common understanding of the problem and a joint approach to solving it through agreed upon actions.

2. Shared Measurement: Collecting data and measuring results consistently across all participants ensures efforts remain aligned and participants hold each other accountable.

3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities: Participant activities must be differentiated while still being coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.

4. Continuous Communication: Consistent and open communication is needed across the many players to build trust, assure mutual objectives, and appreciate common motivation.

5. Backbone Organization: Creating and managing collective impact requires a separate organization(s) with staff and a specific set of skills to serve as the backbone for the entire initiative and coordinate participating organizations and agencies (The backbone organization for the Community Strengthening strategy is United Way of the Columbia-Willamette.)

 **Source: Foundation Strategy Group (FSG) 

 To learn more about United Way’s Community Strengthening strategy and the other organizations involved in the cohort, please visit

Teaching Empathy with Consistency

By: Emily Ostrowski

 What do Sesame Street and Y’s Care have in common? If you attend YWCA’s annual Inspire Luncheon on Wednesday, September 10th you’ll be sure to find out! Sonia Manzano, best known as Maria from Sesame Street, will be joining us to share her ongoing message of empowering and educating children.

 This message resonates with YWCA’s own children’s program Y’s Care, which seeks to provide homeless, transitioning, and low-income children with the necessary skills to enter kindergarten. Leah Reitz has been the director of Y’s Care for the past three years, and was a lead teacher in the program for several years prior. She has nothing but praise for the ways in which Sesame Street helps children grapple with various aspects of life.

Lea Reitz with Y's Care pupil.
 “Sesame Street has always been a program that demonstrates inclusiveness and respect for everyone,” Reitz says. “I think it has been an incredible tool for families, presented with humor and compassion. Their ‘whole child’ approach certainly lines up with the Y’s Care mission. I have always appreciated that the show often deals with difficult subjects like death and having a parent serving in the military. These are tough subjects, but when my children were young, I often found myself using an episode as a jumping off point for conversations.”

 Indeed, the ability to empathize and recognize emotions is at the core of both Sesame Street’s and Y’s Care’s missions. Reitz acknowledges that many preschool programs want to jump right in to skills like learning the alphabet and being able to write their name, but she emphasizes that without the proper emotional tools, success is unlikely. “If a child has trouble identifying and understanding his own emotions and the emotions of others, those other skills won’t matter, because if you can’t successfully navigate your social world you don’t see yourself as competent.”

 One of Reitz’s favorite activities at Y’s Care is a year-long program called Seeds of Empathy, which “helps kids identify and label emotions through books and literacy activities.” Additionally they have regular visits from the same parent and baby every three weeks to discuss, among other things what the baby might be feeling, and what it’s like being a parent, particularly the more frustrating aspects. All of this is done with the goal of teaching children how to see things from another’s perspective. 

The heart of Y’s Care is rooted in children’s emotional well-being. Academics are important, but without a solid, emotional foundation, no child can fully thrive. As Reitz notes, “Many kids come to our program having experienced trauma of one kind or another, so our initial challenges are often behavioral. When a child feels secure at school and trusts his or her teachers, learning follows.”

 To hear Sonia Manzano speak, as well as support Y’s Care, YWCA’s other programs, and general mission, please click here and register for our luncheon Wednesday, September 10th at the Hilton in Vancouver.

Meet This Year's Award Recipient

By Sharon Svec

The Y’s Care Children’s Program of YWCA Clark County has been one of the many charities in Clark County to benefit from the generosity of the Beaches Cruisin’ staff, volunteers and attendees. The Cruisin’ event started in 1996 and was hosted as a small gathering at the Beaches Restaurant and Bar. It got to be so popular, that it has grown to take up the entire lawn of the Portland International Raceway, and turned into a weekly fundraising event. This year’s opening day brought precisely a gazillion vehicles to the field; each one providing a small entrance fee per passenger. With the event going on every Wednesday of the summer, those dollars add up! The entrance fee monies collected at the gate, enable Mark Matthias and the Beaches Cruisin’ to donate tens of thousands of dollars to local charities each year.

To raise awareness of area charities, Beaches invites a different local non-profit each week to be featured at the event. After a few years of popping up a tent and loading up brochures, YWCA Clark County decided to take a new, more engaging approach. Last year we handed out our first Empowerment Award to a woman auto enthusiast.

The world of classic cars, hot rods, bikes, etc. is a male-dominated culture. This is probably due to our society’s separation of the roles of men and women throughout time. But today, our society is realizing that most of these roles are interchangeable among individuals of both sexes, and we are getting better at encouraging each other to pursue interests, regardless of their historical stereotype.

But, that doesn’t mean there aren’t still challenges. Intentional or not, women are often overlooked in car culture. YWCA’s Empowerment Award is given out each year to a female auto enthusiast at YWCA’s charity night of the Beaches Cruisin’. In addition to recognizing this very cool sub-culture of car enthusiasts, we hope that the award will build interest in the hobby, which requires unique technical and creative skills.
Sharma and her 1970 'Cuda

Sharma Schlecht was the winner of this year’s award. She drove a beautiful 1970 Plymouth Barracuda that she restored herself, along with friends and family. I emailed Sharma a few questions, so that we could get to know her better.

When and how did you get into cars?

My interest in cars started at sixteen. I started with a Toyota 4×4 pickup and learned quickly how to fix it myself as I proceeded to break it every weekend keeping up with the guys while four wheeling.

What do you enjoy about being a classic car owner?

I enjoy the other car owners and their stories about their journey they have taken with their cars. The pride and respect each owner has for their car or truck is well deserved and earned.

Have you faced any challenges as a woman owner/driver?

I have faced many challenges, starting with the parts stores lack of product education and their disbelief that I really know what part I need for my car.  Also, most people think it’s my husband’s or boyfriend’s car, or my father must have built it for me.

What kind of encouragement or support have you received from friends, family or fans?

I have received an incredible amount of help and encouragement from both family and friends through the whole build process; from use of their shops, to body-work, paint and everything in-between. My appreciation to every person that helped on my car is overwhelming.

We love that you are donating your parts car to another female auto enthusiast. Tell us why that was important to you.

It is important to give any young person a goal to achieve, but a young female with a goal of building her own ‘Cuda was special to me. I remember for years, waiting to build this car and how badly I wanted it. My hope for her is that she build an un-breakable bond with her father as she learns how to work on the car with him, and he has the pleasure of watching his daughter grow into a car enthusiast, following in his foot steps.

What does YWCA’s Empowerment Award mean to you?

The empowerment award has special meaning to me. I have spent a lifetime proving my ability with cars and it is with great appreciation I accept this acknowledgment for my years of hard work and sacrifices. I look forward to representing YWCA in leading women in our community.

Sharma presents a great example of an empowered woman. Not only has she found empowerment through her own will, but she also enjoys a community of support through friends and family who believe in and encourage her. Then, she goes the “extra mile” and passes that empowerment forward to another young woman who is following her own dream.  YWCA Clark County is pleased to recognize Sharma for her achievements and for her encouragement of others, with the 2014 YWCA Empowerment Award. View more photos on our Facebook page.

DVSA Task Force: Past, Present, and Future

By Sharon Svec

The Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault Task Force was started in 1992 as a way to spread awareness and engage the community in preventing and addressing domestic violence and sexual assault in Clark County.  The group meets four times a year to discuss the needs of domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.  The goal of the task force is to provide a more effective and coordinated community response for survivors through regular communication and joint discussion. Topics and the style of meeting vary.  Topics range from sex offender treatment to human trafficking, and the meeting style may be in the form of a panel discussion, presentation, or workshop.

The most recent meeting held on July 24th was on the impact of family violence on children and youth. Twenty people were in attendance including guests from Children’s Center, Children’s Home Society, Healthy Decisions, and the NorthWest Justice Project. While task force meetings seem to be often attended exclusively by service providers, I found this discussion to be relevant to most anyone.

Panelists included Helen Sullivan from the Children’s Center, Bev Collins from the Independent Living Skills Program of YWCA, and Heather Redman of YWCA’s Clark County CASA Program. Each panelist had valuable insight to share, and there were a few themes that kept recurring throughout the discussion:  how children and youth exposed to violence in the home view themselves, the effects of an ever-changing environment, and how we can support children, youth and families in consideration of these perspectives.

One point that I found especially relevant is that people recognize the lifestyle in which they were raised as being “the norm.” When raised in a violent household, it may seem normal for moms and dads to fight. It may seem appropriate to respond to conflict with aggression or to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. When children are removed from their home because of abuse, neglect or violence, separated from their family and jettisoned into a life of courts, counselors, advocates, foster care and more, life can become very confusing.

Once separated from their family, the child is challenged to accept a new idea of “normal” behavior. They may feel obligated to blend into a new way of living. Plus, they are often asked to share their experiences with a slew of strangers. Coping mechanisms are learned in the home, so when a child, youth, or even parent is facing these challenges, the internal conflict they may feel might actualize in ways that are unhealthy.

Service providers, foster parents, and all community members can better support each other by recognizing and respecting the past experiences of an individual, reminding themselves and those they work with that everyone has different life experiences, and by giving children permission to bear the feelings they have.

Overall, I found the meeting to be very informative. I saw service providers ask questions and instigate valuable discussions. Personally, I was reminded about the varied histories we share, and how to better respect those experiences as we interact with each other. Whether providing direct service or simply interacting with another person in our community, we can all benefit from actively recognizing that context influences our perspectives.

Please join us at the next DV/SA task force meeting on Tuesday, September 23rd from noon to 1:30pm, focused on the court’s response to domestic violence. Guest panelists include Judge Sonya Langsdorf who is the incoming domestic violence judge, a representative from Vancouver’s Office of Public Defense, and a guest from the Domestic Violence Prosecution Center. Panelists will answer questions submitted prior to the meeting. Please submit your questions early to and note if you would like your name to remain private.

Legislation on Firearms

By Susan LaLone, VP Public Policy at YWCA

Are you aware of the two state initiatives on the November ballot regarding firearms ownership, and the difference between the two? Why does it matter if you vote on these initiatives? A recent poll in Washington State showed those who responded were in favor of both. Yet these two initiatives are opposed to each other. Please take a few moments to read further and learn of the differences.

Born in a family of hunters, I was raised with firearms in the house. An early education on firearms taught me the need to be responsible with them. My experience as a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam veteran and retired federal police officer further enhanced this. As a police firearms instructor for 17 years, I both instructed and observed firearms safety. This showed me the need for constant training in both the physical use and knowledge of when to legally use firearms in our society. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the same opportunity to understand the consequences of using a firearm.

Since 1968, various municipalities, states and the Federal government have passed laws restricting firearms purchases to those able to pass a background check. Individuals with serious violent convictions are prohibited from purchasing guns. These laws work well with licensed firearm dealers, with only 1 % of these types of sales being refused. A serious hole in the system is with private sales, including those who sell from the numerous gun shows. These types of “dealers” have no requirement to initiate background checks when they sell guns. As a result, firearms may be obtained in these types of sales by virtually anyone. This is where state initiative 594 comes to play.

State Initiative 594 will require background checks for all sales of firearms in Washington State. This initiative plugs a serious hole in gun sales, and ensures all legal sales in Washington meet the current legal requirements and intents. However, there are those who believe this will restrict average citizens’ rights to obtain firearms. This type of thinking has put initiative 591 on the Washington State ballot.

If adopted, State Initiative 591will prevent the State Legislature from implementing background checks for firearms sales, unless the Federal government adopts a uniform standard for these sales. In effect, this checks the State Legislature from moving to a higher standard on firearms sales. By passing this initiative we will continue to allow a means for violent individuals to obtain firearms in Washington.

Please join YWCA Clark County and myself in supporting Initiative 594 and opposing Initiative 591. When dealing with firearms, there is only room for responsible and safe sales.

Meeting the Challenge

September 18th is going to be a big day for our community and for YWCA Clark County. #GiveMore24 is the regions first-ever 24-hour giving challenge. The campaign is designed to raise funds for dozens of local nonprofits in our community and to demonstrate that our impact is greater when we give what we can, wherever we are, at the same time. In this case, that timeframe starts at 7:00am on September 18th and ends at 7:00am the following day.

Funds raised during Give More 24! will support YWCA in spreading our mission of empowerment throughout our community. We spread this mission by providing vital services and support to more than 11,800 people each year.
Paulie and daughter Licia in YWCA’s garden

Every day, families are rediscovering their future with the help of YWCA Clark County. After a rocky 5 years, Paulie and her daughter Licia found comfort and structure at our Y’s Care Children’s Program. The teachers at Y’s Care provide pre-school education and preparedness to low- and no-income families, as well as family-building activities like parent support groups, parent study groups, family events, and parent volunteer opportunities.

Your participation in Give More 24! Will help YWCA continue to provide vital services like these to community members in need. In addition to supporting children and families, YWCA helps empower youth aging out of foster care, as well as survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse, neglect and oppression. Will you meet the challenge by participating in Give More 24! on September 18th? Learn more at, or visit our profile page directly.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Art Show Draws Out Creativity

“It’s time…to talk about it!” was the theme of a very moving art show presented by the Sexual Assault Program of the YWCA April 21-24. Nearly 25 pieces of original art were displayed to raise awareness during Sexual Assault Awareness Month and to remind the community to speak up about sexual violence.

The art contest was open to all with many of the pieces created by individuals impacted by sexual assault. A grant was provided by the Church of the Good Shepherd for the reception, awards and art supplies. Vancouver School of Arts and Academics also helped support the show. Native American Youth Alliance (NAYA) submitted some of the pieces.

“There were so many wonderful comments about the diversity of the work,” said Laurie Schacht, Sexual Assault Program Director. “We hope the conversations don’t stop in April,” she said. “It’s critical that we keep talking about it.” The goal of SAAM is to bring awareness and open up conversations.

Awards were giving for the “Most Moving,” “Most Daring” and “Most Liked but Not Sure Why.” The Sexual Assault Program of YWCA will be accepting new submissions, one per person, for the SAAM Art Show in early 2015. For more information about participating, contact Kai Hill, Program Coordinator at View photos from this year’s show on Flickr.

Advocacy in Olympia Pays Off

Good news from our state legislature. For those of you who believe little good comes from Olympia, here are two examples to the contrary. YWCA’s Public Policy Committee tracks various bills as they wend their way through the legislature. Below is the fate of two bills that affect community members obtaining services through YWCA’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and Sexual Assault programs.

Passage of House Bill (HB) 1298 / Senate Bill (SB) 5169 would have allowed distribution of CASA or GAL (Guardian Ad Litem) caseworkers background checks to all parties involved in a CASA or GAL appointment. Potential confidential or personal information about caseworkers would have been in the hands of individuals that were adversely affected by court decisions. In turn this could have prolonged cases needlessly or potentially been hazardous to caseworkers.
Traci, De and Laurie visited Olympia to advocate for survivors .

YWCA Clark County staff were among those testifying against this bill in Olympia. As a result of both this testimony and concerned lawmakers the bill died in committee, never reaching the floor.

Another Senate Bill, sponsored by local Senator Ann Rivers, works to assist survivors of sexual assault to live their lives without fear of contact from their convicted sexual offenders. SB 6069 authorizes the Department of Corrections to prohibit convicted sexual offenders from direct or indirect contact with the victim of the crime or specified classes of individuals. Additionally, other agencies are required to impose similar conditions of these offenders.

The Indeterminate Sentence Review Board shall impose a condition requiring the offender to refrain from contact with the victim or the victims’ immediate family members. When providing notice of a sexual offender’s residence, the Department of Corrections is required to include notice that the victim or immediate family member may request a non contact order as a stipulation of release, if this is not already provided for by court order. This bill passed the legislature and was signed into law by the Governor on March 17, 2014.

Our legislature really does work to help state residents. Become familiar with the issues and cast your vote in a manner that is right for you. Remember, every vote counts.

July 2014 Program Highlights

Sexual Assault Program

The Sexual Assault Program began “In Touch With Teens” with some students from Fort Vancouver HS. It’s a 6 session series that focuses on healthy relationships, dating violence and bystander intervention. This pilot project has been funded by a Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy Grant, which provides the curricula and healthy snacks for the youth, as well as ways to recognize their participation and engagement. Thank you to the Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy donors, and to the amazing and supportive coaches at FVHS who made this possible. The Sexual Assault Program also hosted the regional prevention meeting for Community Sexual Assault Programs in Clark, Cowlitz, Skamania, Pacific, Wahkiakum and Klickitat counties.

Clark County CASA

After successfully swearing in 21 new CASA Volunteers on May 22nd, 2014, we are looking forward to another great turnout of new CASA volunteers for our Summer Training, beginning July 1st, 2014. If you are or know of a community member who has always wanted to make a huge difference in the life of an abused and neglected child, please contact Heidi Hiatt at for more information and to begin the process. We are looking forward to meeting our goal of having one volunteer for each of the children assigned to us by the Clark County Dependency Court, as there are currently 262 children who do not have a CASA working with them. Please help us meet our goal of helping all giving all children in the system a voice!

Social Change Program

The Social Change Program just hosted the Community Celebration on Tuesday, June 24th. Three leaders of social change were recognized for their dedication to our community. Congratulations Michelle Bart, Christopher Resendiz and Jose Scott! Guests also enjoyed presentations on the culture of drumming and of historical social change leaders, such as Frida Kahlo, Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou. Coming up on July 7th, join us for an informal chat at Conversations in the Community, a brown bag discussion held once a month in the Community Room of YWCA. Contact Michelle at for more information on the Social Change Program.

Y’s Care Children’s Program

On May 29th, friends and family joined Y’s Care teachers and volunteers in honoring the accomplishments of 15 preschoolers during our annual graduation celebration. To mark this important transition, graduates performed poetry and songs individually and as a group, put on two skits and played mallet instruments. Another highlight of the ceremony was the slide show. The kids enjoyed seeing themselves on the big screen and family members got a chance to see the kids in action at Y’s Care. In addition, thanks to our wonderful volunteer, Nonie Laurine, each graduate received a backpack complete with school supplies.

SafeChoice Program

The SafeChoice Program continues to develop the Children’s Advocacy Program (CAP) at the shelter. Mykaila Forsyth, who previously volunteered for CAP has been hired to continue solidifying the program. “She’s doing excellent work with children and teens in the shelter, five days a week.” says Stephanie Barr, Interim Director of SafeChoice. CAP provides support to families entering the shelter in two primary ways. Parents receive assistance with outlining and pursuing goals, while children and teens are provided opportunities to interact with, share and create with the advocates and with each other. This program has been generously funded by individual donations, and grants from United Way and the Looking Out Foundation

Independent Living Skills Program

The Independent Living Skills program recently hosted a year-end barbeque and celebrated recent high school graduates in the program. Congratulations! In the last issue, we shared our visit to Olympia to advocate for the rights of foster youth. The Mockingbird Society provides a great review of the efforts of all foster youth advocates who joined us for our policy making journey.

WORTH Program

The WORTH Program is working hard to provide resources and training for individuals in the Clark County Jail. WORTH is currently accepting donations of gently used or new bras, socks, underwear, quilt batting and sewing machines. Also, a huge thanks to all the wonderful volunteers who help make this program complete.

Seeing the Gray...Part 2: Interview with Michael Sutcliffe

By: Emily Ostrowski

 In our last newsletter, I reviewed the popular Netflix show Orange is the New Black (OINTB). Part of that review dealt with the ways in which the show portrays prison life. For better insight into the topic I interviewed PhD candidate and WORTH volunteer Michael Sutcliffe, who has worked for years with various organizations that serve incarcerated populations. Michael opened my eyes to some of the inaccuracies of OITNB, and while I still consider myself a fan of the show, I ended my initial interview with Michael wanting to seek out media that offered a more realistic portrayal of life in prison.

This desire led Michael and me to organize a showing of the documentary Visions of Abolition at YWCA. The showing was held Wednesday, April 30th in YWCA’s community room. Roughly 15-20 YWCA employees, volunteers and members of the community gathered together to watch the film, and afterwards participated in a brief Q&A. Michael and I also had our own conversation about the film, problems with our current prison system, and his advocacy with WORTH. Here are some highlights below:

Q: What do you find most powerful about the documentary Visions of Abolition, and what do you hope those watch it glean from the film?

 Visions explains the economic and social origins and effects of incarceration and peels back some of the myths and the veil that popular media has created – the most powerful attribute of the prison is its ability to make people disappear. The prison system classifies people according to their social “offensiveness” and makes them vanish from public life, ostensibly they are disappearing for a period of time, but for most, it’s forever unless they have help. Visions was created by a group of women who survived the prison system and are in various stages of shirking off the identification it’s branded them with – physically branded in some cases. Visions also prominently features Angela Davis whose work was the first abolitionist writing that I encountered, and still is the foundation of much of my own writing. Davis is really effective at articulating the ways that the prison system or Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) is not a broken institution in need of some reform, but a manifestation of systemic oppression and stigmatization that does exactly what it’s intended to do. As a former political prisoner and one of the most recognized activists on prisons, she brings credibility to the film that few others could. I hope that people watching will get a better understand of the PIC and the extent to which it legalizes and legitimizes racism, sexism, and a classist fear of “poor people.” The PIC enforces privilege and stratifies communities, thus destroying them. I hope that people watching see that we need to move beyond the rhetoric of reform and “fixing” prisons and jails and instead move towards helping each other solve problems.

Q: What do WORTH Volunteers do?
Michael Sutcliffe

 WORTH volunteers go into the Clark County Main Jail and Work Center each week for two hours. At the Main Jail, we organize speakers from the community to talk about topics like drug and alcohol recovery, financial planning, basic healthcare and nutrition, and so on. When we don’t have speakers scheduled, the volunteers run workshops on similar topics to engage participants in more extended discussions. At the Work Center, each week is a single session sewing program. Participants and volunteers interact while working on quilting or sewing projects. Much of the program’s value is in helping to refranchise people who have been disappeared by the criminal legal system. Volunteers at the Work Center can help with the mechanics and logistics of sewing or can be there to talk and support. WORTH volunteers also solicit donations of women’s underwear, bras, and socks from the community in order to provide them to women who do not have financial support while incarcerated – way too many women in Clark County are arrested without these basic items and the jail does not supply them. This really bothers me. Women are often held for weeks or months without underwear, socks, or a bra! And many of these women are awaiting trial and legally are not guilty of a crime! Our volunteers who organized donation drives have done amazing work and collected enough donations to keep the program running, but it’s thin at times, and we desperately need more. Finally, a part of the program that is very important to me is teaching people about the reality of incarceration. The reason the jail and prison are as ugly as they are is that people vote for and support this approach to criminality based on misconceptions – they think locking people up makes our communities safer or that people “deserve” the kind of foul, violent treatment that they get inside. But what this actually does is push people away from their community and make them feel their only options are outside the law. The legal system sorts and brands people with a record that keeps them from getting good jobs and can prevent them from getting governmental (and private) support, which exacerbates the problems that led them to jail in the first place. Our program tries to contribute to change by informing and teaching.

Q: What advice do you give to new WORTH volunteers? 

 While I feel that working in the jail is a learning experience for most people, I don’t think it’s something that requires a particular skill or expertise. I encourage anyone working in an incarcerated setting to practice active listening and to actively try to unpack the complexity of participant’s lives. People in jail have been taught that they’re of lesser value, and listening and respecting them can give back some of their humanity. I encourage everyone who is invested in changing what criminality means and looks like to assess their own strengths and interests. WORTH is a really flexible program that can adjust to make the best use of the people involved, so I encourage new volunteers to look for ways to add, expand, revise, and so on. I also think it’s really important for anyone working inside to continuously try to reconcile what they’ve come to expect and assume about criminality with the realities that they hear and see as they meet people. One of the most important and beneficial aspects of being a WORTH volunteer is the perspective we can get of the powerful influence our own biases and assumptions have on how we see our community and our responsibilities as community members.

Sesame Street Actor to Speak at Luncheon

What are you doing on Wednesday, September 10? Mark your calendar for our 20th annual benefit luncheon. Sonia Manzano, popularly known as “Maria” on Sesame Street, will present “Building Resilient Children – The Sesame Street Way” at YWCA Clark County’s annual luncheon. Sonia’s message of empowering children aligns well with our Y’s Care Children’s Program, which offers an empowerment-based model of child education and support to low- and no-income families. Doors will open at 11:30am and the program will begin at noon at the Hilton Vancouver. Registration is now available on our website.

Sonia Manzano – Actress, Author and Advocate for Children

A first generation American of Latino descent, Sonia has affected the lives of millions of children and their parents since 1971, when the 21-year-old from the South Bronx joined the Sesame Street cast as “Maria.” As part of the Sesame Street writing staff, Sonia has won 15 Emmy Awards and is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Arts and Sciences. She also wrote for the Television show Little Bill on Nickelodeon. On stage, she has performed in The Vagina Monologues and The Exonerated. Sonia remains a member of the Sesame Street cast to this day, and is the author of two books for children, No Dogs Allowed (2004) and A Box Full of Kittens (2007), and of the award-winning, young adult novel The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano (2012).

Sponsorship Opportunities

Sponsorships are available ranging from $1000 to $5000 with many benefits available. Shared benefits for all levels include a table for ten at the luncheon, recognition on our website, at the event which annually draws about 500 guests. For more information, contact Erin at 906-9157 or

Say Yes to 900 Children in Clark County

It’s hard to say "No" to a child. Even when the request is small – an extra cookie, a drugstore toy, five more minutes before bedtime – we want to see those bright smiles and happy eyes when we say "Yes".

But when a child has suffered from abuse or neglect, when their lives have been turned upside down in an unfamiliar foster home, when they feel they have no one they can count on, saying no isn’t just hard. It’s agonizing.

At Clark County CASA of YWCA we never want to say no to a child who needs us. Support from people like you means we won’t have to.

Today, CASA is advocating for 643 Clark County children in the foster care and court system. They range from drug-affected twins in a neo-natal unit to 17-year-old boys and girls who will be totally on their own when they “age out” of the foster care system on their 18th birthday. Thanks to CASA, they have highly trained, compassionate volunteers and staff who are investigating and advocating for their interests.

However, 269 children in Clark County are still in need of an advocate. But we cannot help abused and neglected children – today or for generations to come – without your support. We need volunteers and donations to support the more than 900 children that pass through the Clark County court system each year. In the words of CASA volunteer Judy:

“Each time I see the gratitude and trust in my CASA child’s eyes, I’m reminded of how grateful I am that people in our community care enough about her and other foster kids to support Clark County CASA. We are doing life-saving work here. And it’s donations from our community that make it possible.”

During this special campaign of awareness for abused and neglected children, will you please consider making an investment in them and in their future? Your tax-deductible gift to Clark County CASA will go a long way to helping children today and to breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect forever. Thank you for your confidence and support.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

March 2014 Program Highlights

WORTH Program

WORTH and Social Change partnered to bring eye glasses into the jail. Toni Dorenda, Director of WORTH, contacted the Sherriff to receive approval to bring glasses to WORTH’s Tuesday classes. Glasses help the participants see the curriculum and read the handouts during WORTH volunteer visits. Have you heard of "Orange is the New Black"-a new series that’s been stirring up the media? YWCA presents the first of a 2-part series about the show this month.

Social Change Program

Michelle Hurdle-Bradford, Director of Social Change, sponsored 10 pairs of glasses for the WORTH Program. Hurdle-Bradford visited the jail to teach incarcerated women about personal values, judgment, bullying and white privilege the day the glasses were distributed. “To see the smile on their faces when they could borrow a pair of glasses to see the curriculum was worth more than gold. The participants can not only listen to the training but they can read the handouts too.”

Sexual Assault Program 
From L-R, Auna, Amira, Erica at Women Trauma and Healing Day

On February 11th the SA Program attended Lobby Day in Olympia to advocate for survivors of sexual assault. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the SA Program will once again welcome renowned speaker Cory Jewel Jensen on April 1st and will be hosting an Art Show at YWCA on April 21st. Details of these events will be released later this month. Follow us on Facebook or call 360-906-9156 for more information. Finally, the SA Program continues to offer free groups and classes to the public including the Latina Women’s Group, Women’s Healing Group and the Where We Live series which focuses on awareness and prevention.

SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program

SafeChoice is happy to welcome Jennifer Anderson, the new Shelter Manager to the team. Jennifer has several years of supervisory experience with both Child Protective Services and Education Services District 112. In addition, members of the SafeChoice Program attended Lobby Day in Olympia on February 4th and advocated with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) for the enhancement of protection orders by enforcing firearm prohibition for abusers, maintaining funding for domestic violence shelter and legal advocacy, and maintaining basic safety net programs which support survivors. WSCADV’s legislative agenda can be found through the public policy link on their website. SafeChoice is also implementing a new support group for shelter residents starting in March.

Y’s Care Children’s Program

Y’s Care recently offered a 3-week parenting class to guardians of Y’s Care children. The free class included meals and childcare. The Seeds of Empathy program is in its 3rd year and continues to be a great success. This wonderful program centers around a baby and parent who visit regularly, teaches preschoolers perspective on identifying and labeling feelings. Y’s Care loves community engagement and created aparticipatory experience for students by partnering with Tears of Joy Theater based in Portland.

Clark County CASA Program

CASA welcomes 23 new volunteer advocates to their team. With this influx of advocates, CASA is able to serve approximately 69 more children. Also, YWCA and CASA welcome Kelsey LeBrun Keswani as the new Director of CASA. Kelsey has over 13 years of experience working in the field of social services. She has a breadth of experience ranging from building a national program serving unaccompanied refugee minors to volunteering with the Peace Corps in the Ukraine.

Independent Living Skills 
ILS youth at Olympia

Youth in our Independent Living Skills Program visited Olympia on February 14 alongside the Mocking Bird Society to advocate for the rights of foster youth and teens. This year they focused on Extended Foster Care (SB 6101/HB 2335), Prudent parent Standard (SB 6479/ HB 2699) and Legal Representation for Foster Youth (SB 6126/HB 1285)

Seeing the Gray in Orange is the New Black

Praise for the groundbreaking show, while acknowledging the murkiness of portraying life in prison.

By: Emily Ostrowski

(Contains some spoilers for Season 1 of Orange is the New Black) 

Like many fans of Netflix sensation Orange is the New Black (OitNB), I was thrilled when they announced the show’s second season will be available to stream June 6th, 2014. After what seemed like an eternity of waiting, a return date is in sight for the show that has become something of a cultural phenomenon, and because Netflix allows for every episode of the season to be available at once, it’s essentially redefined the concept of “binge-watching.” In fact, OitNB is the most watched original Netflix show, beating out House of Cards and the re-vamped fourth season of Arrested Development. It’s garnered critical praise, as well as a slew of award nominations, but perhaps more than anything OitNB has been lauded for what many see as its societal impact.

 For starters it stars a predominantly female cast, meaning it clearly passes the Bechdel Test (a test named after American cartoonist Alison Bechdel that requires any work of fiction to have at least two female characters interact with one another about something other than a man.) The show has also earned praise for its racial diversity, as well as its inclusion of numerous LGBT characters. The series’ main love triangle revolves around recently imprisoned main character Piper Chapman (Taylor Shilling), her fiancĂ© on the outside, Larry (Jason Biggs), and her former girlfriend and current fellow inmate, Alex (Laura Prepon). Piper’s feelings for Alex are shown to be every bit as legitimate as hers towards Larry, and while the show could have played their relationship as nothing more than a titillating distraction, throughout the course of the season Alex and Piper’s relationship became deeply rooted in sustained emotional connection and persevering attraction they feel towards one another. OitNB also prominently features openly transgender actress Laverne Cox, who has used her popularity on the show to become an outspoken advocate for transgender rights. 

Having said that, the show’s premise is based around the everyday lives of women in prison. In this particular area I fear I, like many viewers while good intentioned, don’t know much about prison life aside from what we’ve gleaned from previous media depictions. To learn more, I reached out to Michael Sutcliffe, a PhD student and activist who volunteers with YWCA’s WORTH Program. He shared his thoughts on the show, about what they’re getting right and, and unfortunately quite wrong about life in prison.

“There are some things about Orange is the New Black that I was pleased to see.” says Sutcliffe, “The writer and producers do seem to acknowledge the prison as both a manifestation and a producer of systemic racism, and they do try to demonstrate just how powerful the privileges of the main character are.”

Indeed Piper’s privileges are often plain to see in the show, such as the early preferential treatment she receives from her correctional officer, Mr. Healy, because she is a white, upper class, educated, and (he presumes) heterosexual woman. The show also notes how Piper is both uncomfortable with her privilege, while at other times seemingly unaware of it, which I believe is an honest and unflattering reflection of how privilege often works.

Sutcliffe also gives the show some credit for attempting to portray the different power dynamics and social structures of people imprisoned, but as he notes is the case with all TV, “They compress time so much that it seems like every day is a roller coaster of politics, gossip, and social maneuvering.”

There is also an inherent quirkiness to OitNB, that while undoubtedly makes the show more entertaining, also contributes to what Sutcliffe sees as the “quiet dulling of the emotions” in what are the more intense scenes of the show. He elaborates, “What I mean is that while they show the women being scared, angry, frustrated, and try to hint at desperation, they accompany the scenes with goofy or happy music that lightens the mood and makes light of the situations the women are in. There is no theme music in tense moments in (real-life) prison and the silence (as well as the extreme noise) can be a powerful component part of a moment.”  He references the early episodes where Piper was effectively “starved out” by the kitchen staff for unknowingly criticizing the cook’s food in front of her. In real life, this is undoubtedly a serious issue, but in the show, it was largely played for laughs.

This bothers Sutcliffe, in no small part because he believes OitNB sells itself as a type of docudrama, but by portraying those scenes the way the show does, it under-emphasizes the fear and legitimate threat of violence real prisoners often face. While I’m not sure if I completely agree that the show markets itself in such a way, I understand where the assertion is coming from. After all, the show is loosely based on the real-life incarceration of Piper Kerman, former inmate turned prison reform advocate, who wrote about her experiences in her memoir Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison. For a casual viewer, knowing that the story is based on certain real-life events may make them susceptible to believing that the show’s portrayal of prison is a fairly accurate one.

All of this I suppose raises the question as to whether it is the show’s responsibility to portray prison life more realistically, or that of the viewer to be able to discern between entertainment and reality? Ultimately, I believe the answer lies, so often as it does, somewhere in the middle.

In an article for the Chicago Tribune former inmates were asked to weigh in on OitNB’s accuracy. Like Sutcliffe, the women had mixed reactions.

 One woman praised the show for enriching these characters by “having a great sense of humor” and portraying them as “amazingly inventive” in the ways in which they get through the day. She also had this to say:

“If this were a truly realistic portrayal, it would be depressing. It may be the show I want to see. But I’m not confident that a lot of other people would want to see it.”

A television show’s main job after all, is to attract viewers. It’s not the nicest truth, but it’s a truth, nonetheless, and despite OitNB’s flaws, I’m still happy it’s out there, and am not ashamed for finding it compelling.

Yet there was one criticism of Sutcliffe’s that resonated, not just about OitNB, but about the way in which we as a society tend to consume all media:

“I don’t think OitNB really shows people what prison is like. While it definitely has some good acting moments and some entertaining situations, I think OitNB has to be taken with a HUGE grain of salt, and we need to ask why/how we can use the ruination of people’s lives as entertainment while doing nothing to help them?”

In this digital age it’s easy to feel like because we watch a certain TV show or post a story on Facebook that we’re actively engaging in political and societal discourse. In reality many of us are failing to take any real steps to change the injustices we claim to care about, and I’m as guilty of this inaction as any.

 In an effort to change that, I invite all of you interested in learning more about our criminal justice system to take a look at YWCA’s WORTH Program, as well as the list below where Michael gives us a few of his recommendations for films and documentaries that give a more realistic portrayal of life in prison. Also keep an eye out for our next newsletter, in which Michael and I will have a more in-depth conversation on activism and the failures of our current prison system.

Additional Resources

 Michael especially enjoys Michelle Alexander on Mass Incarceration and The New Jim Crow as well as the NPR interview and review. He also suggests the feature documentaries "Visions of Abolition" and "It’s More Expensive to do Nothing" (link unavailable). Finally, Michael recommends this video interview with Dr Carl Hart about drug addiction, and a this post on the Prison Industrial Complex.

Breaking Free from a Cycle of Violence

By Sharon Svec

Abuse is never straight-forward. Tools like the power and control wheel show that abusers will often use multiple ways to gain power and control in a relationship. Breaking free from an abuser is a huge step, but at YWCA advocates do all they can to ensure that violence is not tolerated or perpetuated in the future. By providing education and solution-oriented support for survivors of domestic violence, YWCA helps break the cycle of violence.

The Strengthening Families, Ending Violence Project is one such support service offered by the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program of YWCA Clark County. Through this project, advocates and shelter residents work together using an empowerment-driven model that supports the parent/child bond and ends the cycle of violence. The project is multi-faceted and has been funded through multiple sources including United Way of the Columbia-Willamette, the Looking Out Foundation, and Bank of America.

Three main aspects of the project include the children advocacy program, support groups and housing and transportation assistance. The support groups contain three additional components: DV 101 to help participants better understand the dynamics of domestic violence, a personal enhancement section to provide self-care practice, and a financial empowerment section to help residents transition out of the shelter into a financially stable environment.

Support group facilitators Ashmeeta Kumar, David Chapparo and Katheryn Manning will offer weekly sessions. The support groups will follow a cyclical curriculum based on the 60 day stay offered to shelter residents. Ashmeeta will facilitate DV 101, David will lead personal enhancement and Katheryn will address fiscal empowerment. The team leading the groups will consistently be evaluating the success of their efforts, and will make subtle adjustments to the curriculum to ensure residents are getting the most out of participation.

I recently talked with Katheryn to learn more about the fiscal empowerment section of the support groups, “I’m excited. I think that along with financial empowerment comes a lot of freedom. If you have that component, then it opens all kinds of doors for you. Being able to give financial tools that really work is very valuable.”

Utilizing a curriculum prepared by The Allstate Foundation and the National Network to End Domestic Violence, Katheryn will lead the group through the following five modules: Understanding Financial Abuse, Learning Financial Fundamentals, Mastering Credit Basics, Building Financial Foundations and Creating Budgeting Strategies. Participants will have an opportunity to implement concepts and practice new techniques with supporting activities and worksheets. Because every person’s situation is different, Katheryn believes it’s important to provide individualized support whenever possible.

Katheryn notes that at a time of transition, when everything seems up in the air, education and training like this can feel grounding and empowering. “The financial part is huge. Someone may have lost their job because of the DV. They may have had to leave their home; having to start over. It can be very overwhelming. So here you are in the shelter. You need to find shelter and take care of a lot of other things, and you need to do that in 60 days. So the empowerment part of that is to offer the encouragement that it can be done, to instill that sense of the ripple, and to be there to separate all that all out and make it manageable.”

Empowerment has always been a key part of YWCA’s mission, and by offering something more than temporary housing – by offering an entire program which empowers survivors in a variety of ways, SafeChoice embodies the mission of YWCA and models it for survivors. With funding from Bank of America, SafeChoice is able to extend that empowerment outside the doors of the shelter. Not only will survivors gain financial assistance because of grants from United Way, but they will know how to make the best use of that assistance and how to leverage it into financial independence.

Dr. Lee Faver Appointed to YWCA Clark County Board of Directors

WCA Clark County is pleased to welcome Dr. Lee Faver to the Board of Directors. Lee was sworn in January 22nd, 2014. YWCA’s diverse board currently seats 18 members who are charged with upholding the philosophical and legal obligations of the organization. As policymaker and visionary, board members are held to an ethical standard which recognizes the human dignity of all people and strives for an environment that is healthy and caring.

A licensed, board certified psychologist currently practicing at Orchards Family Medicine, Dr. Faver has a wealth of experience related to YWCA services. Related interests include treating trauma and psychological difficulties associated with family violence and abuse, serving sexual minorities, youth and LGBTQ populations, and providing training for staff answering a domestic violence hotline.

In addition to Dr. Lee Faver, board members include Anne Borus, Rev. Marva Edwards, Sherri Falkner, Angie Friauf, Don Gladson, Dena Horton, Greg Kimsey, Susan LaLone, Pam Loh Veljacic, Emily Oliva, Cathy Ramer, David K. Reiter, Leslie Runyan, Kayla Tiano Kelly Nolen, Kevin Weaver, and Megan Vaughn, who serves as the President.

To learn how you can join this team, and uphold a mission to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all, contact April at 360 696 0167.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

January 2014 Y's Words

Gratitude. The end of each year is often a time for reflecting on what we have to be grateful for and to lay plans for the year to come. In this month’s newsletter you’ll find inspiring stories regarding our volunteers, community members, and donors and their efforts to support our organization and ultimately our mission.

Upon reflection, YWCA has much to be grateful for. This year, we learned that singer songwriter Belinda Carlisle is a strong activist for ending domestic violence. She created the Looking Out Foundation specifically to assist the work of organizations like YWCA’s SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program and we are grateful for their grant funding.

We’re grateful to the 60+ employees and more than 600 volunteers who work tirelessly to support community members in need – whether that be through direct service, prevention programming, or community awareness. This month, learn about Val Anderson who has graced us with her service to the CASA Program for over 20 years! And, don’t miss an exceptionally informative article on stalking awareness from volunteer Emily Ostrowski.

If you are a current YWCA volunteer, thank you for your service this past year! Don’t forget to visit our volunteer venue–a special section of our newsletter dedicated specifically to Y volunteers. If you’re interested in joining this incredible team, join us for a volunteer open house on February 6th at 6:00pm.

Speaking of involvement, YWCA especially thanks Clark County Commissioners for visiting our facility to see firsthand how Clark County funding is used to support residents in need.

As you look forward to 2014, may you do so with joy, abundance and peace. We are grateful to be a part of this community and supported by so many.

Strong Alone. Fearless Together.

Sherri Bennett
Executive Director

PS – This year marks the 20th anniversary of our benefit luncheon and we are giving it a facelift!  Watch for a name change and a new focus, plus other elements that will appeal to our attendees in our March newsletter. And, remember to save the date of Wednesday, September 10th for the next luncheon!

Stalking is a Crime

By: Emily Ostrowski

Roughly 6.6 million Americans are stalked every year with an estimation of 1 in 6 women and 1 in 19 men being victimized by stalking at some point in their lives. The vast majority of stalking victims are stalked by someone they know, frequently a current or past romantic partner, with 66% of female victims and 41% of male victims indicating their stalker was someone they had a past or present intimate relationship with.

January is National Stalking Awareness Month (NSAM). Started by the National Center for Victims of Crime in 2004, NSAM was created “to increase the public’s understanding of the crime of stalking.”

It began in 2003 in response to murdered stalking victim, Peggy Klinke. Klinke’s sister, Debbie Riddle, was motivated by the tragedy to improve the way law enforcement handled and responded to stalking. She contacted the Stalking Resource Center to see what she can do, and from there was able to get her sister’s story out to everyone she could. That July, having been moved by Klinke’s story, Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) introduced a Congressional resolution to support National Stalking Awareness Month. The following January, the first observance of National Stalking Awareness Month was held, with the National Center for Victims of Crime helping to plan events to raise awareness throughout the country.

Currently, there are laws against stalking in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, however not all states and jurisdictions define “stalking” in the same manner, nor is the crime prosecuted the same. The National Center for Victims of Crime suggest that a good working definition of stalking is “a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” This conduct can include but is not limited to, following a person, frequently emailing, texting or calling, sending unwanted gifts, and stealing personal possessions.

To some, stalking might seem like a less serious offense when compared to any sort of physical assault, but not only do victims of stalking experience intense fear and uncertainty that lead to increased levels of anxiety and depression, but stalking can often times be a precursor to physical violence. According to the Stalking Resource Center, weapons are used to harm or threaten victims in 1 out of every 5 cases of stalking. Even scarier, 76% of all women killed by an intimate partner were stalked by that partner before their murder, and 54% had reported the stalking to the police before they were killed.

Young people may be at a particularly high risk. A report by the US Department of Justice in 2009 indicated that people aged 18-24 experience the highest rate of stalking. Teens are especially susceptible to cyber-stalking (harassment via computers, cellphones etc.) often because of their heavy presence on social media, which makes it easier for stalkers to obtain personal information about their victim, as well as give them more options for making contact.

One of the most important things we can do to help stalking victims and prevent stalking from continuing is to be informed. To find out what you can do to protect yourselves and the ones you love, check out this important list of tips and resources from the Stalking Resource Center.