YWCA Creates a Nurturing Community and Finds Success
While recent twitter campaigns like #MeToo bring justice and women’s rights to the forefront of public thought, the YWCA of Jamestown has made it their mission to empower women in our community every day, and they’ve been doing it for over a century.
March is Women’s History Month; a time to rediscover what women have accomplished and reflect on the vital role they play in supporting each other. Empowerment is defined as “to give official authority to” (Merriam-Webster). What we do with that authority is a choice. One way we are empowered is by watching the generation ahead take leadership roles and accomplish noteworthy tasks. Another definition is “The process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights.” This is where the YWCA really shines. The programs make a way for women and families to move past obstacles and achieve a greater potential.
Jacqueline Phelps, Executive Director of the YWCA of Jamestown, found a role model early on in her own mother who is a nurse. “Throughout my life people have told me they are alive because of my mother and her work. I knew from her example that people do make a huge impact on others with the work they do, and I wanted to help people too.” Phelps went to law school, passed the bar exam, and came home to start her career. “I decided to return home to give back to the community that gave so much to me. I spent over five years working with Congressman Reed. Most of my work was assisting constituents and helping the community with vital projects. I then decided to continue my career with an agency that provides services to proactively benefit the community.”
Collaboration is Key
Phelps knows the way to achieving success is by using the many resources Jamestown area has to offer. “The YWCA has a longstanding relationship with many community partners to ensure individuals are receiving the services they need to thrive,” Phelps said. This includes Jamestown Public Schools, Jamestown Community Learning Council, Chautauqua Striders, Infinity, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, MHA, The Resource Center, Community Helping Hands, JCC, JBC, Chautauqua County, and so many more. The collective goal is to nurture the growth of the individual from six weeks of age to graduation and beyond.
Networking is important along with collaboration.
“We are blessed to have a very strong network of women leaders. From Lillian Ney, to Kristy Zabrodsky, to Jane Cleaver Becker, and everyone in between, these leaders empower others to be their best selves. Women inspire other women; we see what these ladies have accomplished and realize we need to be involved in the community too,” Phelps said.
Commitment through Programs
Erin Murphy Graham, an Assistant Professor of Education at UC Berkeley, stated that “The social and economic context in which women live can pose overwhelming constraints on their choices.” Programs through the YWCA can lift those constraints, shouldering the burden of childcare, afterschool activities, education opportunities, and safe places for visitations and housing, all making the way for more opportunities. The resources offered include TEAM (Teenage Education And Motherhood). TEAM was started 45 years ago to allow young teenage mothers to go to school.
“The national statistic for teenage mothers graduating high-school is 40 percent. With TEAM the statistic over 90 percent,” Jacqueline Phelps said.
With support from a committed group, an individual can reach goals, no matter their history, background, or current situation. “Two of our board members went through the TEAM programs and were teen moms. They are now professional women. We have countless success stories because of both the high-quality programs and the dedication our staff has to making sure individuals thrive,” Phelps added.
Another program called Transitions started in the 1980s as temporary housing for women in need. They offer fourteen beds, dormitory style. Back when the program started it may have served those going to school or needing a temporary place to stay, and they may have stayed a few months.
Times have changed and American society faces new challenges. YWCA is progressive and currently serves more women suffering from mental health issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, and more. Because of the complex nature of these needs, the average stay at Transitions is fifteen to eighteen months. The realities of human trafficking and reproductive health and sexuality are topics that would rarely have been approached many years ago; the YWCA is proud to now proactively teach on how to prevent or stop trafficking.
A more recent program recognizes that there doesn’t have to be a critical need for a woman to benefit from support. It began as a project for the Chautauqua County Coalition of Women and Girls and is currently supported by the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative, or ESPRI.
“Women2Women began to provide mentorship to women in our community. Each participant is matched with a volunteer coach they can count on to give advice and a listening ear. Participants have been successful in finding a job or attaining a better job, beginning their education, or other goals they are interested in achieving,” according to Phelps.
This only makes sense as the YWCA began very simply as a community of women supporting each other.
A Hidden Gem
On her role as Executive Director of this organization, Phelps says, “The YWCA is a great fit because it is a hidden gem in our community. So many know of our programs, but sometimes they do not know it is the YWCA that provides them. These are crucial programs that are vital to our area. I am glad to be a part of this organization, and I am blessed to have a great team to work with. I am also thankful for the mentorship I receive from other female leaders.”
Her job is to bring awareness to the community about everything the YWCA has to offer to combat issues that might hold women back, strengthen the organization, and continue the important work being done.
“The YWCA began because women wanted to create an organization for other women that could benefit the area. Over 100 years later, we continue to do this through our mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Many great women blazed this trail, and we are honored to continue their work.”
The YWCA of Jamestown was established in 1906. It now has over 90 employees and helps about 4,000 people per year. The building on 401 N. Main St. was established solely for the YWCA and has a long history of support from prominent local women. It is a United – Way Agency Partner and funded by federal, local, and state grants, local foundations, and community support. This past week they held an annual “Bag the Winter Blues” fundraiser, and in the Summer will host a scavenger hunt where teams of four or five compete to win in a race around the greater Jamestown area.
Readers can learn more by visiting the YWCA website, www.ywcaofjamestown.com, donate by making purchases through AmazonSmile and support their annual fundraisers. For more information call 716-488-2237.