YWCA Lancaster has a proud history of promoting justice [column] | Local voices
When I first walked through the doors of YWCA Lancaster on North Lime Street in 2019, I knew instantly that I was part of something bigger than just a building, no matter how beautiful.
Something stronger than just a team of dedicated professionals, no matter how extraordinary.
Something more than our letters, YWCA, proud that I am to find a strong positive association with our national agency family, wherever I go.
It was clear that this organization was both deeply rooted in the history of our community, but also in its future. And it wasn’t the only one.
Came to work to find a woman in labor on our couch in the lobby. And I came to work to find that a resident passed away in the night after he breathed his last in a room here. I see young single parents juggling three or four children through our doors every morning and safely in child care rooms staffed by caring professionals.
YWCA Lancaster – like so many organizations in Lancaster County – is part of an immense legacy of community care, civic leadership and advocacy for residents’ needs. A legacy that I am honored to continue. The role of this organization and so many others in the social sector is both intertwined and supported by the business and government sectors, and it is intentionally separated. This separation helps us center and support our community’s most important resource: its people.
The social sector includes much of what keeps our community strong: fraternal organizations, social and recreational organizations, community and private foundations, churches and religious organizations. Our scope as a sector is vast, but we all have a similar basis, that of taking private action for the public good.
YWCA Lancaster’s mission was questioned recently by two Lancaster County commissioners; the question was whether our organization was “moving into political advocacy”.
Our mission at YWCA Lancaster is simple, but far from easy: we strive to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. It is a mission that is apolitical, as well as universal. It is a mission that centers the most pressing needs of our community. It is also a mission that has supporters on all sides of the political spectrum and champions in elected offices at all levels throughout Lancaster County.
Our history is proud. YWCA Lancaster has been here since 1889 with women leading every step of the way. This means that this is actually our second global pandemic. We advocate for women’s empowerment long before women could vote – our organization was the first in Lancaster to offer voter registration and education in 1920, work that continues to this day. We have been steadfast in our work against racism long before the rights of black Americans were codified. We pressed local hotels in Lancaster to allow black delegates to our regional conference to use their facilities in the mid-1950s. We have been a voice for reproductive justice since before the Roe v. Wade in 1973 and we will continue to be that voice in his absence.
Our present is active. Last year, we reached more than 8,000 Lancaster County residents with services including childcare for working parents; counseling and support for victims/survivors of sexual abuse or assault; new career paths for people in transition; training to learn about equity and bias; support for parents struggling with court involvement with their families and the dozens of people who reside in our Lime Street building. Every program we offer has a waiting list and our list of partner agencies and donors is long.
Our future is fair because it is built in partnership with you to meet the needs of the community. For us, this means a future in which surviving victims of abuse can heal from past trauma and sexual assault is entirely prevented. We are expanding our Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center and adding a private, accessible entrance to better meet the needs we see. It means a future in which residents of our community have access to affordable housing. So we’re working on adding 16 low-income housing units right here in our building by reallocating existing space and adding a full-size elevator. You can find examples of these important community responses throughout Lancaster County, powered by our social sector.
As we await one of the largest investments in our community in recent history through the US bailout, our community has a profound opportunity to create lasting and just change if we focus on the needs of the most marginalized and leverage the unique power of the social. sector to meet these needs.
It’s a future we should all want, because it’s a future bigger than ourselves. We are focused on eliminating racism and empowering women – as it says on the side of our building – because if we do that, everyone will prosper and the future of our community will be fair.
I am proud to be part of the mission of YWCA Lancaster: a calling that has lasted for decades and will continue until the mission is fulfilled. And, as I learned when I started, we are not alone. I am proud to be in community with so many other local organizations working for emerging causes and leaders at all levels who are working to bring about positive change. We value our community — our people — and we will not stop advocating for their needs, or for their voices to be heard, to build a just future together.
Stacie Blake is CEO of YWCA Lancaster.