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Photo by Diane Cox
YWCA Children’s Enrichment teacher Rosetta Brown and Executive Director Andrea Lamer.
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Photo by Diane Cox
Jordan Hasty and Makenna Strowmatt work together on the computer during the after-school program Enrichment Center at the Alton YWCA.
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Photo by Diane Cox
Clayton Wuellner and Brody Vaughn, two students enrolled in the Enrichment Center YWCA after school program.
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Photo by Diane Cox
The YWCA building, at 304 E. Third St.
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Photo by Diane Cox
The interior of the YWCA.
ALTON — Established in 1918, the Alton YWCA has served the Riverbend for nearly 100 years. Making its home in a historic building at 304 E. Third St. since the early 1930s, the organization has seen thousands of women and children enter its doors seeking a better life in their community with the mission to eliminate racism and empower women.
Today, the Alton branch offers programs in child enrichment, job preparation, education and community service with a new board and empowerment committee.
“The new board members are very diverse and energetic,” Executive Director Andrea Lamer said. “These women come from different fields and backgrounds that will help us best represent our mission. Our Women’s Empowerment committee is working strongly to identify some of the economic challenges for the women in our area.”
In 1855, social activist and philanthropist Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird, along with Emma Robarts, founded the World YWCA. Following the Industrial Revolution, Kinnaird and Robarts were concerned about the safety of the working women of London. Most women workers moved from their homes, often in rural areas, to the city. They needed safe housing, education and support.
Kinnaird had set up a house for young single women in London, which included a library, Bible classes and an employment bureau. Robarts held a prayer circle on the outskirts of London called the Young Women’s Christian Association — and this ultimately gave the organization its name.
Once Robarts and Kinnaird met, they decided to combine their efforts and create a space that would give the working women support and help with education in a “warm, Christian atmosphere.” The YWCA was designed to help young women cope with the pressures of work while involving them in activities to build the mind, body and spirit.
With a global need for education and other services for young women, the World YWCA grew quickly, spreading to western and northern Europe, India and the United States. The first Ladies Christian Association in the United States was established in 1858 in New York City. The first African-American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio, in 1889 while the first YWCA for Native American women opened at Haworth Institute in Chilocco, Okla., in 1890.
It would be another 60 years before the YWCA reached Greater Alton, where its doors opened in 1918.
Today, with roughly 220 chapters across the country, the YWCA is one of the top 25 largest charities in the country, with total revenues reaching upward of $775 million. It is the YWCA’s goal to reintroduce itself to its communities and continue on a path of growth and vitality to help more women and their families.
It wasn’t long ago that the Alton YWCA was in danger of closing its doors. In 2013, the United Way cut funding, taking away a valuable portion of the Alton YWCA’s budget. Through crowd funding, strategic program cuts and working on a volunteer budget, the doors remained open and programs once again are flourishing.
“We downsized quite a bit and we now have only one full-time employee, the enrichment program director,” Lamer said. “My position (as well as the board) is (accomplished) through volunteering. We concentrated on our best supporting program and have built it up quite a bit; that’s the after-school program. We were able to remodel the children’s learning center and that’s proven to be an amazing investment.”
The Child Enrichment program is a state-licensed child care program. The program is for children age 5 to 12 (kindergarten through fifth grade) and provides care in a before and after school setting that stimulates imagination while engaging students in learning activities.
New to the program in 2016 is the STEAM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math), developed to help children see themselves as “citizens of the world.” Culture, products, cities and foods will be discussed within an international context.
“With reduced budgets, schools are not able to provide access to a lot of programs,” Lamer said. “Art is one of the first things to be cut. Kids need to expand their creativity. With STEAM, they are doing self-directed and group projects. We’ve seen a positive change with the program.”
The program also offers summer and holiday camps at the YWCA location for children ages 5-12. The YWCA provides enriched child care in the Alton, Wood River and Roxana school districts.
On Nov. 17, the YWCA celebrated the newly remodeled Children’s Learning Center with an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony. The space was designed to encourage children to explore, play, learn and contribute to their classrooms and their community.
The YWCA is completing infrastructure to allow a new service to open up at the Alton location. The Career Closet is a place where women can receive attire needed for an interview or to begin a new job. The organization also is seeking mentors who can give career, application, resumé and job interview advice.
“Along with the Career Closet, we are hoping that women in the community will come forward to be mentors to other women,” Lamer said. “It’s really a special program that we’re using with our community service projects. We work to mentor those doing community service to help them develop skills in different functions such as customer service, a front desk position and child enrichment. They can be prepared in different areas while they’re completing their community service hours.”
Women of Distinction
The Women of Distinction program was initiated in 1991 by Sandra Lauschke and Nancy Ryrie to honor women who are committed to their communities through service to others.
Honorees represent the diversity of women’s interests, talents and achievements. Since 1991, approximately 241 women of all ages and from all walks of life have been recognized as Women of Distinction. In addition to recognizing outstanding leaders, the event raises money to support YWCA programming throughout the year with corporate sponsorship and ticket sales.
The 26th annual Women of Distinction dinner will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 5, at the Commons at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
“The YWCA is on a mission to celebrate the accomplishments of the Women of Distinction Honorees and to provide financial support for young women who will be our future leaders,” 2016 YWCA Board President Gail Donnelly Bader said. “This financial support is accomplished through the Josephine Marley Beckwith Future Leaders Scholarship awards. We hope you will join us and show support for the mission of the YWCA, which is eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”
Since 1991,scholarships have been awarded to high school seniors in the YWCA’s service area who demonstrate leadership and a sustained commitment to bettering their community. The YWCA is accepting applications for the 2016 Josephine Marley Beckwith Future Leader Scholarship. Applications are available at the school’s guidance office. In addition, applications and more information can be obtained by visiting www.altonywca.com.
Rebranding, rebirth, reform
This week, the YWCA launched an all-new brand awareness campaign, aimed at reintroducing the organization, sharing its life-changing work and inviting people to join in the mission to empower women and eliminate racism.
“Our YWCA celebrates this launch, welcoming new board members and officers and renewing commitments with standing officers,” Lamer said. “Charged with the goal of developing new programming and reviving our historical home for the community, we are on a mission to meet challenges head-on.”
New members in 2016 include Lisa Brown and Julie Schranck, joining board members Debbie Sheary, Virginia Ilch, Margaret Freer, Georgia Bratton, Barbara Morrissey McGrew, Britta Haggard, Cynthia Ellis, Gail Donnelly Bader, Erica Bratton and Sue McPike Bayer.
Newly elected officers for 2016 include President Gail Donnelly Bader, President-elect Cynthia M. Ellis, Treasurer Georgia Bratton and Secretary Barbara Morrissey McGrew.
Building racial harmony will be a focus throughout the year, including the Ballin’ With A Cop event from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. Saturday, April 2. Children are invited to eat pizza and play a scrimmage game of basketball with Alton police officers. The event is free and open to the public. Alton Police Chief Jason “Jake” Simmons will be on hand to provide safety tips.
“This was an idea brought to us from the community,” Lamer said. “The officers and chief at the police department really liked the idea of getting everyone together on the same playing field and spending time getting to know one another. A lot of times if you just take the time to get to know someone, you find they’re just like you in many ways. The young people in the neighborhood will have a chance to see the officers from a different standpoint.”
Community interaction reaches beyond the children. Lamer is reaching out for feedback concerning the Alton YWCA pool, which has been closed for several years.
“I think Alton needs a community pool, if not at the Y, then somewhere,” she said. “We have replaced several elements of the pool, but there are two big-ticket items that still have to be taken care of. We won’t be able to reopen until those items are replaced, but we will work hard to get it done if the community wants the pool. So many people will tell you they learned how to swim at the Y when they were a kid.
“We see the pool as an opportunity for job training as well as recreation. Lifeguard classes could be taken year round, along with scuba lessons and swim instructors. It’s indoors so it could be utilized all year long. We just want to hear back from the public to see what they want.”
As the YWCA continues to strengthen its programs and determine the needs of the community it serves, the organization’s main lifeline comes from volunteers, mentors and donors. Anyone wishing to mentor, donate, volunteer or seek information on any services offered by the YWCA can visit in person at 304 E. Third St. in Alton, call (618) 465-7774 or visit the website at www.altonywca.com.
We’ve come a long way, baby: A YWCA timeline
Throughout history, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) has been in the forefront of most major movements in the United States as a pioneer in race relations, labor union representation and the empowerment of women.
1858: The first association in the United States, Ladies Christian Association, was formed in New York City
1860: The first boarding house for female students, teachers and factory workers opened in New York City.
1866: The term YWCA was first used in Boston.
1872: The YWCA opens the first employment bureau in New York City.
1874: The YWCA opens a low-cost summer “resort” for employed women in Philadelphia.
1889: The first African-American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, Ohio.
1890: The first YWCA for Native American women opened at Haworth Institute in Chilocco, Okla.
1894: The United States, England, Sweden and Norway created the World YWCA, which today is working in more than 125 countries.
1906: The YWCA was the first organization to introduce the positive health concept and sex education in all health programming.
1907: YWCA of the USA incorporated in New York City.
1908: The YWCA was the first industrial federation of clubs to train girls in self-government.
1915: The YWCA held the first interracial conference in Louisville, Ky.
1918: The YWCA was the first organization to send professional workers overseas to provide administrative leadership and support to U.S. armed forces. The Alton chapter also opened its doors.
1920: Based on its work with women in industrial plants, the YWCA Convention voted to work for “an eight-hour (per) day law, prohibition of night work and the right of labor to organize.”
1921: Grace Dodge Hotel completed construction of a Washington, D.C., residence initially designed to house women war workers.
1934: The YWCA encouraged members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, and for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African-Americans’ basic civil rights.
1938: The YWCA in Columbus, Ohio, establishes a desegregated dining facility and is cited by the Columbus Urban League for “a courageous step forward in human relations.”
1942: The YWCA extends its services to Japanese-American women and girls incarcerated in World War II relocation centers.
1944: The National Board appears at the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate hearings in support of permanent Fair Employment Practices Committee legislation.
1946: The Interracial Charter is adopted by the 17th National Convention.
1949: The National Convention pledges that the YWCA will work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life.
1955: The National Convention commits local associations and the national board to review progress toward inclusiveness and decides on “concrete steps” to be taken.
1960: The Atlanta YWCA cafeteria opened to African-Americans, becoming the city’s first integrated public dining facility.
1965: The National Board of the YWCA created the Office of Racial Justice to lead the civil rights efforts.
1970: The YWCA National Convention in Houston adopted the One Imperative: “To trust our collective power toward the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.”
1972: The YWCA started the ENCORE program for women who had undergone breast cancer surgery.
1982: YWCA establishes Fund For The Future.
1983: The YWCA National Board urges Congress to support legislation that opposes the South African policy of apartheid.
1992: The YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in response to the beating of Rodney King, an African-American man, the acquittal of four white Los Angeles police officers accused of the crime, and the subsequent riots and unrest across the country.
1995: The YWCA Week Without Violence was created as a nationwide effort to unite people against violence. The annual observance is held the third week of October.
2001: Steps to Absolute Change was adopted. The YWCA shifted from a top-down to a bottom-up grassroots organization. Local associations joined regions and elected their regional representatives to the National Coordinating Board.
2004: Igniting the Collective Power of the YWCA to Eliminate Racism, the YWCA USA’s Summit on Eliminating Racism, was held in Birmingham, Ala.
2008: The YWCA celebrates its sesquicentennial anniversary, 150 years of service, with the launch of the Own It campaign. The campaign focused on igniting a new generation of 22 million women age 18 to 34, inspiring them to get involved with important issues facing women and the country.
2011: More than 2 million people participated in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States. Globally, the YWCA reached 25 million women and girls in 125 countries.