Advocacy and Special Project Coordinator, YWCA Warren
Being an organization that creates change isn’t easy. For many YWCAs across the country who provide direct services to clients, the day-to-day challenges so common in the nonprofit world—far too much to do, far too few hands to do it—can make it feel like you’re stuck on a treadmill with the incline up and the speed steadily increasing.
Rarely do direct service providers get a chance to step off the treadmill. When we do, we often find that our work on the ground is treating only a few symptoms of a much more pervasive problem that requires systemic change if it is to be eradicated.
The YWCA Warren provides permanent supportive housing to women with disabilities and their children. Some of our residents suffer physical or emotional disabilities as a direct result of having endured domestic violence. When women come to the YWCA Warren looking for help with housing, they come to us as people facing complex challenges that require comprehensive, holistic solutions. We meet immediate needs by helping them move into their new homes, filling their pantries and cupboards, and enrolling their children in school. And we have the long-term goals of helping them find jobs, take the GED or get back to school, or simply connect with the supportive services and care they need to feel safe, healthy, and whole again.
This is the work that keeps the YWCA Warren, and agencies like ours, running on the treadmill.
When we learned this summer that the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, a funding source that made our permanent supportive housing possible, was on the chopping block during our state’s budgeting process, we knew we needed to act, and act quickly.
The Housing Trust is a primary source of funding for thousands of housing projects across the state, including most Ohio YWCA’s housing initiatives serving low-income women and children and those leaving domestic violence situations. Cuts to the Housing Trust would put the likelihood of more housing services for domestic violence victims, for which there is a very real need in our state, in jeopardy.
Within hours we were making phone calls to our State Senators opposing the cuts, connecting with other homelessness and housing advocacy groups, and reaching out to our sister YWCAs across Ohio. Together, we authored a letter to members of the General Assembly. Seven Ohio YWCAs who provide housing with support from the Trust Fund endorsed the letter.
That one line in the budget would have upended affordable housing in Ohio. When it was taken out at the last minute, we all breathed a sigh of relief. We were just a few individuals out of hundreds of people across the state who wrote and made phone calls, but we lent our voices to the chorus. Indirectly, this was a victory for domestic violence victims.
In our capacity as advocates, YWCA associations can speak up, using our standing as one of the nation’s oldest and most respected civil rights organizations to be a voice for domestic violence victims and survivors.
Jumping off the treadmill now and then to get a feel for the political and policy terrain should be a priority, something we make a part of our best practices. We, and other agencies like ours, can ensure that our work as advocates dovetails with our work as direct service providers, using our specialties—whether it’s providing emergency shelter, rape crisis counseling, legal aid, or permanent housing—lending expertise to the legislative process, providing testimony, or simply speaking up on behalf of those we serve, and letting elected officials know that ending domestic violence is a priority for the YWCA, and should be a priority for those seeking office.
The YWCA benefits from the collective power of its hundreds of associations around the globe. As our emphasis on advocacy continues to grow, associations will find that they are uniquely positioned to do both the work of healing the acute wounds of domestic violence through direct service and of addressing through their advocacy the chronic conditions that plague survivors and perpetuate cycles of violence.
It is often said that advocacy is a marathon, not a sprint. Perhaps it’s more accurate to think of advocacy as a relay race—a marathon with small victories along the way, tangible successes that happen in short bursts that sustain us while we keep moving forward toward a world without domestic violence.
Molly Toth is the Advocacy and Special Projects Coordinator at the YWCA Warren. She has a background in anthropology and history, both of which she uses in her advocacy and social justice work and in documenting the history of the YWCA Warren for their upcoming centennial anniversary.
YWCA’s Week Without Violence is an annual campaign that takes place nationally and communities across the country to end violence in all of its forms and wherever it occurs. As the largest network of domestic service providers in the United States, YWCA is focusing our efforts on ending domestic violence – NOW. Everyday YWCA addresses the root causes and immediate needs associated with domestic violence. As we mark our 20th annual Week Without Violence, we invite you to join us. To learn more visit www.ywca.org/wwv and join the conversation with #EndDVnow.
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