(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each day, the staff and volunteers of the YWCA Northcentral PA face the darkest secrets of Lycoming County. The goal of this column is to shed new light on the realities of domestic violence, sexual assault and other violent crimes happening every day in our community. Additionally, this column will include information on the programs, the people and the history that culminates as the beacon of hope that is the YWCA.)
Sometimes it's easy to forget that the current programs of the YWCA Northcentral PA haven't always been here protecting and saving the lives of Lycoming County's women and children.
Just this week, we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Liberty House, a transitional shelter for women and women with children who want to gain self-sufficiency. Vanessa Hunter, social and economic empowerment director was instrumental in its development from the beginning.
In January 2002, a young mother came to the YWCA with nowhere else to go.
"I couldn't get her and her little girl out of my mind," Vanessa said. "Did she have a place to get out of the cold? Did she have a place to bathe her daughter?"
Quickly, she approached YWCA Executive Director Diane Glenwright. "Diane was so trusting and open-minded and supportive of this effort," Vanessa said. She then spoke to the Lycoming County United Way and an advisory committee formed. Those motivated men and women visited other homeless shelters, approached the county commissioners for help, wrote grants and solicited items for the shelter.
Thirteen months and one day after this young mother approached the YWCA, Liberty House opened.
That first year, five mothers with children found shelter in Liberty House. By 2013, more than 250 children and 500 single women and mothers have made this their temporary home.
"There is no typical resident," Vanessa said of the women who have come through the doors over the past decade. "We have had high school students who aged out of the foster care system and women in their 70s, women working on their GEDs and those completing college courses."
Supportive counseling, education and case management make self-sufficiency a reality for the women who commit to the program.
"We give them a sense of self-worth, of dignity and respect. We treat them kindly," Vanessa said. "We want so much for them to turn their lives around and we provide that opportunity."
Mandatory courses in budgeting, personal finances, parenting and nutrition are required parts of the program, as are house rules, chores and a curfew. "Those things provide stability and a routine. In order to make it in the real world, you have to know how to eat healthy and keep a clean home."
Over the years, there have been enough success stories for Liberty House staff to know the program is working.
"There was the woman who called me to come visit her in her home she had purchased," Vanessa recalls. "There was the woman who invited me to her wedding."
Then she stopped and remembered the children. "There were the kids that would run and jump on me, and the kids we just sat on the floor with and played games with and danced."
"The women and children do so much for us," Vanessa said. "They are what we are all about."
To the women who dedicate themselves to self-improvement through the program, the supporters, volunteers and staff who have made Liberty House a success, the YWCA staff will forever be thankful. "We are very grateful for those who have contributed to make this program a reality," Vanessa said.
Thompson is the communications and development manager at the YWCA Northcentral PA. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Her column is published on the second Sunday of each month.