Cover Story News shelter survivors Western Mass. YWCA

For 150 Years, the YWCA of Western Mass. Has Been Helping Survivors Heal

Executive Director Elizabeth Dineen

Offering a Mild

Government Director Elizabeth Dineen

Helping survivors heal. That’s been the mission of the YWCA of Western Mass. for 150 years. In the present day, the agency does this in various methods, some well-known, corresponding to its 58-bed domestic-violence shelter, and others far-less-heralded but still essential, comparable to helping space younger individuals attain their high-school equivalency. In every case, the hot button is providing these survivors with the tools they should obtain a better quality of life.

Azreal Alvarez calls this his third crack at highschool, or the equivalent thereof.

That’s how he referred to YouthBuild Springfield, a workforce-development initiative operated by the YWCA of Western Massachusetts, a program that is succeeding where the first two stops didn’t. Certainly, Alvarez stated that, when he attended certainly one of Springfield’s constitution faculties, he was bullied so much, he couldn’t keep in that surroundings. Later, he enrolled in what he described as a web-based endeavor that didn’t inspire him in any possible way.

That left YouthBuild as a final hope that quickly turned his greatest hope. The program is designed to not only assist younger individuals get their high-school equivalency, but in addition turn into launched to careers in development or healthcare.

Alavarez, 18, who needs to comply with in his father’s footsteps and grow to be a scaffolder, described this system this manner: “For some individuals, that is their third probability or their second probability; for others, it’s their fifth. There’s actually not a lot hope for them, so they come here, they usually discover a mild that no one else can explain.”

With that, whether he knew it or not, Alvarez neatly summed up the primary 150 years of the organization now referred to as the YWCA of Western Mass., the 10th-largest YWCA within the nation and one of the oldest as nicely. Since Ulysses S. Grant patrolled the White House, it has been serving to individuals discover a mild that, yes, is usually onerous to elucidate, but fairly often leads to a better quality of life.

“I really like this job as a result of we’re capable of serve ladies and youngsters who are desperate to receive skilled providers, in order that they will transfer on with their lives.”

And that mild comes in many various varieties, stated the company’s government director, Elizabeth Dineen, a former prosecutor and supervising district lawyer in Hampden County who spent more than a quarter-century dealing with special-victims instances including these involving baby abuse, sexual assaults, domestic violence, and homicide, and was recruited to steer the YWCA by several of its board members in 2016.

It’d merely be a voice at the different end of a hotline that operates 24/7 and handles more than 10,000 calls a yr, she informed BusinessWest. Or it is perhaps the peace, safety, and opportunity to start out a new and higher life that each one come with a room within the 58-bed domestic-violence shelter. Or it is perhaps the enlightenment gained by means of one of many company’s newer counseling packages, referred to as Youngsters Who Witness Violence, an formidable enterprise aimed toward stopping domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and other types of felony conduct from turning into generational.

Or it’d come in the form of publicity to a career within the medical subject or development, one thing a youngster may by no means have thought-about as they have been fighting traditional high school, stated Dineen, including that YouthBuild and associated packages are strong examples of how the YWCA has advanced and expanded properly past its unique mission and even the ‘W’ in its identify.

All of that is what the agency is celebrating because it marks its sesquicentennial, an ongoing story that is driven house by the case of Linda Anselmo, who got here to the agency last yr at a time when she had nowhere else to turn.

A current transplant to the world, she discovered herself the topic of intense and relentless verbal and emotional abuse from her companion, who, amongst other things, “threated to commit suicide and take me together with her,” stated Anselmo, noting that she was lost and alone when she found the YWCA, but never after that, because of the agency.

“I used to be utterly lost — I had just moved to Massachusetts and into this relationship, and things acquired dangerous very fast,” she explained. “I didn’t know anybody, I had no family up here, nothing.”

Quick-forwarding, she stated the company helped her discover momentary housing in a shelter and then transition to everlasting housing in a group she chose to not disclose. Extra importantly, perhaps, the YWCA helped her transfer on from what happened to her emotionally.

“I had to heal,” she stated. “I didn’t understand how, but they showed me how.”

Serving to individuals discover ways to heal can be a great way to describe what Dineen and her employees of 150 do 24/7/365. For this situation and its give attention to area nonprofits, BusinessWest takes an in-depth take a look at how the agency does just that.

Answering the Call


That’s the phrase those at the YWCA use when referring to the varied constituencies they serve. It really works a lot better than ‘shoppers’ or ‘residents’ or another collective which may come to thoughts.

That’s as a result of all those who come to the power at 1 Clough St. (or who merely call the hotline quantity) are survivors — of domestic violence, sexual assault, youngster abuse, bullying, human trafficking, stalking, or a mixture of the above.

They find this YWCA, which serves communities in both Hampden and Hampshire counties, as a result of, whereas they’ve survived what has happened to them, they’re nonetheless in want of a substantial amount of compassionate assist as they seek to put their lives back together. Providing that assist has primarily been the mission of this company for the past 150 years.

“I really like this job as a result of we’re capable of serve ladies and youngsters who are desperate to obtain professional providers, in order that they will transfer on with their lives,” stated Dineen, who has made a very clean transition from the courtroom to the classroom (she chaired the Legal Justice division at Bay Path College for a number of years after leaving the DA’s workplace) to the challenging world of nonprofit management.

Indeed, while the work handle and the title on her enterprise card are totally different, Dineen is, in many ways, continuing the work with survivors that marked the first 25 years of her career, work she described as each extremely rewarding but very difficult.

Azreal Alvarez says the YWCA’s YouthBuild Springfield program is his third crack at high school, and his best chance to succeed.

Azreal Alvarez says the YWCA’s YouthBuild Springfield program is his third crack at highschool, and his greatest probability to succeed.

“If you win a case, it’s very rewarding, but once I misplaced a case, it was excruciating, since you knew the individual was going to be released to the group and would re-offend,” she defined, offering some distinctive perception right into a realm few actually know and understand. “General, these are a few of the most difficult varieties of instances to prosecute.

“Youngsters who testify in these instances are often testifying towards somebody they liked, revered, and admired; it could possibly be a coach, a dad or mum, a instructor, or a relative, so it’s very arduous to go into a courtroom and testify towards them,” she went on. “And with regard to domestic-violence instances, very often the individual they’re testifying towards is someone they liked or still love,” she went on. “And once you’re dealing with grownup rape instances, whether or not the survivor is male or female, it’s very difficult; individuals have to speak about a particularly horrific, traumatic experience.”

Dineen stated her work in the DA’s office, which targeted on high-profile instances together with child-abuse murders, domestic-violence murders, and sexual-assault instances, has benefitted her in quite a few methods as she guides the YWCA. For starters, she has quite a lot of connections with area law-enforcement businesses and the authorized group, connections that finally assist her and her staff higher serve survivors.

Meanwhile, her time in regulation faculty after which as a lawyer has definitely helped her deal with all of the contract work that is part and parcel to managing a nonprofit nowadays, and especially this one.

But the biggest profit from her work as a prosecutor is gaining a deep and distinctive understanding of what survivors undergo — and what providers they should move ahead with their lives.

This attitude has helped in the improvement and refinement of a variety of packages and initiatives, and it comes throughout clearly as she talks about amenities such as the domestic-violence shelter, which is crammed 24/7 as evidence of what she referred to as an epidemic on this country and this area. She knows concerning the ladies and households who come there because she’s operated in their world all through her career.

“When ladies come to the shelter, they arrive fairly often with simply the clothes on their again,” she stated, including that solely these deemed to be in eminent danger are assigned rooms. “If they carry anything for their youngsters, it’s often some type of consolation object like a blanket or a toy.

“Many ladies come here proper from the hospital or a police station, or they arrive right here when there’s a chance to flee their abuser,” she went on. “The individual may be going to work or to the grocery store, and there’s a window of alternative that the lady has to actually flee their abuser.

“Once you come to the shelter, it’s not unusual to see individuals who may need a black eye, may need chunks of hair removed, may need a forged on their arm or leg,” she continued. “These are ladies who have experienced and endured, in some instances, long-term physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.”

Forward Progress

Thus, once they arrive, they need a full array of providers, stated Dineen, listing every little thing from direct counseling to getting youngsters into faculties or daycare as soon as potential, for their benefit, but in addition to assist employees members give attention to helping moms put together for the day when they’ll depart the shelter; from work to safe, permanent housing to assistance with getting into or re-entering the workforce.

To accomplish all this, the YWCA works with a number of partners, from space faculty departments and daycare providers reminiscent of Square One to Method Finders (for housing and employment providers) to Gown for Success (to ensure that ladies have appropriate clothes for an interview or the first day on the job).

“All the things we do with ladies as soon as they enter the shelter is designed to make them self-sufficient and unbiased,” she defined. “We’re making an attempt to create circumstances of success so that once they depart, they will thrive.”

This independence and self-sufficiency virtually all the time comes via employment, Dineen went on, noting that many who come to the shelter have been out of the workforce for a while and thus need help to re-enter it. Thus, the YMCA has a computer lab and providers to help survivors write a résumé and cover letter, apply for jobs online, and conduct themselves at an interview.

“Nobody is sitting around the shelter,” she informed BusinessWest. “Whenever you first come here, yes, you need to breathe and perhaps have a pair days of simply feeling protected and with the ability to sleep by way of the night time with out worry, but after that … everyone is assigned a case manager who will work with this individual to figure out tips on how to get her back on her ft, get her a job, get her to be economically unbiased, and think about where she needs to stay.”

Whereas the domestic-abuse shelter is probably the best-known of the packages and amenities operated by the YWCA to help survivors, it is only one of many, stated Dineen.

The YWCA facility on Clough Street

The YWCA facility on Clough Road gives quite a few providers and packages — all of them designed to help survivors heal.

There are other residential packages, together with a transitional housing program in Springfield and teen-parenting residential packages in Springfield and Holyoke, she stated, in addition to a human-trafficking initiative undertaken in partnership with the Hampden County Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Lawyer’s Workplace, the Homeland Security Division, and other native, state, and federal businesses, and a number of group packages.

These embrace the hotline, which Dineen referred to as a important service to the individuals of this area and even some who’ve moved outdoors it and call the hotline for recommendations on how you can locate providers of their new place of residence.

“Each a type of telephone calls to our hotline is a cry for assist,” she advised BusinessWest. “So we attempt to be as extremely supportive as attainable; if we don’t have a bed out there, we’ll attempt to assist somebody find one other mattress inside this state. We try to be sure that everyone who calls is aware of the assets obtainable to them.”

Other providers and packages embrace medical advocacy at hospitals for sexual-abuse victims, sexual-assault and domestic-violence counseling, SafePlan courtroom advocacy, providers for younger mother and father, and lots of others.

They’re all designed to help individuals, like Anselmo, with what might be, and often is, a sophisticated therapeutic course of.

Difficult, because survivors typically try to blame themselves for the abuse inflicted upon them, which isn’t conductive to restoration.

“I can converse for all ladies once I say that we go through one thing traumatic … you’re misplaced, you’re scared, and you assume ‘what did I do?’” she informed BusinessWest. “That’s one of the questions that each one in every of us asks ourselves. We have now to comprehend that it’s not us.

“The YWCA provides you instruments so you possibly can understand that domestic violence isn’t simply bodily,” she went on. “It’s psychological, it’s emotional, and people two are really exhausting to heal from; the bruises, they fade, but the emotional and verbal abuse actually tears you down so much.”

Courses of Motion

One program that is gaining traction — and outcomes that could be troublesome to quantify but definitely may be certified — is the counseling service for youngsters who witness violence, stated Dineen, adding that it’s designed for youngsters ages 3 to 18 and offers tools to assist those that have experienced violence firsthand, or witnessed it, to manage.

They attend nine to 12 periods, at which they are encouraged to determine their emotions and discover ways to speak about what’s bothering them slightly than resort to their fists or merciless phrases to vent frustration.

“They speak about their feelings, they usually speak about what makes a healthy relationship,” she famous, with the objective that such experiences gained’t be repeated and gained’t grow to be generational, as so typically happens.

And, as famous, while she doesn’t have any statistical proof with which to point out progress, she has anecdotal proof.

“Once I see youngsters come into our shelter and I meet and speak with them, I can see how aggressive a few of them, and especially the boys, are,” she explained. “And I see how they speak to their siblings, especially their feminine siblings, and their mom. They are often very disrespectful and bossy; they’re repeating what they noticed.

“And as I see youngsters undergo the Youngsters Who Witness Violence program, I can see a sea change when it comes to how they work together with their moms and different females in authority,” she went on. “The moms will say, ‘thank God my baby had a chance to take part on this.’”

As for the YouthBuild and GED workforce-development packages, they are serving to younger individuals like Alvarez get a second, or third or fourth, probability at not solely ending faculty, however creating vanity and maybe discovering a profession.

The program has existed for a number of years, stated Dineen, but lately it was retooled (a brand new director was employed) and expanded to incorporate not solely a development monitor, however one in healthcare as properly, a path more engaging to a lot of the young ladies who take part.

“They have every week on campus right here the place they’re taking educational courses, every thing they need to cross their GED,” she explained. “And the opposite week they’re either doing development — we’re partnering with Habitat for Humanity — or they’re going to Baystate Well being and learning to turn into a licensed nurses’ assistant or a phlebotomist.”

The program is beginning to generate results, she stated, and it is turning into a final/best choice for college kids who haven’t enjoyed success in a standard setting. And, like all the opposite initiatives at the YWCA, it’s targeted on giving individuals the instruments they need to succeed after they depart the agency’s packages behind them.

With YouthBuild and every of the other packages, there are measures of success, some extra obvious than others, stated Dineen.

“I measure success when my hotline is ringing off the hook — that exhibits individuals are using it,” she famous. “I measure success when individuals keep in our shelter, get the providers they want, after which depart — and once they depart, they depart having a job, having protected housing, and having been by way of counseling to allow them to understand their very own self-worth in order that they don’t have to become involved with a jerk.

“Once I take a look at YouthBuild, I measure success by what number of youngsters get their GED, by how many youngsters get a job, by youngsters getting licensed in development or to be a CNA,” she went on. “And I measure success when individuals have the braveness to pursue prosecution and hold somebody accountable for what they’ve finished. And in all those areas, we’re seeing progress.”

Seeing the Mild

Alvarez and different members in the YouthBuild program lately traveled to the State House. There, they met with members of the Western Mass. delegation and obtained some impromptu civics classes. However this wasn’t just a studying expertise.

Certainly, whereas there, the students have been also advocating for the YWCA and packages like YouthBuild, an task Alvarez undertook with appreciable enthusiasm, telling legislators the same factor he informed BusinessWest — that YWCA packages can present mild to someone who has been experiencing darkish occasions and wishes a chance to heal.

It’s been doing this for 150 years now, and that’s really value celebrating.

George O’Brien may be reached at [email protected]

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