When you think of home, what do you feel? If you’re very lucky, home is where you feel safe, comfortable, supported. Of course, not everyone has this experience. Among the frightening warnings that unfolded with the COVID-19 epidemic this year was the certainty that shelter-in-place orders, meant to protect people from the virus, were inevitably trapping some partners and children with their abusers. What happens then, when home is the problem, not a refuge? In Evansville, YWCA advocates for those who reach out for help and works diligently to redefine what home can be.
A fixture in the community since 1911, the YWCA of Evansville has continued to expand and evolve to meet community members’ needs. From the beginning, Erika Taylor, YWCA’s CEO of ten years, explains, “It was the social and cultural hub for women providing housing, classes, education, fitness programs, and swimming. Current programs include a domestic violence shelter, YES! residential recovery program, and the Live Y’ers after-school and mentoring program. We are definitely a multi-service organization, but the main thing to remember is that we are a home where women and children can find safety and supportive services to help them build better lives.”
The theme of home is one Erika brings up more than once during our interview, and it’s clear how deeply she prioritizes bringing both mental and physical security to each of her clients. “I have always been drawn to the underdog, the underserved, the most vulnerable, and all things social justice,” says Erika. She remembers being in elementary school, walking several blocks to deliver groceries to an elderly member of her family’s church and helping the woman around her apartment. In college, Erika volunteered as a Big Sister and ultimately became an attorney. “Fairness, justice, and equity have always been my passion. The YWCA allows me to work with issues that I care about very deeply. I guess you could say I was recruited to apply for this job. Several people saw this position as my destiny before I even realized it for myself. I am getting paid for what I used to do as a volunteer and board member for many organizations in the community. Joining the YWCA truly allowed me to put my passion to work.”
Erika wears many hats as the CEO of YWCA because YWCA itself meets so many multifaceted community needs. “As a multiservice organization, it can be hard for people to understand all that we do. Most people only know about one program. It’s important for everyone to remember that we are a home to people who are facing extreme poverty and great adversity, whether it be addiction, abuse, or homelessness. Our clients are vulnerable. We empower them and support them as they break the cycle and rebuild their lives.” You are invited to learn more about YWCA’s diverse programming here.
COVID brought challenges to virtually every nonprofit this year, from increased demand with limited resources, to implementation of sanitation protocols – especially challenging in a communal living setting like YWCA’s residential programs. One opportunity for nonprofits to collaborate and alleviate pandemic stresses came when Urban Seeds began preparing and distributing weekly cooked-from-scratch meals as a relief effort for vulnerable community members. One recipient of these meals was YWCA. “I cannot even begin to express our gratitude to Urban Seeds for providing weekly meals to the clients living in our domestic violence shelter and sober living program.” Erika explains the varied benefits served with the dinners: “We operate on a tight budget where we must watch every penny. Urban Seeds provided us with more than a food donation. Communal living is not ideal. It can be even more stressful when social isolation is required. But we know that nothing heals the soul more than good food! These delicious made-from-scratch meals were truly a blessing to our organization. Urban Seeds helped to ease the burden on our budget while providing nutritious meals to the clients of the YWCA.”
What is a home? For some, a place to live and a feeling of “home” are far apart. When YWCA is able to intervene, the definition of home can begin to change. Home is a place where you are supported, where vulnerability can be turned into empowerment, where you can watch your children grow, where you can build healthy relationships, where you can gather around a lovingly prepared and nourishing meal. Eventually, the clients of YWCA will move out on their own, but the goal is that the feeling of home will be carried with them for life and into future generations.
How to help:
Tickets for Urban Seeds’ Soup Share Spectacular fundraiser may be purchased through Nov. 27. Each soup and bread purchase will pay for an equal quantity to be donated to YWCA and Aurora Evansville.