YWCA Expands to Campus, Partners With Community Organizations

By Carl Bryden

The YWCA Bellingham chapter officially opened its doors over 100 years ago. The organization was established when the Larrabee family donated a house to shelter women in 1915. Since then, the YWCA worked to create an organization to support women in the community, social justice, racial and gender equity and safety in Bellingham.

The YWCA provides many services to Bellingham. Primarily, they work to provide safe, secure housing for women who are facing challenges such as unstable housing or homelessness. Over the past 100 years, this task has never been one that came easily, said Annette Bagley, co-president of the Bellingham YWCA.

“Our Larrabee residence currently serves as emergency and transitional housing for low-income women escaping homelessness and abusive relationships,” Bagley said.

The YWCA also does work to make sure women have other resources they might need to find a job.

We also offer the Lillian Dickerson Back-to-Work Boutique to provide women with business appropriate attire as they transition into the workplace,” Bagley said. “It is staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers.” 

The challenges that the organization faces can be stifling. 

“Being a nonprofit, the primary barrier we face is our budget,” said Davilynn Fischer, an employee at the YWCA Bellingham and recent Western graduate. “We strongly rely on the help of volunteers, interns and word of mouth to spread our name around Bellingham”

Katelynn Graber, a student at Western and an intern at the YWCA Bellingham, has begun work to establish a YWCA chapter at Western. 

As a club, we would like to create new opportunities for women empowerment and find ways to create real social change and racial justice,” Graber said. 

Western’s YWCA club is hosting its first meeting Dec. 3 at 4:30 p.m. in Academic West room 410. 

“Membership is open to anyone regardless of gender, race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or disability,” Graber said.

The YWCA is pivotal in the safety of Bellingham. As the staff will point out, the work that the YWCA does has never been more important with the amount of people affected by homelessness growing in Whatcom County every year.

As winter quarter begins, the Western YWCA chapter is partnering with the League of Women Voters, to host an event to highlight women’s suffrage. The YWCA will also be tabling at the Fall Club Showcase on Thursday, Nov. 26, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. so Western students can get a better idea of what opportunities the group has for students.

Local partnerships have been one of the major goals of the group since its founding. 

“We have a strong community of donors, volunteers and partners like Compass Health, Unity Care and the Opportunity Council who provide low-cost or free services to our residents,” Fischer said.

As the YWCA moves into the coming year, their dedication to social change will follow. The group is currently planning on celebrating the 100th anniversary of white women’s right to vote, as well as the national campaigns the organizations are involved in like Stand Against Racism and Week Without Violence, Fischer said.

The core of what the YWCA wants to accomplish though has always been supporting the voices of women in the community. 

“Our ultimate goal is to help [women] find stable, permanent housing, while offering various trainings, workshops and programs that will provide them with the tools they need to build on their professional and personal skills,” Fischer said.

The Bellingham YWCA is also in the process of planning their leadership power breakfast, which aims to support and empower women in the community. The event will take place in May 2020.

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