The first appearance of the Young Women’s Christian Association in the United States can be found in 1858. It is the oldest and largest multicultural women’s organization in the world. While many may imagine that the YWCA is simply a sport’s club for women, the real reason that the YWCA exists is far more encompassing and important. 1943 found America two years into a world war and the country working hard toward producing both man and machine to fight a global conflict that would end up defining a generation. For many women, who had male relatives, friends, and lovers heading overseas to fight, this meant that they would work in jobs previously held by men. It was during World War II that the YWCA in Bristol was founded and used as a residence for women coming to the city to work in manufacturing. Today, the Bristol YWCA is an integral part of the community that provides many necessary and life-changing services. “We are a large organization serving children, young people, families,” says Executive Director, Kathy Waugh, “Our budget is approximately two-million dollars annually and we serve approximately 9,000 people each year.” The importance of the services provided by the Bristol YWCA is made even more vital considering that the Bristol headquarters is the only YWCA located between Knoxville, TN and Roanoke, VA. “The organization also operates an office in Kingsport in the VO Dobbins building and manages the Wellmont Child Development Center as a YW site,” says Waugh.
The services provided by the non-profit organization follow a long tradition of helping to combat racism and to empower women. The YWCA has led the way and, historically, has been the “first” in a great many cultural and social programs when doing so was nearly unheard of. It was among the few organizations to speak out, and to encourage its members to do so, against lynching and mob violence and for interracial cooperation. To say that the Young Women’s Christian Association has been at the forefront of helping to solve many of the past century’s problems would be a gross understatement. It is safe to say, instead, that it has led the way by kicking down doors and tearing down walls: all in an effort to rid the world of racial injustice and to empower those who come in contact with any aspect of the organization.
The mission and message of the YWCA in today’s turbulent world is very much the same: eliminate racism and empower women. The YWCA decided in 2015 to focus, and clarify, its diverse body of work in racial justice and civil rights, women and girls’ health and safety, and women and girls’ empowerment and economic advancement by developing a Mission Impact Framework and Theory of Change. “Locally we talk about our impact areas by emphasizing three ideas: Nurture, Empower, and Transform,” says Development and Communications Administrator, Katy Stigers, “we nurture families and children, empower women, and transform the community through our programming.” Affordable childcare is a large need in the region and one that YWCA works tirelessly to assist families with. “The average cost of childcare for an infant in Tennessee in a licensed facility is $5,857,” Stigers tells me, “so we operate a sliding-scale childcare facility where more than 90% of the families are employed, but approximately 45-50% at any given time earn less than $15,000 per year. In 2015, the Children’s Center had a waiting list of over 170.”
The YWCA continues to lead the way in regards to cutting edge thinking and takes pride in the fact that it offers TechGYRLS: a program geared toward fourth through eighth grade at-risk girls. The program offers STEM education, gives healthy snacks, and will even provide transportation from and to home for the girls enrolled. Executive Director Kathy Waugh talks excitedly about the program when asked, “Our TechGYRLS after-school program provides atrisk girls who are referred by school counselors and school principals a safe, caring environment where they participate in math and science enrichment, have the opportunity to participate in the Lego League robotics competition, and enjoy other partnerships such as book club with the Bristol Public Library and community gardening with Appalachian Sustainable Development. The program is licensed by the Tennessee Department of Education for 35 girls and maintains a waiting list.” The girls in the TechGYRLS after-school program are taught about healthy lifestyles and nutrition, while engaging in fun active programming and sports each day. YWCA also partners with agencies in Sullivan County to educate the girls about the dangers of substance abuse and the importance of healthy relationships.
Offered in Bristol and Kingsport (in association with Hope House) is the MomsRUs program that teaches teens, sometimes as young as thirteen, what they need to know in order to be successful parents and to move them toward self-sufficiency. The YW Emerge Professional Development Program in Kingsport provides women’s focused topics that are important training for the workplace. Skills such as managing change, dealing with intergenerational workplaces, and more effective networking are just some of the topics discussed. The program offers two face-to-face events and two webinars annually. YW Bristol was one of the first organizations to integrate through the Y-Teens Program, and last year began a listening circle opportunity to improve conversations around the topic of race relations. The YWCA of Bristol continues to grow and to make a positive impact on the community, but it can only do so through the help of those who are willing to give of their time, expertise, wisdom, and love. “We are always looking for women who want to give back to the community by volunteering to work with YWCA. We believe strongly that the future belongs to the youth and that real change comes only through equity in education,” says Kathy Waugh.
Coming up soon for the YW is the 2017 Tribute to Women Award banquet. Since 1992 more than 160 women have received this prestigious award, given to the region’s most outstanding women. In the past the awards were made in the areas of Business, Education, Arts, and Volunteer, but this year, in alignment with the YWCA’s focus on mission, they will be presented in the categories of Nurture, Empower, and Transform. In addition, at the 25th Tribute to Women two new awards were instituted, the Rising Star, awarded to a deserving young woman of promise and the Mission Impact award, presented by the Board of Directors to Mrs. Jewel Bell for her lifetime of advocacy on behalf of the African-American community. Since its inception Tribute has also raised more than $2 million for the programs of the YWCA. Tickets are now available for this year’s banquet on April 27 at the historic Bristol Train Station.
Contact Katy Stigers at email@example.com
- Learn about our ambassador program: introduce people to the YWCA’s mission
- Join the Emerge or Tribute to Women committees
- Volunteer in the Bristol Bridal Station, www.bristolbridalstation.com
- Lead a donation drive for in-kind
- To learn more about the history of the YWCA and the national organization, visit: www.ywca.org