The YWCA of Fort Dodge was formally organized in 1908 though predecessor organizations date back as far as 1895. In 1914, the YWCA moved into its new building at 826 First Ave. N., a location it has maintained over the years.
Predecessor organizations had a history of providing meals to young working women in the community, but by 1914 times were changing. More than just meals and a place to congregate, young women needed a place to live. As they completed their educations, many were drawn to the larger cities like Fort Dodge where work could be found. Families drew comfort knowing their daughters were being housed in a safe facility where all their needs were being met under one roof.
In becoming part of a worldwide YWCA organization, the YWCA of Fort Dodge donned a cloak of relevancy that has endured for nearly 100 years. A voice for women and a force for change, the elimination of racism and the empowerment of women have remained constant across decades and today are just as meaningful as they were in the early 1900s.
While the history of the YWCA is deeply embedded in the community, the YWCA has maintained a close relationship with the national and international branches of the organization as well. In an era where many groups with organizational links find membership obligations too costly, too confining or too irrelevant, the YWCA of Fort Dodge finds itself living the overarching corporate values of the organization. Relevancy also implies the inherent ability to change, and while core services have remained the same over the years, the population being served has evolved to include women struggling with difficult situations. For the past 20 years, homeless women and their children have sought refuge at the YWCA.
A sad reality is that by the time most women have lost all their worldly possessions, they have also lost their self-esteem. Often they come into the shelter or enroll in one of the chemical dependency programs believing this time will not be different than other times and that failure is inevitable. In this context, we often see acting out behavior, storming, aggression and anger in these clients. A considerable amount of programming time is spent addressing the issue of self-esteem since it a cornerstone of the recovery process. We see improvement in self-esteem when women begin considering their own needs and the needs of their children as a priority. As self-esteem improves, tangible indicators like taking charge of one's financial situation, planning for independent living, concern for children's progress in school and improvements in self-care begin to emerge. In a recent one-on-one meeting, one client said she had always felt uncomfortable when people said nice things about her. But in the last couple of months she has blossomed - she takes pride in her own progress and appreciates it when others recognize her success. Again, this goal is far more easily attained with longer length of stay periods. With new people constantly coming into the facility, there is always some drama going on under the surface, but staff readily recognizes the improvements they see in clients who have been residents for a while.
Employment is a foundation of our program. Our clients will never attain self-sufficiency until they are able to care for themselves. Few women actually find employment during the initial shelter stay; there are just too many things that have to happen before they have established the stability in their lives required to manage a job. Once that place has been reached, however, staff requires at least five job contacts each day until employment is secured. There are not a lot of jobs in Fort Dodge, but our residents are finding employment. The first priority is paying off fines, back rent, etc., with the goal of saving money for deposits and other required expenses for moving into their own homes. Only those with physical disabilities that prevent working are excused from this process. Young mothers have the additional responsibility of finding day care for their children so they are able to work. Having one's own money is an uplifting achievement for our clients. It reinforces self-esteem, fosters confidence and puts control of their lives back in their own hands.
How you can help our residents
Purchase a YWCA membership. A family membership - $100 per year - pays for eight nights of shelter for a homeless woman. An individual membership is only $75.
Support YWCA fee-based programming. Program fees contribute approximately $16,000 annually to support the YWCA. The YWCA offers yoga, nautilus and exercise equipment.
Offer to redecorate and refurnish a room. We pride ourselves on the pleasant, home-like quality of our resident rooms. But these rooms are home to a lot of people in a year's time. Most rooms can use some care after a couple years of continued use.
Help with our educational component. Many of our residents have not completed their high school education and lack the skills required to get and keep a job. We plan to offer GED equivalent programs in our building for our residents, and possibly for people in the area. We'd also like to teach keyboard skills, basic bookkeeping and customer service skills - the kind of attributes that employers like to see in the people they hire.
Serve on the YWCA board or one of its committees. Call the YWCA for more information - 573-3931.
Consider a lasting gift to the YWCA. You can restrict your gift for programs of specific interest to you, or you can specify that the income be used in areas of greatest need.
Sometimes when we look deeply into history we find that the more organizations change, the more they stay the same. There is virtue in returning to the source and reciting the lessons of history. To that end, we strive to create opportunities for women's growth, leadership and power with a vision for peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all people.
Ann Davidson is director of the Fort Dodge YWCA.