To the editors:
As a five year veteran volunteer at the Evanston/North Shore Shelter for victims of domestic violence [Neighborhood News, November 9], I would like to report that there is GOOD NEWS (if that is printable!). Over the past five years I have seen the Shelter grow in number and quality of staff; I have seen church groups, community groups and individuals share their valuable time and talents with the residents; I have seen the physical environment become more orderly and supportative of the activities of the residents and staff.
With the arrival of the new professional Executive Director of the YWCA, Helen Wronski, this past spring there were additional changes in job structures and in new positions. In response to the crisis line volunteers' need to have a staff person available on a regular basis, a Crisis Line Supervisor was hired. In response to the need of the Shelter Director and staff to provide an orderly environment for the residents, a House Coordinator was hired to solely be in charge of supervising cooking and cleaning, ordering supplies and generally seeing that the physical plant was running smoothly. Both of these professionals were a welcome addition!
The physical plant also underwent changes--all of our common areas and offices were repainted and newly carpeted. New mattresses were purchased for all of the residents' bedrooms. New furniture was purchased for the kitchen, livingroom, playroom and offices--what a wonderful boost to everyone's spirits! Work on the elevator and ramps continued in order to make the Shelter more accessible to otherly-abled individuals. (We still need to finish work on making the bathroom more accessible by widening doors, etc.) Yes, we also would love to have a nice new tile floor in the kitchen--along with new kitchen cabinets.
Logistically some of our staff offices were relocated throughout the building, and the Shelter director was given a private office in order to provide working space that was quieter, less congested and more conducive to work. Telephones moved with offices. There really was no evil plot to separate volunteers from talking to staff and residents! There was simply the intention on the part of the Executive Director to create better working areas for staff in order to better serve the residents. Yes, the atmosphere is different. It is quieter and less congested. Staff members are busy in their various spaces doing their work--as it should be. Correspondence was sent to volunteers by the Executive Director as changes were being made. (As a professional executive, she did not, however, ask the volunteers to vote on all of her decisions.)
The Shelter does have house rules to insure the health and safety of its residents when living in community. Rules are explained upon entering. Warnings are usually given by counselors for major items like leaving your child unattended, hitting a child, staying out all night without notification and not attending regular counseling meetings. Minor health warnings are given for having food in bedrooms rather than in residents' refrigerator in the kitchen to insure roach control. I am amazed at some of the stories that are taken out of context, as warnings are not given arbitrarily!
The YWCA Board has a Shelter Committee composed of community members, Y Board members and shelter volunteer representatives (I am one of them). The committee strongly recommended to the Y Board that the new Executive Director (hired last spring) have a strong shelter background. We got what we asked for in Helen Wronski who not only had strong shelter experience; she also had strong leadership experience in the National YWCA movement as well. Helen spent time training staff, volunteers and board members in Y goals and structure at our meetings. Members also discussed issues of safety and confidentiality, the role of the volunteer, etc. Sub-committees explore and brainstorm in greater depth. We are beginning to develop a vehicle for growth and positive change. Reports are then presented to the Y governing board by the Y representative. Open meetings have been held as needed to hear public concerns. Those ideas which can be acted upon are; others are studied and investigated. Some ideas such as having the Y shelter program run autonomously with the Y being liable--don't fit.
Through my contact with the YWCA staff members, board members, community members and residents, I have had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people working to exemplify the YWCA ideals of empowerment and service. It has been a joy to be in community with sisters of diverse backgrounds from around the world. It shocks me to hear accusations of racism when the ONE IMPERATIVE of the international YWCA movement is to ELIMINATE RACISM. These accusations couldn't be farther from the truth! Could it be that some of the political "pot-stirring" that has been going on in the background is due to the fact that some of our sisters are feeling less than whole?
It is unfortunate that the news media so often is used to destroy and divide rather than being a vehicle to create and unite. I do feel that in the context of the larger picture many good things have been going on at the Evanston/North Shore Shelter. We extend an invitation to our friends in the Evanston/North Shore community to help us to continue to serve the women and children of domestic violence needing shelter. Perhaps we could call a "time-out" and take a few moments to remember that all of the children of God deserve to be loved and valued. . . . .