YWCA volunteers help serve families and individuals facing traumatic circumstances

Compassionate advocates

Children ages 2 to 5 are served in the Y’s Care Children’s Program, which provides a year-round nurturing environment and preschool education to families that are low income, in transition or homeless.

To learn more

YWCA Clark County was founded in 1916 and is located at 3609 Main St., Vancouver. The organization is currently seeking volunteers for all of its programs. There will be a spring open house from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, May 2. For more information, contact director of volunteer development, Stephanie Barr at 906-9112 or visit www.ywcaclarkcoun...>

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Volunteer Karen Hamilton (left) works with family advocate Traci Cole and puppet “Rosie” at an outreach program for second-grade students at Fruit Valley Elementary School in Vancouver.

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YWCA Clark County provides services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, a child care program, independent living skills program for foster youth, advocates for abused or neglected children, and offers job training and support for incarcerated women making a transition back to society.

YWCA Clark County began as a lunch counter for working women who weren’t allowed to eat with the men.

The year was 1916, and female employees were rare.

Fast forward nearly 100 years. The YWCA’s goal of assisting women remains the same, although services needed have definitely changed with the times.

Currently, the non-profit organization provides services to victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, a child care program, independent living skills program for foster youth, advocates for abused or neglected children, and offers job training and support for incarcerated women making a transition back to society.

Its mission statement is: “Eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”

“We try to provide the services which are needed in the community,” said Sharon Svec, communication specialist. “We are also guided by the national organization’s principles of eliminating racism and empowering women. As the local community has gotten larger and larger, there are more needs.”

The YWCA, a non-profit, depends heavily on volunteers to serve its vulnerable population.

“Our volunteers do so much and are crucial to the organization’s survival,” Svec said. “They are absolutely integral to our services.”

In 2012, a total of 655 volunteers provided 40,000 hours of work, with a value of close to $900,000.

Two volunteers are local residents. Karen Hamilton and Mary Tipton, both of Camas, spend time every week working at YWCA programs.

Hamilton got involved two years ago after moving to the area.

“I wasn’t working and didn’t know anyone, so I needed something to do and wanted to give back,” she said.

After going through a YWCA training program, Hamilton began volunteering 10 hours a week to lead a teen sexual assault survivors group.

“It can be pretty heart wrenching at times,” she said. “But it’s also so rewarding to help people who need it.”

She also works on an elementary school outreach program for second-graders.

“We educate them, at an age appropriate level, about sexual assault and abuse, and give them power and voice to help correct it,” she said.

Before becoming a YWCA volunteer, Hamilton had no background in helping victims of sexual assault.

“This is such an amazing program and the training was wonderful,” she said. “It’s very organized and I’ve never felt lost or left behind. They utilize us wonderfully. You go through a lot of training before they turn you loose.”

Hamilton said the most rewarding aspect of the program is making a difference.

“If I can reach one person, it’s worth it,” she said. “It could break a whole chain of abuse. I think everyone should come and volunteer here. Even if you just have a few hours a week, it is very rewarding.”

Tipton is a volunteer with the Court Appointed Special Advocates, who help abused or neglected children navigate through the court system.

“I chose CASA because I was interested in learning more about social services in Clark County and in working specifically to help children,” she said. “CASA is a program where you visit children and get to know them and their families/foster parents and then become a voice that advocates for them with social services and in the family court system.”

She was been volunteering for three years.

“I enjoy feeling that I can make a difference for individual children who need a voice and advocate as they face a very difficult situation in their lives,” Tipton said.

As a CASA volunteer, she spends approximately one or two hours a week visiting with children and families, meeting with various planning teams and attending continuing education classes.

Barbara Kuzmic is the CASA program director at YWCA Clark County.

“We really want our volunteers to build a relationship with the child and advocate for them,” she said. “The ultimate goal is family reunification.”

To volunteer with CASA, an individual must be willing to take a case from beginning to end. This can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years.

“The biggest benefit to the kids is that they have a responsible advocate and don’t fall through the cracks in the legal system,” Kuzmic said. “And we have a very comprehensive training program to help our volunteers do that.”

Svec said the feedback from volunteers is consistently positive.

“One of the things I’ve heard is that they were really happy with the training program,” she said.

Tipton agrees.“I would recommend being in CASA to anyone who wants to help children and is interested in contributing toward building a strong community of support for children in foster care and dependency,” she said. “The YWCA is an excellent organization to volunteer with as they provide great training and wonderful supportive supervisors.”