By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
When a woman comes to a hospital in the St. Louis region or to a St. Louis Metropolitan Police station, a volunteer from YWCA’s Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) is one of the first people she meets other than hospital or police officials.
“We have never missed a call for help at a hospital for a woman in need,” said Adrian Bracy, CEO of YWCA Metro St. Louis. The volunteer is there to comfort the woman, take information, offer her a sweatsuit to wear because he own clothing likely would be taken as evidence. The volunteer tells her about services available from the YWCA, a BBB Accredited Charity. The nonprofit has 40 trained SART volunteers, with one or more on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The volunteer stays with the woman until she can call a family member or as long as she requests. If she’s a victim of domestic violence, the volunteer helps her find safe shelter, Bracy said. From there, the woman may be offered counseling on a group or individual basis and classes on self-preservation.
The SART team is just one example of how the YWCA differs from the YMCA. The 111-year-old YWCA is more of a social service agency focused on “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all,” according to its mission statement.
“We try to educate everyone we come in contact with about what we do,” Bracy said. “We don’t have funds for a media campaign or a billboard. We have to do it by word of mouth.”
Board members and a young professionals group, the Young Ambassadors, help spread the word. The agency also uses social media and produces a newsletter for its constituents and other supporters.
YWCA is the largest provider of Head Start services for young children in the St. Louis area. Other YWCA programs assist teens in becoming empowered women and help women pursue non-traditional careers. The teen program includes a conference in the fall that brings about 500 girls together for breakout workshops on topics like leadership, healthy relationships and entrepreneurship.
YWCA’s Racial Justice Director Amy Hunter trains professionals at other agencies, organizations and businesses in cultural
competence, which includes teaching about African American culture, language and avoiding language that might be offensive. Hunter also works with Teach for America to train people who may not have worked previously at a predominantly black school. She also work swith other school districts and institutions on issues of racial and gender bias, and she facilitates free public discussion groups.
The $23 million allocated to Head Start dwarfs the rest of the agency’s $27 million budget. Most of the Head Start money comes from federal grants to operate 10 Head Start centers, and the state government provides funding for YWCA’s sexual assault center. The agency also receives contributions from its board, individual donors, corporations, foundations, government agencies and the United Way.
The Head Start program’s 240 employees work with parents as well as children to help families become more self-sufficient. The YWCA offers financial literacy programs for mothers and puts them in touch with resources for obtaining a GED and other services. About 10 percent of the YWCA’s Head Start employees have had children in the program and were helped by YWCA to earn degrees that helped them become self-sufficient.
Bracy said the YWCA applied for and was accredited last year by the Council on Accreditation – on its first try. That accreditation helps give the YWCA credibility in working with other agencies and donors. “It was a huge accomplishment,” Bracy said. “The staff really worked together to pass that accreditation.”
BBB Accreditation is important to donors, too. Bracy said donors who see the BBB logo on its website believe the nonprofit “has integrity, is responsible, strives to work at high standards and is trustworthy.” The YWCA also uses BBB to check out vendors of services it needs, she said.
“I’m very proud of the services we provide and the quality of care that our staff provides,” Bracy said. Many employees have stayed with the agency even though it has been unable to afford salary increases for several years. “Because they believe in the mission [of eliminating racism and empowering women], they have decided, we’re in it to win it.”
Profiles of BBB Accredited Businesses and BBB Accredited Charities are created as part of BBB’s TORCH Award process and are not intended as an endorsement. To register for this year’s TORCH Awards luncheon on Nov. 13, go to http://www.bbb.org/stlouis/events.