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YWCA seeks to empower women and eliminate racism

Regina Malveaux, YWCA
Social justice is part of the reason Regina Malveaux was drawn to work with the YWCA

Along a wall outside the administrative offices of the YWCA of Spokane are images of Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee of Liberia, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Pakistani girls education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and U.S. Poet Maya Angelou—women who represent the YWCA’s goals of peace, justice, freedom and dignity.

Social justice is part of the reason Regina Malveaux was drawn to work with the YWCA.

As executive director for the YWCA of Spokane since last January, she works to friend-raise and fund-raise to support programs, 90 percent of which serve women and children who live in poverty.

I hope I’m able to help women across the spectrum realize that the YWCA is a place to come to be empowered, make connections, and find hope and healing.  As women volunteer, they also become empowered.”

Most know the YWCA for its Alternatives to Domestic Violence program and 24-hour safe shelter, the Women’s Opportunity Center, Our Sister’s Closet free professional clothing bank to help women enter or re-enter the work force, and its Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) at the new downtown building at 930 N. Monroe, shared with the YMCA, and in Airway Heights.

Balancing the operating budget, Regina is now helping the YWCA embark on a $1.6 million campaign to cover a $1.3 million shortfall that occurred when its former building at 810 N. Lincoln sold for less than anticipated because of the economic downturn. 

The campaign includes funds to renovate the 100-year-old shelter and 2,200 square feet of unimproved space in the new building to use for classrooms, a possible clinic and other program needs.

“The YWCA has evolved from being a Christian organization for Protestant women to an inclusive organization working to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace and justice,” she said.

“Many are familiar with our work of empowering women.  Fewer are familiar with our social justice work,” Regina said, “but nationally, our commitment to eliminate racism has long and deep roots in the women’s and civil rights movements.”

The focus of local YWCA services has evolved as the needs of women have changed over time. 

Nationally, the YWCA is 160 years old, and locally, it’s 111 years old.  It started in Spokane to provide chaperoned housing for young women moving from rural areas to the city for jobs.

During Expo 1974, a YWCA campaign warned young women to watch out for con artists who might charm them to kidnap them.

Later it became a place for social and recreational activities.  Archives show photos of teas for African-American and Asian-American women.  It also connected immigrant women to the community.

Today, the YWCA is the largest provider of domestic violence services nationwide.  Locally, domestic violence services are two-thirds of our $3 million budget,” Regina said.

Last fall, driven by the overflow of people in Spokane’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence shelter, a safe shelter opened in Spokane Valley.  Adding that shelter saves $30,000 in hotel bills.

Spokane’s shelter in a 110-year-old home serves 500 women and children a year.  The Spokane Valley shelter will serve five to six families a month.

The YWCA is remodeling the  Spokane shelter, because it is a challenge to shelter 40 people in 10 bedrooms, she said.  Sometimes two mothers and their children share a bedroom.

Funding from the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence includes funds for infrastructure improvements and funds to move families from a communal living style to more privacy and autonomy.

For strangers coming from difficult situations, communal living is not conducive for the best therapeutic outcome, Regina said. 

“We are remodeling bedrooms to shelter one family at a time, adding a bathroom and kitchenette.  Then, people can use the family room and common kitchen if they want to be with others, or they can pull back,” she said.

The YWCA seeks individuals and congregations to adopt each of the 10 rooms—providing bedding, some furniture, paint, curtains, carpet and kitchen supplies.  Those interested can sign up on the YWCA website. 

After graduating in 1997 from San Diego State University with a degree in social policy, Regina—then a single mother with two children—studied law and public policy at Howard University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 2000.  Her internship with the public defender’s child advocacy program was hard, because many were the ages of her children.

She worked on a legal team with Jacobs Center, which sought to redevelop a community without replacing low-income housing with higher-income housing (gentrification).  To build financial awareness, she formed a Women’s Financial Forum and then started a Women’s Legal Center.    

In 2005, Regina became a legal advocate for the YWCA of San Diego and resonated with its mission of eliminating racism and empowering women.

After her daughter graduated from high school in 2010, she relocated to Norfolk, Va., to lead the YWCA of South Hampton Roads.  Family needs led her to move back to San Diego, and to begin looking for a YWCA opportunity closer to home on the West Coast.  Spokane fit her energy, scope and expertise, she said.

Growing up in Wyoming, Regina identifies early experiences of bigotry and a personal connection to domestic violence in an early marriage as reasons for choosing the YWCA.  Its dual mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women” makes it the place she wants to invest her career.

“I understand emotionally the issues our clients face.  I was fortunate to have the support from my family and resources that made it possible for me to leave,” Regina said. “Many women do not have that support.”

On average, she said, data shows that many women leave an abusive relationship seven times before deciding not to return, because of the emotional and economic issues they face.

While many women who access our shelter services live below the poverty line, domestic violence is an issue that crosses the economic spectrum,” said Regina, who sometimes has women in her professional network confide about what they are experiencing, when they learn she also experienced domestic violence.

“Many women of means are disempowered.  It’s hard to walk away from their lifestyle,” Regina said.  “When people are judgmental, victims are further isolated.

“Domestic violence has long-term physical and emotional impact,” she said.

Because many abusive spouses continue to abuse spouses and children through legal proceedings of a divorce, the Alternatives to Domestic Violence Program includes legal services to help women apply for protection orders and assist with child custody.

The Women’s Opportunity Center helps “reconnect women with their spirit and power” as part of making them “job ready so they can support themselves,” said Regina.  “We help women remember they have tools to support themselves.

“When women move out, it’s traumatic.  They need a place of hope and healing,” she said.  “The Women’s Opportunity Center programs can be transformative.”

Regina has seen women looking defeated as they come off the elevator to go into Our Sister’s Closet.  An hour later, they look elated as they leave with two shopping bags of clothing, which helps rebuild women’s self esteem for job interviews.

Most of the funding for the center goes to the job readiness courses, which are funded as supportive services by Housing and Urban Development (HUD) only until Aug. 31.  HUD funds will then be only for housing.

“If people find housing but have no jobs, they will recycle into homelessness,” she said.  “So we are appealing for more funds from individuals and businesses.”

In the 1980s, most YWCA program budgets were supported by local, state and federal grants.

Now every time Congress makes decisions that have impact on poor families, the decisions have an impact on agencies such as ours,” said Regina, who noted that the YWCA’s goal is to have 20 percent of funds from individuals and businesses.

The YWCA has about 75 people on staff—about 50 full time—plus about 15 on-call staff at the shelter.  It serves 13,000 women and children in a year.

Regina, whose roots are in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, believes that Christian faith is service based. 

“My commitment is to service and social justice to assure that people have a living wage, decent housing, health care and child care,” she said.  “I seek to live out those values, which I consider to be the American values, by working in the nonprofit sector.

For information, call 326-1190, email reginam@ywcaspokane.org.

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Copyright © May 2014 - The Fig Tree