(Editor’s note: Two stories on today’s web edition of The Era profile an individual — Bill Walb — and organization — YWCA Bradford — that are among many that serve our community, many times without fanfare of the recognition they deserve. With that in mind, The Era has put together a special section — “Of Distinction” — which appears inside today’s print edition and profiles just some of the many members of the community that are giving back. Pick up your copy today at newsstands across the region.)
An organization in McKean County has spent more than a century helping some of the area’s most vulnerable citizens change their lives for the better.
For someone who has no place to go, YWCA Bradford is a signal of hope, reminding people that it is possible to make a different future for themselves.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2015, the YWCA continues to look for gaps in services in the community, finding new ways to get people on their feet.
When the organization was celebrating its anniversary in 2015, Executive Director Vanessa Castano and board member Kelly Case talked to The Era on its history.
According to the women, the Bradford YWCA evolved from an organization developed to empower women called the Young Christian Women’s League — later the The Young Women’s Christian Association of Bradford — developed in the summer of 1915 by local evangelist Marie Brake. The women of the group rented a space and made it a space where they could gather and participate in enrichment programs.
The social organization changed over the years to slide its focus to offering human services for women and their families.
While the focus has changed, the organization is still a place for women to socialize and learn from each other through its daily operations, its board and through events in the community.
Services to the residents — women, children and the community at large — include the Meals on Wheels program, food pantry, shelters for homeless and victims of domestic violence and other programs for victims of domestic violence.
The organization has joined with other local organizations in highlighting the issue of homelessness in the Bradford area — a not highly visible but still very real dilemma. Plans are ongoing to increase shelter services for all who need a temporary place to stay, including men.
The organization also advocates for racial justice and offers a mental health intellectual disabilities program.
Among the projects of the YWCA is annual Walk A Mile In Her Shoes event, held for the third year on April 14 to raise awareness of sexual violence.
A unique aspect of the event is that it engages men in the community to show their own support to the cause. For the walk, men literally don women’s shoes — and some wear additional feminine apparel — as they march down Main Street in Bradford in a show of solidarity. By participating, men acknowledge that the fight to make the world a safer place for women means men and women alike need to be on the same page.
Another way the organization supports local women is through its annual Leader Luncheon, where the YWCA honors women for the ways they use their leadership skills to empower the people around and to support the wellbeing of the community.
At the 19th annual luncheon in June, Jeanie Satterwhite and Brooke Kane-Walker joined the many others recognized with the honor over the years.
And just like the Leader Luncheon honorees inspire others, the work accomplished by the YWCA inspires others in the community to show their support to those served by the organization.
While financial support is great for the YWCA — it is vital to keeping the organization alive — local residents feel the need to go beyond that, sharing handmade to women in the shelter.
In 2016 alone, community gifts to people served by the YWCA have included decorated frames with inspirational messages from the Kiwanis Club of Bradford, handcrafted quilts from the Kinzua Quilters and Mother’s Day purses filled with toiletry items from the Foursquare Gospel Church and the Kushequa Union Church.
The simple gifts speak volumes: they show that not only does the community want to see that people at the shelter receive help, they want those woman to know they deserve to feel good about themselves and about their lives.