Monday, July 21, 2014

Reflections on Race

“If I didn’t feel so guilty about being white I would…be better able to teach my kids about racism.”

The words left my mouth before I realized I had formed the sentence. We were three weeks into our Eliminating White Racism class, and my discussion partner gave me an empathetic nod. As someone who doesn’t usually speak without knowing exactly what I mean to say, the words surprised me. I wasn’t aware that was roaming around my brain. Was that really how I felt? Three weeks ago I was apprehensive about starting this class at all, and now I was blurting out subconscious concerns.

Walking into the first class, I wondered how the weeks would unfold. Would there be lectures? Would we be asked to recall every instance we had ever had or experienced a racist thought, feeling or expression? As someone who has studied culture, race and gender across history, I could call to mind no shortage of occasions where my culture had dominated, repressed, rejected, minimized, shamed and even destroyed other cultures. I was not looking forward to a rundown 2 hours a week for the rest of the spring and early summer. Instead, I discovered a safe space meant for examining my own experiences, my own guilt as a result of unearned privileges based on something as uncontrollable as my skin color and, yes, my own racism.

Given the YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism, holding an internal Eliminating White Racism training is a fantastic way to get all of our staff on the same page. I think being immersed in this work that it can be very tempting to think we’ve got this under control; that we recognize racism when we see it- even our own. Having a reminder of all the forms racism can take whether overt or subtle, deliberate or unintended, internal or external helped to reinforce that all of us are participants in this struggle to end racism. Sometimes it’s not glamorous. Sometimes it’s as small as examining your own thoughts and calling yourself out on them, because the fight to end racism has to start somewhere.

Posted by E'lise Chard, YWCA Missoula Office Manager

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Moving On...

Twelve months ago, I began my service as an AmeriCorps VISTA at YWCA Missoula, and I must say, this year has been one of the most rewarding I've ever had. Before VISTA, I had been involved with the YWCA as an intern and volunteer, but my passion and commitment to the mission of the YWCA really grew to a new level this past year.  For my VISTA project I was placed with the Transitional Housing Program, which provides housing and supportive services to homeless survivors of domestic and sexual Violence. Throughout my term, I worked on various projects to help improve the housing programs, educate the community, and provide services to the participants we work with. One of my most proud and influential projects was the work I did to improve our database. This database not only helps us track the participants in our programs, but it is integral to our ability to accurately produce reports for grants. Through the efforts of myself and the past two year's of VISTAs we were able to get this tool in place and backlog the information for the past two years!

In addition to my work on the database, I was also able to help with some of the day-to-day operations of the Transitional Housing program. This experience really opened my eyes to the high rates of domestic violence that exist in our community, and how much it contributes to the social issues of poverty and homelessness. Compared to many places in Montana, Missoula has a fair amount of resources to help these individuals and families, but it never seems like it's enough. We, as a community, still have a lot of work to do around these issues. 

I have grown an immense amount and learned so much since entering this program. My passion for working in human services has really deepened and I am proud to say that I will continue with this work after the completion of my term-- this time,  as the coordinator for the YWCA Rapid Re-Housing Program, which is set to launch in early September.  I look forward to helping homeless families find housing and provide support to help people overcome their barriers.

While I am deeply committed to work of the YWCA, my favorite thing about this organization is ladies that I get to work with. The staff here is so supportive and spends their days trying to make things easier for their fellow community members. I feel motivated and inspired by my co-workers all of the time, and feel so grateful to have the opportunity to continue to work with these amazing people.

Posted by Miranda Sanderson, AmeriCorps VISTA with the Transitional Housing Program

Pictured: YWCA Missoula AmeriCorps VISTA members Miranda and Maura.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Reflections: A Year at Gateway

I am a student with the Masters in Social Work program, (MSW), at the University of Montana.  My practicum placement this year was with the Ada’s Place Gateway/Emergency Housing program.  The program helps homeless families with a stay in a motel and offers case management services to aid in finding housing, employment, and other services as needed.  I also advocate for clients in other areas of their lives if they need help.  This type of work was all new to me.  I am from a small town where everybody knows everybody and if you need a place to stay you can “couch surf” until you find a place of your own. Growing up I did not know what homelessness meant.  My family was not well off, but we had food and shelter.  I remember my uncle coming to stay with us when he was in town, but he was more of a drifter than actually homeless.  My work history involves waitressing/bartending, working with developmentally disabled individuals, and being a Juvenile Correctional Officer.  All these jobs and a Bachelors degree in Psychology did not prepare me for what I experienced while working at the YWCA. 

Missoula is a beautiful place to be.  There are more services for the homeless here than any other city in Montana.  I had a hard time finding a place when I moved here, but luckily I found one.  There are many here who do not have a place to live.  The stereotype of all homeless people being drunk, lazy, or mentally ill is completely not true.  My short time at the YWCA taught me that.  I see people every week that have jobs, go to school, or are in the process of both that are homeless.  The circumstances with each family are different but, they are not the stereotype that people tend to think of when “homeless” enters their mind. 

Right now, there are numerous people on the waiting list for Emergency Housing.  The big problem seems to be coming up with first and last month’s rent and deposit, all at one time. Many of these homeless families are sleeping in their cars or camping where they can find a place because there are no free places in town to camp or park a car to sleep in.  These are just a few of the issues homeless families have to deal with.  The YWCA and other service providers in town do what they can, but here is not enough funding to go around but much more is needed to better meet the needs of these families.  However, you can help us! Donations of camping gear like: tents, sleeping bags (for adults and children), blankets, or anything else camping-related can help homeless families in a time of great need. The people who use our services are grateful for any help you can give.  Thank you all for everything you do.  

Posted by Dana Beardslee, Gateway Assessment Center Practicum Student

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

YWTalks: A Community Social Justice Series Wrap-Up

Well folks, the YW Talks: Community Social Justice Series has coming to an end. It has been a wonderful season this year with a combination of men and women speakers addressing social justice issues that are pertinent to women and those of diverse ethnic backgrounds. We also changed the name of our series from the “YWCA Brown Bag Lectures Series” to the new “YW Talks.” Why did we change the name you ask? Turns out the term “Brown Bag” has a negative association attached to it and here is why:

A “test”, which had the common use in the early 1900s among upper class Black Americans and families, was used to determine if a Black person was “white” enough to gain admittance or acceptance. If your skin was darker than a brown paper bag, you were not valued or included. Thousands of Black institutions and schools including the nation's most well-known Black fraternity, Phi Alpha Phi at Howard University, practiced this discrimination. As an organization that has a racial justice initiative incorporated in its mission, we were not interested in supporting this term any longer by using it in the title of our community lecture series.

I have really enjoyed being the coordinator for YW Talks: Community Social Justice Lecture Series this year. It has been a pleasure engaging with Missoulians who present on such important topics and create a space for dialogue and discussion for our community members. I hope that this series continues to grow and expand as a predominant piece in creating social justice in our community and even on the larger scale.

Our presenters for this season included:

September: Anisa Goforth: Arab American Students

October: Helga Hosford: Personal experience in Nazi Germany

November: Tobin Shearer: Iceberg Theory to Racism

December: Phyllis Ngai: Intercultural Communication and Social Justice

January- Anya Jabour: Women’s History and Racial Justice

February-Ruth Vanita: Hindu Goddesses

March-Mehrdad Kia: Islam and the West

April-Amber Gladney: Peace Corps experience in Africa

May-Suzette Dessault: Women’s Suffrage in Montana

Posted by Miranda, Transitional Housing VISTA

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fight For Hope and Freedom: Human Trafficking, Montana & the World

EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT: University of Montana Mansfield Center Conference on Human Trafficking: “Fight for Hope & Freedom – Human Trafficking, Montana and the World”
April 16th and 17th  at the University Center – FREE ADMISSION

Human Trafficking is modern day slavery exploiting an estimated 30 million people worldwide. More people are living in slavery now than at any other given point in history! Human Trafficking is a high-profit, low-risk crime and the fastest growing industry in the world after the drug trade. Trafficking is no longer a crime that happens only in the brothels of Thailand and other South-East Asian countries. In fact, it has become one of the most serious human rights and social justice issues of our time, impacting foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike. However, many people believe that labor and sex trafficking doesn't happen in North America and especially not in Montana – we only see what our eyes are trained to see, right? – and consequently, misinformation and missing information governs our laws, funding options, and services available to survivors. We call it “prostitution” and like to think that women voluntarily engage in sex for money; since prostitution is illegal, the girls and women are often arrested, while the “Johns” get a slap on the wrist, turn around, and find the next vulnerable woman on the internet.

We are seeing a rapidly increasing number of survivors of sex and labor trafficking in the United States, including the Big Sky country of Montana. In 2012, the Polaris Project, the leading Anti-Trafficking NGO in the US, reported a total of 20,652 calls on their crisis line – 34 of those calls came from Montana. Minor girls are being advertised on online sites like We see examples like the “boyfriend- turned-pimp” who forces a runaway teen to engage in sexual acts in exchange for a roof over her head, food, and the “true love she has never known.” Cases like this point to another sad fact: the majority of both children and adult women that end up in the sex industry, were victims of child sexual abuse prior to “recruitment.” We are talking about an industry that targets people that have been victims of trauma; an industry that preys on the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.

As a society, a community, and as fellow humans, we have a responsibility to address this social injustice  and ensure safety, support, proper resources and overall justice for the many women & girls, men & boys across the U.S. and worldwide who are being forced into slavery. This also means that we have to strive to be proactive and address the root causes and larger systemic issues behind the problem – gender-based violence, equal opportunities for all young people, the impact of racism in our society and much more. The first step of this process is raising awareness through education so we all have the tools to identify and respond when we see potential red flags of trafficking in our communities. This year’s Mansfield Center Conference promises to deliver just that, by convening  leading international and national experts in Missoula to address this challenging topic. I hope to see many of you there so we can move forward and fight to end human trafficking together!

Full agenda and registration info here:

Posted by Kat Werner, YWCA Pathways Program Manager

Friday, March 28, 2014

Reflections On Race and Reading

             When I was a kid I loved to read so much that my mom would ground me from reading the way other parents would ground their kids from TV. I had to have a book EVERYWHERE I went, even the supermarket. This reading addiction, while not always beneficial to social interaction, was beneficial for my future as a “thinker and a doer” in society. Of all the skills I learned from reading, the ability to empathize with a character and truly put myself in their shoes was the most important.
            Recently while reflecting on these early childhood experiences with books, a thought popped into my head. Would a little girl of a different color than me have had the same experience? Would a little girl, like me in every way but color, have had the same plethora of stories to identify with and dive into?  Growing up I read a lot of books about girls in different cultures and of different races, but how might my experience have been different if I had been born outside the dominant culture?
            With this thought in mind, I decided to take a field trip to the Missoula Public Library. After accruing my usual too-tall stack of books, I headed to the children’s section. I began pulling books off the shelves at random and looked at the illustrations. I only spent about half an hour reading (I was getting the stink eye from a little boy eyeing my spot on the couch), but it was enough time for me to notice something. The number of books with a person of color in them was pretty darn low. The books with animals as characters had more diversity than most of the books with people in them.
            That’s not to say there weren't some stories about, and including people of color, but the point is that there weren't as many as there should be to accurately reflect the reality of the world (fictional or not). This isn't an intentional omission on the part of the library, it’s a symptom of a greater system at work, Portions of our population are being left out of the literature we are using to inspire our children and young adults (this coming from a youngish adult herself).
            The more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of the books I pick up in the young adult section of the library don’t have a whole lot of characters of color. If you take a second to think of some of the most popular young adult novels out there, you might notice that most of them center on white heroes and heroines. For example on NPR’s list of the 100 best-ever teen novels, of the top five books listed, none have a main protagonist who isn't white. To Kill A Mockingbird is the only book in the top five that directly deals with race.
Under representation of minorities is in no way new or surprising, but my little field trip to the library got me thinking. What’s causing this under representation in the literary world? Is it the lack of writers of color? Is it a lack of white authors being interested in, or accurately writing stories about people of color? Is it a lack of an audience? Are writers of color not being encouraged? What’s the deal? Male writers write about females. Female writers write about men. White people obviously have no problem writing in supporting characters of color, so why is there an absence of main characters who are different colors? Personally, I think that when the majority of writers sit down to write, they either write what they know, or they write what they wish they knew, and somewhere in there, racial diversity in characters is getting left out.
            Reading is supposed to be an immersive experience. It is an activity which is solely dedicated to understanding the thoughts and feelings of other people, their motivations and their desires, what makes them who they are as a human being. Books can have huge ramifications in society; they are a pulse point of modern society’s concerns and cares.
            In order for our society to grow we have to expand the diversity of our literature. I don’t mean that we need more niche books specifically about race. I mean that we should have more books that reflect the complexity and diversity of our society. As long as people of color remain underrepresented in the literary world, our children and young people are facing yet another arena in which racial diversity looks like a token book here and there, not the status quo.
            At this point, as in many of my blogs, I am left with a question. What can I personally do? I think the first step is to highlight the literature that’s already out there that is inclusive. So here’s where I ask for your help. What recommendations do you have for reading? What books do you read to your kids that encourage racially sensitive thinking? Let’s compile a starter reading list, so that we’re all a little better informed about the books which not only entertain us, but make us more socially conscious people as well. 

Related Information:
YWCA Missoula is excited to announce that the University of Montana will be holding a conference on race and creative writing on April 10. 

"The goal of the conference is to address the relative paucity of discussions on the topic of race and creative writing in the academy in general. The panels and readings will bring to the discipline and teaching of creative writing perspectives from critical race theory, poetics, performance studies, literary theory, ethnic literature, and Native American and Indigenous studies."

For more information about the conference click here.

Posted by Juliana Rose, YWCA Missoula Racial Justice Intern

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Pet Advocates Ease Transition for Domestic Violence Survivors

Samantha and Roxy had been the best of friends since Roxy was little.  Everywhere Samantha went, Roxy went.  Everything Samantha did, Roxy did.  Samantha would confide in Roxy, cuddle with Roxy, and enjoy comfort and support from Roxy.  Roxy was Samantha’s 70lb black lab whom she had raised since she was a puppy.  Roxy was 6 years old when Samantha moved in with her boyfriend, Rick.  It didn’t take long for the abuse to start and often it was directed toward Roxy.  When Samantha was ready to leave the relationship, she called the crisis line to inquire about emergency shelter.  She was informed that she could not have Roxy at the shelter.  Samantha hung up the phone and cried.  She was now faced with the decision to leave Roxy behind, risking more harm or even death to Roxy, or to stay in the relationship to be with Roxy and protect her from the abuse.

Imagine being faced with this decision.  Imagine having to leave your best friend behind.  Roxy had been Samantha’s comfort and support her entire life and especially during the abusive relationship.  Unfortunately, pets are often used as pawns in abusive relationships.  Abusing the survivor’s pet is another way for the abuser to manipulate or threaten the survivor and gain power and control.  Survivors often delay leaving an abusive relationship if they cannot take their pet with them, or find a safe place to keep their pet.

This is why the YWCA created the Pet Advocate program.  The Pet Advocate program provides foster homes for pets of survivors staying at our domestic violence shelter.  By providing these foster homes, we can remove one more barrier for people looking to leave an abusive relationship and offer the survivor peace of mind, knowing that their pet is safe.  Pets offer a special type of love and comfort to their owners, and it is our goal to help survivors keep their pets.

Pet Advocates are volunteers who have gone through training to learn about the complex relationship of pets and domestic violence,  and the unique characteristics of caring for pets who may have been abused.  These amazing volunteers open their homes and hearts up to these pets and love them as if they were their own.  The YWCA partners with the Humane Society of Western Montana, who provides food, vaccinations, and their expertise on animal behavior.

The YWCA is always in need of more volunteers to become Pet Advocates.  The only requirement to become a Pet Advocate is the ability to foster pets and offer love.  Our next Pet Advocate training will take place on Thursday, March 20, 2014, 6:00PM – 8:00PM.  If you are interested in attending the training, or learning more about the Pet Advocate program, please contact the Pet Advocate Coordinator, Lisa J. Bruce, at (406) 543-6691 or

Posted by Lisa Bruce, Gateway Program Manager