Thursday, September 12, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Alexis Barry, executive director of the local YWCA, says demand for services has gone up while funding has decreased.
Sitting in her Seaside office, Alexis Barry, executive director of the YWCA of Monterey County, ticks off success stories. In the next breath she worries about programs and clients that may have to be cut.
On the bright side, there''s the new office space, which brought the YWCA from a relatively hidden Monterey location to a highly visible two-story building on Seaside''s Fremont Boulevard. There are the YWCA''s brand new services-such as a mentoring program that pairs Seaside High girls with middle-school "little sisters." There are the expanded programs-for example, the Sticks and Stones counseling program for elementary school children.
Among other accomplishments last year, volunteers answered more than 1,300 Crisis Line calls, and legal staff provided more than 1,000 hours of advocacy services to women and their families.
The YW''s confidential women''s shelter-the only such "hidden" temporary home for abused women countywide-recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. "In 20 years, we''ve never had a breach in confidentiality," Barry says.
In a normal year, Barry, a warm woman with graying curly hair and intense, bright blue eyes, would simply be pleased. But 2001 was anything but normal. Like nonprofits across the county, YMCA is experiencing a severe crunch. It''s looking at a $160,730 drop in revenues for 2002-03. That''s 22 percent of its operating budget.
"Our level of service has gone up, we''re seeing an increase in our client load, but we don''t have the contributions or the funding to sustain the programs," Barry says.
To date, Barry says her organization hasn''t had to cut any services because they''ve held off filling vacated staff positions. But the costs keep rising.
Unless funding can be found, the Sticks and Stones program will have to end in October, Barry says.
As school districts slash budgets across the state, counselors are often the first to go. "So there''s really nowhere else for kids to express their feelings," Barry says.
Sticks and Stones provides shelter for children in violent situations, and intervention prevent them from repeating the cycle of violence. Sticks and Stones has counselors in 12 elementary schools on the Peninsula, and, if funding continues, plans to expand to the middle schools. This year, Barry says, the program has already seen a 40 percent increase in kids needing counseling.
In the small-group counseling sessions, kids use art therapy and stuffed animals to express their feelings, and to show what''s happening at home.
The program is extremely cost effective. "We''re seeing 600 kids, 300 hours of counseling, for less than $50,000 a year," Barry says. "You''re not going to get a better deal than that."
"We''ll know by the end of September [if the program has the money to continue]," she says. The organization has applied for some additional grants, and is waiting on mail donations from its annual phone-a-thon.
"But if the individual contributions stay the same as they''ve been-which is down dramatically-we will have to start reducing services and programs," she says.
Although Sticks and Stones is the only program on the chopping block right now, other preventative services-including bilingual parenting classes, domestic violence and dating violence presentations, and teen mentoring and leadership programs-would be the next to go. That might include the TIEMPO program, a leadership/mentoring program for Seaside High and Martin Luther King Middle School girls.
TIEMPO, the Spanish word for time, also stands for Teens Involved and Empowered, says coordinator Cara Lapenas. All the girls are bilingual Latinas.
"It''s about empowering young women, which is one of the main tenants of the YWCA. Some of these families are rooted in the believe that you have to have a man, and maybe you don''t need to go to school."
TIEMPO aims to show them otherwise. And, says Lapenas, the mentoring goes both ways.
"Whenever you''re made to be a role model it keeps you in check, yourself," she says. "The high school girls realize, oh, maybe I need to keep my grades up because I have this pequeña [little sister] who is watching me."
Lapenas next project, again, funding permitted, is youth theater for boys and girls, ages 14 to 20. She''s looking for high schoolers and recent graduates to write, direct and act in short skits about dating violence, sexual harassment, violence, racism and other issues facing teens.
"These are the problems that we''re seeing," she says. "Too many youth don''t have a voice, and they can slip really fast..." her voice trails. She, and the other women who work at the YWCA, have seen the end result too many times.
The YWCA will host an open house, Wednesday, Sept. 18 from4-6pm to launch its fall membership initiative. 1976 Fremont Blvd., Seaside. 583-1026.