We climb a lime green painted stairwell and step into an office, passing all-female employees seated in front of an array of security monitors. The grainy screens offer a preview of the space, panning over a community kitchen, hallways with securely locked rooms, and a designated children’s play area. Our group of college students is eyed skeptically—it is clear that we are not a normal occurrence here.
“Did you call this group in, Katie?” asks an employee.
“No, I forgot!” says Katie Corbit, our unofficial tour guide of the facility. “I did have them sign the confidentiality forms up front, though.”
The Young Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) asks that all visitors sign confidentiality forms to protect their clients, many of whom are victims of assault and violence.
After the minor procedural breach, Corbit leads us, a small group from K’s Coalition for Reproductive Justice (CRJ), through the YWCA shelter, a five week empowerment program where women live with their children in a safe, community environment.
We walk past the communal children’s play area, which includes computers for mothers to use while watching their children play through a pane of glass. The room has a donated children’s library complete with the Bible and Dr. Seuss. In the kitchen area, a mom in a pink bathrobe is preparing breakfast for her two young girls. It almost feels like a home aside from the security cameras and each family’s securely locked room doors.
The shelter contains 65 beds, and they are almost always at capacity, said Corbit, the Project Manager of YWCA program Cradle Kalamazoo.
Cradle Kalamazoo, started by the YWCA in 2014, is an initiative to address the high infant mortality rate in the area. According to Healthy Babies Healthy Start, infants of color in Kalamazoo are four times more likely to die than their white counterparts. Using a collective impact strategy, the YWCA partners with numerous community organizations to determine and establish best practices for combating this public health issue, said Project Manager Corbit.
Kalamazoo’s YWCA was established in 1885, the oldest in the state of Michigan. Through the decades, the internationally-reaching organization has striven towards their motto: “Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women.”
The unassuming brown brick façade of the YWCA building on E. Michigan Avenue houses the shelter, administrative offices, a sexual assault examination clinic, and childcare facilities.
The YWCA focuses on identifying community resources in relation to community needs, and one such asset is Kalamazoo College.
The organization partners with the college in a number of ways, but the collaboration discussed last week was with K’s Coalition for Reproductive Justice, a student-led group run through the Center for Civic Engagement.
The tour of the YWCA was an opportunity for students to gain exposure to the YWCA’s work in the community, said Emily Kowey, K’17. She wanted students to “see first hand some of the amazing resources Kalamazoo has that are connected to reproductive justice!”
Kowey, the Civic Engagement Scholar for CRJ, organized the trip to strengthen the relationship between CRJ and the YWCA, specifically with Cradle Kalamazoo.
“The YWCA is an organization that truly represents the intersectional framework of CRJ,” said Kowey.