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 education advocate Malala Yousafzai, and 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 January 2013, she works to friend-raise and fundraise to support the organization’s programs.
“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, and its Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program at the new downtown building at 930 N. Monroe St., shared with the YMCA, and in Airway Heights.
Malveaux 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 St. sold for less than anticipated. The campaign includes funds to renovate a 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,” Malveaux 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. The national YWCA started 160 years ago. It started in Spokane 111 years ago to provide chaperoned housing for young women moving from rural areas to the city for jobs.
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,” Malveaux said.
Last fall, driven by the overflow of people in Spokane’s Alternatives to Domestic Violence shelter, a safe shelter opened in Spokane Valley.
The YWCA is remodeling the Spokane shelter with funds from the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence that will cover infrastructure improvements and changes to create more privacy and autonomy for families.
For strangers coming from difficult situations, communal living is not conducive for the best therapeutic outcome, Malveaux 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.
Malveaux grew up in Wyoming and 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. She has degrees from San Diego State University and Howard University in social policy, law and public policy.
“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,” Malveaux said. “Many women do not have that support.”
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