YWCA Metro St. Louis has been empowering women and girls for more than 110 years while working for a racially just society. Some of our programs help in times of need: sexual assault crisis intervention, counseling and prevention education, safe housing and case management for single homeless women, and domestic violence support services.
Others work for the empowerment of families: comprehensive support for single mothers pursuing degrees in non-traditional (higher-paying) careers, leadership and career education for middle and high school girls, and educational and developmental programming for children age 0-5 along with support for their families through Head Start/Early Head Start.
The tenets of racial justice run through all our programs, and because we know that women of color are disproportionately impacted in areas like employment, income, healthcare, violence and the justice system, our response is through a racial lens as we work to improve the lives of those here in St. Louis.
This is the story of a courageous woman who received services at the YWCA Women's Resource Center. The YWCA Women's Resource Center is one of seven YWCA programs providing services to women and girls in the St. Louis area.
There has to be a purpose for all this pain
You know like there comes sunshine after the rain
If sunshine does not come quick, I'll drown
Those are the first lines of a poem titled "Mystery of Purpose." The author, Yvette, was just 5 years old when the abuse began. By the time she was 19, she was married to an abusive man, had three children, and was managing work and school. It wouldn't be until several years later that she'd communicate to therapists how bad her abuse was.
Her past filled her with shame and embarrassment. She had no concept of what a healthy relationship was. Throughout her teens and adult life, Yvette subconsciously chose toxic relationships, which is common for people who have experienced abuse. She tried therapy whenever she could afford it, but the pain persisted. Her writing was an outlet, but not a cure.
What can I do
To undo what has been done unto me?
I cannot run away It is inside of me
Wherever I go
It goes with me
Yvette's desire to "undo what was done" eventually led her to YWCA Metro St. Louis. YWCA offers individual and group therapy to women struggling with a range of issues, including abuse. Sessions are free and transportation is provided to and from if needed. Through therapy, Yvette learned to change the way she viewed herself. She began to look at herself as beautiful, worthy of happiness, respect and a life free from abuse and violence. "YWCA was the defining moment in my life when I was able to move beyond the abuse," Yvette recalls.
YWCA helped Yvette identify her triggers and develop healthy coping skills accessible to her in and out of therapy. Walking, dancing and writing became common practices for Yvette, things she could do to cope and navigate to a healthy state of mind when her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was triggered. Writing was a big part of Yvette's therapy and is a coping strategy she still uses today. It's a strategy she learned before YWCA, but one she wasn't able to take advantage of. She's always wanted to write her life story, but she says doing so would force her to relive her past trauma and trigger her into depression. Attending therapy at YWCA helped her face and process those feelings. Today, she can talk and write about them. "There's something about that pen to paper that works. I feel I'm not alone. I feel empowered, that I have a voice and something to give to people," she says. "I never thought I could heal, but YWCA saved me."
Her poem, "Amazing You," displays the incredible progress she's made in her years of therapy, the coping skills she's gained, the joy of being reunited with her adult children and the control and hope that's come of her life:
You are amazing
I am loving you so much lately
You have overcome so many obstacles
You have had to make some hard choices
You have grieved what was
You are moving forward with new goals
You did not give up
I am proud of you for your tenacity
You are a strong warrior
"When I was a little girl, I didn't have someone tell me, 'You're hurting and it's OK. Get yourself some help,'" Yvette explains. "That's what I want to tell women - that there's help out there."