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YWCA empowers abused women

Trish McFarland finds that the most meaningful days of her work as executive director of the YWCA in Spokane since 2009 are when she shares her story to inspire women in classes, and they in turn share their stories.

The most frustrating days have been those following the recent Washington State Legislature, and wondering how state budget cuts may affect the YWCA-Spokane’s budget, on top of federal and city cuts to the YWCA’s primary program, Alternatives to Domestic Violence.

Trish McFarland
Trish McFarland appreciates the YWCA's clothing boutique, Our Sister's Closet.

YWCA helps 15,000 women a year, including receiving 7,000 calls a year to its emergency crisis line.  Women fleeing domestic violence have come from as far away as Florida to escape the danger, Trish said.

The YWCA’s primary goal is to empower women. 

A common way women are disempowered is through domestic violence, which, she said, “continues to be an issue in good times and bad,” affecting people of all social and economic levels.

In Washington, about one in four people are affected by domestic violence.  Most of them are women.

“We need to continue to battle it,” Trish said.

One way is to educate children and young women on what healthy relationships are and how to treat each other respectfully as human beings.

Domestic violence can be cyclical.   As children see their parents hit or being hit, they think it’s the normal way to show love, Trish pointed out.

According to a law enforcement report on causes of murders, 38 women in Spokane County have been killed in the last 13 years as a result of domestic violence and one man committed suicide after killing his wife.

“More than half of them met in high school, forming an unhealthy relationship at an early age,” she said.  “That’s why we need to reach young people to help them understand appropriate ways to relate.

“There is violence everywhere, especially in TV and movies,” Trish said.  “Where is there civil discourse?”

She is concerned that the culture sets up an expectation of violence.

As a Catholic who had a family member abused by a priest, she attended a gathering for victims and families.  With media coverage focusing on men who were abused, she was surprised that many women were there whose stories have not been told or covered in media.

Women in the YWCA’s Domestic Violence Awareness program are not uneducated, helpless women.  Some are lawyers and doctors.

Trish explained that domestic violence is often about control issues in the home.  It can develop subtly, slowly and insidiously. 

“The women had no idea they were being controlled or that the control was domestic violence,” Trish said.

She described some dynamics of power being taken from a victim by increasingly keeping her away from family, depriving her of access to cash or credit cards and telling her she is not capable of finding a job or doing anything.

“When a woman comes to us, the first thing is that she is safe and creates a safety plan,” Trish said.

The YWCA’s safe shelter has space for 40 women, but if it’s full, women are taken to a hotel or motel.

“We never turn anyone away,” she said, adding that police and cab drivers know where to take women seeking help.  They drive around so no one follows.

The 24-hour crisis line at 325-2255 (325-CALL) always has a person available.

“Women who seek help may choose to go back—especially if they did not bring their children or a pet.  They may love the man,” Trish said.

“It’s not our place to tell a woman to leave.  She’s been living with someone who has been telling her she can do this and can’t do that,” she said.  “A woman needs to make her own decision.  Often, a woman comes back four to five times before leaving.  We do not judge that.”

Women can stay at the safe shelter 60 to 90 days.  Then the program helps them move into transitional living, helping with rent.

Women go through the YWCA’s Women’s Opportunity Center to build their job readiness with computer classes, budgeting and training for job searches and interviews.  They are given a secure email, and learn about cyber security and cyber stalking.

The center helps women look at their strengths to plan their lives.

Women receive two outfits, shoes and accessories when they go job hunting.  Once they find a job, they can select five outfits from Our Sisters’ Closet, a boutique of donated clothing that serves 140 women a month.

Recently, five women found jobs in one week.

“There is turnover,” Trish said.  “Their success is an indicator that the economy is improving.”

The YWCA recently started the Child Advocate Program, headed by Shawna Hill, who deals with children in the shelter who have seen abuse or been abused.

“She works with them one-to-one to address their fear,” Trish said.  “Studies show that complex trauma begins when children see their mother hurt, their dog threatened, or they are hurt.  It stops their development and learning.”

Shawna helps children create a safety plan for themselves, so if they feel afraid, they know whom to call or what neighbor they can go to.

On the state budget, Trish hopes cuts will be no more than 10 percent.

“We may have to lay some people off, but would juggle services so fewer people may do more work, but we will not turn anyone away,” she said.

Having lost federal funding, the YWCA engages legal advocates to give clients advice on family law and help them through the process of charging domestic violence in court. 

Federal funding remains so the YWCA can continue its Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), part of Head Start, geared to help low-income four-year-olds prepare for kindergarten.  They serve 51 families at the YWCA and at West Plains Community Center.

Trish feels she has come full circle, back to using her studies in sociology from Fort Wright College in Spokane, where she graduated in 1968.

Having modeled fashions to pay for her studies, she continued to work six years after college for the Bon Marche in Tri Cities and Seattle, and for Nordstrom’s in Spokane.  In the 1970s, she married and took time to raise her children and volunteer for civic groups.

In 1989, she became director of Ronald McDonald House.  In 1995, she became development director for Gonzaga Preparatory School.

Then she headed the foundation and major gifts at Eastern Washington University until she started working as development director of the YWCA in Spokane in 2006.

Trish, who plans to retire at the end of 2012, finds Spokane a community where people can make a difference. 

“People understand when change is needed and step up when people suffer,” she said, referring to the effort to build the collaborative YMCA-YWCA at 930 N. Monroe, completed in 2009.

Since moving into the new, more visible building, she said requests for services have risen 21 percent.

In sharing her story with women in classes at the YWCA, she wins their trust, so they are open to share their stories as they struggle to move on.

Trish considers YWCA staff heroes.

“It’s important for the community to remember to advocate for those who do not have as much,” she said.

Singer, actress, author and inspirational speaker Queen Latifah will lead “A Conversation with the Queen” at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, March 22, at the Spokane Arena to help raise funds for the YWCA and to engage women in conversation on domestic violence.

Along with empowering women, the YWCA works to eliminate racism, primarily in collaboration with the national YWCA’s annual Stand Against Racism program on April 27.

“It’s an opportunity to work to end hatred and racism in our community,” she said, noting that the board and staff continue to educate themselves on racism.

For information, call 326-1190 or email