YWCA to celebrate centennial at PMH

WARREN — A century ago, the high-society wives of Warren’s industrial giants were looking for a project.

They found it in what became the YWCA. It started at the Martha Potter Hall at North Park and High streets. Anne Packard was an original board member.

Among its services was the daily serving of hot meals and temporary housing for women passing through to get them on their feet.

Fast forward a century and tonight the YWCA will celebrate its birthday with a dinner and program. It will be held at its former board member’s old stomping grounds, Packard Music Hall.

Today the YWCA offers programs for children, or as Molly Toth, advocacy and special projects coordinator, puts it, “empowerment programs for girls.”

In the 1960s, the YWCA was more the traditional fitness center. Eleven years ago, an Olympic-sized swimming pool closed, and was replaced in 2014 by 12 apartment units built in conjunction with the Beatitude House, a non-profit organization run by the Ursuline Sisters of Youngstown, that also focuses on the needs of women.

“Some stay a couple of months. Some have been here since the apartments opened two years ago. We offer job counseling, job search help,” Toth said. “All have some sort of disability that makes it difficult to live independently.”

Toth said the women can stay as long as they need to, and some occupants pay for their apartments, while others get vouchers to pay for them.

Services offered by the YWCA include a summer camp for girls, known as STEM Camp, that gets participants interested in science, technology, engineering and math as careers. There is also child care before and after school at Lincoln Elementary.

“We emphasize self-esteem, healthy relationships, healthy habits, everything it takes to make a girl a well-rounded, young woman,” Toth said.

Any girl from Trumbull County may come to the YWCA’s programs, but Toth said most come from Warren City Schools.

The current YWCA building was started in 1928 and completed in 1929. Besides Toth, the YWCA employs an executive director, administrative assistant and two program managers. It is funded by grants and donations.

Last year, the YWCA helped 1,400 girls and women.

Someplace Safe, Trumbull County’s domestic violence shelter, works out of a YWCA office. A few months ago, a branch of Planned Parenthood opened offices in the back of the building.

Grant writer Kathleen Wildman said, “We get help from local foundations, individuals, small businesses. We also rent out our community room and have a child-care program.”

Tonight’s program starts at 5 p.m. with cocktails and will be followed by raffles, dinner, a resolution from Warren city officials, a commendation from State Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren, and comments from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. Keynote speaker is Linda Kanney, YWCA regional justice trainer for the Central Ohio Coalition of 100 Black Women.

Toth said the community supports the YWCA, which is proven by the fact that tickets for the dinner quickly sold out.

Toth said the agency is looking forward to its second hundred years and the keynote speaker was chosen for a reason.

“The YWCA is working toward equality, with the goal of eliminating racism and creating racial equality,” Toth said.