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The YWCA of Northcentral Pennsylvania Celebrates 125 Years of Service

The year was 1893. Grover Cleveland was President of the United States, Robert E. Pattison was Governor of Pennsylvania, and William G. Elliot was Mayor of Williamsport. The first college basketball game ever played was played on April 8 between Geneva College of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania and the YMCA team from nearby New Brighton. The 1893 World’s Fair, also known as the Columbian Exposition, took place in Chicago. The “Panic of 1893,” that triggered one of several economic depressions during the 19th century, also occurred. And here in Williamsport the local YWCA was organized on January 17, 1893.

The YWCA is on an active mission to save lives by meeting our community’s most pressing needs. This movement that began in London in the 1850s now spans across the globe to 120 countries and in 2018, marks its 125th anniversary of transforming Lycoming County.

The groundwork was first laid for the YWCA during the industrial revolution when women were traveling to London for new jobs. Two women were concerned for the safety and well-being of these young women. One woman — Mary Jane Kinnaird — was a philanthropist who raised funds to set up housing for traveling young, single women. Emma Robarts set up prayer circles to pray for their well-being. They teamed up and created the first Young Women’s Christian Association in 1855.

The YWCA movement spread to the United States, and in 1860, New York City and Boston YWCAs opened, providing residences, typing classes, and exercise equipment.

By 1875 there were 28 YWCAs in America. Focus areas of the YWCA at that time included the effects of industrialization on women and how to manage personal finances.

It was January 17, 1893, when Emma Carter, the wife of the Rev. James Carter of Williamsport’s Second Presbyterian Church, invited her sister — a member of the Harlem YWCA — to speak to a group of concerned citizens, “interested in the welfare of the girls of our city.”

Within two weeks, the Women’s Friendly Society of Williamsport was founded with Emma Carter as the first president. By December, the group became a YWCA and ever since that time, the volunteers, directors, and staff of Williamsport’s YWCA have provided flexible, responsive and life-saving services.

“We are incredibly honored to carry on the YWCA’s rich tradition of serving the women and children of our community,” said Dawn Linn, YWCA CEO, told Webb Weekly. “This year we honor all the accomplishments of our past, prepare for the future and work tirelessly to embrace our community and live the YWCA mission of promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Changing lives of the women in our area has always been the motivation of our YWCA.”

One of the earliest local initiatives of the YWCA was the Extension Committee, which in 1910, began working with women in local factories — giving them support, rest areas and worked with factory foremen to provide safe locations for women to take work breaks.

The next decade led the local YWCA to open the area’s first daycare for working mothers, cafeteria, and Girl Scout Troop.

For nearly 30 years, the YWCA bounced around Williamsport — outgrowing facility after facility.

So in May of 1926, in one week, a building campaign for a new YWCA dominated the news and the social scene.

In seven days, under the leadership of Annie Whitehead, $450,000 was pledged to build today’s YWCA at 815 West Fourth Street.

Today’s stunning red brick building opened its doors in 1928 and for the next 90 years has housed many of the community’s and physical resources to help women live their lives to the fullest.

Classes for women ranged from typing and foreign languages to reading stock reports and investing wisely.

Physical classes included gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and basketball leagues.

In the schools, the YWCA was known for its strong presence through Hi-Tri and Hi-Y clubs. On any given Friday night, the YWCA’s facility was packed with junior and high school students jitterbugging and having good, clean fun.

In 1977, Wise Options opened its 24/7-crisis shelter and emergency hotline, providing free and confidential services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. With about 1,000 women, men and children served each year, the YWCA Wise Options program has made a tremendous impact in Lycoming County.

In January 2002, a young woman and her daughter showed up at the YWCA. They were homeless, the mother said, but not suffering from domestic violence. At that time, most of the YWCA rooms were rented out to college students or single women — so there was nowhere for them to go.

For the next year, tireless work was done between the YWCA, other local service providers, the United Way, and dozens of volunteers. In January 2003, Liberty House became a reality with five rooms available and sheltered eight women and children in the beginning. As women moved out of the residence rooms at the YWCA, Liberty House took over more and more space and today can shelter nearly 40 women and children.

As these two cornerstone programs make up the majority of the work done by the YWCA Northcentral PA in 2018, the YWCA is excited to re-energize the community to the work done within their four walls with a yearlong celebration of 125 years of service to Lycoming County.

Throughout the year, the YWCA will be hosting a wide variety of events to celebrate its anniversary.

To kick off the event, a history mystery themed birthday party PM Exchange will be on Thursday, Jan. 18 at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St. There will be a series of clues that will take guests throughout the building to solve the mystery.

For the community to better understand the history of the local organization, Mary Sieminski, and Janet Hurlbert will be presenting “The Voices of the YWCA” at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 11 at the YWCA. Their in-depth understanding of women’s history in Lycoming County will paint the picture of the influential females who lead a movement in the community through the non-profit.

The eighth annual Chair-ity Auction is at 6:30 p.m. on April 13 at Farrington Place, 416 W. Third St., which will include a vast array of unique live and silent auction packages. This event will have experiences, furniture, and getaways for guests to bid on.

The Race Against Racism 5k and Unity Fest will be from 9 to 11 a.m. on June 9 at Brandon Park. For the past few years, hundreds of local racers have come out to support the YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and make a stand for justice in the community.

As you can see it is going to be a busy year, but then again, hasn’t every year been during the past 125 years at the YWCA Northcentral Pennsylvania?

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