Local shelter leaders share goals for women empowerment

<p>The YWCA of Central Indiana houses women and children who need a place to live in its emergency shelter program, Jan. 26, 2021, in Muncie. WaTasha Barnes Griffin, CEO of the Central Indiana YWCA, said all of its programs aim to empower women. <strong>Jaden Whiteman, DN File</strong></p>

The YWCA of Central Indiana houses women and children who need a place to live in its emergency shelter program, Jan. 26, 2021, in Muncie. WaTasha Barnes Griffin, CEO of the Central Indiana YWCA, said all of its programs aim to empower women. Jaden Whiteman, DN File

Local resources for domestic violence survivors

A Better Way provides: 

  • A safe shelter for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and their children for up to 45 days
  • Essential transportation for residential clients to work, court, school and other activities
  • Educational resources including support groups, counseling and other programs
  • Financial independence education for assault survivors
  • A rape crisis center providing counseling, safety planning, legal advocacy and emotional support
  • Children’s programs and parenting classes
  • Telecare services including daily calls to older, disabled or homebound adults
  • A suicide hotline and crisis hotline
    • Suicide hotline: 800-273-TALK
    • 24-hour crisis line: 765-288-HELP

A Better Way can be reached at its office phone number: 765-747-9107. To become a volunteer for A Better Way’s crisis hotline, apply online at abetterwaymuncie.org.

The YWCA provides:

  • Complementary, overnight, temporary shelter stay program
  • Emergency shelter for women and children for up to 45 days
  • Permanent housing support and advocacy
  • Social justice and civil rights education programs
  • Leadership and development opportunities for young women and girls
  • Health and wellness programs and increased access to public healthcare

The YWCA can be reached at its 310 E. Charles St. location or at its office phone number: 765-284-3345.

Sources: A Better Way Muncie and Central Indiana YWCA

In elementary school, she wanted to be a fashion designer — one who would help her friends make decisions on what to wear or provide them with clothing items for free. “Help” is the key word. Drawing clothes was fun, but WaTasha Barnes Griffin really wanted to help people for a living — she just didn’t know it could be a specific career. That was, until fifth grade, when a class speaker called it “social work.”

Barnes Griffin is now the CEO of the YWCA of Central Indiana, and all of its programs aim to empower women.

“We can’t do the empowering work without really focusing on racial issues [and] social justice issues because they tend to perpetuate some of the systemic disparities that happen in the lives of women,” Barnes Griffin said. 

The programs offered by the YWCA include social advocacy events, such as Stand Against Racism, educational services and a clothing boutique, which is reserved for emergency shelter residents. 

WaTasha Barnes Griffin (center), stands with Meredith Demaree, Rhianna Dugan, 10, and Charlie Dugan, 11, after Put Yourself in her H.E.E.L.S. Sept. 28, 2019. The Help, Empower, Encourage, Lift, Support (H.E.E.L.S.) program is an annual walking event at the Central Indiana YWCA that aims to empower women through raising money for residential programs. WaTasha Barnes Griffin, Photo Provided

The YWCA’s residential services for women are some of the most prominent in the Muncie community. One of their key goals is to inspire women to take on leadership roles and help them grow in that area.

“[The YWCA] is very intentional about having women in leadership,” Barnes Griffin said. “Our board of directors is very intentional about having a women-led board — all women at that table making those decisions.”

A 2015 study from NonProfit Quarterly found women make up 73 percent of the nonprofit workforce but less than half of executive positions. Barnes Griffin said she fights every day to break the glass ceiling — the invisible barrier that prevents women and minorities from rising to upper-level positions. It’s a fight that doesn’t stop.

She juggles work and family. Zoom meetings sometimes begin before the CEO even leaves her house. With a cup of coffee in hand, she strolls into the office around 8 or 9 in the morning, attends several more meetings and attempts to leave at 5 p.m. There are even times, she said, when she will have to stay late or attend more meetings once she returns home. 

“Women in leadership have these dual roles,” she said.

Barnes Griffin takes some of her meetings home because she is also a wife and mother and wants to be present with her family despite a demanding job. She said her family sometimes has to remind her to relax because not everything is a social justice issue. 

Barnes Griffin allots time for her family to debrief from her job. She said she also enjoys reading and driving through the countryside. It is her few moments of debriefing that Barnes Griffin said fuel her to be an expendable leader.

“Leading is being able to follow, being able to use your voice for good, being willing to do the things you're asking other people to do and, sometimes, being scared,” she said.

Teresa Clemmons, executive director of A Better Way Muncie, exemplifies an organization that has grown with a woman in leadership.

Once an organization solely for women, Clemmons said, A Better Way expanded its reach to all genders and ages about five or six years ago. However, more women use its services than men.

In addition to serving 171 domestic violence survivors and their children in 2020 alone, Clemmons said A Better Way introduced a new resource last year. Nearly 20,000 people across the United States used its suicide prevention chat service that was introduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Achievements like these are some of Clemmons’ proudest accomplishments of her 25-year career.

“Our services have grown so that, now, our suicide prevention is just as big a program as our domestic violence,” Clemmons said. 

Clemmons said she’s learned most people who have experienced suicidal thoughts have also experienced domestic violence or sexual assault and vice versa. The expanded programs help Clemmons become more open-minded.

“It just helps you be able to actually see change in people’s lives instead of just putting a Band-Aid on something,” she said.

Though women’s nonprofit executive salaries showed a slight increase in 2017, men working in the industry received larger percent increases in their raises, according to Guidestar’s 2019 Nonprofit Compensation Report.

Being CEO of a women’s empowerment nonprofit, Barnes Griffin fights at the center of the battle. Through advocacy, education and support, she believes more women will be able to get jobs and step into leadership roles. It takes non-stop fighting and effort, Barnes Griffin said, but the reward of seeing advancements in equality is worth it.

“Serving women, and seeing women in leadership and helping to bring along up-and-coming women leaders,” she said, “it’s good stuff.”

Contact Natasha Leland with comments at nleland@bsu.edu or on Twitter @leland_natasha.


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