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Understanding the History and the Mission of the YWCA

The YWCA was originally started in London in 1855.  For YWCA USA, it was in 1858 when two small groups of women began gathering in Boston and New York.  They were well aware that young women moving into America’s cities to create better futures were being met with long work hours, poor and unsafe conditions and housing, and few opportunities for healthy activity.  Soon, services began to be organized, and the first two USA YWCA’s were founded, with the goal of “elevating the women in their midst”.

Early YWCA leaders felt that women and girls would be best served if the YWCA was established as a separate, autonomous member-driven organization with its planning based on women’s expression of their needs, in their own voices.  With each different community came a different set of voices, a different set of needs, and consequently, different looking YWCAs.  The national organization was formed with flexibility to meet a wide range of Association needs.

The other important design element YWCA leaders integrated was the idea of providing individual service AND advocating for social change to ensure that workplace, societal and political systems kept pace with individual growth among the women and girls the YWCA was serving.  Early stories depict YWCA volunteers like Agnes Fassett making her way into the Armour meat packing plant in Kansas City in the 1880’s.  After touring the plant and witnessing the deplorable conditions, she petitioned KB Armour himself to make necessary changes.  YWCA racial justice work formally began in the 1890s, and has been a publicly stated national priority of the YWCA since the 1940s.  YWCA history includes organizing the first interracial conference and opening the first public cafeteria that welcomed an integrated clientele in the South.

Today, women, girls and families come to YWCAs in times of transition for job training and career counseling.  They come for affordable, YWCA mission-based early education and skill-building programs for their families.  They come in times of crisis for support and they come to get and stay healthy.  They also come to develop leadership skills and to engage in public advocacy for women’s and civil rights.

It is our mission to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  This mission and the combination of social service and intentional social change efforts is what sets the YWCA apart from other organizations.

YWCA Tri-County Area serves more than 1,500 women, children, and families as an educational organization that is empowering and inclusive.  Program opportunities include education, advocacy, and empowerment initiatives for children, youth, and adults in these wide-ranging topics: early education, youth development, adult education, eliminating racism, and empowering women and girls.

Early Education

Early Education Center helps children and families achieve emotional and physical well-being and school readiness through affordable, high-quality preschool education. More than 100 children ages 6 weeks to 6 years old are enrolled in the infant, toddler, preschool, two Early Head Start and two Pre-K Counts classrooms. Classroom teachers and aides utilize Creative Curriculum and Teaching Strategies Gold for Early Education assessment tools to ensure children are meeting age-appropriate milestones. Children are also screened using Ages and Stages Questionnaire to facilitate appropriate early intervention and behavioral support. YW Early Education Center is a Keystone STARS 4 facility.

The YW’s Community Kitchen was renovated in 2017 to provide daily meals and snacks for early education classes and before- and after-school programming.

Before/After School Program

• Before/After School, out-of-school time enrichment 85 children K-6, includes homework help and tutoring, physical education, creative expression, and STEM exploration. As primarily academic-focused after-school care, students improve academic skills through homework assistance, one-on-one tutoring to enhance reading and math skills, and working through science projects. The program establishes a routine for academic success, provides time and materials for silent, sustained reading, supports positive learning outcomes, and delivers a safe and structured environment for children between the time school ends and when parents are finished with their workday.

• The learning continues throughout the summer with YWCampAdventures, a full-time day camp offered to children ages 4-12. YWCampAdventures offers opportunities for children to spend their summer days exploring, creating, and learning. Campers spend time outdoors, hiking, learning about the natural environment and their role in it, and enjoying both instructional and free time in the pool.

Healthy Pathways Project

• Healthy Pathways Project is a multi-pronged health and wellness program for adolescent girls, youth, and their families in focused programming such as Healthy Choices for Girls, Fun Food Fridays, Family Cooking Matters, and YW Champs. Healthy Pathways Project emphasizes nutrition education, wellness classes, movement, and leadership opportunities, raising awareness of healthy lifestyle changes for youth and their families. The primary program goals are: improving healthy behaviors; healthy choices/decision making; and leadership/advocacy. The Healthy Pathways Project, established in 2006, serves more than 400 youth.

• Girls Today, Leaders Tomorrow (GTLT) is the signature program of the Women’s Initiative Committee of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey that empowers girls in grades 7 through 12 who attend targeted schools in underserved communities to embrace their leadership potential, helping them to become self-directed, self-regulated learners who stay on track for graduation from high school prepared for college and career. YWCA Tri-County Area hosts 20 girls in GTLT in two cohorts.

• All-Girl Leadership and Wellness Convention is a one-day conference each April at Montgomery County Community College’s West Campus designed to enrich and energize girls in grades 4-12 on topics of nutrition, fitness, and leadership. Participants choose from four age-appropriate interactive breakout sessions facilitated by professional women.

• Keep Connected by the Search Institute is for families with middle school children. YWCA Tri-County Area was one of five sites selected to offer this relationship-building program for Pottstown area families. Participants discover five keys to powerful parent-teen relationships, learn practical ways to show care and support, try ways to share power between parent and child, explore new possibilities for child and parent’s future, and celebrate the family’s journey together into the teen years.

Adult Education

YWCA Tri-County Area’s Education and Training Center empowers adult learners to find freedom and dignity through education and employment. The Education and Training Center offers Adult Basic Education, high school equivalency preparation and testing, and English as a Second Language/Civics instruction. Adult learners improve reading, math, and writing skills, and prepare for high school equivalency testing in a classroom setting, in small groups, or in custom one-on-one sessions. English as a Second Language instruction helps recent immigrants improve their speaking, reading, and writing in English, and their knowledge of U.S. civics; staff also assists people with the U.S. citizenship application process, helping with form completion and interview preparation. The Job Seekers Connection provides guidance in crafting resumes, writing cover letters, determining best job search strategies, practicing for job interviews, building soft employment skills. YWCA Tri-County Area partners with Pennsylvania CareerLink to offer monthly “Welcome Aboard” orientation sessions in Pottstown, erasing transportation barriers to this initial step for Pottstown residents seeking job search assistance from the state’s workforce development program. The Child Development Associate program offers child care workers an opportunity to earn a nationally recognized credential in early childhood education.


YWCA Tri-County Area’s mission-based advocacy programming raises awareness, offers issue education, and builds social capital around women’s empowerment, racial and social justice and inequities, and safe and healthy communities.  Stand Against Racism takes the message of racial and social justice to area high schools. Race Against Racism, an annual 5K run, brings the community together in an outdoor event. The annual Tribute to Exceptional Women honors women for their accomplishments in their careers and in the community.

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