Gina’s Journal, Entry 1 – 7/20/2015
“Lois* was used to living her life worried about her son, but she did not think she would need to be worried about how she would be treated.”
This is my last week at work before I take my vacation. I will be gone for two whole weeks in Montana – and getting married – yay!! Getting everything in order before I leave feels like a chore, but thankfully I have other employees now… unlike last year. This week is a time of big changes. A resident in one of the upstairs apartments, Ms. Lois is leaving. She has been at the YWCA facility for close to a year and has become a joy to see every day! She came to the YWCA as a referral through Adult Protective Services. She came to us as a 65-year-old woman who was living with her daughter-in-law after moving in with her to help take care of her son and his wife’s child – while her son was doing time in prison. Lois was used to living her life worried about her son, but she did not think she would need to be worried about how she would be treated. While Lois was attempting to help with her grandchild, she began to be verbally abused to the point where she could no longer take it. I learned upon Lois’s arrival with a APS worker that she had a big personality, but she had seemed apprehensive and scared. I showed her to the emergency shelter room on the main floor of our building and Lois settled in, and shortly became everyone’s favorite. She makes people laugh, she listens to their stories, and she voices her opinion. She is the peacemaker in the shelter, helping the different personalities come together.
“She has an amazing story of cervical and breast cancer survival”
As I met with Lois, she really did not have any idea of where she may end up, but she wanted to stay in Minot until her son got out of Prison. As luck would have it, one of the YWCA’s Permanent Supportive Housing Units became free. Lois qualified for the apartment and moved from the shelter into a 1-bedroom apartment on the third floor. Lois really blossomed while staying here. She has an amazing story of cervical and breast cancer survival, loss of parents and siblings, and lost her children to prison and bad behavior.
Lois helped new women coming in to the shelter by showing them around, letting them know the ropes and truly being a positive influence to others. Despite all of her colorful life experiences, she has managed to continue laughing, smiling and bringing joy to the other shelter residents. She has renamed the donations room, filled with generous donations from the community, the “Boutique”. This way, the women feel as if it’s not a handout of something to be ashamed of, but rather a place to go shopping for things they do not have. Lois has been a spokesperson for the shelter and has stood as a feature speaker at the Women of Distinction Banquet.
Lois has called the YWCA the best kept secret of downtown Minot, with no signs to label the building as a shelter or the YWCA. She has expressed that she truly feels that the YWCA shelter and Housing Unit has given her a safe, secure place where she feels comfortable. She ‘loves her little apartment.’
“She is the definition of a survivor and what it means to embrace every day for what it is”
Recently Lois came to me saying that she was moving back to the Gulf Coast in Mississippi. She was a nanny to a young lady, “Sissy,” from the time Sissy was 7 years old and she is now 30 years old with her own children. Lois has friends all over the nation, but Sissy has always kept in touch. Sissy has asked Lois to come back and help her by living with her and taking care of her children, as well as just being back where she belongs. Lois is leaving her apartment and moving to Mississippi on Friday. This is a sad day for anyone who has grown to love Lois and all that she brings to other women, the YWCA and Minot. She is the definition of a survivor and what it means to embrace every day for what it is, living in the moment and knowing that having a positive attitude and laughing at yourself and WITH the people around you is necessary to cope with life’s many non-stop challenges.
This is the final thing I will say about Lois, because I get emotional – she has made my days here as the Director very bright. I have cried with Lois, I have yelled at her to reel her back in, and most importantly I have laughed and shared with her. She has respect for women and their stories, she listens, and she is honest and direct. I will keep in touch with Lois, because she has made a direct impact on my life. I wish her nothing but the best of luck in life, and I will think of her often.
*permission obtained for names to be used.
The YWCA Center of Hope is extremely proud of this woman and her resilience!
Young, pregnant, and no place to call home, a single mother came to the YWCA in Minot. She had moved from a different state, leaving three young children with family members to look for work to better her family’s life. At 8 months pregnant she made a short-term home for herself in one of the family rooms available here at our shelter. She gave birth to the cutest baby, and they both returned to the shelter. After she brought the baby to the YWCA, she continued her job with the help of daycare through a friend and got approved for housing. The YWCA helped with deposit assistance, furniture, and other household goods, and she was able to move into her own two bedroom apartment.
She is looking forward to getting her GED, is signed up to get a CNA license, and on top of all that…….she is traveling home and bringing her children back with her to Minot! This young woman is such a go-getter with positivity that radiates through her. As the Director, I will miss seeing her, talking with her, and seeing the little one, wide-eyed and ready for the day. The YWCA wishes her the best of luck on the road to success that she, herself, has paved!
Without a doubt, everyone has had a time that they have needed to persevere though – some may have faced more difficultly than others, may have been affected differently or might have dealt with it differently. We, at the YWCA, would be interested to hear about your experiences and how you dealt with them – you never know, your experience may help another reader or someone at our shelter! For now however, we have our own success story to share about a recent resident of our shelter… Here at the YWCA Minot, a single mother of three children under 10, has finally found her own apartment. She spent week after week looking for day care, calling around with no luck. She found that child care assistance could not be obtained without a job and that a job could not be obtained without child care assistance. How backwards does that seem? She persevered through tears and frustration, and after almost a month was able to get child care. After that everything fell into place, she obtained a job and was then able to get into an affordable apartment with room for all 4 of them. The YWCA Minot supported her with help with her deposit, thanks to one of our granting agencies. This young mother really is an inspiration to all those struggling out there.
We are currently in the process of organizing our 5th annual golf tournament! Every year we tour one of the counties the YWCA Minot serves, and this year we are heading to Garrison, North Dakota for a fun-filled day of golf, laughter, prizes and riding around in golf carts! Last year the teams laughed their way around the golf course, celebrating their great shots and taking a much needed Mulligan at times. This year the event takes place on August 10th, so there will be plenty of pictures to follow soon! Community support is always amazing for this event - team registrations fill up quickly, and last year we had an array of business sponsors. Hopefully this year will be just as fun!
A letter sent to the YWCA from a previous resident:
“I wish to heartily thank you for sheltering me at Young Women Christian Association lodging facility, when I was homeless. I also appreciate the provisions and necessary household materials given to me for use in my new apartment. I appreciate the trust you had in me.
I want to commend your program for the love that you so lavishly shower on those who are in need. I am very honoured to be part of this assistance.The list of the things freely given to me are countless. You, myself and God know about them.
I am convinced that you are rendering a humanitarian service to your fellow-men and doing what God wants you to do through this program, as you have become His outstretched hand of fellowship.”
We have received so many generous donations for the women at our homeless shelter since the start of May! Community support has been so amazing – the women of the shelter appreciate all the items. A variety of items have been donated and include make-up testers, toothpaste, clothes, bed linen, socks, and food. It is so important that we are able to give homeless women and children the opportunity to meet their most basic needs. Many come to us in survival mode. A simple pair of socks, or some shampoo can go a long way with someone that has been worrying about where they will sleep or how they will get their next meal. A special thanks to Evolution Salon, Victoria’s Secret, Minot State University, and Mary Kay Cosmetics for their donations. A local middle school also arranged a ‘donations drive’ for the YWCA Minot! The middle school’s motto is to ’empower students’, and encouraging them to do charity work within their local community is the perfect way to do this. Below you will be able to see some of the donations individuals and businesses kindly donated!
Fast forward a year or two and now I’m the one serving on the YWCA board of directors as well as chairing the Women of Distinction banquet. The YWCA board is the first board I have served on. I was terrified to chair the banquet; Alisa Dahl is a tough act to follow!! I could not believe how much there was that needed to be in place in order to have a successful banquet.
I have also had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of women who served on the committee. They dug their heels in and helped me put fires out left and right!! This was the first big event I have ever planned and I received an amazing amount of support and help, all while displaying how green I was in this type of setting. I learned so much, but what I learned about myself would be my biggest take-away from this experience.
YWCA Board Director, Sana Keller and YWCA Executive Director, Gina Gonstad
On the day of the banquet, I was nervous, excited and scared!! All that was left to do was make sure that all the hard work, time, planning and preparation put into the banquet was not wasted as well as make sure the women received their awards. I also wanted to make sure the funds raised from this event were enough to help keep the YWCA of Minot open, operating and able to continue to help women receive the “hand up” they need to take the next step needed to put their lives back together!!
That morning felt so important to me and I thought I would remember every second up to the banquet! I could not have been more wrong. What I remember most is the feeling I felt aftereveryone left, the clean-up was done and I was on my way home. A warmth I had never felt in my life rushed through my body and has stayed there to this day.
I have chaired the next two Women of Distinction banquets which has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing women in our community that might not otherwise be recognized for what they do, because these are “behind the scene” type of women. They don’t feel they need recognition for the inspirational acts they do on a daily basis. I’ve also been honored to meet the women staying in the shelter and permanent supportive housing. I now consider them my friends. These women are the same as any of us. Circumstances in our lives lead us to places we never thought we would be–good or bad–and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to help in any way I can.
The YWCA board of directors is made up of women with different backgrounds, interests, lifestyles and opinions, all with the same goal…to empower women in whatever capacity needed. Every woman that serves or has served on the board of directors, worked or volunteered for the YWCA has brought their passion and talent to a nonprofit organization that has been serving this community for 100 YEARS!!!
When it comes to the role the YWCA has had in my life, I have so much more that I could say. I hope the take-away message from what I have shared is that the Women of Distinction banquet (and Alisa Dahl) is where my love and passion for the YWCA began. The banquet is the BIGGEST fundraiser of the year for the YWCA.
In addition, I hope I was able to express how the YWCA is so much more than a homeless shelter for women and children!! “Empowering women” is in the mission statement. This does not just apply to the women in the shelter–it applies to all women. I have never felt more empowered and grateful for having the opportunity to be a part of such an amazing organization and group of women!