100 years of empowerment


PIQUA — The Piqua YWCA is nearing the end of its 100th year of serving the local community, and the organization recently looked back at its history of creating programming to empower its members and the local community, such as with educational and social programs or through outreach events aimed at public service.

“Continuing a tradition, the YWCA Piqua provides opportunities through which women and their families find fulfillment and gain self-assurance,” said Kyle Cooper, president of the YWCA Piqua. “Whether providing voter education through Meet the Candidates forums, providing self-defense training to ease fears, or empowering women to take charge of their own health, the YWCA is a constant.”

The Piqua YWCA began from organizing with female workers in the local textile industry, also known as Piqua’s underwear factories, during the early 20th century.

“They needed wholesome activities,” Executive Director Leesa Baker of the Piqua YWCA said. Baker said they set a fundraiser goal of $10,000 to run the organization for two years. Within a week, the group raised over $17,000.

“I think it says a lot for the community,” Baker said.

The Piqua branch of the YWCA opened in 1919, and its March 1919 campaign stated, “Piqua’s girlhood is upon the dawning of a new tomorrow. Inside the blue triangle is a place for every girl. All creeds and all races know its bond of friendship. Side-by-side march the girls from factories, stores, laundries, offices, schools, and colleges. Girls from homes of wealth and girls without homes.” The blue triangles referenced the clubs in the YWCA.

On March 22, 1919, a formal organizational meeting was held at the Piqua Central High School auditorium, during which Lucy Patterson, a teacher at the high school, was elected the first Piqua YWCA president. The organization rented space above an old location for the Piqua Daily Call on Wayne Street in downtown Piqua in 1919 before purchasing a house, referred to as the Royer property, at its current location at 418 N. Wayne St. in 1920. The YWCA’s building was remodeled in 1924 and again in 1938 in order to provide more space for activities. The organization dedicated a new, two-story addition in 1962, and the construction of the present structure was completed in 1970.

In April 1919, women from various factories began to form clubs associated with the YWCA, and each club was comprised of women from an individual business.

“Each mill had their own club,” Baker said.

The clubs included Fiwelco Club at Superior Underwear, Pickawillany Club at Piqua Hosiery, Twightee at Atlas Underwear, and the High Times Club or Hiticlu at Orr Felt Blanket. There was also a club called the Swastika Smiles — a title chosen before World War 11 — at Imperial Underwear.

Over 400 women joined these YWCA groups, also referred to as the Blue Triangle Clubs, within the first month of the YWCA being established. The groups met weekly at the YWCA, holding a joint dinner monthly. Activities included holding outings and welcoming speakers to the YWCA, as well as having a number of social and education programs geared toward public service. Some of that public service included rolling bandages for the Red Cross, visiting people unable to leave their homes, and helping families who needed assistance.

Baker said the YWCA was also associated with the Travelers Aid organization between the 1930s and 1980s, which was a national organization that helped provide travelers with railroad tickets and other transportation needs. When Baker started working at the YWCA in the 1980s, she said they administered funds from the Rotary Club’s Fish program for the Travelers Aid program, which included giving out gas vouchers toward the end of when they were affiliated with the Travelers Aid program.

The YWCA’s outreach has since morphed into partnering with the Family Abuse Shelter of Miami County, Inc. by holding special advocacy initiatives on domestic violence. Baker said they work to increase awareness of signs of domestic violence, such as through holding workshops with cosmetology students to teach them to recognize signs of abuse with their clients. The YWCA has also held self-defense classes, comprehensive women’s financial workshops, and more to help women feel empowered in their lives. They also work to raise awareness on human trafficking.

“The YWCA continues its tradition of advocating for women, girls, and their families to fulfill our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women,” Cooper said.

One example of the YWCA’s outreach for the Family Abuse Shelter is how, for the past seven to eight years, they have become a local site for cell phone collections for the shelter, collecting over 3,500 cell phones to date.

Baker said people and businesses drop off the cell phones, and the shelter is able to get some money by selling some of the old ones. The others are programmed for 911 and are given to women in crisis.

“One of the phones we donated was used by a victim, and first responders were able to save her life,” Baker said.

The YWCA also advocates for racial justice, such as through holding a Racial Justice Reading Circle in past, and currently with its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration program.

Voter education is also a priority for the YWCA, which holds annual Meet the Candidates nights to offer a nonpartisan forum for debate on local issues and between candidates on local ballots. The YWCA also holds viewings of the movie “Iron Jawed Angels” to teach local students about the women’s suffrage movement.

Fundraisers throughout the years included selling different types of foods, including roasted peanuts in 1919, donuts in the 1930s, noodles in the 1950s, and handloafs in present day.

One of the YWCA’s more popular events, Women of Excellence, is also a fundraiser for the organization. The event began out of a desire to highlight notable women in Miami County — whether for being outstanding in their career field, for their volunteer work, for a project they championed, or for more — as being role models of the community. This fall will be the Piqua YWCA’s 24th Women of Excellence luncheon and award ceremony, which will continue to spotlight women from Miami County, along with a Young Woman of Tomorrow.

While much of the YWCA’s programming remains constant — from the Women of Excellence yearly luncheon to monthly gatherings and Connections luncheons — Baker also shared how the YWCA is ready to adapt and respond to the community’s needs. Karen Wendeln, a previous president of the Piqua YWCA who served between 1993-1996, penned an article for their newsletter in honor of the organization’s 100th’s anniversary, commending the YWCA for being “responsive.”

“I thought about the time that several ladies in our community had their purses stolen in a local grocery store parking lot. Within days, the YWCA contacted local police to create and host a ‘Safe Shopping’ program,” Wendeln wrote. “There was no time to set up focus groups or write grants — the YWCA acted quickly to address it.” Baker said that program had over 200 attendees at the time.

“Our YWCA began 100 years ago to respond to a need for wholesome activities for young women, and through 100 years, the YWCA has responded to countless local needs providing un-biased voter education, collecting needed items for the county abuse shelter, making young people aware of human trafficking, and many other areas of concern in our community,” Wendeln wrote.

Additional programming is also available for seniors and for youth empowerment, with the YWCA’s bounds reaching beyond the city of Piqua to offer assistance throughout the county.

“As time goes on, we’re serving more of the county,” Baker said. “Where it grew the most is in the youth programming.”

The YWCA offers Safe Sitter and Safe at Home programs, the former offering lessons on babysitting and the latter teaching children how to be safe when they may be home alone. Babysitting courses have been offered throughout the YWCA’s history, such as in 1948, the 1980s, and now.

For senior citizens, the YWCA offers a educational and health-related workshops, as well as social outings and bus trips.

“People come to our programming because they want to,” Baker said, using the example of when the YWCA has held classes on understanding Medicare. The YWCA also offers four bus tours a year, offering participants the chance to have a fun trip they may not otherwise be able to have, such if they are unable to drive or do not have access to transportation.

“They have such a good day,” Baker said.

The YWCA, located at 418 N. Wayne St., Piqua, and can be contacted at (937) 773-6626 or [email protected]. The hours of YWCA are 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. Find the Piqua YWCA on Facebook.

The living presidents of the Piqua YWCA. In front from left to right are Peg Hance, who served as president between 1973-1979; Mary Catherine Grimes (1990-1993); Sandy Hemm (1987-1990); and Kyle Cooper, the current Piqua YWCA president. In back from left to right are Sue Yannucci (2001-2005); Vicki Burke (2008-2013); Cathy Oda (2005-2008); Karen Wendeln (1993-1996); Cheryl Neuenschwander (1983-1987); Nanci McMaken (1996-2001); Leesa Baker, executive director of the Piqua YWCA; and Donna DeBrosse (2013-2018).
https://www.dailycall.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/30/2020/02/web1_Past-Presidents-Luncheon-2.19-1.jpegThe living presidents of the Piqua YWCA. In front from left to right are Peg Hance, who served as president between 1973-1979; Mary Catherine Grimes (1990-1993); Sandy Hemm (1987-1990); and Kyle Cooper, the current Piqua YWCA president. In back from left to right are Sue Yannucci (2001-2005); Vicki Burke (2008-2013); Cathy Oda (2005-2008); Karen Wendeln (1993-1996); Cheryl Neuenschwander (1983-1987); Nanci McMaken (1996-2001); Leesa Baker, executive director of the Piqua YWCA; and Donna DeBrosse (2013-2018). Courtesy photo

Past members of the Piqua YWCA gather outside the former Piqua YWCA house.
https://www.dailycall.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/30/2020/02/web1_piquaywcaladies-1.jpgPast members of the Piqua YWCA gather outside the former Piqua YWCA house. Courtesy photo
YWCA celebrates 100th anniversary

By Sam Wildow

Miami Valley Sunday News

Reach the writer at [email protected]. © 2020 Miami Valley Sunday News, all rights reserved.

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