YWCA Rhode Island is observing our 150th anniversary this year. As we celebrate our past, we are focused on building the future.
The YWCA in Rhode Island was founded in 1867 in Providence by seven women concerned about providing a home away from home for young women who had migrated to the city in search of work. That makes it the third oldest YW in the country, and as early as 1879, the organization’s programs included an employment bureau.
Supporting and economically empowering girls and women remains a focus, but the ways those goals are accomplished has evolved. While a boarding house, at 54 North Main St., Providence, and then a summer residence as a vacation retreat were the manifestations a century and a half ago, today’s programs look much different.
Now there is Rosie’s Girls, which introduces girls to non-traditional trades, like construction, which can lead to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers, and programs such as the Fantastic Girltastic Code Company, “designed to make computer sciences relevant, cool, hip and exciting”. Before YWCA Rhode Island, there was the YWCA of Woonsocket (established 1921, later renamed YWCA Northern Rhode Island), YWCA of Providence (1890), and YWCA Pawtucket/Central Falls. The latter two merged in the 1965 to form YWCA Greater Rhode Island, and in 2011 YWCA Northern Rhode Island was added to create the statewide organization.
Individually and together, these organizations have done ground-breaking work. In 1980, YWCA of Northern Rhode Island started Parenting in Progress, offering teen mothers academic courses leading to a GED along with parenting instruction and support services. It was a paradigm for the Sheila “Skip” Nowell Leadership Academy, a charter school established in 2012 and named for a former executive director, that serves 360 at-risk students at two locations.
Other YWCA programs have spun off into separate agencies, including the International Institute, Travelers’ Aid (now Crossroads, RI) and the Plantations Club. YWCA Greater Rhode Island helped establish the Rhode Island Rape Crisis Center, now called Day One; served as the first home for Progreso Latino, and as the home of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Its support group for LGBTQQ youth turned into Youth Pride Inc.
Because child care is crucial to working families, the YWCA has for years operated before- and after-school programs, summer camps and a state-licensed preschool. Woonsocket’s preschool has been in operation since 1932.
The YWCA’s physical presence has grown with the mergers and recent acquisitions. Three years ago we purchased assets of the former Nickerson House in Olneyville, which included a community center and 50 units of transitional housing for veterans as well as a 60-acre property in Coventry. The community center is “full to capacity,” with after-school programs, an artists’ collaborative, one of the Nowell Academy branches, and leased space for Dr. Day Care.
When we think about our history and measure it against our current programs and strategic plan, it is clear to us that we have not strayed from the original mission of our foremothers. It’s a mission that is as relevant today as it was 150 years ago. A mission that empowers women and girls through programs, services and advocacy, and one that helps individuals explore and experience the world in a way they may not have otherwise imagined possible.
Very truly yours,
Marissa Ruff, Chair the Board of Directors
Deborah Perry, President/CEO