At age 92, Cornelia noticed her balance and stamina were quickly declining. She struggled to do simple things like opening jars and lifting small objects, and poor posture made it increasingly difficult for her to move around. Determined to make positive changes to improve her mobility and strength, Cornelia joined the YWCA’s SilverSneakers® Fitness Program.
Within a few weeks of starting the program and beginning a new diet, Cornelia’s energy increased and her balance and posture dramatically improved. “It was incredible how quickly my arms and legs got stronger. Moving my body on a regular basis has been so important in staying mobile,” she explained. Today, with new energy and a desire to maintain her healthy lifestyle, 98-year-old Cornelia is an inspiring role model, showing other members that age is a number, not an excuse!
SilverSneakers® is a registered mark of Healthways, Inc. This national program came to the YWCA St. Paul in the fall of 2009. Today, more than 150 Health & Fitness Center members ages 65 and older participate.
In early 2012, Jill slipped on a patch of ice and broke her wrist. With her injury, she became reluctant to spend time outdoors and started limiting activities she had long enjoyed. Months passed and the inactivity took its toll – Jill had gained weight and was still struggling with debilitating pain from her injury.
Determined to turn things around, she joined the YWCA St. Paul and began attending water fitness classes. While in the pool, she worked to get fit—and to rebuild strength in her injured wrist/hand. Today, Jill’s range-of-motion and dexterity have dramatically improved and she’s lost more than 30 pounds! “[The YWCA has been] a great place to have fun, meet new people and stay in shape,” she says. “I’m grateful for all the support.”
Frankie is a lap swimmer. It’s not always easy, but for 45 years the sidestroke has been her therapy. “I swim because it’s something that keeps me healthy,” she explains. “I swim, because as a result of spinal surgery, it’s something I both need and love to do.”
As a teen, Frankie was injured in a car accident. The trauma to her back resulted in severe scoliosis, and when she was 16 she had surgery to correct the curvature of her spine. Frankie learned to swim in her twenties and got started with the sidestroke on the advice of a physical therapist. “She told me I should be swimming on my right side to compensate for my curvature,” Frankie says. “So that’s what I’ve been doing all these years.”
Despite her good health and active lifestyle, over the past decade, Frankie battled crippling sciatic pain. When conservative treatments failed, the pain became unbearable and she was sidelined from swimming. “My life was out of balance without swimming,” she remembers. “I was worried that I’d never be able to get back to it.”
Another surgery brought relief, and after nearly a year away, Frankie returned to the pool. It took some work to regain her strength and stamina, but today Frankie is back to swimming at least three days a week. “It’s not magic,” she says. “You work and you see the results. If I can do it … anyone can.”
Tameisha and her sons became homeless after fleeing an abusive relationship. While staying in a domestic violence shelter, the family learned they had been accepted into the YWCA’s Transitional Housing Program (THP). They received the keys to their new apartment just in time for her son’s fifth birthday and it was the perfect gift.
Once settled at THP, Tameisha began working with her case manager to overcome past trauma and set goals for her future. Because her abuser had stolen from her and closely controlled when and how she could spend money—Tameisha made learning to budget a top priority.
She also chose to focus on her education by working to pursue an associate degree in criminal justice. “I watched my mom struggle my whole life,” Tameisha explains. “[She was] a single mother working 3 to 4 jobs, and I didn’t want that to be me.”
In May 2014, Tameisha earned her associate degree and the following fall, graduated from THP. Now living in an affordable rental unit in the community, she plans to continue her education and hopes to earn a bachelor’s degree and achieve her goal of becoming a probation officer.
Homeless and unemployed, Shanika was determined to build a new life for herself and her three children. Setting her sights on the future, she enrolled in the YWCA St. Paul Transitional Housing Program (THP), where she found a new home and the support she needed to set and achieve ambitious goals.
No longer worrying where her family would sleep each night, Shanika began focusing on her education. With support from her case manager, she enrolled in a medical assistant program at Century College, and learned to successfully juggle attending classes with both parenting and working.
Shanika recently moved into an apartment in the community and hopes to continue on in school to become a registered nurse. “If you are taught the right skills…anything is possible,” she says. “The YWCA helped me put my goals in perspective and I’m so grateful for that.”
You’ll find Leona in the Health & Fitness Center six days a week. At 93 years old, many marvel at how active she is, but she just laughs and says, “You know, I don’t think of my age!”
Leona credits her workouts for keeping her going and for helping her to manage health issues. Her favorite class, Aqua Early Birds starts at 6 am and includes a mix of cardio and toning. “It’s work,” she explains. “But it’s fun work.”
On days she doesn’t attend an early morning class, Leona walks to the gym and squeezes in some strength training before her workout. Her dedication inspires many, among them her daughter Ruth, who now joins her mom for workouts three days a week. “She’s an inspiration,” Ruth says. “I haven’t picked up all her good habits yet, but I’ve got a few years to catch up.”
For others struggling with their fitness goals or wondering if it’s too late to get started, Leona offers some sage advice. “You’re never too old,” she says. “Just keep going.”
“Nothing’s easy. There’s always [hardships]—but if you stay diligent, it pays off,” explains Albert, who came to the YWCA St. Paul after getting laid off in 2012. Rising above the discouragement and frustration of no longer having an income to support his family, he decided to steer his life back on track with help from the Class A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Training Program.
During his time in the program, Albert did more than perfect his skills behind the wheel. He also focused on becoming work-ready by improving his résumé, participating in mock interviews and building his literacy on the computer. Six months later, he received his CDL and landed a job with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
While plowing snow and paving roads, Albert is excited to have not only steady income, but also benefits like paid time off, insurance coverage and a retirement plan. He recently celebrated his two-year anniversary working with MnDOT and is grateful to have the opportunity to provide a better life for his family.
At age 13, Armani was very smart, but she was spending time with the wrong crowd. “I was exposed to people making bad choices, and I was making those bad choices with them,” she explained. She knew something had to change or her future would be at stake.
Soon, Armani started making positive changes. She got involved in activities and programs such as IMPACT, where she found the support she needed to get on track. In IMPACT, Armani received college preparation help and participated in ACT study sessions. Most importantly, Armani built connections with other teens determined to make good choices. “Going to jail isn’t a big deal for a lot of my peers, but I don’t surround myself with people who are a bad influence anymore,” she said.
Armani graduated from high school in 2012 after serving as a member of her school’s National Honor Society, vice president of the student council and captain of the math team. Today, she is studying at the University of Minnesota and plans to pursue a degree in International Business and Entrepreneurial Management.
For four years, Curtis worked at a local meat packing plant. The shifts were grueling and conditions difficult, but it was steady work. “Making $15 an hour, I was struggling to make ends meet,” he recalls.
When the plant started to cut their production schedule, bills began to stack up. Already stretched thin, the reduced hours were devastating for his family’s finances. They did their best to get by, and struggled to hang on when temporary layoffs were announced. Weeks later, Curtis learned the layoffs were permanent—the plant would never reopen.
Determined to find a better opportunity, Curtis enrolled in the YWCA’s Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Training Program. While earning his CDL, he was also learning about how to stand out during the interview process and how to succeed in the workplace.
With his eyes on the prize, Curtis worked hard to earn his credentials and made his job search a top priority. Through networking, he connected with a local construction company who promised a job once he earned his license. “Having my CDL helped me get my foot in the door,” he says.
Today Curtis is employed full-time with a local construction company. He’s now earning more than twice what he made packing meat and is thrilled to have permanent, fulltime work. “At the YWCA I learned it’s not who you are or where you’ve been,” he says. “It’s where you want to go.”
Struggling at school with academics and behavior, Quintin was referred to the YWCA St. Paul for tutoring. After learning more about challenges he was facing at home and at school, staff encouraged Quintin’s mom, LaVera, to enroll him in the Youth Achievers Program (YAP). Quintin joined the program lacking confidence, and when tested, he scored only 30 percent on academic pre-assessments.
As the weeks rolled by, Quintin’s confidence and academic skills grew. Halfway through the year, he was assessed again, and the improvements were remarkable. This time, he scored 93 percent. “I’m proud of him,” says LaVera. “I just want him to strive to be what he wants to be and what he wants to grow up and do.”
Quintin’s achievements are doing more than positively impacting him — they’re also influencing his younger brother, Jeremiah. Seeing his brother strive to do well and receive recognition for his accomplishments is motivating him to do the same.
In 2011, after five years of retirement, James decided to rejoin the job force so he could afford increasing medical costs and take care of his family. Eager to get hired in the transportation industry, he enrolled in the YWCA St. Paul’s Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Program.
The first part of the program was facilitated at the YWCA, where James completed practice tests online in preparation for the second stage of training at Interstate Truck Driving School (ITDS). After weeks of hard work both in the computer lab and in the driver’s seat, James received his Class B CDL—and soon after, landed a job.
Today, James works as a bus driver for a Twin Cities transportation company and is excited about the doors his new credential has opened for him. “Without this program, I could never have gotten my Class B license,” he said. “I’m so thankful!”
Equipped with the talent to go far, Khalique needed extra support to help realize his potential. At the YWCA, he found a team of people who helped him to chart a positive course for high school and beyond.
As a participant in the IMPACT program, Khalique explored post-secondary options, developed his leadership skills and gained paid work experience. “The YWCA has helped me to become a good young man, stay on the right track and actually want to do something with myself,” he explains.
Recently, Khalique put his leadership skills to use at Jackson Elementary. Working part-time in the afterschool enrichment program, he helped lead fitness-focused activities and offered homework assistance to low-income students in grades K-3.
With ongoing encouragement and support from IMPACT, Khalique is working to complete his final credits of high school and plans to attend Inver Hills Community College.
Australia had always had a job to support herself and her two sons. After switching to working part time in order to pursue her education full time, however, she wasn’t able to keep up with rent.
“I got one month behind in my rent, and I didn’t have a place to go, not even a relative or a friend or a boyfriend or anything where we could just go,” she remembers. Australia’s sister advised her to go into shelter.
Australia made and her sons were placed in transitional housing—a stabilizing step for families who are coming out of homelessness—for 22 months. During this time, she was able to pay off bills and save money. As she worked to make her situation more stable, she realized she had the inner strength and motivation to give back and help others.
One way that Australia gave back was by organizing the YWCA’s Donation Closet, a resource of household supplies for families. Her organizational skills helped the agency better serve families in situations similar to what Australia had been in. She can relate to the importance of the items there, saying, “It’s good to have something that makes it feel that your house is still a home.”
Now, Australia has a full time job and she rents a home for her family. She one day hopes to buy her own home for her boys to enjoy while they’re still young.
Her success is what the staff at the YWCA works their hearts out for each and every day.
“It’s more than just a community center, it’s more than just a place to work out,” she says. “It’s a place where people’s lives change, and without it the outcome would be different.”
For 14 years, Shalonda endured domestic violence. Although she was afraid for her life, she didn’t think she was strong enough to leave. It was her daughter, Aniya, who helped her to find the courage. “I’m raising a young girl,” she explains. “And she’s going to grow up to be a woman—I had to let her know that what she saw me going through was not okay.”
Determined to make a new life for herself and her daughter, Shalonda fled to a shelter and later, enrolled in our Transitional Housing Program. Although starting over is a daunting task, with support and encouragement Shalonda began to believe in herself and to set ambitious goals.
She always regretted dropping out of school as a teen and made earning a GED her first goal. Within six months, she achieved her goal and the success inspired her to dream bigger. “I was proud of myself,” she says. “That’s when I told myself I could go further.”
Today Shalonda has completed her first year of college and plans to pursue a degree in criminal justice. A new life in front of her, she knows that she and Aniya are on the right track. In just two short years everything has changed. “I feel like I’m stronger, I’m wiser and I respect myself,” she says.
When Shay was 10 she witnessed the murder of her mother, father and sister. Reeling from the trauma and grieving the loss of her family, she went to live with a relative. The next few years were challenging and Shay felt herself getting off-track.
“I guess you could say I went out of control,” she remembers. “I started sneaking out of the house. I was going to parties. I was drinking. It was just a really bad situation.” Struggling to find her footing, she spent several years moving between group homes and foster care.
With encouragement from her social worker, Shay came to the YWCA and enrolled in the IMPACT Program. Through IMPACT, she’s gained paid work experience and so much more. “I’ve met awesome people here,” Shay says. “The YW has given me a lot of opportunities to learn and grow.”
Working as a program aide in the YWCA Youth Achievers Program (YAP) Shay discovered a passion for youth work. Whether assisting with homework, providing encouragement when someone is having a rough day or helping kids to try new things, Shay loves her work and thinks it may be her calling. “I want to help youth grow up and get the help they need,” she explains.
Having attended 10 schools over the course of 12 years, Shay is proud to have graduated from high school on-time. She recently completed her first year of college, and is looking forward to discovering what’s next. “I was stuck in misery for a long time,” she says. “Now I’m out of it and I’m loving my life.”
At 15, Rakeem was in crisis. Battling the effects of early childhood trauma, years in foster care and a dissolved adoption, he faced a return to the foster care system. His life changed when he was reunited with his biological brother and welcomed into his home.
Together, they began the work of helping Rakeem to stabilize his life and chart a course for the future. At the YWCA St. Paul, they found a community who not only believed in Rakeem’s potential, but was ready to help him meet his goals.
Participating in the IMPACT program has helped Rakeem to create new friendships, learn new skills, and explore options for his future. Looking back, he’s proud of the changes he’s made and thankful IMPACT has helped him to stay in school and on a positive path. “I swear, I was a hot mess,” he explains. “The young man [I am] now is less vulnerable and less angry, and more in control.”
Currently a senior in high school, Rakeem is looking forward to graduation. As he transitions to adulthood, he knows the YWCA will be there to help him navigate. “You know me,” he says. “I’m not perfect at anything yet but I’m working towards it.”
Laid off in 2011, Eritrea was frustrated by a difficult economy and the obstacles that stood in her way of finding another job. Interested in transportation management, Eritrea enrolled in the Class B Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) program at the YWCA St. Paul.
After receiving her license, Eritrea set her sights on getting employed. “I had no experience in a field that’s dominated by men,” she said—but she eagerly began navigating her new career path by exploring job opportunities and networking with employers. Soon, her new credential led to new opportunities—including a job with the Minnesota Department of Transportation!
Today, Eritrea balances work with her studies pursuing a degree in transportation and logistics management. “[The YWCA] has opened so many doors for me,” she said. “I [learned] a lot of skills here that will help me…in the future.”
For years Tyisha experienced domestic violence and cycled in and out of shelters. “My self-esteem was low, but I woke up one day and said: ‘I don’t want my child to grow up thinking it’s okay to hit a woman,’” Tyisha explained. After courageously leaving her husband, Tyisha started anew. However, without a job, she didn’t know how she was going to support herself and her son.
After gaining on-the-job experience during some part-time positions, Tyisha joined YW Works (YWW) and landed a full-time job within just a few weeks. During her first year on the job, she was promoted twice. Today, Tyisha works as an assistant manager. “YW Works supported me throughout this whole process. They helped me improve my résumé and most importantly, made me believe in myself,” she said.
With only two credits remaining to receive her medical assistant certificate, Tyisha looks forward to raising her son while setting positive examples for him. “Now I can show my son that working hard leads you to your goals.”
“When I was in Lebanon, I didn’t have a dream,” Rozan says, reflecting on her childhood there. Only able to attend one year of school, getting an education seemed far out of reach—so when she later became a mother to two daughters, she made it priority to help them get access to the freedoms and opportunities she had not had.
At 21 years old and knowing no English, Rozan courageously fled Lebanon and came to the U.S. with her daughters. After four months living in the shelter, they were accepted into the YWCA Permanent Supportive Housing (PSH) program, where they moved into a two-bedroom townhome owned and operated by the YW. With the comfort of a safe place to call home, Rozan could now focus on school, take better care of her kids and begin to dream.
Today, Rozan’s dream of attaining her GED continues to get closer each day as she completes Level 7 English—and her dream for her daughters, who are both enrolled in school, is also coming true. “I had very hard past in my life, but I will never forget it,” she says. “Always, when I look to my past, I dream of my future.”
Fearful for their safety, Tavanja bravely fled an abusive relationship to start a new life for herself and her three children. Although relieved to be free from the violence, starting over was especially difficult because it took her far away from family and friends.
After spending three months at a domestic violence shelter, Tavanja and her children joined the YWCA St. Paul Transitional Housing Program (THP), where she began working with her case manager to rebuild her life. Within a year, she made incredible strides, earning both her General Educational Development (GED) diploma and Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) credentials.
Armed with new skills, Tavanja was ready to help when her neighbor suffered 3rd-degree burns in an apartment fire. Putting her training to use, she volunteered to provide aftercare and wound management.
Today, Tavanja is focused on expanding her credentials and achieving her goal of landing a job at a hospital. She’s currently enrolled in a phlebotomy program and looks forward to securing a position where she can use her passion for helping others.
Like many parents, Chanell spends a lot of time in the car, with drop-offs and pick-ups going between school and daycare, work and home. Chanell’s experience differs, however, in that she and her older daughter Jade once used their car for shelter while experiencing homelessness.
Jade’s father died in 2016, leaving Chanell struggling with grief and lack of stability in addition to being a mom. She stayed with friends, family and sometimes in the car, telling Jade they were “camping.”
Chanell and Jade found a few months of stability staying with her grandmother, but then were not allowed to stay due to the type of housing. That was when Chanell was referred to YWCA St. Paul’s Rapid Re-Housing program, which provides short-term supportive services so families can move out of shelters and into housing, as well as resources to learn about maintenance and budgeting so that they can create a foundation of true stability.
As Chanell and her case manager were searching for housing, Chanell, who was then expecting her second child, worked tirelessly to find an apartment that fit her budget as a single mother.
“I think people see homeless and they think, ‘oh they didn’t try,’” Chanell says. “Sometimes things just happen. People literally take having a home for granted. It’s everything, just for my kid to go to her own room and have her own bed. I really don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have this program.”
Since moving into her two-bedroom apartment with Jade, Chanell has given birth to her baby, Royal, and finally had the security and capacity to accomplish a longstanding goal: getting her GED. She’s now setting her sights on new goals to achieve, and will start online classes at St. Paul College in the summer.
“I’m just very proud of her,” Grace Nelson, Chanell’s case manager, says. “She has worked very hard and she’s just a phenomenal woman and deserves to know that.”
Living with high blood pressure for many years, Linda finally decided it was time to make a change. Determined to work toward her goal of losing 40 pounds, she knew she had a team of people at the YWCA who would help her along the way.
Participating in Zumba, Power Barz and yoga classes, Linda established a fun exercise routine that helped her to get in shape. She also joined a weight-loss study group at a local university, where she received additional support as she moved closer to her goals.
After ten months of hard work, Linda lost more than 40 pounds and lowered her blood pressure to a healthy level. Today, she’s amazed by how much easier it is to do the things she enjoys. “I feel like [the] Energizer Bunny,” she says.
Linda is proud of her transformation and knows that as she continues her journey to stay healthy, the YWCA will be there to provide her with both the resources and encouragement to keep going. “[The YWCA] has made a huge difference,” she says. “It’s a great place to be.”
“I’m here every day because every day I miss just makes it easier to skip another one,” explains Laurel — a member of the YWCA’s Health & Fitness Center (HFC). Laurel joined the HFC in the summer of 2009. She had just been diagnosed with diabetes and was determined to follow a healthier path.
She knew changing her lifestyle wouldn’t be easy and chose to focus on changing her diet and making exercise a priority. One year later, the changes were remarkable. Her diabetes was well managed and she was also 80 pounds lighter.
What’s the secret to her success? A personal trainer. “Working with a personal trainer has kept me honest and accountable,” she explained. “It’s hard to blow off exercising if you know that you have made both a personal and financial commitment to another person.” But it’s not just about being accountable. Laurel notes that her trainer has been a source of both information and support as she has worked to meet her goals.
At the YWCA Laurel has found the support and friendship she needed as she tackled the hard work of changing her life and improving her health. She’s an inspiration for all of us who struggle to live healthy and be strong in both body and mind.
Unemployed and struggling to afford childcare for her son, Israeel was determined to build a better life for her family. As a participant in our YW Works and YW Jobs programs, she found help securing childcare, focusing on her job search and beginning to realize new possibilities for her future.
With support and encouragement from staff, Israeel gained work experience through temporary placements and earned her National Career Readiness Certificate to further improve her credentials.
Glad to be working, but frustrated to not have steady, long-term employment, Israeel persevered. After months of interviewing and diligently searching for opportunities, she got the call she had been waiting for—a job offer from a local medical supply company.
In her role as a documentation specialist, Israeel is grateful to have not only steady income but also insurance coverage for herself and her son. “I feel good; I feel secure,” she says. “I’m happy to go to work every day to give my son a better life!”
After enduring a difficult recovery following hip replacement surgery, Jack decided it was time to turn things around. He joined the YWCA’s SilverSneakers® Fitness Program, for adults 65 and older, to increase his flexibility and strength. Within a matter of weeks, Jack noticed great improvements. “SilverSneakers has been terrific for me. It’s improved my balance and coordination tremendously,” he said.
Eight months after joining SilverSneakers, Jack had replacement surgery on his other hip. This time, recovery was speedy and less strenuous on his body. “There’s no question my recovery after my second surgery was much smoother than the first because of SilverSneakers. Today, I feel better than I did four years ago,” he said.
SilverSneakers® is a registered mark of Healthways, Inc. This national program came to the YWCA St. Paul in the fall of 2009. Today, more than 150 Health & Fitness Center members ages 65 and older participate.
Takeysha struggled in high school and never thought she could go further. When she became the sole provider for her two children and became homeless, she knew she needed better skills and a new start. After six months living on church basement floors, Takeysha and her children were accepted into the YWCA Transitional Housing Program (THP) and YW Works (YWW) program.
With help from the YWCA, Takeysha enrolled in school, where she studied to become a massage therapist—and after receiving her certification, she landed a job in a chiropractic office working with accident victims. Looking ahead, Takeysha plans to return to school to pursue a degree in physical therapy. “Whatever you need, [the YWCA] is there to guide you to where you want to be,” she says. “If you want to make a change, it’s there.”
At 24, Precious courageously ended an unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend knowing a brighter future lay ahead. “I felt so free once I left him. I felt like a bird,” she explained. “I was ready to start over and make a new life for me and my daughters.”
On her own and without a job, Precious joined YW Works (YWW), where a case manager helped her to enroll in school and start down a positive path. After being accepted into a community health worker program, YWW connected Precious to some part-time positions where she gained valuable work experience as she pursued her education.
After a year at the YWCA, Precious received her Nursing Assistant Certificate from Minneapolis Community & Technical College and landed work as a personal care attendant. “The staff at the YWCA gave me confidence and encouragement,” she said. “Without YW Works, I would be in a different place.”
Earning close to minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet, Ihesha never thought she could do more. Driven to provide a better life for daughter, she joined the YW Jobs program (YWJ) and began to envision new possibilities for herself and her future.
After working with her case coordinator to explore job opportunities and practice her interviewing skills, Ihesha interviewed for a job at a local call center. Although she didn’t have any experience, the interviewer was impressed by both her enthusiasm and background in customer service. She was offered the job that same day!
Within six months, Ihesha was promoted and is now working as the company receptionist. “The thing that I like about my job the most is that I’m basically the glue here,” she says. “With other jobs, I didn’t really feel important.”
Since starting YWJ, Ihesha has nearly doubled her salary. Her new earnings mean she can now afford an apartment for herself and her daughter. She’s proud to be on her own. “$15 an hour for me and my daughter is stability,” she explains. “I’m really making my ends meet and I couldn’t do that with $8 an hour.”
Ready to overcome a life-long fear of water, Carol became a member of the YWCA St. Paul Health & Fitness Center (HFC) and bravely enrolled in an aquatics class. “It’s taken a lot of courage to admit I’m afraid of the water, but the YWCA has provided a safe, friendly, nonjudgmental community for me to begin conquering my fear,” she said.
Only a few months into her class, Carol noticed exciting improvements. She was able to go nearly 5 feet deep, and, with assistance from a water noodle, no longer needed to hold onto the wall for support. Today, Carol is greatly enjoying her time in the water and looks forward to making even greater strides. Her next goal: getting her head under water.
Whether for safety reasons, to stay in shape, or for additional recreational options, Carol knows her hard work is opening a lot of doors. “I put this challenge out to myself, and I’m excited to see how far I can go from here.”
Far away from friends and family, Irina spent seven years in an abusive marriage. “It was like living on a volcano,” she recalls, “never knowing when it would erupt.” With two children to think about, she knew she had to make a change.
Irina and her children sought refuge at a local domestic violence shelter. With just three dollars in her pocket and limited language skills, starting over seemed impossible. By enrolling in the YWCA’s Transitional Housing Program (THP), she was able to make a new start.
At the YWCA Irina found not only a safe place to call home but also the ongoing support she needed to heal, build new skills and move forward. Over the course of two years, she set and achieved ambitious goals like learning English, becoming financially independent and learning to drive. It’s now been a year since she completed the program and Irina continues to thrive.
Like many single parents, Irina’s days are busy. She works as a personal care attendant, volunteers with a Russian language program and sings in her church choir. In the future she hopes to attend college, but for now she’s satisfied seeing her children healthy and happy. Thinking back to where they were just three years ago, she’s proud she was able to change their lives. “It was a very big risk to do something,” she says. “Now I realize it was a bigger risk to do nothing.”
After many ups and downs, including stays at various Twin Cities homeless shelters, LaTanya enrolled in the YWCA’s Transitional Housing Program. While eager to make a fresh start with her children, she felt alone and scared.
Once in the program, LaTanya’s fears were quickly put to rest. “I knew I had a family at the YWCA,” she said. Through this new community of support, LaTanya learned about her rights as a tenant, learned to manage her finances and improved her job search skills.Through it all, YWCA case managers were there to remind her that her hard work would soon pay off.
Within two years, her hard work had paid off: LaTanya had graduated from THP, was working as a Personal Care Attendant and was living in a house with her kids. She’s working to complete her associate’s degree in health, and hopes to continue on in school for pediatrics. “I’m excited to see what the next stage of my life brings,” she said.
Maryam lives with her parents and three younger siblings in an apartment just a few blocks away from YWCA St. Paul, but before coming to her first Youth IMPACT event at age 14, she thought it was just a place where people worked out.
Now, 18-year-old Maryam works in YWCA St. Paul Health & Fitness Center’s Kids Care, where gym members can drop their children off while they work out. She earned that job through the skills and connections she made through her consistent attendance of YWCA St. Paul Youth IMPACT programs.
In addition to her job in Kids Care, Maryam attends Central High School, takes classes at St. Paul College, has an internship and teaches at her mosque. The professional skills she’s learned in the last four years—like time management—benefit the ambitious high school senior now and will help her continue to be successful in the future.
The Youth program’s two components—youth employment and young women’s empowerment—have set Maryam on a path different from anyone else in her family. Growing up in Ethiopia, Maryam’s mother was not allowed to go to school past fourth grade. She has encouraged Maryam to take advantage of the opportunities available right up the street from their apartment, and pushed her to keep attending for her entire high school career.
“My mother has been a big support for me,” Maryam said. “I want to go to college for myself first, and for my mother as well—for her to know I’m trying to get to a point where she hasn’t gotten to.”
Maryam’s hard work has paid off; she was accepted to several colleges, and will attend Augsburg College this fall.
“I would say she’s definitely more outspoken,” La’Shante Grigsby, YWCA St. Paul Youth Support Specialist, said. “She’s very resourceful. She’s a leader. I’m really excited to see what’s next for Maryam.”
As Tamika sat in the audience, she was nervous. School had never come easy for her son and although he was working hard to improve his behavior and academics, she was accustomed to hearing more negatives than positives. As staff called each child to the front of the room her anxiety grew.
Name after name was called … but never her son’s. When she nervously leaned over to ask her mother what might have gone wrong, she got an unexpected answer. “Nothing’s wrong Tamika — they just save the best for last!”
Grandma was exactly right. Staff saved Jaiceon for last because his achievements during the Youth Achievers Program’s (YAP) summer program were so phenomenal. During the ten-week summer session, his reading improved by four grade levels and for the first time in his life, he was academically ahead of his peers!
Tamika is excited that Jaiceon will begin the third grade reading at a sixth grade level and couldn’t be more proud of his hard work. “I love this program,” she explains. “He’s having fun here, but he’s also learning and seeing that it’s cool to do something positive. I see him changing and I’m just so proud of him!”
Project VOICE, a collaborative community effort made it possible to offer NdCad’s Sankofa Reading Program to youth enrolled in YAP. The tutoringadded an important academic boost to a busy summer of activities, field trips and experiences designed to help youth succeed and grow.
Before she began spending time at the YWCA St. Paul, Nena struggled with how to spend her time in a productive way that would build a bright future for herself.
“They introduced me to a whole bunch of activities,” she says of the YWCA. “With them I got my first job, I got to see colleges and they’ve given me all these skills that I can put on my resume.”
Nena quickly became involved in the YWCA’s opportunities to connect with other young people and to make a difference in her community. She also flourished when it came to defining her educational goals and took advantage of exposure to employment and career opportunities for the future.
Now as a junior at Central High School, Nena’s busy schedule includes taking classes four days a week at St. Paul College as well as participating in her school’s Speech Club, a book club that she created, tutoring, student council, an after-school job and community service.
At the YWCA St. Paul, Nena also participates in the Young Women’s Initiative, a program launched by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota in partnership with the Governor’s Office to address disparities that young women experience across the state of Minnesota.
“I want to live a life that’s an example for younger kids,” she says of what she’s learned through the Young Women’s Initiative and the YWCA.
Looking at a picture from her 25th wedding anniversary, Lindsay barely recognizes the woman smiling back. The photo reminds her of a time when she was always tired and struggled to do daily activities like walking up the stairs. “One of my officemates said when he first met me he thought I’d be dead soon because I was so overweight,” she says.
At 350 pounds, Lindsay knew she needed to make a change. She began working with a personal trainer doing three minutes of cardio each day and adding one minute to her routine each week. After building her stamina and entering her first races, Lindsay joined the YWCA, where she found a team of people who helped her to discover her inner-athlete and train for her first triathlon.
Since 2006, Lindsay has participated in more than 100 races—including 22 triathlons—and has lost more than 150 pounds! “It really transformed me,” she says, “because if I could do that, if I could lose that weight…what else can I do with my life?”