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YWCA celebrates 60 years of service in Kitsap County
When Lillian Walker helped plant YWCA's seeds in Kitsap County in 1948, the organization was rooted in a then-segregated society.
Now, 60 years later, the organization has blossomed into one of the county's leading advocates of peace, justice, freedom and dignity, empowering women and embracing diversity.
Those far-reaching accomplishments were honored at an anniversary celebration Thursday in the Fountain Room at the Kitsap Conference Center at Bremerton Harborside.
Attended by a handful of local dignitaries including Congressman Norm Dicks (D-WA), Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman and county commissioners Josh Brown and Steve Bauer, the celebration marked 60 years of service by YWCA in Kitsap County.
"I think the YWCA has done such a good job in eliminating racial barriers in our county and promoting diversity," said Dicks, who also read a letter from Gov. Chris Gregoire.
As a pioneer in the most basic of human needs — food, health, transportation, shelter and more — YWCA's programs aim to enrich the lives of people in need.
With about 25 million members worldwide — 2.6 million in the United States — YWCA continues to grow.
Dicks, 67, joked that he and Mayor Cary Bozeman, also 67, have been around long enough to see YWCA flourish in Kitsap County.
"The YWCA has been around 60 years, we've been around 67 years," Dicks said. "We've watched this develop and we're proud of it."
Bozeman praised current Kitsap County YWCA Executive Director Linda Joyce for her leadership and activism in the county.
"I understand the commitment, passion and sacrifices it takes," he said.
While people are all different, having unique hobbies, interests, tastes and looks, Bozeman said YWCA cares about for every Kitsap County resident.
"You try to leave the world better than you found it," he said. "I think that's what YWCA cares about."
Among YWCA's programs are the ALIVE (Alternatives to Living in a Violent Environment) Shelter, ALIVE Legal Advocacy, ALIVE/Department of Social Health Services Work-first, ALIVE Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap Domestic Violence Porgram, ALIVE Family Services Program. It also offers families and youth help during back-to-school and holiday seasons.
Those programs provide support services to more than 9,000 women, men and children annually, according to YWCA.
"That's a significant number," Dicks said.
"YWCA is really an exceptional, quality organization of integrity and hospitality," said Natalie Bryson, who has partnered with YWCA through the HIV/AIDS Foundation of Kitsap County. "It's the people, they're remarkable people. In every way, they are touching the lives of people in need."
"The YWCA's perspective is we're grateful," Joyce said. "What's near and dear to us tonight is our human services."
The support of local leaders, she added, has helped YWCA make a real impact on the lives of Kitsap County residents.
"They have been some of our strongest advocates," she said. "They have joined us in our fight against domestic violence."
Walker, 94, who is the only surviving founding member, spoke softly to the crowd before accepting an honorary plaque.
"This is one of the happiest days of my life," she said, holding back tears.