Adding men to serve on the board of directors for the YWCA of Kitsap County is a big move, admits Executive Director Linda Joyce.
“But it just makes sense,” Joyce said. “It broadens our voice and it makes our voice louder.”
As of this month, three men will join the 20-member board, something that hasn’t happened since the organization was founded in the mid 1800s. The men, Robert Forbes, Ray Garrido and Gary Simpson, join a fourth new board member Wendy Miles, a Strategic Planning Manager for the Keyport Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
“This was just the right thing to do,” Joyce said. “We’ve had men supporting our organization and helping us all along the way. But we didn’t have the vision to make any of it official until recently.”
The YWCA of Kitsap County, 905 Pacific Ave. in Bremerton, provides temporary-emergency housing, transitional housing, and advocacy support for survivors of domestic violence and their children. Annually, over 6,000 women, men, and children access YWCA programs.
Joyce said that from the inception of the YWCA, the work was thought to be “for women, by women to improve women” and their place in the world. That was what the movement was all about.
“It was not until 2006 when the organization took a vote on the national level to allow men to join the YWCA as members,” she said. “And as that happened, it allowed them to become board members, too.”
For a time, Kitsap County YWCA didn’t recruit men, only because the organization already had men working with them, either as spouses of members or friends of the group. In some communities, she said, YWCAs sought out men to join because of their funding sources.
“It was thought that the organization was discriminatory by excluding men and therefore some grants and gifts came into question. We would explain that our membership was just women. But that explanation became weak. We knew we had many men who came to our events and who supported our work in the community and so, finally, we decided that we should officially invite them to join.”
Last September, the local YWCA board voted to allow men to be members and hence, board members. Joyce was in a position to find some men who would serve. Three men came to mind immediately, she said.
“I’ve known Ray for a long time,” she said. Garrido is a Web Developer and owner of a consulting business. “He’s one of the soldiers of our community. And he had told me, ‘When you accept men on your board, call me.’ So I did.”
Garrido, who serves on a number of other community boards, said he was “blown away” by the invitation to join the board.
“I’ve kidded over the years with Linda about why she didn’t have any men on her board,” he said. “So I’m sure that when they decided to diversify, I came to mind.”
Garrido said he has been impressed with the services that the YWCA has for women and families who are victims of domestic violence.
“My wife and I have always supported the YWCA,” he said. “We really believe in the programs they have to help domestic violence victims. We want to be a part of that, but right now I have more time to serve than my wife does.”
Those programs are what helped Joyce make connections to the two other men who will now serve on the board. Both Forbes and Simpson have careers in law enforcement.
“I’ve been aware of the great work the YWCA does for years,” Simpson said. “As a Kitsap County deputy sheriff, I’ve learned a great deal about how victims of domestic violence are helped through their programs. I have actually lost a member of my family to domestic violence and I decided I wanted to step up and serve in a capacity that would help others who suffer domestic violence. That’s what brought me to join their board.”
Joyce said Simpson had served on the YWCAs domestic violence task force. So it was only natural to think of him when adding men to their board.
“To take something as painful as losing a child to domestic violence, and turn that around and move forward so that others can benefit from that experience is really something great,” she said.
Simpson said he wants to be an advocate for the YWCA and spread its message to others in the community.
“I respect the same kinds of values that the Y has,” he said. “I’m thrilled they want me and I’m happy to be a part of their mission.”
Forbes, a community volunteer and former chief of police in Bremerton, was recruited by Joyce because he and his wife, Jennifer, had supported the YWCA for years.
“Jennifer said to me that Rob wanted to ask me something,” Joyce said. “When we talked, he told me that he wanted to join our board.”
As a former chief for 15 years, Forbes and Joyce had served together on a citizen’s advisory board. Joyce said she knew he understood the mission of the YWCA.
“His expertise in the area of law enforcement and situations of domestic violence will add so much to what we do,” she said.
Forbes said he was honored to be asked and is excited to serve.
“For years I have worked with victims of domestic violence and seen how that can devastate a family,” he said. “I’m now in a position to bring my perspective to the board. I want to be an ambassador for them and a conduit to the community to spread the word about the available services.”
Joyce said having men on the board will bring new perspective to the board.
“We have a large board and we seek out people of all ages and races and ideas. That keeps us engaged with our community. And it’s crucial to have the male perspective in our midst when we look at what families and women encounter in life,” she said. “This is a huge milestone. We’ve always had men among us at the YWCA. But now they will be officially a part of the work we do and the lives we change.”