Partner Perspectives are written by members of the Community Consulting Board through the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. These articles provide examples of partnerships, best practices, and other insights from the viewpoint of Illinois State University’s community partners.
By Liz German, interim CEO/president at the YWCA of McLean County
YWCA McLean County has adapted and changed to the landscape of our community over the course of our 111 years. When I began working for YWCA in 2007, we were known for child care, health and fitness, and Stepping Stones (McLean County’s only rape crisis center). When health and fitness closed in 2011 we shifted to focus more on human services programming. We added programs like Labyrinth Outreach Services for Women, which supports formerly incarcerated women reintegrating into our community.
Our connection to Illinois State University (ISU) comes in many ways. In comes through alumni working and volunteering as well as current students serving as volunteers and interns, and through class projects in each of our different program areas.
Working with the Colleges of Education and Social Work are givens, but our reach extends far beyond those valued relationships. Before going beyond the expected scope of our relationship, I’d like to expound on the tried and true relationship we’ve held for more than a decade.
YWCA Stepping Stones relies on master of social work students serving as interns each year to ensure we can work with all the survivors of sexual assault and their families who need us. This is not only a learning and growing opportunity for students, but a gift to the community that fills a gap that otherwise would result in a waiting list for counseling services.
YWCA Young Wonders relies on partnerships with the College of Education for interns each year as well. Interns work with our early learning students as well as those with special needs, providing one-on-one attention and assistance. Illinois State students have the opportunity to observe and learn about child development in a hands-on setting and then practice designing and implementing lessons. Young Wonders also hosts College of Nursing students who observe students and then develop and implement health lessons.
Interns also have the opportunity to take on a wide variety of projects, such as strengthening our Youth Development’s Mission Impact curriculum, creating IEP (Individual Education Plan) binders for teachers, reinforcing parent partnerships, and assisting in building and classroom projects.
More recently, we have expanded our reach to the Criminal Justice department. Criminal justice majors are working with staff at YWCA Labyrinth. They are learning and utilizing skills that are helping women transition back into our community through Labyrinth. They are empowering women to learn new skills, build and write resumes, reestablish relationships, manage their health, and so much more.
Over the past year and half, Labyrinth has worked with a wide variety of Illinois State departments in creation of a microenterprise to employ women within our program. The creation of the microenterprise is the last piece of the overall programming Labyrinth offers. YWCA has collaborated with various ISU departments and classes on different projects, including market research from the business department, creating a website design, Design Streak from the Graphic Arts department creating logos and branding for products, and various other projects.
In 2016, YWCA piloted an after school program for students with disabilities. Our partnership with the ISU Department of Psychology allowed us to track peer interactions and behaviors to show that our program was not only helpful to parents, but it was giving students a chance to practice social skills and self-regulation. The ability to do our own research and compile data are often luxuries in the nonprofit world and Illinois State students were able to fill that gap for us. Because of that collaboration, we have now opened our second after school classroom for students with special needs and hope to continue to grow the program.
Our most recent project is an analysis of unused space at our main location. We worked with a politics and government research course to identify and gather data and they were able to make formal recommendations for potential uses as well as identify pros and cons to each scenario. This information was utilized in strategic planning conversations with YWCA staff and board members.
Opportunities at YWCA have shown students that a major or careers are not one-dimensional. In fact, there are many layers and areas that can be applied to many real world applications.
From marketing and psychology to early learning and criminal justice to event planning and education, students and professors alike can gain a wide variety of volunteer or internship experiences with YWCA McLean County. We serve the entire community, whether it is through programming or advocacy, from six weeks to 106 years old. Illinois State students and professors, as well as staff, have been an integral part of YWCA being successful in McLean County.