LIHUE — Since its founding in 1921, one Kauai organization has worked tirelessly to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for the community.
The YWCA is a worldwide organization with each entity unique to the community it serves. Each association, said Director Renae Hamilton- Cambeilh, is its own, with its own bylaws and board of directors.
“One thing that I really like about YWCA is we have that freedom and flexibility to meet the needs of that specific community,” she said.
On Kauai, the YWCA currently offers domestic violence services, sexual assault services, financial empowerment and a camp.
The mission statement is broad, which allows the organization to meet the needs of the community, Hamilton-Cambeilh said.
The organization, she said, offers a three-pronged approach to serving those in need: immediate crisis intervention, support services, and ongoing support for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
“That includes men, boys and LGBTQ,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said. “Everybody.”
The agency offers a crisis line and in-person crisis intervention. They often receive calls from the emergency room, for instance, if domestic violence is suspected, and will send someone over to help.
During Fiscal Year 2017, crisis counselors took 912 calls, while 218 adults and children received immediate, in-person crisis intervention counseling.
The agency also operates the only family violence shelter on Kauai. The facility provides a safe place for adults and children who are facing a domestic violence crisis. It also provides support through group sessions, meals, showers and anything else an individual may need help with.
Last year, the family violence shelter provided 4,000 bed days for adults and children; 300 hours of support group sessions; 51 individuals were assisted with filing for restraining orders; and 14,000 meals were served at no cost to shelter residents.
Kauai is unique, Hamilton-Cambeilh said, because domestic violence and sexual assault services aren’t usually under one agency. But she said it’s beneficial, because their advocates are cross-trained.
“It enhances and improves our overall approach to those issues,” Hamilton- Cambeilh said.
One of the biggest barriers the agency faces is housing.
“If somebody comes in and they want to make life changes, they’ve taken that courageous step, where do they go for affordable housing?” she said. “It’s tough.”
That means more people are staying longer at the shelter because they don’t have anywhere safe to go.
“One thing we’ve been successful at, we’re into our second year, we got a special grant through the Attorney General’s Office to hire a housing specialist. So that person is working directly with our residents, or even folks who haven’t come into the shelter,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said.
The housing specialist has also been working with landlords to be more receptive in renting to victims.
“I think we’re starting to see some success,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said, “but we can’t build enough units as well, so we’ll continue to work on that.”
The YWCA also offers intervention services to abusers, sex offender treatment services and youth empowerment programs. Last year, over 1,000 students received sexual assault prevention education.
Hamilton-Cambeilh feels really lucky to be working for an organization whose goal is to empower women.
“My belief, I’ve worked in the field for a while, if you really empower women and girls, you’re really empowering the family. Women tend to turn around and bring everyone with them and try to bring everyone up. So it helps our entire community,” Hamilton-Cambeilh said.