For more than 110 years, YWCA Missoula has responded to the emerging issues facing women, girls and families. Built on this legacy, today we continue to further our mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all while evolving to meet the changing needs of our community.
YWCA Missoula was founded on April 5, 1911, nine years before women had the right to vote. The agency was located in a one-room office in downtown Missoula. At that time, our primary purpose was working with high school girls, teaching them to “Face life squarely, and find and give the best.”
In 1927, the YWCA began providing services to women traveling across the country by train in search of work and a better life. Throughout the 1930s and ’40s, we created an employment program for women, and offered life-skills classes, counseling, financial aid and food donations.
In 1965 the YWCA opened the Women’s Exchange, considered a service to the community where people could bring in items to sell, and others were able to buy them at greatly reduced prices. By 1971 the store was realizing a profit, which was most helpful for the organization’s budget. The store was eventually renamed Secret Seconds and in 2003 a second location opened across town from the Broadway Street store.
In 1977 the YWCA’s domestic violence shelter opened, and we became the leading force in the community working to end domestic and sexual violence in women’s lives. Our transitional housing program for survivors followed in 1988. Sexual assault services were added in 1997. A few years later, we implemented a supervised visitation and exchange center for children whose families had been impacted by violence.
From 1979 until 2002 the YWCA offered job training, computer education classes and support for displaced homemakers. Unemployed women who were recently divorced, widowed and/or had become the primary breadwinner for their household came to the YWCA to gain employment skills and knowledge.
In 2003, YWCA Missoula launched an anti-racism social marketing campaign to spark dialogue, reflection and transformation, and joined a national movement of YWCA chapters working to eliminate racism. Since then, the initiative has expanded to become its own program within YWCA Missoula, providing education and training to address the root causes of the issues faced by people seeking our services.
GUTS!, Girls Using Their Strengths, a program created by Women’s Voices for the Earth in the 1990s, transitioned to the YWCA in 2007. The GUTS! goal is teaching young women the skills to stand up for themselves and others when needed, and how to use their unique talents to change the world for the better. GUTS! began as a summer outdoor leadership program that grew into a year-round after-school program that continues to serve hundreds of girls, teens and gender-diverse youth each year.
In 2009 and in the wake of the Great Recession, the YWCA took on Missoula’s only emergency housing program for homeless families and began providing short-term stays in motel rooms or studio apartments. Over the next decade, we saw the need for emergency housing increase in response to a rapidly growing population, a disproportionate increase in service sector (low wage) jobs, and a sustained rise in the cost of housing in Missoula. Families were waiting weeks to access emergency housing, and needing to camp or sleep in cars while on the waitlist. Our crisis line also continued to field an increasing number of calls from survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and our domestic violence shelter was housing more women and children.
In recognition of these community needs—and after years of planning and collaboration—YWCA Missoula in 2019 broke ground and began construction of a new home for the organization, The Meadowlark. The Pathways Program domestic violence shelter relocated to an expanded wing in the new facility; and we partnered with Missoula Interfaith Collaborative’s Family Promise Program to operate the new Missoula Family Housing Center wing within The Meadowlark, where we aim to provide homeless families same-day access to emergency housing.
In May 2021, we opened the doors to The Meadowlark. In our new home, we are able to serve twice as many families and survivors as we had previously, and to provide more comprehensive support. As we embark on our second century of service to Missoula, we draw from our depth of experience and numerous community partnerships in working toward our vision for the future: Creating a more equitable, safe and welcoming Missoula where everyone can thrive.
YWCA Missoula is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
We believe that everyone has the right to a life free from violence and discrimination, with access to safe, decent housing and the resources to pursue their dreams. We are determined to create a community where all people, regardless of gender or race, have opportunities for growth, leadership and power.