Spotlight: Responding to Challenges

Trigger warning: mentions of domestic, sexual, and dating violence, bullying, suicide, and mental health struggles.

The month of October is dedicated to bringing awareness to several important issues YWRC participants and youth in our community face: domestic violence, bullying, and mental health. For this spotlight, we are sharing how our work responds to several challenges participants and youth in the Greater Des Moines community face.

Identifying the challenges:

  • We know that 1/3 of YWRC participants share a history of physical or sexual abuse.
  • According to the CDC, among High School Students, 1 in 4 experienced bullying, 1 in 8 experienced dating violence, and 1 in 9 experienced sexual violence. The CDC reports that “Females and sexual minority students experienced higher rates of these forms of violence.”
  • Based on the 2015 IOWA Prams data, teens who haven’t experienced interpersonal violence prior to their pregnancy are at an 11x increased risk of physical abuse from a partner during and after their pregnancy.

How do you address complex issues like violence, bullying, and mental health? By providing youth with a safe place to connect with peers, identify a trusted adult, learn the key factors for healthy relationships, access critical knowledge, and practice conflict resolution, we are able to focus on both the prevention and response side of these issues.

The YWRC Young Mom’s program fills a critical gap in our community in being able to create safe spaces for pregnant and parenting young moms to build a sense of community and belonging. Through these relationships and groups, they are able to learn about the dynamics of healthy relationships, increase awareness around unhealthy patterns, and receive necessary support if they find themselves in a violent relationship.

YWRC’s Empowerment Program responds to the ever-growing mental health support and bullying prevention needs. Empowerment programs provide a safe space within local schools and at the YWRC for individuals to build necessary skill sets. This includes assisting them in navigating current challenging and difficult moments, which allows for the development of skills to prevent future situations of trauma to occur.

According to the Iowa Youth Survey on Mental Health from 2021, 11th grade students reported the highest rates of suicidal ideation where almost 1 in 4 indicated that they have thought about killing themselves. We know that an individual with mental health needs will experience increased bullying and also, that bullying will increase the rates of depression and anxiety.

Providing individual and group counseling is a resource we offer that can be especially helpful for those who would like extra support – whether that is for everyday stress or in response to trauma. Group counseling empowers peers to come together to learn new ways to deal with everyday stress, meet new people, and create community. Art therapy techniques are also a helpful tool staff are trained to utilize.

All YWRC programming empowers girls and young women* ages 10 – 24 to find their place of belonging and to grow in self-confidence, self-esteem, self-efficacy, and sense of purpose. Our work is centered on valuing their voices, increasing their access to resources, and providing inclusive, empowering spaces for them to thrive.

As a result of our curriculum, 90% of YWRC participants are either improving in or maintaining a healthy level of four key areas of development: Connections & Strong Social Supports, Confidence & Self-Esteem, Competence & Sense of Purpose, and Coping & Self Control.

We also acknowledge and respect the impact adults can have in their lives. If participants can identify at least one safe, trusted adult, that individual has a much higher chance of achieving positive outcomes in their life. YWRC staff work to be those trusted adults so we may prevent and/or interrupt negative life trajectories so participants can live a life full of possibilities.

This is the YWRC’s daily work. It’s happening when we teach participants how to recognize the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, when we create a safe space to address issues impacting their own community, and when we empower participants to advocate for consent during childbirth.

The importance of the YWRC’s work in our local community continues to grow as we respond to increased needs, and we thank you for your support. Thank you for understanding the importance of empowering local youth, and for working alongside us to do so.

Thank you,

Kari Zimmerman
Executive Director

* The YWRC serves individuals ages 10 – 24 who have been socialized and/or identify as female. This includes cisgender girls, cisgender women, transgender persons and non-binary individuals.