New YWCA director learns clients' needs

OLYMPIA - Karmel Shields, the new executive director of the YWCA of Olympia, has been on the job for a week, but she was ready Wednesday to listen to her new clients - the more than 300 families in need of help with household toiletries and supplies.

“We want to meet the unmet needs in the community,” she said. “They are the ones who will send the message to us.”

Shields, 53, introduced herself to volunteers, board members and others as the YWCA’s Other Bank hosted its annual December distribution event.

Shields praised the Olympia YWCA’s programs – the Girls Without Limits after school program for girls, and The Other Bank, which supplies families with household needs that cannot be purchased with federal Basic Food Assistance.

However, the organization may have to expand and explore partnerships with other organizations to meet community needs and to fulfill its main goals of eradicating racism and empowering women, she said.

“I think, to survive, it will,” Shields said. “This organization has an incredible history of starting new programs. I’ll work to find the partnerships we need.”

Shields was one of 65 applicants after former executive director Joan Cathey, 65, retired in June after 12 years.

YWCA of Olympia board director Sandi Roberts said she met Shields at a regional YWCA conference.

“She’s fabulous,” Roberts said. “She’s very energetic, and very excited to get started with new programs.”

Roberts said the board will have a retreat in January to discuss the possibility of new programs and priorities.

Shields was a lecturer and program coordinator for the social work program for Eastern Washington University at its Clark College campus. She also has been involved with YWCAs in King and Clark counties, mostly in a voluntary capacity, since 1983. She first got involved with the organization when she was in graduate school, pursuing a master’s in social work at the University of Washington.

Shields comes to an organization that is facing a growing community demand for services. Last week, about 130 families came to the Other Bank, which is a 30 percent increase from what the organization has had in the past, Other Bank director Randi Miller said.

Families may visit the YWCA’s Other Bank, which is open on Wednesdays, up to six times a year, plus the Clean Christmas event and “Christmas in July.” More than 300 families were expected to receive items such as shampoo, conditioner and dish soap that the Basic Food program will not pay for.

“Some people are people who have never used any social services in the past,” Miller said.