Under blue skies, community members and local and state officials gathered on Oct. 1 for the unveiling of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore new campus expansion.

The facility on Ridge Avenue was built 51 years ago, but as time went by and women and children moved in and out, the YWCA knew they needed a more sustainable model to last them for the next half of the century, said Karen Singer, CEO of YWCA Evanston/North Shore.

Over the last three years, the YWCA raised $18.5 million for the renovations, the vast majority coming from community members, along with funding from private and corporate sponsors and the State of Illinois.

Much of the new construction was completed during the pandemic. “Half of this journey has been during the pandemic of our lifetimes,” Singer said. “It’s really, truly breathtaking.”

But the need was growing, and Singer knew the campus had to expand, pandemic or not.

On the inside, shades of orange and blue greet guests, and protest posters from decades ago cover the walls, along with photos from community events, the design intentionally echoing a maze.

A bridge connects the two sides of the campus in order to prioritize the client’s independence, according to Singer. The offices, classrooms, and other facilities are located on one half, the shelter and other needed resources for clients on the other. With the new facilities, capacity doubled from 32 to 66 beds. 

The family support side on the North part of campus includes an expanded trauma-informed shelter, Mary Lou’s place.

At 65 and retired, Mary Lou began volunteering at the YWCA with the intention of helping her community. She worked for the last 30 years of her life, until the age of 95, helping women and children escape domestic violence and find healing at the YWCA. When she died, she left $9,000 under her mattress – along with instructions that the entire amount be given to the YWCA.

The old tower has been renovated to accommodate five new classrooms for workforce development, education, training and equity workshops. The Flying Fish Aquatic Center also received a facelift, and new office and administrative spaces across the campus are designed to be approachable and accessible for all guests. 

“It really does take a village to build a more just and equitable future together,” Singer said. 

Mayor Daniel Biss was in attendance at Friday’s ceremony, along with Sen. Mike Simmons, City Clerk Stephanie Mendoza, Second Ward Alderman Peter Brathwaite and representatives from the offices of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Sen. Laura Fine, Rep Robyn Gabel and Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz.  

Before the ribbon-cutting, Biss spoke about how much he has personally learned from the YWCA, thanking the organization for its work in the community and its efforts to advance social justice causes.

“Those lessons mean a lot to me, and they stay with me every day. I learn from them and I grow from them,” he said. “It is an extraordinary gift to the whole community.”

Sam Stroozas

Sam Stroozas is a reporter and the social media manager at the Evanston RoundTable. She covers small businesses, social justice and human interest stories. Contact her at sam@evanstonroundtable.com and...