For YWCA leader, education is the key to helping women and families

Jean Treuthart leads nonprofit that aims to help its community, one family at a time

Jean Treuthart - (Photo / Isaac Edmonson)

When Jean Treuthart thinks of YWCA York making a difference in people’s lives, she thinks of one young girl in the York area.

Treuthart, CEO of the 126-year-old nonprofit, remembers when the youngster, not yet a teenager, reported that someone had attempted to touch her inappropriately at a family event.

The YWCA, as York County’s primary provider of victim services for domestic-violence and sexual assault, had sent a representative to the hospital emergency room to counsel the preteen. The youngster had been brought to the hospital by her parents, who weren’t sure what to do.

During the incident, the girl had told the person to stop, then ran and got an adult. At the hospital, the YWCA representative told the youngster she had done the right thing, and the young girl said, “That’s because you came into my classroom last year and taught me that.”

Said Treuthart, “That was a full-circle moment, of education leading to prevention. And prevention-education is so important.”

Providing learning opportunities – early-childhood education, education that prevents assaults like the one on the young girl – has been where YWCA York, under Treuthart, has found its niche.

“We really are much broader than a women’s organization,” she said, emphasizing that strengthening entire families in the community is the York organization’s main goal.

Some four decades after her college years, Treuthart, who considers herself a lifelong learner, is still getting an education, often from women half her age or less.

“It’s not all about me ‘passing my wisdom’ on to the younger people on our staff,” said Treuthart, who’s 62 and has led York’s YWCA for nearly three years. “They have great ideas, they have more recently been in school, they’re probably more up on things, so I can learn a lot from them.”

YWCA York, which has 147 employees and a budget of $6.5 million, is one of the larger YWCAs in the U.S. outside of larger cities.

Along with early-childhood education, the York YWCA provides healthy-relationship training for middle- and high-school youths, along with a program in York County high schools called “Expect Respect.”

Earlier this month, it completed the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event, in which men and boys raised money and walked a mile in high heels to combat domestic violence against women. The event raised $120,000, Treuthart said.

The national YWCA’s motto is “Eliminating Racism and Empowering Women,” and in York the agency adds a little more to its goals – “Empowering Women, Girls and Strengthening Families.”

Treuthart, whose family includes her husband Steve Baker and her daughter Lauren Wilson, an entertainment lawyer in Southern California, was born in Peoria, Ill. and first came to York County when her father came there to work for Caterpillar when Treuthart was in eighth grade. She is the daughter of the late Marion “Bud” and Elaine Treuthart.

She graduated from York Catholic High School before going to the University of Maryland, earning a bachelor of science degree in management studies. “I was one of those people who said, ‘I’m leaving this small town and I’m never coming back!’” she recalled, smiling.

She went eastward to Philadelphia for 10 years, but then it became more and more apparent to her that York was the family-friendly place that she needed for her husband and daughter, who then was about to start kindergarten. So Treuthart moved back, in 1984, and now lives in York Township.

Before leading the YWCA, Treuthart and her team started the new York campus of HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College.

In her first semester in 2003, there were 200 students, and by the time she left nearly 12 years later, that number had grown to 3,400.

“It was really wonderful,” she recalled. “One of the things I like to do is create something from nothing, something like, ‘We have an idea. We have a vision. We can picture something.’ And then, how do you make that happen? HACC was sort of that quintessential experience.”

At the YWCA, she is thankful for the important work her agency provides, but admits that social-service nonprofits, with their up-and-down funding issues, can be challenging.

“You have to be resilient to navigate the social-service nonprofit world. You have to stay true to your mission, but it’s always a case of ‘no money, no mission.’ So we’re sort of out there all the time, all of the nonprofits trying to fund the work that we do,” Treuthart said.

As much as she learns from younger women, Treuthart with her years of experience has some wisdom she wants to send back their way.

She encourages women in business, younger ones in general, to stop feeling the need to apologize for themselves: “When they present an idea in a meeting, they say, ‘Maybe this isn’t a great idea, but …’ State your idea. Maybe you’re not sure if it’s the right level or caliber of idea, but you don’t preface your idea by saying that. Trust your gut and state that in a positive way.”

She also empathizes with younger women who have young children and are trying to manage the work-family balance: “We have not solved how to make child care easier and affordable for families. You really see that stress (among working women) – it seems like you’re never really in the right place. If you’re at work, you wish you were with your children. When you’re with your children, you’re thinking about projects you have to do at work.

“My advice for young women is, always look at the self-care, look at what is do-able, and start to say no to those things that just don’t fit,” Treuthart added.

David O'Connor
Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at doconnor@cpbj.com.

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