Anne Burkholder was 20 when she and a friend lit out for India on what she thought would be her last, best and greatest opportunity for adventure before they would settle down and do what they'd been brought up to do.
It didn't turn out that way. They spent 10 months in India, where Burkholder learned about Mahatma Gandhi, whose teachings she reveres to this day. In fact, a statue of Gandhi graces the entrance to the new Center for Families at the Salt Lake City YWCA, which Burkholder has led since 2000.
Past and future have merged for Burkholder, who now is looking toward a renewal of the YWCA's core mission: social change and justice in the world, achieved through developing women's leadership abilities.
She comes to the work with a history of nonprofit experience and master's degrees in divinity, philosophy and ethics. She grew up in Boise in a family whose Christian values emphasized an active social conscience.
And she was involved in the YWCA there, learning that the world "wasn't how it should be, but I should be a part of helping it to be the way it should be. And that involved those grand concepts of peace, justice, freedom and dignity."
For decades, Salt Lake's YWCA has been a haven for women and children victimized by domestic violence. At present, some 250 women and children live in secure residences; Burkholder estimates 170 of them are children, most 8 and younger. All have a child advocate, educational assistance and a host of other services.
The cruelty of violence, both physical and mental, is apparent in all of them, Burkholder says.
"You're a mother and you're in a relationship where your husband tells you that you can't do anything right and you're a terrible parent. And you hear that and hear that and hear that," she says. "Or you're told that you're ugly, or you're told you're not smart. And that's long before there may be any physical issues."
Meantime, children are seeing and hearing that abuse and may also be abused. "They may be protective of their mother, or they may feel really angry with her â¦ and unable to live life as a child," Burkholder says.
Meantime, neuroscientists have found evidence that their developing brains can be affected. "Even children who are a few months old are going to be different from a child in a home where this is going on," she says.
Again, that's where the YWCA and its many partners come in. The women and children there get protection and care from entities ranging from the Salt Lake Police Department's domestic violence unit to the Children's Center just down the street.
"On our side of the pathway, what we try to do is surround them with as much love and attention as we can, so they can experience life in a different way," Burkholder says.
Still, now that the YWCA's continuum of care is largely complete, she looks toward the last phase of a 16-year strategic plan that will take it to 2020 the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted American women the right to vote.
Burkholder sees the YWCA welcoming all women for initiatives such as Real Women Vote conferences and the Young Women's Leadership Summit. She sees the YWCA doing more state and national advocacy and public policy work. She'd love to find some seed money for a full-time public policy analyst whose focus would be on women and families and expanding the YWCA's credibility on issues.
On the political front, the YWCA is "inclusive of all women and all political beliefs," Burkholder says. Given the dearth of women in elected office about 16 percent to 17 percent in the Utah Legislature and the U.S. Congress "at the very least, we need representation proportional to our population, and that means a full 50 percent in all elected offices at every level of government," she says.
Well, Burkholder and her colleagues have moved mountains to bring the Utah YWCA to its present capacity. There's no reason not to believe they'll one day achieve their core aspiration: eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org,facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.