YWCA domestic violence specialist steps down to save program

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter



The director of the YWCA Clark County’s domestic violence program is sacrificing her own job to save the ailing agency money.

Last summer, the Y — which serves women and families struggling against poverty, domestic violence, homelessness and other social ills — left some staff positions unfilled, cut hours for others and closed its doors on Fridays to save money. That was before absorbing a $50,000 county budget cut and being advised to expect more cuts from the state.

Now, Debra Adams has volunteered to resign after more than a decade of employment, as part of her own “restructure plan” aimed at saving the SafeChoice Domestic Violence Program, according to a statement from the Y. The move will save the Y about $50,000, Adams said.

“It was really tough” to decide to step away from the job she loves, she said. But there didn’t seem to be any choice: “We’ve already reduced frontline staff, then we reduced operations staff. Next, we need to restructure management,” Adams said.

The SafeChoice program includes a domestic violence shelter for victims and their children, as well as various counseling and training opportunities. Adams has been its director since 2005. Her last day will be Feb. 1.

Adams’ core job tasks will be handed off to Debbi Cawthon, the current SafeChoice shelter manager, and assistant program director Lee Watts. Their job titles will change to reflect their new responsibilities; Cawthon will be director of shelter services, and Watts will be director of community services.

“This plan was proposed by me, because I recognized the need for reductions, because I am dedicated to the success of the program, because I love the program and the agency, and because I have such strong faith in Debbi and Lee as leaders and (in) all of you as advocates,” Adams told the Y staff during a recent staff meeting.

“Debra’s service to YWCA Clark County has been immeasurable. The restructure plan that she presented is a testament to her dedication to the organization and the community,” said Sherri Bennett, executive director.

Abuse survivor

A domestic violence survivor, Adams has lived in Vancouver since 1976 and came aboard the YWCA as a volunteer in 1994. She became a shelter employee in 1999 and held four positions within the SafeChoice program before being promoted to director in 2005.

Adams, 57, said she plans to continue volunteering with the Y — because there are some projects she still wants to finish — and may try to go into business as an independent consultant. Having worked for many years with victims of domestic violence, she said, she’d like to work on the “positive side, on prevention and education,” she said.

The Y is planning to honor Adams with a celebration from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Monday, Jan 30, at the Y building at 3609 Main Street; contact April at 360-906-4303 if you’d like to participate.

Scott Hewitt: 360-735-4525; www.twitter.com/col_nonprofits; scott.hewitt@columbian.com.