April 25, 2014

Elyria
Intermittent clouds
53°F
test

YWCA celebrates 100th anniversay

ELYRIA — It’s not very often that a prominent women’s organization pulls a man into its sphere to serve as keynote speaker for an important dinner.

But the Elyria YWCA did that for its milestone 100th anniversary annual meeting and Peace and Justice Gala. When the Rev. David Link took the stage Saturday evening, he quickly let the crowd know at the Lorain County Community College Spitzer Conference that he never thought he would be the perfect person to speak to the causes of a women’s organization.

“But it’s appropriate that I’m here,” said Link, former dean of the University of Notre Dame Law School and president of the University of Notre Dame Australia. “It’s not because I’m the best person around here, but because I read through the YWCA mission statement. It says ‘The Elyria YWCA will be a voice for people who cannot speak for themselves.’ There it is, folks. That’s my life’s mission. ”

It’s not every day an organization stands the test of time with a century of work under its belt.

“When we look back at where we came from and where we are, it’s always about the people —  those who works hard and those we help,” said Executive Director Jeanine Donaldson. “We stand here today because so many women — and men — before me decided we needed this organization in the community and fought hard to make sure its voice was heard.”

Today, the Elyria YWCA is a powerful organization that stands up for the less fortunate in the community through myriad programs, including a youth dance program, community wellness center and a housing program for homeless women — sober and those battling with addiction.

“We teach these women they have a voice, to hear their voice and use their voice,” said Maura Zagrans, supporter of the YWCA and a supporter of the woman’s shelter.

Zagrans, who penned a novel about Link that is due out in August, was eager to have Link speak Saturday after she learned enough about his life to know his message would resonate in Elyria.

“When I first heard about him, I heard co-founder of a homeless shelter, prison ministry and dad — everything touched a chord with me,” she said.

Link has a unusual story. He was born and raised in Sandusky before going off to college and law school. He went on to become a prominent civil rights lawyer and fierce litigator who eventually turned his attention toward academia.

He held a prominent position at the University of Notre Dame. But in 2008, several years after the death of his wife, Link was ordained as a priest and now spends his days ministering to convicted criminals inside some of Indiana’s toughest prisons.

It is in those barbed-wired protected walls that Link said he learned powerful messages about humanity.

“I became a prison chaplain after becoming enamored with the amazing talents I have seen in the inmates,” he said. “We have some talented people who are wasting away in prisons.”

Link’s speech was peppered with stories about prisoners who have changed his perspective on life, a fitting narrative that spoke to the work the Elyria YWCA is doing to change the perspective in the community of the disenfranchised that is just looking for a hand up.

“These people did not fall through the cracks, they were born in the cracks,” he said. “And, as every parent knows you can’t punish people into good behavior.”

Link said the punishment function of prisons — just like the way a community will punish the less-fortunate by shutting them out of opportunities — is not working.

His advice to the room was to take a page from the work of the Elyria YWCA.

“The healing method is worth a try,” he said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.