An Interview with Pamela A. Schubach

Pamela A. Schubach has been executive director of the YWCA since 1991. She received her bachelor’s degree in public park administration from Indiana University and has completed graduate courses toward a degree in business administration at Illinois State University. From 1985 to 1988 Schubach was Lakeview and development director of the YWCA of Peoria. She moved over to Tri-County WomenStrength from 1988 to 1990 as their part-time resource developer.Schubach chaired Taste of Peoria in 1990 and 1991 and was president of Peoria Area Community Events in 1994. She’s served on the Peoria Riverfront Advisory Group and is a Rotary Club of Downtown Peoria Paul Harris Fellow. She’s president of Heart of Illinois Agency Executives, chairman of the City of Peoria Homeless Advisory Board, a board member of the Homeless Youth Coalition, and a member of the Zoning Commission and Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce government committee.

Schubach loves to play racquetball and vacations with her family as often as possible. She and her husband Mike have two children, Samantha 10, and Spencer, 7.

How did you spend your childhood?

The first twelve years of my life were spent on a farm in southern Indiana. As a kid I thought everyone had a barn to hang out in and a horse to ride. I have wonderful memories of riding our old horses and ponies everywhere and the trouble we all would get into.

I was around mostly boys and was the best baseball player in my family. At that time we did not have girls’ sports in school, and I remember crying to my mom about how unfair that was. She tried her darndest to have me take 4-H and learn to sew and cook, but I was determined to play sports.

My dad was involved in politics as well as farming, so we were exposed to the work through his involvement. He was a state representative for two terms and ran for secretary of state on the Democratic ticket in the early 1970s.

As a family we were involved in his campaign efforts. He did not win, but he was appointed to a state job for ten years, which allowed us to travel throughout the state almost every weekend.

Once that job ended, he accepted a position with a newspaper group and we moved to the city. While I missed my life on the farm, I now had my opportunity to play in sports.

How involved did you get in sports when you finally had the opportunity?


During my senior year in high school I was voted Best Athlete by the student body-beating out the boys. This was the one and only time a girl won this award in school. These were the things that shaped what I wanted to do in my life, either through work or volunteering. I wanted to be equally treated for my efforts and afforded the opportunity to participate equally.

My mom and dad were extremely supportive and went to all the sports events and cheered me on. In fact, when I went to Indiana University to play basketball, my mother made sure I was not thought of as someone who was only involved in one thing. She made sure I was involved in a sorority so I would have an extended family for support in whatever I chose to do.

At Indiana University, women’s sports were just being recognized by the university for varsity status. Once this status was received, the athletes were eligible for scholarships. We have Title IX to thank for that recognition. I received my scholarship to play field hockey in my junior year.

Again, these life experiences with groups of women helped shape my commitment toward women’s issues today.

What brought you to Peoria?

After college I went to work for the same state department that my dad had run years earlier. I was a forester for three years, working in a male dominated environment. The experience was wonderful and taught me about being inclusive.

It was also during this time that I met my husband. Mike and I were married in 1981 and moved to Peoria for him to work in the family business. I went back to school to work on my master’s degree at Illinois State University.

After one year, I decided I enjoyed working more than I enjoyed going to school. So I began my career at the YWCA of McLean County in Bloomington-Normal.

What other career positions did you hold prior to becoming executive director of the YWCA of Peoria?

I worked for the Forestry Department of the Department of Natural Resources in Indiana as a resource developer for the Young Adult Conservation Corps-a President Carter program similar to the old Civilian Conservation Corps.

I then worked for three years at the YWCA of McLean County as director of program operations. I commuted from Peoria during this time.

In 1985 I began my work at the YWCA of Peoria as development director. I was given the additional responsibility of being Lakeview Center director.

These were some extremely difficult times for the association, as we were cash poor and sometimes didn’t make payroll. Right before I came, the entire administration had left and we were starting over. Several board members rolled up their sleeves to save this organization. When I first started I reported to the vice president of the board of directors while the board president ran the organization. They were gutsy women.

Soon after I took this job I met Rob Parks, who had worked at the YWCA in a former job life. She became my mentor and told me to get involved in volunteer work to allow me to be seen. I got involved with the Take Pride in Peoria commission, which she staffed for the city of Peoria.

In 1988 Mike and I had our first child and I decided to work only part-time. Then I worked for WomenStrength. During my time there, we started the Duck Race.

In 1990, after my second child was born, I took a year off from work but continued to volunteer.

Then in 1991 I was offered the executive director job at the YWCA of Peoria. I had wanted this job for along time and was thankful that the board gave me this chance to prove we have a great organization that can be financially solvent and offer great programming to the community.

How involved is the national YWCA organization in your operations?

The national organization, the YWCA of the U.S.A., is out national governing body. We operate under a constitution that allows each association, which operates on a local basis autonomously but under general core program themes, to have a voice on the national level.

We elect a national board of directors who are members of local associations to assist us in setting national policy and our advocacy roles for each cycle, which is a period of three years. At the end of each cycle we meet in convention to determine our focus for the next cycle.

The mission of the YWCA is to empower women and girls and to eliminate racism. The foundations upon which we operate are racial justice, equitable society and global peace.

Each association must offer programs under the umbrella of core program themes: youth development, health promotion, family life, empowerment, and community and leadership. The YWCA’s core program themes provide us with a common language to help ourselves and others understand the YWCA’s historic commitment to bettering the lives of women and girls, reducing barriers and addressing injustices.

The YWCA of Peoria operates with an all woman board of directors mandated by our national affiliation.

What have some of your accomplishments been since you became executive director?

I have been executive director since the last quarter of 1991. At that time our programs were operating at a significant loss. My job was initially to change the operations so they could at least break even. We were able to do that by 1993.

At that time we were also in the midst of developing a long range plan, which the YWCA had not done for the past 20 years. During development of the plan I was instrumental in moving our services to homeless women and children to the next level, with the plan to develop a transitional housing project. This project, now call the YWCA Village, was a labor of love for the staff and board of directors. The idea to locate this program at the YMCA was mine, as I saw this as an opportunity to utilize unused space at the YMCA while capitalizing on the other services available on-site—similar to the service delivery at our downtown facility, which was at capacity.

The YMCA was having major dilemmas trying to figure out what to do with this space, which had been vacant for over fifteen years. The blending of our project with their space seemed a perfect match. However, all of this cost money and we had to be very creative in attracting essential federal dollars to our project.

With the board’s advice and assistance, I went before the Peoria City Council to ask for significant ($650,000) support as a last ditch effort to be able to submit our application to HUD.

We had been working with the city for about six months, but could not get a commitment. The week before the grant wad due I appeared before the council with an offer they couldn’t refuse. I was a walk-on to the council agenda, and this was the first time they had seen our proposal.

Needless to say, this was a defining moment for us and for me. This very large request was unprecedented and has not since been repeated to that degree.

Tell us about the programs of the YWCA. How has the focus changed over the years?

The YWCA continues to focus on our mission, which has never changed over the past 100 years: to empower women and girls and eliminate racism. While the terms may be today’s words, the intent is to focus on the needs of women and girls and provide services.

The YWCA started out in housing in the early 1900s and today we continue in that role for women and their families who have struggled to make ends meet. We continue to offer services to women in all of their basic needs, and to be an advocate for equity in the work place and at the decision-making table.

Child care is our largest single program and will continue to grow, as this is a primary need for women who work or are involved in our community. We are proud of our program and hope to expand in the future so we can continue to serve more women.

Last year we opened the YWCA Village, which was a major milestone for our organization. We did this in another not-for-profit facility: the YMCA. We crossed many barriers with this project and feel that, as a community, we were able to make a statement about being inclusive.

Tell us about the new women’s shelter. Who is a typical client?

The YWCA Village has been very successful. The village is a transitional housing program for women and their children. While at the village women pay 30 percent of the income as rent. We offer life skill training, which includes parenting, nutrition, family health, budgeting, employment skill development and group dynamics. Women can stay up to two years.

The program was designed to be a closed environment, and there are several rules the women must agree to abide by before entry into the program. We designed the program as such because so often outside influences can have damaging effects on a woman and her children. The availability of drugs and alcohol is devastating to these women, because several are in recovery. Our goal is to retrain them to control their environment and their lives. Personal responsibility is tantamount to success.

Several of the women who come to the village had children when they were in their teens and did not establish a steady relationship with the father of the children. Their life has been in constant crisis and several did not complete their high school education.

Because of this program we work very hard advocating for services to teens to prevent pregnancies. Our major advocacy focus today is on extending the school day so that our teens have less time home alone. Schools need to become more attuned to what is happening in the after-school hours and assist our community in occupying our children while their parents work.

What’s the capacity of the YWCA Village?

The Village is a 21-apartment complex with a bed capacity of 116. All of the families who use the facility must be referred by a local shelter facility and then screened for their capacity to achieve goals of the program.

The Village is designed for women and their families. We have not had an intact family (husband and wife with children) as part of the program yet.

What’s the age limit for boy and girl children of the women who stay there?

The cutoff age for both boys and girls is 18, unless the girl is still at home with Mom, then it is 21. Women must be at least 18 to stay in a unit. Boyfriends are not allowed to live with the women and children.

Tell us about the YWCA’s involvement in the Peoria Community Connection Center.

The center fills a major gap in our community in terms of delivery of needed services to our homeless. Three years ago the city of Peoria asked all homeless providers to convene regularly and begin discussing how, as a community, we were going to collectively address the continued increase in demand for services to the homeless, and what out major gaps of service were.

We met for two years on a regular basis to develop a continuum of care. The continuum consists of outreach, intake and assessment; emergency shelter; transitional housing; supportive services; and permanent supportive housing. We worked to identify who was doing each component and who the services were targeted to.

Once this identification was complete, we identified gaps in the delivery of service. The city of Peoria submitted an application to HUD, based on the continuum, and as a community we were selected to receive supportive housing dollars for the center--$605,000 for three years.

The city agreed to purchase the building and complete the rehabilitation. The YWCA received the contract for oversight of the project. Several additional service providers will conduct services from this site.

This was a wonderful effort of collaboration and defining riches in the marketplace. Over 30 agencies came together to work on this facility as a central intake point and outreach center for homeless. The center is for any homeless person, including youth.

Other communities have used our model of agency collaboration to develop their homeless continuum of care.

The YWCA provides the case management staff for the facility. Several other agencies involved provide their own staffing due to the facility based upon their service delivery.

How would you rate the support the YWCA gets from the community?

Community support for the YWCA is great, but as most not-for-profits will tell you, we can do more. The community should realize that just because there are child cares at several organizations doesn’t mean there is duplication. The need is so great that more than one provider is necessary to have our children in a safe and secure environment and not home alone.

We all have our niches and some groups may be duplicating efforts, but if you do you programs well the community will respond.

What challenges does the YWCA currently face?

We have aging buildings that drain our financial resources. The board of directors is in the midst of finalizing our vision for the future. We want to become the premier women’s organization in the Peoria area. Once we rehabilitate our facilities and reposition ourselves programmatically, I am confident we will achieve this goal in the next few years.

You, personally, have had the challenge of battling breast cancer. How has that experience changed you and your family?

Having breast cancer was the last thing I felt would ever happened to me—not that we can predict major illness. It was just that I was pretty young and had very young children at the time. My son was only 2. I thought that breast cancer was for older women.

Just prior to my diagnosis, my dad was diagnosed with leukemia. I’m not really sure how my mom handled all of this, but my husband and his family were so supportive that they helped me fill the gap.

My kids knew I was sick, but I know they did not understand the risk. My husband picked up so many of our shared family responsibilities, and the staff at the YWCA was exceptionally supportive—I will be forever grateful.

I’m not one to dwell on my illness and I firmly believe that your personal attitude has as much to do with recovery as drugs. I looked great in hats once I became bald due to chemo.

I’m not sure there was anything earth shattering I gained form my experience with breast cancer, except to probably be a little more selfish of my time to myself. I know y kids need me some of the time, but not all of the time. I know I can’t be all things all of the time. I have to give up pieces every now and then and not feel guilty about it.

One of my good memories from going through chemotherapy was that my husband did a lot of work around the house. Soon after I finished the treatment and was feeling pretty good he said he sure hoped we could get back to normal soon. I told him I thought this should be our new normal and he better continue to assist with all aspects of our family life. Needless to say, we are still happily married and our cleaning lady does a wonderful job.

You’ve volunteered fro many organizations including Taste of Peoria and Take Pride in Peoria. What is your philosophy regarding volunteerism?

I volunteered because I was asked by people I have great respect for. I enjoyed the challenge and chose activities that fit my lifestyle. I grew up in a family that was involved in the community and always gave something back.

No matter what venue we have available to us, each and every one of us must give something back. When, as a community, we become selfish, our neighborhoods start to erode. I feel volunteerism is one way to make a difference in how we live and work.

What are the misconceptions within the community regarding the YWCA?

Some people feel we try to be too many things to al people. I believe firmly in our mission of empowering women. At different times the services we deliver to accomplish this mission will change according to the needs of women. This does not mean we are trying to do too many things. It simply means we are evolving to meet the needs of women in today’s world.

Whenever I decide to leave the YWCA, I hope I can say that through my leadership I finally brought us to the point where we could have an equitable and fair discussion about the needs of our community and how they will be met. This, in and of itself, is a long process.

Is managing a nonprofit organization different than managing a for-profit business?

No. While we offer services to our community at no charge, we still have to balance expenses with income. We have great compassion, but when it comes to the bottom line we still need to balance. I know I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none, but I am able to rely on a wonderful board of directors who bring their expertise to the YWCA.

Any other thoughts to share with us?

I guess if I have any words of wisdom to share about the YWCA and our community, it would be that we all have to be at the table in order for this to work.

Equity is a word we are still coming to grips with in terms of male and female relationships, let alone all the other situations that occur. It is always difficult to create equal chairs at the policy-making tables. We have too many hidden agendas, and there are those who think they have all the answers if they just had all the money. Creating the table takes a lot of work, but the end results are always worth the effort.

I love Peoria and the people who want to make this the best place to live, raise a family and work.

Someday I will run for a political office. I enjoy the involvement and know I have something to offer.

And if that doesn’t work, I’ll go play racquetball with the guys. TPW

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