For over 100 years, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of the Harbor Area, a nonprofit agency, has been providing services to San Pedro.
The YWCA has a long history of empowering women, promoting peace, and, more recently, fighting to eliminate racism. Often confused with the YMCA, a separate organization, the YWCA is frequently misunderstood. People also assume it is a faith-based agency because of the name, but that is no longer true.
“The YWCA has always been an advocate and pioneer in women’s issues. We are still here helping women and their families in relevant ways in San Pedro and surrounding areas,” says Sonia Bailey, executive director of YWCA Harbor Area. “We serve people that need help and also provide an avenue for people to volunteer and help others as well.”
In 1918, Julia Morgan designed the YWCA as a clubhouse in a residential area in San Pedro. Morgan, the first woman architect licensed in California, designed more than 700 buildings. She succeeded in a male-dominated profession, paving the way for future women architects with her reputation for meticulous craftsmanship and keeping within a tight budget.
Morgan graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in civil engineering. She is best known for her work on Hearst Castle in San Simeon. She designed over 30 YWCA buildings in her career. The YWCA in San Pedro is the last standing Julia Morgan building still used as a YWCA.
Morgan’s imprint on the San Pedro YWCA is fitting, as the agency has worked to empower women for decades. While the community’s needs have shifted over the years, the YWCA has evolved to address today’s issues.
Julia’s Closet, named after Julia Morgan, is a thrift store that also takes tokens from clients from local shelters, including a domestic violence program. The tokens give individuals working to rebuild their lives the opportunity to select clothing and housewares at no cost. Donations are received from individuals and companies on select days.
One of their newest programs is a food distribution every Friday at 1 p.m. outside the YWCA. Individuals, including seniors from the neighborhood experiencing poverty, receive groceries donated by local grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. The YWCA staff also prepares food made with donations to encourage healthy eating habits. Produce that is not distributed is used in the YWCA’s compost bins to fertilize their garden and promote environmental sustainability.
The yearly Breakfast with Santa event provides local children with a holiday celebration with breakfast and gifts. The families participating in this program often do not have extra funds to purchase presents for their children. With toy donations down in the Los Angeles area, the YWCA welcomes donations of new unwrapped toys for ages up to 10 for this event, which will be held on December 2.
The YWCA also provides daycare for ages three months to five years old, free health clinics, digital skills in English and Spanish for work readiness, basic coding and web development, and human trafficking prevention and awareness. The YWCA hopes to one day provide housing for people who are low-income, including female seniors.
Walking into the YWCA is like stepping back in time; the building has been well-preserved, and the fight to help the underserved is stronger than ever. Bailey invites the community to see what’s happening at your local YWCA. For more information about volunteering or donating, visit ywcaharbor.org or call (310) 547-0831. spt