Alicia McCormick: A Legacy of Hope
"Alicia's life was tragically cut short, but her legacy will truly live on through those she helped and to all of us whom she inspired."
- U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV
If you search through the list of our programs here at the YWCA Charleston, you'll notice one named the YWCA Alicia McCormick Homes. Consisting of ten transitional housing apartments, these homes are reserved for women and children who are moving toward independent lives after overcoming homelessness due to domestic violence, stalking, dating violence, or sexual assault. The Alicia McCormick Homes work hand-in-hand with the YWCA Resolve Family Abuse Program, which serves victims of domestic violence in Kanawha, Clay and Boone counties. When victims are ready to leave the emergency shelter but still need time to heal, they can transition to the McCormick Homes.
Serving all the needs of survivors takes time, funds, dedication, and an insatiable appetite to end domestic violence - and no one embodied that more than the woman these homes are named after, Alicia McCormick.
Alicia began at the YWCA Charleston Resolve Family Abuse Program (RFAP) in April of 1986 as a Counselor and quickly became the Program Director in May of 1988. During her time as Program Director, she compiled a long list of accomplishments including, but not limited to: diversifying funding sources thereby creating a solid foundation for program maintenance and development; actively participating in the statewide Coalition Against Domestic Violence, helping to set long-range goals for the thirteen licensed domestic violence shelters in the state; influencing legislation for the prevention of domestic violence; and developing grants to fund necessary positions needed at RFAP.
Unfortunately though, not even the greatest advocates are safe from violence. In July of 1991 at thirty-two years old and just three brief years after becoming Program Director, Alicia McCormick was found murdered in her Charleston apartment. Shocked with grief and anger, the community came together to honor her life and the legacy she left behind. Working alongside her at the time as the Sojourner's Shelter for Homeless Women and Families Program Director, Debby Weinstein was a close friend of Alicia's. Debby is now the YWCA Charleston CEO.
"Alicia was tireless and courageous beyond belief. She was one of the funniest and most compassionate people I've ever met. If she was alive today, she would be the CEO - not me. It was my deepest privilege and honor to work with her and start transitional housing for victims of domestic violence in her name," said Debby.
Alicia's legacy continues today as the domestic violence victims she so tirelessly advocated for are granted safe housing in her name for up to 24 months. The Alicia McCormick homes have been instrumental to helping many women and children become independent individuals with a renewed sense of self-esteem.
"One thing that was really missing in this community was transitional housing for victims of domestic violence. Expecting victims to go right into housing after being in the emergency shelter was not realistic with the amount of healing they needed to do. This community knew we needed that and the YWCA was the organization. It has been incredibly successful to help victims become survivors and not only survivors, but women and children who thrive," said Debby.
One recent example of one of these women who thrives comes from a survivor, whom we will call Danielle. This is her story:
After being court ordered to rehabilitate in Charleston from drug-related crime, Danielle met her abuser in her recovery program. Shortly after getting together, Danielle's boyfriend relapsed and along with the renewed substance abuse came mental, physical, and emotional abuse. Despite her best efforts to maintain her sobriety and meet her goals, Danielle couldn't get ahead and became, as she said, "a prisoner in her own home."
Finally, enough was enough. Danielle packed her things in her car and after a week of working up the courage, she told her abuser that she was leaving early for work. At the risk of relapsing again, Danielle decided to seek refuge at the YWCA Charleston Resolve Family Abuse Program's domestic violence shelter instead of going back to her hometown. After a week at the shelter, Danielle decided to give her abuser a second chance and returned to their apartment. Within just thirty minutes of being back, she quickly realized she had made a horrible mistake. Leaving his place, Danielle made a tearful phone call to the RFAP admitting she was wrong, and didn't know where to turn. On the other end of the crisis line, the staff member comforted her, invited her to return to the shelter, and remained on the phone with Danielle for the remainder of the drive.
Ashamed of making the choice to return to her abuser, Danielle was surprised to not be guilt tripped and was instead welcomed back with open arms at the shelter. After that moment, her life changed for the better - and she didn't look back.
Once Danielle was ready to move forward from the emergency shelter, she didn't feel ready to go out on her own again. With a felony conviction from years prior, she was stuck in a low-paying job and unable to access many resources. Fortunately, the Alica McCormick Homes were ready to offer Danielle a safe, secure place to live for up to 24 months. During that period, Danielle was able to continue working toward her short-term goals of saving money for a place to live and paying off debt so she could obtain utilities in her own name. Through ongoing case management and staff assistance, she was able to work through the expungement process for a felony that had created seemingly insurmountable barriers to employment and permanent housing. Danielle said that without the YWCA programs, she probably would have relapsed and either returned to jail or been killed by her abuser.
Over time, Danielle was able to increase her career skills and confidence to seek a new position. She gained a substantial pay increase and a job with health insurance. Upon completing her stay at Alicia McCormick homes, Danielle lives in her own apartment that she has decorated herself. She enjoys her new job and all the opportunities the future holds. She thrives on being self-sufficient and truly empowered to create her next chapter in life.
The enduring legacy of Alicia McCormick grows every time a woman like Danielle finds that safe place to heal and thrive. Every time a victim finds the courage to leave an abuser, the work of Alicia is honored. When a survivor feels doubt creeping in, but finds the strength to conquer those fears, she blesses the memory of Alicia. Thanks to YWCA Alicia McCormick Homes and the caring staff who carry on in Alicia's footsteps, there are more and more women gaining their confidence and starting new lives every day.