© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How McLean County's only rape crisis center is designing its expansion with survivors in mind

YWCA signage
Ashley Binkowski
WGLT file
YWCA McLean County's Stepping Stones houses a 24/7 hotline, counselors and legal advocates, among other resources for survivors of sexual violence. The new space is aimed at creating more private areas for both staff and clients.

McLean County's only rape crisis center is planning to make around $950,000 worth of improvements after an expansion campaign.

YWCA McLean County's Stepping Stones rape crisis center is housed within the building at 1201 N. Hershey Road in Bloomington, where the YWCA moved to in 1975. While the building underwent expansion efforts in the early 2000s, the program has continued to grow, despite being housed in a facility that was not designed for such services.

Stepping Stones houses a 24/7 hotline, counselors and legal advocates, among other resources for survivors of sexual violence. The new space is aimed at creating more private areas for both staff and clients.

Alicia Whitworth, YWCA of McLean County's director of development and public relations, recently spoke to WGLT about the plans for the site.

 Alicia Whitworth
YWCA McLean County
Alicia Whitworth, YWCA McLean County's director of development and public relations.

She said the 150-year-old organization's plan to expand its rape crisis center has been bolstered by a $200,000 Human Services Capital Investment Grant from the state, but more funding is needed.

Whitworth: The entire time I've been at YW, this expansion is a critical need that has been discussed. We have been really working through the 'hows' and 'what and where' and really just how to make this work, given the space we have, given the increased clients we are seeing every year. And now's the time.

WGLT: This isn't just a need that popped out of nowhere.

Whitworth: Absolutely. This is a need that has been growing every year, I would say, since the program really came to YWCA.

If you're not familiar with the program's history, it's been a YWCA program for about 20 years now. In the early 2000s, there was no one nonprofit that could take both domestic and sexual violence programs. So, our friends at (Mid Central Community Action) have Neville House and we have Stepping Stones. So, we are McLean County's rape crisis center.

When we look back at the history of this program in McLean County throughout the years, it started as kind of a grassroots organization of people really working to fulfill this need. There was about a 10-year period in the 1990s and early 2000s, where there was no sexual assault program at all in McLean County. Throughout these years, we've seen the need just continue to grow exponentially. With this expansion, we expect to be able to serve about 35-40% more survivors and their loved ones.

I think I read somewhere that the (Stepping Stones) site has been functional, but there have been some needed ... improvements. This campaign is aimed at addressing that, correct?

Whitworth: The program space that Stepping Stones occupies — we had a pool. We had a fitness center. That's what the YW did for many, many years.

When we closed that pool space 10 years ago, Stepping Stones stepped into that space. So right now, we have counseling spaces in former lifeguard offices with windows overlooking what used to be a pool and is now a very empty space.

We have counseling rooms in what used to be vending spaces where the little window would come up and down for concessions. We just have all these spaces that weren't designed with survivors in mind.

Even our staffing area for Stepping Stones is in a group fitness space. These folks have giant mirrors on the wall and carpet squares over creaky wood floors. Every time we've given a tour in this space, we go to say something like, 'It's not soundproof; we've got little ones above because we also manage a childcare' — and on cue, one of those little nuggets will bang those blocks and flush those toilets.

That's where we take our hotline calls. So, when we look at what is needed, we need a centrally-located space within our current facility. We need private bathrooms. We need soundproof counseling rooms. We need space for staff to gather in a confidential way. We need a confidential, soundproof area for the hotline.

We have truly done the best we can for as long as we can.

So this need has been known about for some time, you've been working with it — what provided the opportunity now to launch this campaign and publicize this?

Whitworth: We had been talking about ways to make this work, what type of approach we would like to take — and then COVID happened. It did give us some some pieces that were beneficial, specifically through Stepping Stones. We were not allowed to do tele-counseling prior to the shutdown. So that is something that will allow us to have flexibility as we renovate this existing space.

That is something I want to make sure anyone listening or reading does know: We are making use of space that exists. We are taking old locker room spaces — all of these spaces — being as fiscally responsible as we possibly can, in order to make this space.

But there was a recent infrastructure grant through the state of Illinois, the first of its kind, and we were one of, I believe it was 70 nonprofits selected. Stepping Stones did receive a substantial a substantial amount from the state of Illinois — $200,000.

So, we'd already planned to move forward with that. But we have been in the kind of quiet phase of talking to local businesses, longtime donors of YWCA, and we're now at the point where, you know, our community makes what we do possible and so we we're looping everyone in.

How can community members help the YW and Stepping Stones continue this work — and maybe even help the expansion campaign?

Whitworth: In terms of the expansion, I would love for our community members or business owners to envision themselves in this situation and really respond, you know, from a financial place, with the assistance that they would hope their loved one would be provided with — the assistance that they would hope they themselves would be provided, as a survivor.

I think that it's very easy to say, 'Not me. Not my loved ones. Never ever.' But again, 1 in 6. So how do we respond and really kind of shift our view in our community from acute sympathy — 'Oh, no immediate need. Let's help' to this chronic empathy.

YWCA Stepping Stones is a free McLean County resource for survivors of sexual assault and abuse and their loved ones available at 309-556-7000, 24 hours a day. 

Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.