When Eileen Kinnard graduated from YSU, her professor handed her a note telling her she was his best student.
By WILLIAM K. ALCORN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Until Eileen Kinnard found the Youngstown YWCA, she had -- in her words -- "kicked around" in foster and group homes and been told she was retarded or slow so many times that she "believed it."
Today, 19 years later, Kinnard, 45, counts the YW as the only stable home she has ever known.
"It's home," she says. "It's the longest I've stayed anywhere in my life."
She said she was picked on so much she quit school in the 10th grade. But she credits her YW family with giving her the confidence to get her GED from Choffin Career and Technical Center and an associate degree in hospitality management from Youngstown State University.
"They said I had a brain," she explained.
When she graduated from YSU, she said, her professor handed her a note telling her she was the best student he ever had. For her efforts, she was listed in the 1994 "Who's Who in Colleges and Universities."
"I never thought I'd make anything. That was the biggest honor I ever had," Kinnard said.
She came to the YW after the woman she was staying with died. The YW, a Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way agency, has temporary and permanent housing facilities for women and children.
The YW residents and staff became her family, she said.
As a residential aide, Kinnard cleans rooms when occupants leave, responds to emergencies during off-peak hours and helps resolve conflicts between residents.
"Just like any family, sometimes we get on each other's nerves. But we always make up," Kinnard said.
"I've done every job here. I've cooked for the day care, I've been trained to answer the switchboard, and I've accompanied the YWCA staff on field trips. Now, I'm involved in the housing program. I love working here, and I love living here. It's my home."
Being able to help people is what she likes best about her position at the YW, and she takes great pride in providing encouragement and support to the women who live there.
"I can relate to them because I was there myself," she said.
Kinnard also has interests outside her YW family and job. She loves to read, she swims and is a United Way volunteer. She was featured in the local video produced by United Way to promote its 2002 financial campaign.
"Without the support that the United Way provides for housing at the YWCA, I don't know where I'd go ... this is what I can afford," she said.
In 2001, United Way provided 6 percent, or $114,600, of the YW's $1,547,457 budget.
United Way provides financial assistance to 31 area agencies and organizations. UW's 2002 financial campaign is under way now with a goal of $3.3 million.
"The financial support from the United Way provides assistance to low-income people like me, Kinnard said. "It is so important ... so valuable, and an asset to our community."