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She’s dedicated her career to helping others

Linda Joyce has been executive director of the Kitsap YWCA for 20 yeasrs. - Leslie Kelly
Linda Joyce has been executive director of the Kitsap YWCA for 20 yeasrs.
— image credit: Leslie Kelly

When Linda Joyce saw the advertisement in the paper for executive director of the YWCA in Bremerton, she wasn’t even sure she’d apply.

Now, 20 years later, she’s so glad she did, and she’s ready to turn the reigns over to the next leader.

“I called and got the application sent to me,” Joyce said. “It took me more than a week to fill it out because I kept trying to talk myself out of it. What changed my mind was that everyone I talked to at the YWCA was so friendly.”

After 20 years as executive director at the Kitsap YWCA, Joyce has decided to retire and the board of directors at the YWCA are looking for a new executive director. The board had a retreat this past weekend to determine the process and Harriette Bryant, interim board president, said they anticipate looking at candidates locally, throughout Washington state and across the nation.

Joyce’s decision to retire was hastened a bit by a recent stay in the hospital related to two procedures on her liver. Joyce was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in June of 2010 and has undergone chemotherapy and radiation.

“I am headed to great health because that’s what I pray for and that’s what I believe,” Joyce said in an interview recently. “I don’t talk about cancer in a negative way. It’s something that I’ve had to deal with and I’m feeling stronger every day.”

Joyce said even before her recent illness, she was thinking about retirement. Since the first of the year, Joyce had been meditating and praying about her future.

“I’d already gone to the Social Security office to get my ducks in a row,” she said. “I just felt that now was the time to give the opportunity to run the YWCA to another woman. And I’m actually getting excited about it. What better way to show what the YWCA is all about?”

Opportunity is something Joyce knows a lot about. It’s also something she believes in passing on to others.

Joyce grew up in Gary, Indiana, one of seven children. Her father worked in a steel mill and her mother was a cafeteria worker for the public schools.

“Everybody in town knew my mom,” she said. “She was involved in everything. She was on all the committees, at church and helping get playgrounds built in the neighborhood. And now I know I’ve become her.”

Joyce doesn’t often talk about herself. But she will share her story if it will help other young women.

She calls her family traditional and religious, having gone to the Baptist church weekly growing up. Her parents were very loving and married to each other 66 years. And that’s why having been an unwed teenage mother wasn’t anything she ever expected to be. She was 16 when she became pregnant. She had her baby. Then she had an abusive boyfriend whom she lived with. And later married.

“My daddy said, ‘That child will never live in a home where there is violence,’” Joyce said. “So my parents raised my son.”

It was so foreign to her to have someone slap her. She never saw that growing up in her home. But Joyce admits now that she was like many abused women. She didn’t have the confidence in herself to stand up for herself.

The one thing she did do was keep going to college. Even when she had to wear dark glasses to cover up black eyes.

“I rationalized it,” she said. “I kept telling myself ‘It’s not so bad.’”

A few years into the abusive relationship, one of her sisters came to see her.

“It was a Sunday morning,” Joyce said. “She said, ‘Let’s go to church.’ And we did. And she said to me, ‘Today is the day you have to make up your mind. Are you going to live in this craziness or are you going to leave?’”

Joyce chose to leave. It took 16 trips to court to end the marriage and get her ex-husband out of her life.

“The court system back then wasn’t like it is today,” Joyce said. “Some of the judges believed me and some of them didn’t.”

Through it all, she kept going to school and eventually she graduated from college and got a job working for Indiana State Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services. She was a social worker in the welfare department, helping other single women with children to find ways to make ends meet. With this stability, she also had her son, Dion, with her.

She soon met another man, Rodney Joyce. They were married. He was patient and loving and he was in the U.S. Navy. Within a few years, the Joyce family was transferred to Long Beach, California. They lived there for 12 years and Joyce continued working as a social worker. The Navy next offered them a move to San Diego or Bremerton.

“We looked at Bremerton and I remember thinking, ‘It’s so pretty and green up here,’” she said. “By then my son was in the Marines and I wanted to be in a more rural, not so urban place.”

So she and Rodney moved to Silverdale, to a nice, new home in suburbia.

“My son called it my ‘Leave it to Beaver’ house,” Joyce said.

But her husband was soon gone on deployment and about four months later, Joyce began to wonder what she was doing.

“I was standing in the kitchen looking out the window,” she said. “I put my hands up in the air and asked God ‘Why am I here?’” she said. “I felt so detached. I felt lonely. I missed my friends and my family. I wasn’t working and I didn’t know anybody.”

It was then that she saw the advertisement for the job at the YWCA.

“When I got the call that they wanted to interview me, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I’d been a program director, but never an executive director. And that’s a whole ‘nother ball game.”

At the interview, she again felt the kindness and the warmth of the people who worked at the YWCA. When they selected her, she went to work the first day and sat down at her desk.

“I said ‘What do I do now?’” The board and the staff told her that the organization needed to grow. It had become stagnant. She knew that there needed to be a focus on making the Women of Achievement event bigger. And she knew that she needed to help the women’s shelter grow.

“A couple of staff came to me and told me the first thing I needed to do was meet with two women who had been pivotal in the organization, and who had been feeling left out,” Joyce said.

So, she met with Lillian Walker and Marie Greer.

“They told me their hopes and goals for the organization,” Joyce said. “It was as if I was sitting at the foot of the elders. They showed me the direction to go.”

In sharing her story with them, she was able to bring them back into the organization and they, in turn, saw that the YWCA of 1994 needed to move forward. The result was expansion of the ALIVE Shelter for women and children who were victims of domestic violence. Soon the YWCA had a coordinated response to domestic violence with other social service organizations in Kitsap County, law enforcement, hospitals and faith-based organizations working together. The legal advocates in the shelter grew from one to five.

Joyce recalled speaking to civic and community groups about domestic violence in the early years at the YWCA.

“They were nice, but they were eager to get me to talk and sit down,” she said. “It wasn’t a topic that was easily discussed in those days.” But attitudes changed and the shelter gained support.

And the YWCA expanded its programs for young women. Now, the YWCA wasn’t just the place of yesteryear when girls learned to cook and sew. It was the place they came to be empowered, to learn self-esteem and to know that “they can become anything they want to,” Joyce said.

She’s seen attendance at Women of Achievement grow from 75 to more than 400. She’s seen membership in the YWCA grow and even though some people still confuse it with the YMCA in Silverdale, she’s seen its identity in the community acknowledged.

And with almost just the blink of an eye, it’s 20 years later and time for Joyce to hand over the leadership of the organization to someone else.

She and her husband, Rodney, divorced, as happens in many Navy families. His deployments separated them and they grew apart, even though they are still friends.

Her son is now a deputy sheriff in LA County. And her grandson, Dion Jr., is ready to graduate from high school and will enroll at California State University, Long Beach, to study dance and theater.

She plans to be at his graduation later this month, even if she has to go in a wheelchair.

In retirement, Joyce wants to become more active in the GEMS, a Silverdale-based group, Our Girls Empowered through Mentoring and Service, helping young women make good choices. She plans to lead workshops in public speaking at her church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist in Bremerton. But she’ll never be that far away from the YWCA. She’s keeping the title Director Emeritus.

“My story’s not about me,” she said. “It’s about neighbors helping neighbors. I’ve been blessed for 20 years to be a part of the YWCA. And we’ve got to continue to be there for each other.”

About domestic violence, Joyce said, “We have to stand up and say enough’s enough. Our young boys and girls are suffering. Our women and our men are suffering. There’s still work to do.”

And don’t doubt for a moment that Joyce will be a part of that work.

 

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