These jobs are sometimes thankless, sometimes controversial and occasionally a little dangerous, but the Garden City's always had a string of familiar faces on the front lines. For years, two Debs -- Deb Frandsen of Planned Parenthood and Debbie Weinstein of the YWCA -- were chief among the usual suspects.
Their recent, unrelated departures from their long-held posts meant big-time personnel shifts for both organizations at a time when both are being called on to do more and more. The new directors of both organizations, though, say they relish the tasks ahead, despite the challenges and lingering risks.
In Planned Parenthood's case, the nation's running battle over abortion has made a mild siege mentality necessary. Visitors to the clinic on Main Street have to present picture ID just to get through the double-door, airlock-style entrance. The more familiar rhythms of a professional medical facility take over inside. However, a recent court ruling that minors must notify their parents before getting an abortion and the nearly simultaneous arrest of a suspect in the 1993 Blue Mountain Clinic arson have abortion on the top of interim director Tammy Freimund's mind.
"It's kind of disappointing to me that the abortion services we provide are such a magnet for attention," she says. "They're really just a small part of what we do."
Freimund rattles off a litany of the confidential and inexpensive services Planned Parenthood provides. The clinic screens men and women for sexually transmitted diseases and offers condoms, other birth control and routine gynecological exams. All these services, according to Freimund, are integral to Planned Parenthood's national and international goal of cutting down the number of unwanted pregnancies.
Freimund's three years at the clinic have stretched over a critical time for the pro-choice movement, and she seems to have no illusions about the battles ahead.
"My first response to the parental notification ruling is that, whatever route we have to take, whether we get an injunction against it or not, I'm confident that we'll find a way to provide the services youth need," she says. "I see the law as a barrier for youth, but I think we can find a way forward that's in everybody's best interest. I do think the ruling is very unfortunate.
"The thing is, I think that the majority of the youths we serve do talk to their parents about what's going on, but there are a few cases where it's hard, because of abuse situations or other factors.
"I do want people to know that regardless of the outcome on this particular issue, the other services we offer will remain confidential."
Freimund's interim status makes her reluctant to speculate about the future, but she says she feels good about where Planned Parenthood is and where it's going.
"I feel great about how everything is, so I'm not really looking to make changes," she says. "If I were to change anything, it would be to broaden our clientele, let a broader swathe of the community know what we have to offer. That's especially important this year. We've been here for three decades; this is our 30th anniversary year. In January, it'll be the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I don't think a lot of people know these things."
On the other side of downtown, Cynthia Raymond's 11th day on the job at the YWCA finds her on the run. She ought to be used to it, though, since she's well acquainted with the range of services the Y provides, with plenty of first-hand knowledge.
"In the 1980s, I was a participant in the YWCA's services," she says. "I first encountered the YWCA when I was involved in a domestic violence relationship, and I was taken to the shelter by the police. I was in a support group for a long time, and I learned computer skills through the Y's classes."
There's a certain sweet irony at work here. After seeking refuge from violence in the Y's shelter, Raymond found the impetus she needed to take control of her own life. Now, she runs the place.
"This is where I was encouraged to receive an education," she says. "I got my GED, and after that there was no stoppin' me. I studied social work at the university and got my degree. So many different people and groups helped me, but the YWCA has just been a huge factor in my life. I know firsthand. I know the impact it had on my life and the lives of my four children. When I got on my feet, my kids got on their feet."
It's a big time for the YWCA. Besides the change in leadership, the organization just purchased a new, larger domestic violence shelter and is in the middle of a capital campaign aimed at paying off that purchase and funding a new second hand store.
"People don't realize how crucial the store is to us," Raymond says. "These programs aren't separate. They go hand in hand. The store provides us with material goods to help people in trouble, but also with the job training people need to become self-sufficient."
Raymond is obviously -- and understandably -- excited about her new job, one in which she'll bring her passion for social justice to bear.
"I really feel that the YWCA is the most viable program out there for helping women and working for racial justice," she says.