Dear New Moms

My name is Melissa Breeden and I am the Director of Early Learning at YWCA McLean County. I have been with YWCA for six years as an employee in various capacities, and am proud to be in my current role as a director. I am happy to report we are meeting the needs of new moms who choose to breastfeed and those who choose to formula feed in a supportive way every day. We are lucky to have a large facility with many options for new families.

I recently shared the news with my YWCA family that my husband and I are expecting our first child in September. Ever since I found out I was pregnant I have seen our child care program in a new light – as an expecting mother and soon to be client. I started thinking about my options as far as breastfeeding and I knew immediately breastfeeding my child was important to me as long as I am healthy enough to do so. I have heard some women struggle with not producing enough milk and that is definitely a fear of mine. As my body changes, I can’t help but feel more powerful because these changes mean I am physically getting ready to care for my infant.

New Mom

Early in my YWCA career, I had the opportunity to work as an infant teacher. I remember mothers occasionally breastfeeding in the classroom and I always felt it was brave of them to do so in front of others as they talked to the teachers about their child’s day. I have also seen mothers breastfeed privately in our cozy library and thought that it was nice that our new moms have an option for public and private breastfeeding.

Not only is it empowering as a woman to have the ability to breastfeed, but it’s powerful to know I would be providing essential antibodies that can help my child fight infection. My husband is an avid comic book enthusiast and it’s cool to think that I am Wonder Woman providing the breastmilk antidote to an infection my infant could possibly catch. I am still working on my husband realizing that I am truly Wonder Woman though.

Breastfeeding is also cost effective.  I know I can save hundreds of dollars breastfeeding instead of purchasing formula weekly. I know how lucky I’ll be with my baby in the same building as me – right next door to my office!

Currently I am 15 weeks pregnant and counting down the days to find out the sex of the baby. I am glad my news is out there since it was a pretty big secret. I have had nothing but support and well wishes from my YWCA family, and I look forward to my new adventure as a client of the YWCA Young Wonders Early Learning program.

YWCA currently has openings in our infant classroom with no registration fee (a savings of $35). We would be more than happy to provide a tour any time and welcome you to breastfeed baby during the days well!




After graduating from ISU, Melissa Breeden found what she thought would be a temporary job at YWCA McLean County. After six years and various positions at YWCA, Melissa is proud to be the Director of Early Learning. 

Finding Your Happy Place

While sightseeing with my family along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris a few years ago, I noticed a “HAPPY IS THE NEW CHIC” sign displayed at a boutique. It really caught my attention and made me think about the message that was being conveyed and why the words had such a profound effect on me.

I was on vacation away from the demands, distractions, and challenges that come with everyday life. I felt healthy, energized and an incredible sense of peace that I had not experienced in recent memory. I didn’t feel this way just because it was a once in a lifetime destination, but because it was a place where I got to be renewed and refreshed and the things that were stress inducers were thousands of miles away. This was my happy place! I wanted to experience this feeling again when I returned home.

Happy is the new chic

Everyone needs their very own happy place because today many of us live in a culture that is fast paced, where we often get pulled in many directions by people or things that require our attention. Finding your happy place doesn’t have to require a journey of miles, it can begin as a destination of the mind. It means giving yourself permission to mentally get away, to experience the joy of living in the moment with no worries about your list of things to do, or places to be. It is learning how to shut out the noise of the world, Facebook, Twitter, reality TV, or the news. It means escaping for only a moment if that’s all you have, doing something with friends, or nothing at all, or just give yourself “me” time. It is allowing yourself to decompress, relax and be rejuvenated; making life changes such as eating healthy, exercising, simplifying your lifestyle, eliminating negativity, all so that you can go back out and face what’s waiting for you with focus and energy.

Tips for Finding Your Happy Place

  • What does your picture of happy look like? What are you doing? Who are you with?
  • What does happy feel like to you?
  • Discover what makes you happy, for some the easy way to answer that question is to identify and acknowledge what doesn’t make you happy.
  • How do you get there?
  • How do you stay there?


Mary Walker


Mary Walker is a Young Wonders Early Learning Teacher at YWCA McLean County.  Faith, family, and making a positive difference in the lives of others are most important to her.


My Christmas Blessing

Many cultures and traditions celebrate holidays around the winter solstice. They celebrate the return of light in nature and the gaining of personal enlightenment.

In Hindu communities, Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The awareness of inner light brings higher knowledge that dispels ignorance and brings compassion.

Jewish tradition celebrates Hanukkah in remembrance and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt and the miracle of the “container of oil.”

Christians celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus and the coming of the light of hope into a dark world.


For me, the light of Christmas came in a startling and life changing way in 1982. I had returned to school as an adult, single parent with the intention of becoming a United Methodist minister. I had been blessed with a student ministry appointment which allowed me to attend school and pastor a small church.

I had prepared meticulously for my first Christmas in this church, as well as at home. By the time Christmas Eve came, I had shopped carefully for my two children and hidden the gifts in secret places. I had laid out Christmas treats to tempt guests who might drop by throughout the holidays. Most importantly, the Christmas Eve service I had planned for my congregation was unique and sure to invoke the holiness of the season.

At the end of the service, we lit our individual candles and sang Silent Night. Then I greeted the parishioners as they silently left the church. As I walked back into the sanctuary of the church, my heart was heavy. It was nearly over now. I had worked so hard to make Christmas a blessing for everyone, but where was my Christmas blessing?

As I turned up the aisle toward the pulpit to gather my notes, I saw my four year old son laying fast asleep on the steps leading up to the altar.  If the lesson of Christmas is that the birth of a child brings love into a hurting world, my blessing was that the birth of my children has taught me the meaning of unconditional love.

Enlightenment came for me that year in the knowledge that Christmas is not about manufacturing happiness, it is about treasuring the happiness one has been given. No matter what you are celebrating this holiday season, I hope you will find the joy that waits for you in your own life.




Norene Ball is the Director of Mission Impact at YWCA McLean County.  Her greatest joy, other than raising two perfect kids, is empowering people to be all they were meant to be.

Important steps a woman should follow in order to get (and keep) a man: A satirical twist on the societal views of women.

HEY LADIESSSS!! Are you tired of being #singleforlife? Wondering why guys never stick around past the first week? Don’t worry, I’m here to tell you what you’re doing wrong. Here are some tried and true rules to getting (and KEEPING) a man.

1. YOU`RE WEARING WHAT?! Goodbye sweats—Hello itty-bitty-teenie-weenie short-shorts.

That`s right! One of the oldest tricks in the book, if you wanna get that man, you better show some leg, girl…but not too much, don’t be a slut.

2. Don’t order out again… its time you pick up that skillet, sister!

Now that you’ve got your man, it`s time you learn how to cook! I`m not talking a sandwich here… I mean do it big! if you want to keep your man, it`s Thanksgiving dinner EVERY.SINGLE.NIGHT. Because maybe he won’t notice your extra stomach roll if his stomach is always full?

3. You want to WAIT?! No… I think it`s time, we`re in love!

AWW! And you thought you were going to save yourself for one man, the lucky one—how cute! I don’t think so! If you want to keep your guy happy, you need to give him what he wants, girlfriend! However, if it’s not your “first rodeo,” keep it to yourself… he doesn’t want used goods!

4. Netflix, umm… it`s time to hit those weights!

You want to stay in and watch a movie… really, again? Rethink that decision quick! There has to be some aspect of yourself you can work on. See those dumbbells? Pick ‘em up and put ‘em down, because if you’re not as toned and the Women’s U.S. Gymnastics team by tomorrow… there’s another girl who is (just sayin’).

5. PIZZA?! AFTER A WORKOUT?!… but what about that six pack?

Alright, I get it, your sooo hungry, and that workout was sooo worth the slice of pizza you are about to devour. OR NOT! Pizza is calories, and 3,500 calories is a pound, and if you gain a pound, the camera is most likely going to add five more… But suit yourself!

6. “Babe, I love you no matter what! Wait, no makeup tonight?”

Yup… It’s true, a full face of makeup really does it! You need to look on point at all times. Just like Beyoncé, he needs to think you woke up like that EVERY DAY.

7. I love hearing your voice, but… oh no, hold on! Fantasy draft, sorry!

Men like girls who can hang with the boys, but don’t try to talk to guys about sports: you`re a girl, what do you know!? What you CAN do is make sure the boys always have fresh beers and food.

8. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, stressed, sick, or just not feelin’ it tonight…

Your man DESERVES it whenever he wants. Don’t forget, you’re there for HIM! The only way to keep your man is to give it up whenever he’s in the mood. Come on, it’s like…your only responsibility in this relationship.

See, it’s just that easy! Who cares if it takes over your life, all that REALLY matters is that you don’t end up a crazy cat lady at age 30.

Doesn’t this sound stupid? Why are women still being fed outdated, sexist “advice” like this? Ladies, a man does not define you – you can define yourself any way you want. You have SO much more to offer than any of this superficial nonsense. You do not “owe” your significant other anything – including sex, wearing makeup, or cooking if you don’t want to. A relationship without consent is not relationship at all. Let’s empower ourselves and each other to be our most authentic selves, ‘cause really… that’s pretty darn sexy.



Hi! I`m Dana Van Duerm, a Junior Public Relations major at Illinois State University.  I am currently a PR/Marketing Intern at YWCA McLean County. With graduation in the near future, I dream of working in the beautiful city of Chicago. I love all things fashion, and I am currently obsessing over How to Get Away With Murder.

Black Women Matter, a Poem

A week without violence, seems far fetched
When the resources available have been thinly stretched
You couldn’t even fathom what I have gone through
Because I have to be “strong”, yet these emotions brew
You get to be the face of a “true” American and womanhood too
While I sit in the shadows and quietly stew
What you say is believed and taken as fact
While I have my femininity policed and behavior attacked
An issue that is very personal to me
Will remain covered up for no one to see
It is painfully obvious that research has forgotten about us
If not in America, then who can we trust?
When will my pleas be seen as a cry for help?
Why must I be forgotten and placed on a shelf?
I’m three times as likely to die by my abuser
But no one cares because I look like my accuser
Black, poor, and infinitely oppressed
When will the violence in my home be addressed?
I’m less likely to report the abuse I face
I don’t want to seek help in an all white space
Our love for our men shouldn’t be a flaw
Who would put a black man in the hands of the law?
That responsibility I cannot bear
But I can’t seek help if the resources aren’t there
I’m afraid there will never be help for me
Until you begin to look at my life, intersectionally
Remedies for my pain, will be just chatter
Until you wake up and see that BLACK WOMEN MATTER.

See Raven’s poem on Huffington Post here

Raven Daivdson

Raven Davidson is a Graduate student at Illinois State University in the School of Social Work and Women and Gender Studies. Raven currently interns at Stepping Stones and Labyrinth Outreach in Bloomington, Illinois. She is a proud Queer Woman of Color who believes that BLACK WOMEN MATTER.

Hitting is Not Flirting

Scrolling down my Facebook feed, I stumbled past a very powerful picture with attached text. The picture displayed a little girl whose face was swollen and bruised – a boy at school had hit her. At the hospital, knowing what happened, the man behind the registration desk exclaimed, “I bet he likes you.”

Hitting is Not FlirtingI`m not quite sure what`s worse in this situation, a four year old getting hit by a boy her own age, or the man who dared to say, “I bet he likes you.”

Since when does hurting a person mean you like them? If society is telling the younger generation of this world that hitting is okay, at what age will violence begin? This recent incident seems to clearly identify the dangerous message we tell young girls.

The idea that “if he teases you, it means he has a crush on you” has been around for a long time. When little girls are chased on the playground by boys, we tell the girl it’s just the boy’s way of showing he likes her. This idea sets girls up for a warped and dangerous idea of what love and healthy relationships look like.

Picture this: the adults tell the little girl in her life that the boy hit her because he likes her. She grows up believing that love is shown through aggression and even violence. When her high school boyfriend grabs her arm at a party a little too hard, she believes it’s because he loves her and is trying to protect her. So when he hits her a couple months later, she forgives him and believes him when he tells her it won’t happen again. He starts to isolate her from her friends and family, forces her to have sex when she doesn’t want to, and tells her it’s because he knows what’s best for her. The abuse continues, and every time he apologizes and says it will never happen again. She believes this is what she deserves and that this violence is love.

When I think of domestic violence, I see violence within an intimate relationship, whether it is husband and wife, or guardian and child. In reality, domestic violence includes child abuse, sibling abuse, dating violence, elder abuse, and even violence against a roommate. Domestic violence is never about love – it is always about power and control. The abuser needs to exert their power and manipulate others in order to feel in control. Sexual assault is often present in domestic violence relationships – it is a myth that sexual assault cannot exist within an otherwise consenting relationship, and control in a sexual context is just one more way an abuser exerts their power. No matter what has happened in the relationship leading up to the abuse, it is never the fault of the victim. Violence (in any form) is always the choice of the abuser.

We must talk to children about healthy relationships at an early age. We tell kids not to hit their friends, why can’t we talk to them about good and bad ways to show someone you like them? Just as it is not ok to tell the little girl this boy was showing he likes her by hitting her, it’s not ok to forgive this little boy’s actions and allow him to believe he can treat anyone he likes by hurting them. It’s scary to think of the cycle of abuse that can spiral out of these situations.

It`s time we put an end to the hitting, the aggressive attitude, the explicit language. We need to educate children on domestic violence, letting it be known that hitting is NOT flirting!

YWCA McLean County Stepping Stones serves as the only rape crisis center in McLean County. Stepping Stones provides 24-hour assistance for sexual assault and sexual abuse victims and their families. This free, confidential service also serves as the central sexual assault resource for McLean County. Services include 24-hour hotline, medical and legal advocacy, counseling, prevention education, and volunteer advocacy training. 


Hi! I`m Dana Van Duerm, a Junior Public Relations major at Illinois State University.  I am currently a PR/Marketing Intern at YWCA McLean County. With graduation in the near future, I dream of working in the beautiful city of Chicago. I love all things fashion, and I am currently obsessing over How to Get Away With Murder.

Domestic Violence 101: Types of Abuse

It may come as a surprise to many that Domestic Abuse (DV) is not just physical violence against a spouse. There are a range of behaviors that constitute domestic violence. The fact that our society paints a picture of domestic abuse as only physical makes it difficult to recognize the early signs that a partner will become abusive and makes it hard to tell if you are in an abusive relationship. DV is all about power and control over an individual and is not limited to just one of these categories. Here are six areas that constitute domestic violence, and only two of them have to do with any physical violence.

  • Verbal Abuse: This includes any language used to possess power and control over an individual such as (but not limited to):
    • Name calling
    • Making demeaning comments
    • Humiliating
    • Belittling
    • Cussing
    • Threatening
    • Making them feel inferior

Verbal abuse is harder to spot, because many individuals don’t see this as a form of abuse. They may make excuses for the abuser, such as “he didn’t mean it” or “he was just angry.” The fact is that this type of abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse in terms of an individual’s mental health, and should not be taken lightly.

  • Emotional Abuse: Much like verbal abuse, this is anything that a partner says or does to gain power and control such as (but not limited to):
    • Controlling her
    • Isolating her from her friends/family
    • Gaslighting (making her feel crazy)
    • Using children or friends as leverage against her
    • Being overly jealous or possessive

Emotional abuse, much like verbal, can have a very significant effect on a person’s mental health. This often causes them to lose their identity and can make them feel like they do not have a choice but to stay in the relationship.

  • Sexual Abuse: Has to do with using sex as a form of manipulation to gain power and control over an individual and includes (but is not limited to):
    • Forcing sex
    • Touching genitals without permission
    • Forcing partner to have sex with another person
    • Making degrading sexual comments
    • Forcing partner to commit sexual acts

Sexual abuse has a very serious effect on an individual’s sense of safety, power, control, trust, and self-esteem. Many individuals who have experience sexual assault feel a loss of these categories.

  • Financial Abuse: Controlling finances as a way to exert power and control over an individual such as (but not limited to):
    • Spending money that is not theirs
    • Keeping an eye on partners spending money, and controlling usage
    • Not allowing partner to have a job
    • Preventing partner from access to bank accounts or information regarding bank accounts
    • Maxing out credit cards/overspending

Financial abuse is a huge part of why many individuals in DV relationships feel they cannot leave their partner. If they have children with the partner it is even more of a reason not to leave. They feel they do not have any other means of income and cannot support themselves or their children without the abuser.

  • Neglect: consists of failing to provide necessary needs such as (but not limited to):
    • Not providing food
    • Not providing shelter
    • Leaving for long periods of time and not communicating while absent
    • Not providing safety
    • Not holding up financial responsibilities

Neglect is often not seen as a form of DV because people assume DV is only from the partner actively harming the individual. Neglect can be very difficult to deal with, especially if the individual has children to provide for as well. This aspect of DV should not be overlooked.

  • Physical Abuse: This includes any physical violence towards and individual such as (but not limited to):
  • Hitting
  • Pushing
  • Choking
  • Slapping
  • Restraining
  • Dragging
  • Suffocating

Physical abuse is the easiest to recognize, but that doesn’t mean it is easy to overcome.

All of these areas show how an abuser manipulates to gain power and control over their victim. It is important as a support system for victims of DV that we do not blame them for the situation they are in. Saying things like, “why don’t you just leave?” are not helpful in this complex situation. Being there for a victim and letting them know you will help them in any way you can is the best thing you can do.

YWCA McLean County Stepping Stones serves as the only rape crisis center in McLean County. Stepping Stones provides 24-hour assistance for sexual assault and sexual abuse victims and their families. This free, confidential service also serves as the central sexual assault resource for McLean County. Services include 24-hour hotline, medical and legal advocacy, counseling, prevention education, and volunteer advocacy training. 


Hello! I’m Audrey Aeilts, a Senior Psychology major at Illinois State University, minoring in Women and Gender Studies. I am currently a Stepping Stones Counseling Intern at YWCA McLean County, and I hope to attend graduate school for clinical/counseling psychology and become a licensed clinical professional counselor. I love Lady GaGa and my favorite move is A Walk to Remember