Debby Weinstein’s first job at the YWCA was far from glamorous.
“I started out my career at the YWCA both scrubbing toilets in the middle of the night as the [homeless shelter] residents slept and answering the most heart wrenching crisis calls that you can ever imagine,” said Weinstein, the executive director of the Charleston-based YWCA.
Weinstein’s work on the graveyard shift in the early 1980s has led to a career of service for the agency that spans more than three decades.
Weinstein’s commitment to her organization’s mission, which is to eliminate racism and empower women, is being honored nationally as she has been selected to receive the 2014 Characters Unite Award.
Weinstein is one of 10 people chosen from among hundreds of submissions across the United States to receive the award, which is sponsored by the television network USA Network, and its local cable provider, Suddenlink.
Weinstein will be presented with the award and a $5,000 grant from USA Network that will go toward supporting the YWCA and its many programs.
“There are so many thousands of people who are doing such tremendous social justice work in this market that I was absolutely shocked and humbled,” Weinstein said about hearing the news.
Khalan Boyer, senior manager of communications for NBC Universal, said she was a part of the judging committee. “There are three key criteria that we look for in our submissions: Impact, influence, and character.”
The award ceremony will be held at the Woman’s Club of Charleston Oct. 16. Among the honors, Weinstein and the YWCA will be featured in an on-air public service announcement that will run on Suddenlink’s channels. She will also be featured on a national PSA that will air on the USA Network with the nine other Unite Award recipients.
Boyer said the long career Weinstein has dedicated to expanding the YWCA’s reach in the community and working to fight discrimination and hate made her naturally go to the top of the committee’s list.
Weinstein said the idea of being filmed for a PSA isn’t the most exciting idea because she wants to put the YWCA in the spotlight, instead of herself.
“I am just me … I am just an ambassador,” she said. “I was blessed to be at the right place at the right time. I was blessed to have a father who was a big believer in social justice and really supported us in doing whatever we do.”
Weinstein said her father, Harvey, is now deceased, but as a World War II veteran “he gave us our wings to say ‘Do what you can do to make change in this world.’ ”
And Weinstein lives by it.
“Empowering women and eliminating racism, that’s a very tall order,” she said. “Yet the sheer numbers of our community corporations, churches, individuals, civic groups that have come out to get behind the YWCA and to lift us up has been astronomical. We could not begin to do the work that we do without this kind of community support.”
The YWCA operates multiple shelters to assist homeless women, children, families and elderly members of the community in Kanawha, Boone and Clay counties. The nonprofit organization with 100 employees operates a number of programs to assist its recipients in achieving a self-sustaining life.
To learn more about the YWCA visit www.ywcacharleston.org.
Reach Anna Patrick at anna.patrick@wvgazette,com or 304-348-5100.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect date for the award ceremony.