May 2020

May 2020


Hello YWCA Northeast Indiana friends! It may seem like it has been forever since we have been able to really connect with people. Technology has been a great tool, enabling us to conduct business remotely. But, if you are like me, Zoom meetings fall short in satisfying my need for real interactions with others. While the YWCA Northeast Indiana team applauds you for being diligent in following social distancing guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we also recognize the impact social isolation can have on our mental health.

May is national mental health awareness month, and in recognition we want to share with you the importance of being trauma-informed. In this newsletter we will recognize Liz Toporas, and her work at YWCA Northeast Indiana. She has been a leader in providing sexual assault services in our community for many years, utilizing a trauma-informed approach. She will be leaving us soon (moving out of state to be closer to her family) and the YWCA Northeast Indiana team and clients will miss her greatly. Read more about her remarkable influence in our community.

We also recognize the benefits of music therapy as a tool in treating trauma. We highlight the work of Dr. Eileen Garwood, Clinical Director of Music Therapy at Purdue University Fort Wayne. Learn more about music therapy, and the partnership between Purdue University Fort Wayne and YWCA Northeast Indiana below.

Our featured empowering leader this month is Irene Paxia with Amani Family Services. Her community leadership, and the work the Amani team has been delivering throughout our community, is impressive.

And, while it has never been the intent for this newsletter to ask for money, please know that we could use some extra resources right now if you have a few extra coins jingling in your pocket. Not all domestic violence shelters throughout the country have been able to continue their operations throughout this pandemic. YWCA Northeast Indiana has continued providing services, offering a safe haven to those in need. But, it has come with some unexpected expenses. To contribute, please visit If you prefer to shop, please see the bottom of this newsletter for a link to Amazon highlighting items we could use in our domestic violence shelter and addiction recovery residences. Thank you for your support!



Liz Toporas, LMFT


Liz Toporas, LMFT, has been serving the Northeast Indiana community for many years now providing services related to sexual assault. Liz worked with the Women’s Bureau as a Clinical Counselor until YWCA Northeast Indiana absorbed their services back in 2018, when she transitioned over as our REACT Clinical Director.

As an employee of YWCA Northeast Indiana, Liz focuses her work around supporting survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence who are ready to heal. Although many factors make it extremely difficult for individuals affected by sexual assault to move past their trauma, Liz knows that it is possible for survivors to alleviate the pain they feel. She has seen this transformation happen before and is often the person who helps survivors find their hope: giving them the tools they need to overcome their trauma. Liz sees it as an honor to walk alongside survivors in their journey of healing from sexual assault and domestic violence. Her clients and their stories are an inspiration to her daily work as she advocates for change and empowers individuals to find hope and healing.

For Liz, working with survivors isn’t only about healing from assault and violence. She also advocates for positive change in the legal system to assist survivors and prevent them from being victimized. Liz believes that a survivor-focused system would encourage more individuals to have a voice and share their story.

As Liz prepares to head onward to her next adventure, the YWCA Northeast Indiana team, and their clients, will undoubtedly miss her. “Liz has been a tireless advocate and highly respected therapist for sexual assault services in Fort Wayne for many years,” said Paula Hughes-Schuh, CEO. “It was an honor when she agreed to join the YWCA Northeast Indiana team, and her knowledge and passion will be sorely missed.”

Michelle Ditton, CNO/CEO of the Sexual Assault Treatment Center said, “Liz has had such a positive impact on our patients and their treatment. To me, Liz represents hope. She brought so much hope to our patients.”

To our beloved Liz –  We wish you great happiness. Godspeed!


Eileen Garwood

“I continue to learn every day from the women and children receiving music therapy services through the programs at YWCA Northeast Indiana.”


Eileen Garwood, Ph.D., MT-BC, LCAT, is the Clinical Director of Music Therapy at Purdue University Fort Wayne (PFW). In addition to her teaching, she has extensive experience as a board-certified music therapist providing music therapy services in the areas of physical disabilities, mental health, neuro-developmental disabilities, palliative and hospice care, and pediatric medicine.

In the Fall of 2018, a collaboration between the PFW Music Therapy program and YWCA Northeast Indiana was formed. This provides students the opportunity for hands on experience working with the women in Hope & Harriet (addiction recovery residences) as well as with the women and children in the domestic violence crisis shelter. Under the supervision of Dr. Eileen Garwood, several music therapy groups and individual music therapy sessions are provided by student music therapists on a weekly basis.

Community music therapy is an approach to music therapy which is sensitive to cultures and speaks more of acts of solidarity and social change. It is concerned with the promotion of health and mutual caring. It is situated as to break down some of the boundaries which keep those who have experienced trauma from remaining isolated and segregated from community life. With this focus, the most recent collaborative endeavor between PFW music therapy and the YWCA was inspired. Singing Through Change is a program created to invite women from Hope & Harriet, participating in the existing music therapy groups, to sing in Choral Union, a community-based choir at PFW open to all adults in the Fort Wayne community and PFW students. Four women attended weekly rehearsals on the PFW campus at the Rhinehart Music Center and participated in the first choral concert of the Spring semester.

Our community music therapy engagement will not be stopped and silenced by COVID-19; however, the importance of the continuation of the program is only heightened by the circumstances brought on us all.  As we now collectively experience the impact of isolation and segregation, the need for social solidarity is made all that much clearer.  Read more about Music Therapy and Eileen’s work with our YWCA Northeast Indiana community here.


Circle Luncheon




Casey Gwinn, Esq., is the founder and president of Alliance for HOPE International. As a child survivor, he has dedicated his work to fight against domestic violence. He is an expert in the complex dynamics and challenges of both domestic violence and sexual assault. He has authored nine books, including his newest release, Cheering for the Children: Creating Pathways to HOPE for Children Exposed to Trauma. Please join us as we hear his passionate story.

Registration will be open soon.


Irene Paxia

Irene Paxia, Executive Director at Amani Family Services, shares how trauma-informed care is part of a new way of thinking at Amani Family Services (Amani). “I would say that we are shifting our ways by using a trauma-responsive approach.”

“In 2019, we renovated a building that was generously donated to us,” says Paxia.  She knows how important it is for people to feel safe. During the construction planning phase, Amani had to make many considerations including how the building was going to promote safety for both staff members and visitors. The sense of safety of all staff members was improved when a security system, cameras, panic buttons, emergency kits, and an AED were installed. The sense of safety also came from developing a better, albeit tactful, separation of space between clinical, administrative, and public spaces through reception screenings, door fobs, and training.

“In general, at Amani, we strive to host staff meetings and events that promote wellness, even remotely. Lately, we have hosted therapy bits during our staff meetings (such as meditation, and techniques like tapping, and muscle relaxation). At the office, our furniture and design are such that we wish to recreate a homey and relaxing feeling. The walls are the colors of nature, both organic and vibrant.  The environment is inviting with its modern farmhouse style furniture, the sound of water from the lobby fountain, and the setting of the building itself, which is surrounded by woods.”

Amani management strives to include everyone whenever possible in decision-making. In 2019, Amani’s board approved the creation of their first Community Advisory Board. As Amani develops programming, they partner with immigrant and refugee individuals from various backgrounds to ensure they remain relevant to the community needs.

YWCA Northeast Indiana thanks Irene Paxia for her empowering leadership in our community, and for the strives she is taking with Amani Family Services to be not only trauma-informed but to be trauma-responsive in their work.



We are always appreciative of your generous in-kind gifts. Current needs in our shelter include t-shirts (L, XL, XXL), sweats, underwear, and socks.
View our Amazon wish list here.

A new way you can support our organization is through the donation of gift cards to restaurants. These contributions would help provide meals for individuals living in our facilities. Restaurants we have worked with in the past include Lee’s Chicken, Pizza Hut, Granite City, Ziffle’s Rib Bar, Shigs In Pit, Lucille’s BBQ, and Cookie Cottage. Gift cards can be mailed to: YWCA Northeast Indiana, Attn: Development, 5920 Decatur Road, Fort Wayne, IN  46816.