A better life

The executive director of the Minot YWCA can relate to the experiences of women who end up at the organization’s door after coming to North Dakota to seek a better life.

Dena Penton, who became executive director of the YWCA Sept. 16, has called a recreational vehicle home since coming to Minot six years ago with her husband, Thomas, who is employed with the oil industry. Lousiana natives impacted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the couple also was displaced by Minot’s 2011 flood.

Penton said they now own a lot and hope to have a permanent home in place by next summer. But their experience with housing has given her an understanding of the situations that bring women to the YWCA Center of Hope for help, she said.

Providing that help requires resources, though.

“Our main support is memberships and donations so we are trying to increase that,” Penton said. “We are looking at building on what’s here, trying to get some more donors and get more long-term donors.”

On Saturday, the YWCA is hosting an open house and membership drive from 1 to 4 p.m. at its facility at 205-3rd Ave. SE. Visitors who take out a $25 individual membership, or $75 business membership, will be eligible to purchase a copy of Plum Valley Women for $15. All proceeds from sales of the now hard-to-obtain publication will go to support the YWCA. Published in 1985 by the Minot Commission on the Status of Women, the book is the result of oral interviews with homestead-era families in Ward County and tells the story of settlement from women’s perspective.

Membership information also is available at ( or by contacting the YWCA at 838-1812.

Penton said the YWCA wants to increase support to be able to add staff and improve services. She said the ideal would be to have 24-hour staffing. The YWCA currently employs two full-time employees and one part-time employee.

Residential manager Linda Randolph will be retiring in December, and the YWCA board of directors is looking to refill that position.

Penton has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in counseling education from Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond. She is a licensed professional counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist.

She most recently worked as a mental health technician at Minot Air Force Base. She has worked as a disability advocate for the North Dakota Protection and Advocacy Project and as a human services program administrator for a group-home organization for people with intellectual disabilities.

Her work in social services has included case management in the mental health field and early intervention in children from infancy to age 3. She also worked in an inpatient mental health facility for about five years, which was a setting similar to that of the Minot YWCA.

“That translates well into this field because it’s doing case management with women, helping them build on their strengths, work on their weaknesses and try to find that inner confidence, empowering them to step out on their own,” she said.

This past summer, the YWCA began offering permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless women with mental or physical disabilities. The YWCA has seven apartments, including one with handicapped accessibility, for women. The organization also operates an emergency shelter than can house 15 to 20 women and children.

Penton estimated a third to half of women seeking help are fairly new to Minot, coming for jobs or accompanying someone seeking a job. She said her situation was similar, and like many others, she discovered that even when jobs are plentiful and pay is good, housing isn’t always available or affordable. In her case that particularly was true because she and her husband were maintaining a home in Louisiana already.

Although some women are forced to leave the area, the goal of the YWCA Center of Hope is to help them stay in the Minot community, Penton said.

“Hopefully, we can get them established in the community if we can and help them move forward,” she said.

She added she understands the impact that changes in the community are having on long-term residents as well. Hurricane Katrina winds damaged her parish, which saw its population of 280 double due to resettlement of evacuees from a neighboring parish.

What she learned then about adapting to the “new normal,” she teaches women now.

The YWCA offers monthly empowerment classes for its residents, and Penton would like to see the YWCA become more engaged with the community in offering on-site social activities.

But she added, “My main goal is making sure this facility runs well and that we build on what’s here and increase the donors and membership.”

Penton said she has been impressed with the strong working relationships among organizations in Minot. She also likes the positive energy that exists within the YWCA itself.

“We have a good group of women here who are helping other women,” she said. “We are all looking in the same direction to keep improving, even if it’s just a little step at a time.”