YAKIMA, Wash. — YWCA Yakima has seen a 30% increase in calls to its 24/7 helpline every year for the past few years and staff are struggling to keep up with demand and cost growing services.
But thanks to two new checks from the Emily Harris Memorial Foundation, the nonprofit now has an additional $155,500 in its bank account.
“This money is going to help a lot of people,” YWCA Yakima Executive Director Cheri Kilty said after receiving the checks Friday morning outside their office at 818 W. Yakima Ave.
The money was raised by Selah resident Brian Harris and his family at two events earlier this year: $137,000 at the second annual Emily Harris Memorial Golf Tournament and $18,500 at the TriplePlay concert.
Kilty said that with the new donations, the Harris family – Brian Harris, his wife Fran and their two grandchildren, Olivia and Dominic – have been responsible for raising a total of $385,000 over the past two and a half years.
“We are forever grateful to them amid their grief, they are raising awareness about domestic violence, available resources and raising funds for the YWCA,” the staff said in a social media post.
Every penny of that money was donated in honor of Emily Harris, who was killed by her husband at their Selah home on January 24, 2020. Authorities say her husband later committed suicide, leaving behind their two children.
“It was a huge tragedy for us, for our grandchildren and my other daughter, for my wife to lose her daughter like this,” Harris said.
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The Harris family turned this tragedy into action by starting the Live Like Emily movement and creating the Emily Harris Memorial Foundation to help raise funds for victims of domestic violence who seek help from YWCA Yakima.
“We hope the ladies come out,” Harris said. “Our daughter didn’t get a chance to do this because her life was taken away and we don’t want that to happen to anyone else.”
They’ve received donations from concerts, golf tournaments and other memorial events, as well as selling Licorice Guy licorice, creating Live Like Emily merchandise, encouraging people to do the #EmilyShuffleChallenge and going off the beaten track.
“By living in this kennel for three days, I raised $56,000,” Harris said. “Who is going to pay me $56,000 to live in a kennel? It’s just the kind of community we live in.
Harris said he’s pretty sure people are tired of asking him for their money, but he’s so grateful for the community’s willingness to support their efforts with generous donations.
“If you have a good cause, people like to give,” Harris said. “The towns of Selah and Yakima are huge donor communities.”
They’re hosting another fundraiser for the Emily Harris Memorial Foundation from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Cowiche Farms, a start-up lavender farm at 2879 Thompson Rd.
Harris said her family will be selling licorice and Live Like Emily shirts and other merchandise, with proceeds from the lavender cup going to the Emily Harris Memorial Foundation.
Kilty said the help the Harris family has provided since tragedy struck their family in 2020 is desperately needed, with domestic violence being one of the top crimes committed in the Yakima community.
“This money will be used to support the YWCA, our 24-hour helpline, the ability to be able to have a safe place for people if they need it, and to be able to provide that one-on-one support to people,” Kilty said.
YWCA Yakima staff surprised the family with a gift to thank them for all they’ve done: a newly updated play area for children staying at the shelter, named Emily’s Place in honor of the woman who no longer there, but still helping to make the world a better place.
“A lot of women have contacted us because of Emily’s story; they said if it can happen to Emily Harris, I know it can happen to me,” Harris said. “So please, ladies, take that into consideration and get out.”
If you think you or a loved one might be in an abusive relationship and aren’t sure what to do, call YWCA Yakima’s 24-hour hotline at 509-248-7796 or visit their website here.
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