CEO, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago
I first became acquainted with the work and mission of the YWCA in 2004. I was invited to attend YWCA Metropolitan Chicago’s Leader Luncheon – Chicago’s largest celebration of women leaders. Scanning the ballroom, reading signage and event materials, I remember thinking the theme of the luncheon must have been ‘eliminating racism, empowering women.’ However, as the event continued, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that what I presumed was the ‘theme’ was actually the mission of the organization.
Since that day, I’ve been committed to the YWCA’s mission and the more than 173,000 women and families the agency helps each year. My support began by volunteering to serve on the YWCA’s board of directors. As I learned more about the difficult economic circumstances facing many women in Chicago (and around the world), I thought, “What if these women could be inspired to move beyond their current situation? What if they were no longer viewed as insignificant – by themselves or others? And if this did happen, what possibilities would exist for women, families, communities, cities and, ultimately, the world?”
I carry these thoughts with me into my new role as CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, whose goal is to provide women and girls in metropolitan Chicago with the tools and skills necessary to triumph over challenging circumstances and improve their lives. Our women experience barriers to employment, inadequate childcare, lack of economic opportunities and emotional trauma caused by violence. These experiences alone are enough to prevent anyone from being empowered. With this in mind, we’re constantly examining our services to better understand what it means to truly be an empowered woman.
We know that ‘empowered’ means different things to different people based on their unique backgrounds and experiences. In response, we developed an initial model for how we define a ‘YWCA empowered woman’ that begins with ensuring basic needs (i.e. food and shelter) and moves toward creating personal transformation for women and their communities. Our ‘empowerment model,’ however, isn’t just limited to the women seeking our services. It applies to every woman, no matter what her individual circumstances may be – women like you and me.
To ensure all the women of Chicago contribute to the success of this great city, the YWCA community (those we serve and those who support us) must stand together and pledge: “Today I serve the world by being my most empowered self. I leverage my whole self and appreciate others for doing the same. In being our whole, empowered selves, we improve the world!”
Many people, after learning of my recent decision to serve as CEO of the YWCA, have asked me why I chose to move from the corporate world to the social change sector. For me, it was a simple decision. In order to create a better world, it will take corporations, government and community organizations working together to achieve lasting results – no one sector can do this alone. Together, we can create greater impact for all of humanity, and the YWCA is starting right here with the women of Chicago.