Fearless Future is YWCA USA’s annual meeting theme

Fearless Future is YWCA USA’s annual meeting theme

Photo: World Service Council Chair Connie Tate, World Treasurer Carolyn Flowers, World Service Council Secretary Joelle Logue and YWCA USA Global Relations Chair Rachel Cheeks-Givan were among the 300 attendees at the YWCA USA Annual Meeting.

Close to three hundred YWCA staff, volunteers and allies gathered at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C. for the YWCA USA’s annual meeting June 12-14. Leading off the packed three day agenda was Capitol Hill Day during which YWCA women, dressed in black, white and persimmon, stormed the Hill to meet with legislators on ending sequestration, passing immigration legislation and denying guns to perpetrators of domestic violence. Out of the 265 meetings, 44 percent were with the legislators in person rather than members of their staff. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi addressed the YWCA assemblage at the end of the day acknowledging the outstanding work of the YWCA and issuing a strong message in support of women’s rights.

Prior to going on the Hill, Soledad O’Brien was presented the Dorothy Height Racial Justice Award for hosting and developing award-winning documentary series on race for CNN including Black in America and Latino in America. In 2013, O’Brien launched Starfish Media Group, a documentary production company that will develop programming for CNN, Al Jazeera America, HBO and other media outlets. She has won awards for her reporting of Crisis in Haiti, Hurricane Katrina, the BP Gulf Coast Oil Spill and the Southeast Asia Tsunami. In the wake of Katrina, her foundation now awards yearly scholarships to 25 disadvantaged young women to attend college.

The day culminated with a reception that encouraged affinity group discussion in areas such as domestic violence, mission impact, young women’s leadership, CEO and president roles, and racial justice.

Day two of the conference featured a message from CEO Dara Richardson Heron on the challenges she has faced during her 18 months of leading the organization. She invited her staff to stand and be recognized for their outstanding work in helping her with the difficult task of building a strong national office.

Dara has spent a lot of time visiting YWCAs across the country (42 in all so far) and while she said she appreciates the broad spectrum of diversity in services provided, it raises the question of who the YWCA is as a national movement? Where is the focus? Her comment is, “once you’ve seen one YWCA, you have seen one YWCA.” Because of this, it is challenging to create an elevator speech, pitch it to corporations, and find a collective voice. Other questions she looks forward to answering with the help of local organizations are: What should our brand represent? Who is our target audience? Are we relevant? What is our vision?

Then she described her vision: to have high impact, fiscally sound locals with a strong track record of social change; to regain the visibility of our famed historic past and have the courage to separate their legacy buildings from the mission at hand; to secure diversified and sustainable funding; to have strong talent at all levels and a ladder of opportunity for leaders to climb forward; to become a real movement that strengthens whole communities. Her call to action is for the YWCA to dream big and take bold steps that propel us into a fearless future. Failure is not an option because too many people depend on us for services.

The morning plenary also featured two personal messages from YWCA leaders in the field who told how the YWCA had changed their lives. Felicia Fort is a volunteer STEM facilitator and tutoring instructor at YWCA National Capital Area and Martha Kamber is the CEO and president of the YWCA Brooklyn.

Morning and afternoon workshops were well attended. Topics covered were: the YWCAs role in voter education and mobilization; keeping women safe by strengthening community-based responses to DV homicides; best practices for young women’s leadership initiatives; creating a leadership pipeline for women of color, empowering women by addressing issues of gender identity and gender expression; living the mission, getting what women want in the 114th congress; hope for the best, plan for worst in managing a crisis; foundation funding tips from insiders and experts; NextGen donors, innovation and best practices in economic development.

The luncheon speaker was Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and Counselor to the Center for American Progress Action Fund, who served in both the Obama and Clinton administrations. She praised the YWCA for its leadership in advocating for women and encouraged local YWCAs to stay involved in public policy challenges.

Robin Givens, star of television, film and stage, hosted the Gala Awards night that was a fitting end of a great day of inspiration. Givens has served as a spokesperson for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and was awarded the Vital Link Award by the organization. She introduced this year’s Women of Distinction Awards.

The Advocacy and Civic Engagement Award was presented to Gaby Pacheco who co-founded the Florida immigrant youth network known as Students Working for Equal Rights and gained national recognition for her courageous advocacy of the DREAM ACT. She works tirelessly on behalf of undocumented students and was the first undocumented Latina to testify before Congress.

Recipient of the Award for Social Responsibility was Deborah L. DeHass on behalf of Deloitte LLP for Deloitte’s strong commitment to create and to cultivate a diverse workforce, to create career development and leadership opportunities for women, and for their invaluable partnerships with YWCAs across the country.

Jaspen Booth, a member of the Army Reserves in New Orleans, was recognized as the Military and Veterans Affairs Woman of Distinction for founding Final Salute in 2010 that has assisted more than 150 homeless women veterans and their children to find housing in 15 states and territories. Final Salute operates three transitional homes in Alexandria, VA, Martinsburg, W.V. and Columbus, O.H.

Receiving the Women of Distinction Award for Women’s Empowerment was Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of NETWORK, who is also a religious leader and poet with extensive experience in public policy and advocacy for systematic change. She wrote the famous “nuns” letter supporting the reform bill in response to the congressional debate about healthcare reform and got 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters to sign on. In 2012 she helped organize the Nuns on the Bus Tour and in 2014 published A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change and Community.

Local Association Awards in the areas of Women’s Empowerment, Racial Justice and Advocacy were presented by National Board Chair Paula Penebaker. YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region received the Women’s Empowerment Award; YWCA Greater Pittsburgh took home the Racial Justice Award and YWCA Orange County, NY was the recipient of the Advocacy Award.

Day three got off to a rousing start with an address by Judge Glenda Hatchett, former juvenile court judge and star of the TV’s Judge Hatchett. Feisty and poignant, Hatchett told of her life growing up in the south in the 60s and her wrestle with God over leaving a lucrative legal corporate life to become a juvenile court judge. In her years as judge, she realized that domestic violence has a generational effect that can’t be measured, and she commended the YWCA on the lives we touch. Her advice and challenge went something like this: “I double dog dare you to be strong, to write your own story of hope and possibility, and not to let anyone but yourself define who you are.”

YWCA Canada CEO Paulette Senior and President Colette Prevost brought greetings from our sisters to the north and told of some of their initiatives in areas of working on indigenous women’s issues around homelessness and violence. World Treasurer Carolyn Flowers reminded us of the importance of being part of a world movement in 125 countries serving 25 million women and girls. She urged everyone to attend World Council in Bangkok next year.

Dara followed with her yearly report of key accomplishments beginning with a very important statistic – that the YWCA USA had a surplus for the first time in 10 years. She pointed to the completion of the Persimmon Handbook for new CEOs that contains a comprehensive operational plan, the collaboration between herself and a diverse local CEO Advisory Board, the success of the capacity building workshop held in Santa Fe and the development of affinity groups. She also mentioned the collective impact of organizational statistics that can move us forward in advocacy and fundraising efforts. As for development, she cited the Walgreen’s economic empowerment grants and Allstate grants, and said the national office is working to revitalize fundraising by seeking other corporate partnerships.

Announced was a leadership campaign initiated by current and alumni board members and plans for more training resources, the need for enhanced communications, more social media and the need to sing one tune. Dara acknowledged the YWCA Blog in progress, the monthly Y Wire and its World YWCA connection by participating in the Commission on the Status of Women during which USA hosted a reception for YWCA World delegates, and the work that will be done in preparation for World Council in Bangkok slated for 2015.

Dara’s powerpoint of results from a satisfaction survey on how the national office is doing in a number areas showed that most are happy with the direction taken by the national office.

The bylaws and nominees to the national board were approved by the body. Executive committee members are Paula Penebaker and Janet Marcotte staying on as president and treasurer, respectively; and Paul Green Johnson, a World Service Council member, replacing Azuri Gonzalez as vice chair/secretary. Newly elected national board members are Griselda Aldrete, executive director of Hispanic Professionals of Greater Milwaukee; Stephanie Cuskley, CEO of Npower; Sylvia Fields, Executive Director of Eden Hall Foundation; Vicky Free, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer of BET; Terri Pensock, Director of WW Sales Enablement for Systems & Technology, IBM; and Emily Tynes, Communications Director of

The meeting closed with the reading of a “Pledge to Eliminate Racism in My Life.”