The YWCA has been adding value to the lives of women in America for over 140 years. As times change, so do needs and resources. We spoke to Laticia Holbert, the director of education, training and innovation, about how the YWCA assists women from all walks of life and why its presence is so important.
Talk about the history of the YWCA.
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago is the oldest and largest women’s organization in the region, with a mission to eliminate racism and empower women. For more than 140 years, YWCA Metropolitan Chicago has been committed to serving the evolving needs of women and families. Today, we help more than 200,000 individuals annually through programs focused [on] safety and wellness, education and training, and economic sustainability. We are the largest provider of sexual assault support services in the state of Illinois, offering crisis intervention, counseling, prevention education and medical and legal advocacy services. We administer the state’s largest Child Care Resource and Referral program offering services to families seeking child care and a variety of support resources for child care providers. We also offer career, financial management, digital literacy and business services to help youth and adult members achieve financial stability and obtain training to enter high-growth fields.
Why is it important to focus on the wel- being of women?
It is important to empower women with the tools they need to thrive in a 21st-century economy. When more women have economic opportunities and the ability to thrive, our communities are stronger.
What type of services does the YWCA offer that most people are not aware of?
Often times people are unaware that we are the largest provider of sexual assault support services in the state of Illinois and we also administer the state’s largest Child Care Resource and Referral program.
What has been your main initiative as of late?
We are in a perpetual state of innovation. Last year we launched YShop (www.yshop.org), an online store managed by us at the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. YShop offers a curated selection of goods and services, where a portion of each purchase goes to benefit the YWCA and the communities that we support. This year we launched Women’s Health Exchange (www.womenshealthexchange.org), an online health and wellness resource, to complement new services offered by the YWCA with the goal of improving the overall wellbeing of women and families throughout the region.
What is the expectation of the individual who is looking to take advantage of the services you have to offer?
Our clients expect the best from us. They expect exceptional service, informative staff and high-quality programs that will equip them with the tools they need to elevate themselves professionally, emotionally or in general.
Talk a little about TechGYRLS and what you are looking to accomplish with this initiative.
TechGYRLS is a multi-week project-based learning program that encourages girls to explore their curiosities about science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM), take calculated risks, create leadership opportunities and envision a broad range of possibilities for their futures. Each TechGYRLS session is designed to introduce a topic and provide educational components, skill building activities, projects, and collaborative brainstorming sessions. The program includes problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity and self-directed learning.
The goal of TechGYRLS is to introduce young girls to concepts and applications, increase their interest in technology, enhance their knowledge of careers, strengthen the dynamics of teamwork collaboration, and cultivate critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
The overall TechGYRLS objectives are:
- To introduce girls to fundamental concepts and applications through activities that connect education and scientific experimentation;
- To cultivate enhanced interest in technology through strategic thinking, creativity and innovation;
- To increase knowledge of digital media and information literacy skills by bridging education and current events using research resources; and
- To provide career exploration and leadership development resources by motivating growth of life and career skills and promoting collaboration and group dynamics.
What are some of the challenges that the YWCA faces?
One challenge that persists is between brand awareness and confusion with the YMCA. The YWCA and YMCA are two entirely separate entities with different missions and services offered. We are currently in the midst of a “Without the W” marketing and brand awareness campaign. The playful campaign, which can be found on posters and subway stations throughout Chicago, centers around the tagline “It doesn’t work without the W.” thus elevating our brand while also celebrating the theme of women’s empowerment. The official tagline is “For 140 years, we’ve helped women better themselves, empowering them to better our city.”
How would someone go about becoming a member of or volunteering for the YWCA?
Go to our website, http://www.ywcachicago.org/how-to-help/volunteer/ and learn more about volunteering.