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YWonderful Kids Receives Statewide Gold Level Equity Award

We’re thrilled to announce that our YWonderful Kids program has been awarded a Gold level 2022 PA Equity in Early Childhood Education Champion Award from Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children and The PD Registry! We’re honored by this recognition, and will continue to work hard to provide affordable, equitable, and quality education opportunities to the next gerneration of leaders, thinkers, and do-ers in Lancaster County!

More than 50 submissions were received as part of the 2022 recognition of the work being done around equity in Pennsylvania’s early learning settings.

The award, provided from the Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), brings awareness to and highlight the equity work being done within Pennsylvania’s early childhood education and afterschool settings, and by child care, evidence-based home visiting and early intervention professionals, as it aligns with the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) Equity and Inclusion Toolkit, and with the position statement of the National Association for the Education for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Education Position Statement.

Congratulations to all the winners, including our sister YWCA YWCA Tri-County Area! Check out all the winners here: https://www.pakeys.org/equity/awards-2022

Opinion: A Call for Women in Leadership

The following is an opinion piece originally published in One United Lancaster on 3/25/22. Read it on One United Lancaster

March is Women’s History Month, a month that contains important intersectional representation: International Women’s Day on March 8, Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, as well as sharing this time with Disability Awareness Month.

Today, the world is facing substantial challenges, and wise compassionate leadership has never been more important. This moment in time demands change and women’s leadership is the answer. A moment that calls not just for looking to the past, but to the future, for justice.

When I say “women,” I am explicitly including Black women, Hispanic women, Asian women, trans women, women with disabilities, young women and all who identify as women, with the understanding that we do not all confront these challenges on equal ground.

This is our third consecutive Women’s History Month in a pandemic. We’ve largely passed the point of being able to truly comprehend the physical toll, the family loss, and the generational earthquake of economic impact it has created, but we do know someone—maybe it’s you—who has left their job because of childcare needs.

We all know someone—maybe it’s you—who braved unfair and unsafe conditions to work and support their family.

We all know someone—maybe it’s you—who has stayed in a bad living situation because there was no safer alternative or who lost their housing when rent was raised.

Also, during this time, over 50 municipalities and some states have declared Racism as a Public Health Crisis. There’s never been a time, not a single year, where the U.S. population of African descent hasn’t been sicker or died younger than whites. None of this is justice.

As we look to history for inspiration, I must remember that for the YWCA Lancaster, it’s our second pandemic. Our building opened in 1918 after years of work by local women and was then promptly closed for a time because of the Spanish Flu. I started at YWCA Lancaster in December of 2019. I’ve only known a short time when our work was not fully focused on meeting the challenges faced when a pandemic exacerbates the inequities that have always persisted in our society.

The economic impacts of the pandemic have been called the She-session: women have lost jobs two times more than men. Be careful of the optimistic reports of unemployment results or jobs gained. Always ask the next questions: what about all women?  What about Black women? What about Hispanic women? What about women with disabilities? Then you will have a full picture.

In 2021 the pay gap for women is still 82c/$1 for men. Unless you are a Black woman, then it is 65c in PA or if you are Latina, it is 57c nationwide. This means you work weeks, months longer for the same amount of money. In your lifetime of work, you may earn $1 million less than a man. None of this is justice.

To get out of this she-session, we need more women able to contribute their talents and skills to help humanity to survive and prosper now. We must center the voices and values of women, families, and racial equity. And we need our policies to reflect this as well.

We need to change practices so that women hold power in all facets of life from school boards to boardrooms.

Respecting and including women—all women—is the simple solution for this moment. International Women’s Day was created at a time of organizing for women’s right to vote, and for labor rights. Women’s History Month is a constant reminder of how far we have come, and the countless voices for that have helped us see how far we can go together. More than a century later our message justice remains the same. My call remains the same.

At YWCA Lancaster, we demand a world of equity and human decency. At a time when women’s livelihood, safety, and personhood is being challenged, we envision a world of opportunity and community for all to be their fullest selves. We commit ourselves to the work of racial justice, and we will continue to do the work until injustice is rooted out, until institutions are transformed, until the world sees women, girls, and people of color the way we do: Equal. Powerful. Unstoppable.

Until justice just is.

Comcast Newsmakers: Creating the county’s first racial equity profile

This month we were honored to be part of Comcast Newsmaker’s latest feature! Jasmyne King, Director of our Center for Racial and Gender Equity spoke with Sheila Hyland about our collaborative work with local organizations across sectors to launch Lancaster County’s first Racial Equity Profile.

We’re proud to join with national experts in PolicyLink, as well as so many local organizations in this work, including the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster, Community First Fund, CHI St. Joseph Children’s Health, The High Foundation, the Lancaster County Community Foundation, the Lancaster Chamber, Union Community Care, and the United Way of Lancaster County!

Check out the feature below: 

Access to legal abortion is a fundamental right (Local Voices)

The following is an opinion piece first appearing in LNP 2/3/22

read on LNP

I don’t really enjoy talking about abortion, because it’s private. Or it should be. And still, as we recently passed the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade — a critical Supreme Court decision for safe, legal abortion access in the United States — we are once again faced with the privacy, safety and futures of members of our community being at stake.

For most of my life, people who become pregnant have been guaranteed a constitutional right to make deeply personal and sometimes difficult decisions about their futures.

Pre-viability abortion bans, like the one recently passed and upheld in Mississippi, disproportionately harm young women and particularly women of color — core constituencies of YWCAs across the country — robbing them of their right to autonomy over their future.

The looming Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization threatens to set society back. People who are pregnant in Lancaster County and across the country would face significant harm as the first generation in half a century to enter adulthood without the fundamental right to make the decision whether to continue a pregnancy.

In the past 50 years, our country has made tremendous strides in improving the economic outcomes, educational attainment, health and safety for women. All of that stands to be undermined by the Supreme Court.

Individuals who are denied an abortion are four times more likely to live in poverty than those who can access care. Restrictions on abortion care hurt working-class and low-income people the most, as the cost of transportation, child care and taking time off work often combine to put access to care out of reach.

Many remember what it was like before and do not wish those realities on communities today. We know restricting abortions does not end abortions. Rather, it will return us to the days of dangerous, back-room, secretive abortions for most — while those with greater resources have more access to care. The same old story of privileged access.

Roe v. Wade is clearly established precedent, and my access to health care, or yours, shouldn’t be up for debate. Individuals require access to safe, legal abortions, high-quality care and protection under the law.

For more than 50 years, YWCA has supported a person’s freedom to make fundamental decisions about whether and when to have children. Abortion decisions should be left to pregnant people and their doctors. We haven’t changed our stance on this matter of established law. I believe in your right to privacy and your right to your future.

Read more in our policy positions

Black History Month events

February is Black History Month and YWCA Lancaster is planning a curated offering of events to engage community members in the past, present, and future of Black History in Lancaster.

February is Black History Month, yet the work of celebrating Black history, local and national, is work the YWCA Lancaster strives for year-round. We are proud to offer these experiences for Lancaster County residents to hear from local Black voices, and build collective understanding around Black history, present, and future all 365 days of the year.

High on the Hog

What: A hybrid culinary and storytelling event

When: 2/11/22

“High on the Hog” will feature a meal from two Lancaster chefs: Chef Oliver of Homage and Patience Buckwalter of Grape Leaf Cafe, as they detail their cuisine and how it ties back to their family upbringing and the Black culture. Meals will be available for pick-up to a limited number of registrants, and the discussion with local chefs will be digital.

High on the Hog, available on Netflix, will be the encouraged pre-viewing film that will be discussed during the evening.

5:30-6:30: Meal pick up at YWCA Lancaster (110 N. Lime St. Lancaster 17602)

6:30-7:30: Virtual program with Chef Oliver and Patience Buckwalter

Please contact Jasmyne King with any questions jking@ywcalancaster.org

More information: https://ywcalancaster.org/programs/crge/socialjusticeclub/

 

Reclaiming Our Time

What: A collective space for the Black and Brown community

When: 2/20/22 (digital)

This is a collective space that recognizes the systemic inequities Black and Brown people endure while celebrating excellence and the unwavering ability to have joy.

More information: https://ywcalancaster.org/calendar/reclaiming-our-time-3-2021-05-30-2021-06-27-2021-07-25/2022-02-20/

 

Black History Month Pop Quiz

What: A fun, quizbowl style event to test your Black History Month knowledge and build community

When: 2/27/22 (digital)

In partnership with Millersville University and and Crispus Attucks Community Center, YWCA Lancaster will hold a quizbowl-style friendly competition for community members to come and test their knowledge of local and national Black History Month Topics.

More information: https://ywcalancaster.org/calendar/popquiz-black-history-edition/

 

Continuing the work year-round…

Because the work of celebrating Black history and culture must happen beyond just February, the YWCA Lancaster is also offering important ways to continue the work with us:

 

Listen, Learn, Lead: Bail and Pretrial Detention

What: An interactive learning session featuring Michelle Batt of the Lancaster Bail Fund

When: 3/3/22 (digital)

Michelle Batt of the Lancaster Bail Fund to learn about the oppressive nature of pretrial detention and bail, and how bail funds can support unjust imprisonment, as well as action steps change it.

More information: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIoduygpz4oE9flUQSiRXBn9F1t3ZNAYZxN

MLK Day Reflections: Learning from Setbacks

The following is an opinion piece featured originally on One United Lancaster.

read on One United Lancaster

In thinking about the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we appropriately lean towards celebrating his victories. Selma, Birmingham, invoking “the Dream” – all are compelling, inspiring, and proof that sustained action can create meaningful change.

We should also lift up and reflect on how setbacks can shape our advocacy and action in today’s society. In a 1961-1962 campaign in Albany, Georgia, King and other advocates protesting segregation were effectively stifled by the police chief who quietly jailed protesters and delayed the arrest of King to take the air out of the moment. The campaign strategy was interrupted and the effort fell flat.

King, just 32 at the time, reflected on the moment by saying, “The mistake I made there was to protest against segregation generally rather than against a single and distinct facet of it.”

He took the lessons learned in Albany, his greatest defeat, and used them in the successful Birmingham campaign to challenge the city’s segregationist policies – one of the Civil Rights Movement’s greatest victories. This resilience and evaluation of strategy is one that we can use today in Lancaster County and beyond.

Despite the perceived progress made nationally and locally after the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, we are still at a legislative and cultural standstill when it comes to racial justice, and the white supremacist meetings in Millersville and Manheim Township are a cause to despair and wonder if any progress was made at all.

This can feel frustrating, especially if we’re looking at the arc of history through the whitewashed teaching of the Civil Rights Movement: Rosa Parks sat on a bus; Dr. King had a dream; The Civil Rights Act was passed.

What is forgotten is the more than ten-year struggle to achieve these milestones: from the brave decision of Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till, to share her grief with the nation in 1955; the courage of nine Black students to enter a newly desegregated school in Arkansas; the countless moments of fortitude large and small to challenge oppression all leading to the passing of the landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

We are concerned about the current struggle to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to re-secure every person’s constitutional right to the ballot. These are modern moments of victory and setback, big and small, that are playing out every day in our community, and will be written about in future history books. It’s why our recommitment to learning, action and justice is more important than ever.

At YWCA Lancaster, our mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. Although as a county we’ve hit roadblocks and failures time and again in pursuit of justice, we continue to be committed until Justice, Just Is. Just like King, we are learning from our past, focusing our efforts, and moving with intention to build community with you.

This spring, we will be sharing the results of a countywide racial equity profile that will provide the necessary data, disaggregated along racial lines, to show us where we must continue to work and change the systems that fail our community and its people.

In Lancaster County, the life expectancy for Black residents is five years less than it is for white people. In a pandemic where we have daily reminders of how precious life is, we are committed to action through our community engagement, our educational efforts to create a more inclusive culture, and through policy change.

The Black Lives Matter movement is nine years old this year. In a society that loves instant gratification we must be resilient in this generational struggle towards justice and learn from our past. Our march isn’t always linear, but it must always be forward.

We must always remember the words of King from his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?: “A final victory is an accumulation of many short-term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to comprehend the process of full victory. It underestimates the value of confrontation and dissolves the confidence born of partial victory by which new efforts are powered.”

In Lancaster County we have had short-term encounters and small successes. We have had setbacks and failures, but we are moving forward together. We need to do more because we want the promise of Lancaster to be made real – to be a great place to live, work and raise a family, for everyone. We invite you to join YWCA Lancaster in that mission.

Welcome to our new Board Members!

YWCA Lancaster welcomes seven new members to the Board of Directors with three-year terms.  These community leaders will help the mission of the YWCA Lancaster to eliminate racism and empower women.  

The elected members are an impressive group of women, selected among dozens of community business and civic leaders referred for the openings this year.  These individuals will join the dedicated leaders already part of the Board to guide the agency in the coming year.  The Board is chaired by Deborah Wilson Gadsden, the first Black woman to lead the Board since its existence.  She has served as a member of the Board, including the mission and executive committees since 2014.   

“Its an honor to lead such a powerful group of women.  Our mission is important and we are so pleased to have this caliber of women stepping forward to work with us,” said Gadsden.

New Board members include: 

Mary Auker-Endres, community organizer and trainer 

Maxine Cook, Domestic Violence Services of Lancaster County, Lancaster NAACP 

Gretchel Hathaway, Franklin & Marshall College 

Stephanie O’Hara, Landmark Homes 

Jessi Purdy, FIC Human Resource Partners 

April Russell, COBYS Family Services 

Kim Tull, Godfrey 

 Check out the new board member bios here

Nominations for the Board of Directors can be made year-round and selections are made in December.  See https://ywcalancaster.org/about/team/ for details. 

We need your voice for our committees!

The YWCA Lancaster is looking for community members who are committed to eliminating racism and empowering women in Lancaster County to be part of our volunteer board committees.

See committee opportunities

Looking Back, Looking Forward

While a global pandemic touched everyone in the community, our YWCA Lancaster board, staff, and volunteers continued to learn, unlearn, and envision what eliminating racism and empowering women looks like through art, books, and pop-culture. Here are some things we especially appreciated in 2021, and what we’re looking forward to in 2022 as we continue to work until justice just is. 

Books:

Our Dorothy Height Social Justice Club read two powerful books about sexual assault and the systemic oppression that victim-survivors face. Chanel Miller’s Know My Name and Briana Jonnie’s If I Go Missing both started as viral letters, and both were adapted into powerful books. In 2022, our club will continue to center the voices of BIPOC women as we read Unbound by Tarana Burke and Lancastrian Zetta Eliot’s collection of poems, Say Her Name.

We are so grateful for our Dorothy Height Club partners, The Lancaster Public Library, Aaron’s Books, and Red Planet Books (the only Indigenous-owned comic book store in the world). If you’re able, please try to support mission-driven and BIPOC owned stores. Aside from Aaron’s Books, in Pennsylvania we have Good Brothas in Harrisburg, Harriet’s in Philadelphia, and our own Read Rose Books in Lancaster. In 2022, we’ll also be reading Let the Record Show by Sarah Schulman, Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore, and Disability Visibility.

And of course, we will continue our focus on early-childhood literacy as we host our annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at YWCA Lancaster, supported by Willow Valley Communities.

Local Artists:

2021 saw a much needed explosion of local BIPOC artists in our community. Our own Black Artist Waystation commissioned art from local Black artists Shelby and Jordan Wormley, Gracie Berry, Gerri McCritty, and Nathan Gadsden. Lancaster so was lucky to have artists such as Kearasten Jordan, Keisha Finnie, Salina Almanzar, Chynaah Doll, and Dominique Jordan Miller share their gifts with us.

In 2022, we are looking forward to partnering with Starleisha Michelle Gingrich’s Disrupt Theatre Company on a performance of Dominique Morriseau’s Mud Row, and can’t wait to see what this year’s Black Artist Waystation artists create.

TV:

It was so exciting to see nuanced conversations about race and much better representations of systemically marginalized populations on screen. Two reboots, The Wonder Years and Gossip Girl, were especially exciting. The Wonder Years showed us the tumultuous 60s through the eyes of a Black family in Alabama, and Gossip Girl gave us a new look at New York’s financial elite that broke down hetero and gendernormative barriers with a racial lens that the original never did.

Two shows featuring Indiginous writers and stories also broke ground in 2021. Rutherford Falls made us laugh and think about stolen Indigenous land while Reservation Dogs gave us a view into reservation life that didn’t cater to white audiences. 

We also had the final season of Issa Rae’s incredible Insecure. We’ll miss the laughs and drama that the show brought, but are also really looking forward to a new season of Donald Glover’s Atlanta in 2022. Like Reservation Dogs, these two shows unapologetically portray modern BIPOC communities in ways that are sharp, intelligent, emotional, and full of joy.

Sports:

2021 saw BIPOC, transgender, and female athletes advocate for their own mental and physical health in ways that we’ve never seen before. The Wildcat Strike in the NBA, WNBA, and MLB after the murder of Jacob Blake showed that despite their paychecks, professional athletes are not here just for our entertainment. Simone Biles bravely faced waves of patriarchal and racist criticism as she decided to sit out events at the Olympics, and athletes and allies everywhere fought for transgender rights in sport and school. We were especially thankful for the woman-led podcast, Burn it All Down for providing keen analysis and exposure to these issues in sport, and we loved having host Dr. Amira Rose Davis at our own Dorothy Height Club in April discussing the documentary Athlete A.In 2022 in the wake of an eye-opening gender equity report from the NCAA, we’ll be watching to see how the NCAA fixes the vast inequality between men’s and women’s sports, along with cheering on our favorite activist athletes in the WNBA, NWSL, and beyond.

‘THIS IS SO CENTRAL TO WHO I AM’: Q&A WITH YWCA LANCASTER CEO, STACIE BLAKE

Stacie Blake became CEO of YWCA Lancaster in September 2019, just half a year before Pennsylvania went under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. Last fall, responding to Black Lives Matter protests and calls for social justice here and worldwide over the death of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police, the organization launched the Center for Racial & Gender Equity. Later that year, YWCA Lancaster received a boost in the form of a major gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Blake came to the organization from the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, where she was director of government and community relations. She recently spoke with One United Lancaster about YWCA Lancaster’s work over the past two years and its future goals.

The following has been edited for clarity and length.

OUL: What are some of the current challenges that the YWCA is facing, specifically pandemic related?

Stacie Blake: The YWCA Lancaster building that we all know at the corner of Lime and Orange opened in 1918. What’s significant about that is this is our second pandemic.

From the beginning, we could see that this pandemic was going to hit women the hardest, and our organization early on saw how COVID-19 would impact marginalized communities. So, for us it meant that the whole first year-plus was closing the building to protect our vulnerable residents.

This was before there was a vaccine, and we were worried that the aging women who live with us, who have disabilities of different types would just be at such high risk. So then that changed into an opportunity [where] people could be vaccinated, and different programs could start to come back into the building because of the work we’re doing now.

One of the programs most impacted has been childcare, both in Lancaster and nationally. It’s on two sides: it’s difficult to hire staff because they need childcare, and so many places have closed. But then it’s also difficult to offer enough childcare, because we need more staff. That’s something that we navigate every single day and are doing everything we can to keep our programs open to support working families.

Another challenge for the YWCA amid the pandemic has been the provision of sexual assault prevention and counseling services. Pivoting to virtual and telehealth options have enabled the YWCA to continue providing information and support.

There were some cases where that was easy and comfortable, and other cases where, particularly with children, that’s just a very challenging way for younger kids to connect and be talking about these really difficult topics. Just now we are starting to see folks face to face.

OUL: What’s the bigger picture and why does this problem exist? What would make it better? What can people do to help the YWCA in its mission?

Blake: The mission of a nonprofit is usually, and ought to be, to fill the gap in the community — the piece that is not resolved either through individual capacity and opportunity, or government support and programs.

For us, our mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. I see that we’ve not met that mission because women across the board do not have equal pay, do not have full autonomy over their bodies, and are responsible for the bulk of childcare and eldercare in their families. These are all challenges that we need to come at from a couple of different ways.

For us, the problem of racism, though, is the overriding problem, and if we could solve for racism, that would solve also for the problems that women face.

So, what can people do to help? One, recognize that racism is real. Lancaster County is a wonderful, beautiful place, and like everywhere else in the country, we have a legacy and a current situation of racism that has to be addressed, and it’s holding all of us back.

I think that’s what sometimes people fail to recognize. They might feel bad for a particular group or think group should work harder, but they don’t understand that, until all of us are able to achieve at our fullest potential, none of us will be able to. And that’s really the thing.

So, what we want to be able to do in the community is speak the truth about what’s happening; offer education for people who maybe didn’t have enough information about these issues before. I’ll be the first to say that my high school education did not adequately prepare me to understand the history and legacy of racism and discrimination in my country, and so I’m always trying to fill those gaps myself.

Then, advocacy. An example would be when we see health disparities in our community, and we don’t have a health department to help us address this. That’s a very clear step of advocacy that anyone can engage in — to ask for a health department.

We see inequities in educational funding, and then we see an opportunity which is currently playing out right now for the systems to ask for that equity, because it impacts our kids here in Lancaster County. Really what I want people to do is be brave enough to say ‘I don’t know. I need to know more about this and I’m going to change my behavior.’

 

Another challenge for the YWCA amid the pandemic has been the provision of sexual assault prevention and counseling services. Pivoting to virtual and telehealth options have enabled the YWCA to continue providing information and support.

There were some cases where that was easy and comfortable, and other cases where, particularly with children, that’s just a very challenging way for younger kids to connect and be talking about these really difficult topics. Just now we are starting to see folks face to face.

OUL: What’s the bigger picture and why does this problem exist? What would make it better? What can people do to help the YWCA in its mission?

Blake: The mission of a nonprofit is usually, and ought to be, to fill the gap in the community — the piece that is not resolved either through individual capacity and opportunity, or government support and programs.

For us, our mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. I see that we’ve not met that mission because women across the board do not have equal pay, do not have full autonomy over their bodies, and are responsible for the bulk of childcare and eldercare in their families. These are all challenges that we need to come at from a couple of different ways.

For us, the problem of racism, though, is the overriding problem, and if we could solve for racism, that would solve also for the problems that women face.

So, what can people do to help? One, recognize that racism is real. Lancaster County is a wonderful, beautiful place, and like everywhere else in the country, we have a legacy and a current situation of racism that has to be addressed, and it’s holding all of us back.

I think that’s what sometimes people fail to recognize. They might feel bad for a particular group or think group should work harder, but they don’t understand that, until all of us are able to achieve at our fullest potential, none of us will be able to. And that’s really the thing.

So, what we want to be able to do in the community is speak the truth about what’s happening; offer education for people who maybe didn’t have enough information about these issues before. I’ll be the first to say that my high school education did not adequately prepare me to understand the history and legacy of racism and discrimination in my country, and so I’m always trying to fill those gaps myself.

Then, advocacy. An example would be when we see health disparities in our community, and we don’t have a health department to help us address this. That’s a very clear step of advocacy that anyone can engage in — to ask for a health department.

We see inequities in educational funding, and then we see an opportunity which is currently playing out right now for the systems to ask for that equity, because it impacts our kids here in Lancaster County. Really what I want people to do is be brave enough to say ‘I don’t know. I need to know more about this and I’m going to change my behavior.’

 

OUL: From your perspective and through the work you do, have you seen any positive changes?

Blake: I’m an optimist and I have seen changes. One point of reference that many of us can see is when George Floyd was murdered. That really got the attention of so many individuals, and there were protests here in Lancaster.

So, what has changed since then? Two local elementary schools have had name changes to recognize unsung heroes, “sheroes,” of communities here in Lancaster. I know a couple of businesses that changed their name because they came to realized, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s a slave owner.’ So, greater awareness by businesses in Lancaster.

We’ve seen some additional roles in larger companies and nonprofits of a chief equity officer. One position isn’t going to change everything, but a position like that can help focus on what does need to change.

I’m going to say that the coalition of leaders who are moving forward on a racial equity profile of the county are serious about getting the data, to understand what it is costing this county to continue this inequity. And again, I think that’s something that helps. Some people need more information before they’re willing to make change. Some people need a story.

I think we’ve also seen change in the number of groups who recognized Juneteenth last summer. We have seen changes in the city of Lancaster in their focus on and conversation about equity. I think that’s probably one of the biggest changes — that people are more familiar with this language and more willing to engage in the conversation.

OUL: What are some of the future plans and goals for the YWCA?

Blake: We have a100-year-old historic building that, while fantastic, is also not perfectly meeting the current needs of the community. So, we are embarking on a project to add affordable housing units in that building.

I’m really looking forward to a more focused education and advocacy agenda in the new year. I was very surprised when I moved here to learn how low voter registration is. YWCA has a history since women first got the right to vote of helping register folks to vote, and we want to continue to do that. We do that with lots of partners in a nonpartisan way, and I would love to see every eligible voter in this county registered prior to the next election.

We’ve increasingly been partnering with other like-minded entities, either corporations or other nonprofits, and that’s really the way forward. We know that there are hundreds of nonprofits in the county and sometimes our best strength is when we stand together. This year we had two mergers at YWCA — one with Safe House and one with New Choices, and that’s going to bring focus and strength to that work.

OUL: How did you get interested in this kind of work, and what motivates you to keep doing it?

Blake: I have always worked in the social sector. I have worked with survivors of domestic violence and then survivors of torture, refugees, and immigrants. And so what I know to be true is, harm is caused by any kind of individual, can come from any background, from any race, from any country, and that encourages me to see people’s humanity and really want to protect that for everyone.

When I was working in D.C., it was a time when there were a lot of rallies and large gatherings and protests and so forth, and I kept seeing YWCA show up on issues that I cared about, even though I didn’t have a personal history with YWCA — I didn’t attend one when I was a child or anything like that. So, when I was ready for a career change, I kept thinking about that mission—to eliminate racism and empower women: that is just so central to who I am, and that makes it easy to come to work every day.

OUL: Tell us more about yourself and your life outside of the YWCA.

Blake: I am married to Tony Collins. He’s a business consultant here in town. I have three grown sons, he has three grown daughters. …

Blake said she is a voracious reader and avid amateur quilter. She enjoys taking the couple’s 10-year-old hound, adopted from a shelter, on daily walks.

That is such a wonderful opportunity to see the sunrise, to see the sunset. It really does make me appreciate the area and my privilege to get to take a deep breath and see some beautiful scenery, like we have here, and be in a peaceful setting. I know that that’s not the reality for everyone, so I really do cherish that every day.

 

This interview was originally published on oneunitedlancaster.com.

Equity, Extraordinary Give and YWCA Lancaster

Equity is our middle name.  With a mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, we understand the intersections of identities and discrimination and know that equity is our path to enabling everyone in our community to thrive.

Equity is not equality.  Equality of opportunity only works when everyone starts in the same place.  But we know that’s not true.  Poverty, racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, xenophobia and more stand in the way of maximizing any opportunity presented so we need to meet people where they are and provide what they need.  Equity is a solid awareness that everyone needs something different to succeed.  We don’t have just one type of bike.  Toddlers need three wheels and so do some elders.  Some children need two wheels on a bike and others need a wheelchair.  Adults might want a racing bike or a cruiser and others want to walk.  Treating them equally is not enough.

Working as antiracists we believe our greatest impact is when we can impact both systems and hearts.  To change hearts we offer opportunities to learn in community, hear new voices and access new materials (Racial Equity Institute, Dorothy Height Social Justice Club, Antiracist Business and Community, and more…);  to change systems we are working in community with other area leaders on the Lancaster County Racial Equity Profile (March 2022) and steps we can take to create a more equitable community.

We are choosing to work with many area companies on their internal systems that perpetuate inequity using both training and policy as tools to expand equity.  One place we are choosing to work is with ExtraGive, a community wide philanthropic initiative of the Lancaster County Community Foundation (LCCF).  Over 500 area non-profits are involved in the giving day and millions are raised each year.  But does the event, and the giving ensure a future of equity in Lancaster?  No, not yet.  But steps are being taken to change and we are at the table.

We are supporting The Steinman Foundation efforts to recognize agencies pursuing equitable practices within their organizations as LCCF works to cultivate equity across our community. The Pursuit of Equity Prize is an opportunity for ten entities to receive a financial award (randomly chosen) to highlight those making progress.  In other work with LCCF we are supporting the six organizations chosen from across the county who were selected for the Equity and Inclusion Cohort on their path toward equity and we are using support from LCCF to ensure any community member can attend our Racial Equity Institute training at no charge.   We are participating in the ExtraGive and hope you will offer support on that day or any day that you feel our mission and our work reflects your values.

We believe that every step matters.  Everyone has a unique life experience and if we stay open to learning, we can move the community forward.  The choice an individual makes to meet and befriend a neighbor who doesn’t look like them, the choice not to judge a person by their skin tone or dress, the choice to change a policy or structure so that more community members benefit.  Each act matters and we won’t stop until justice, just is.