Youth Challenging Social Justice Issues: Homelessness & COVID

For her end-of-year project, Alison, a youth in one of our programs, teamed up with a classmate to research the question, “How is Covid-19 affect the homeless and our community?” Here is what she found out:

“2020 brought many challenges to the world, not only did it bring Covid-19 that killed many people sadly and left many families hearts broken all over the world but it also had small companies shut down, quarantine, and now has many students/workers on remote learning, in 2020 many MANY people faced challenges even kids, for sure 2020 was a very hard year that the whole world faced but it did not only impact those who have homes but also Homeless people by a lot!”

As we have seen over the last decade, youth are leading the charge in asking big picture questions that challenge the accepted realities of our society. Alison’s project challenged the glaring reality that COVID made impossible to ignore: the need for fair, equitable housing for all. 

“If you think about it Covid-19 actually has made it worse! It is important we talk about this subject because the homeless aren’t provided with the everyday necessities  they need to get through this. Like masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. So that puts them at a high risk. That adds more cases and more deaths of Covid-19!” 

As the project concludes, Alison and her partner give classmates and their teachers action items for how to support the homeless community in Cambridge. “If you want to go above and beyond by  helping the homeless you can, first start off with donating things that you do not need, you can give it to the homeless person yourself or you can give them to organizations and they can collect all the donations and donate them to the homeless! Things that you can donate do not have to be new, you can donate things like clothes, shoes, blankets, pillows etc!” 

As we say at YWCA Cambridge, youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Giving them the space to lead, gives us a chance to better our future. 

Written in partnership: Michelle Howe, Whitney Mooney, and Alison O.

Why YWCA Cambridge Votes

“The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.”
-John Lewis

Intro written by: Hallie Tosher, Board Member

As we head into the 2020 election season, YWCA Cambridge members and staff share why voting is important to each of them.  

The right to vote is so powerful that people have always been working to erode it, such as by closing polling locations and limiting early voting, often disproportionately impacting people of color. Now that we are all in the middle of a pandemic, we have an opportunity to leverage voting by mail, however, that is being threatened as well. Although Massachusetts saw a higher voter turnout in the last midterm elections than in any other year, voter turnout is still low. Nationwide, the U.S. trails most other developed countries in voting with only 56% of the U.S. voting-age population voting in the 2016 presidential election, for example. 

Voting is an essential civic duty, so here are a few reasons why YWCA Cambridge votes. 

“My vote impacts how I live, ensures representation, allows me to support what’s important to me and those I care about, and has been (heavily)fought (and died) for. Out of respect for my past, present and future, I vote.” -LeNay Harper, Director of Housing and Shelter Services 

“I vote because I have an opportunity to put words into action. I can help elect leaders who will fight for just and effective policies at both the national and local level. My vote isn’t just for me, it’s for people I know and people I don’t know. Not voting has consequences. Even though leaders and policies are never perfect, I can help move my community forward by exercising my right to vote.” -Hallie Tosher, Board Member

“I vote, because it’s important in a participatory democracy that everyone’s voices be heard. It is only by collectively raising our individual voices can meaningful and transformative systemic change be permanently undertaken.” -Theodora Skeadas, Board Chair 

“I vote because my voice matters. Every person matters and they deserve to be heard at the ballot box. I vote because people like the late great John Lewis and others shed blood and died so all of us can vote. We carry that legacy of voting rights every time we exercise our right to vote.” – Elizabeth Baldwin, Board Member 

‘I vote because my foremothers and forefathers were denied the right to do so. I want to be heard not just for me, but for us.” -Cleola Payne, Board Member

“I vote because our ancestors fought for the right to vote and put their lives on the line for me and all women and people of color to have the privilege and the duty to voice our choices and be heard. I am able to vote because they made it possible and I honor the sacrifices that they made for all of us” -Eva Martin Blythe, Executive Director

“I vote because I believe in democracy, I am aware that black people have not had the right to vote in the past, and I want to be a part of change.” – Carmyn Polk, Board Member 

“I vote because we need better representations for people of color. It is the easiest form of activism and the best way to have your voice heard. I vote for John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, & Martin Luther King Jr. I vote to protect women’s rights to their bodies, prison reform, quality affordable housing, and so much more. “ -Whitney Mooney, Fund Development Manager 

“My high school government teacher always said “if you don’t vote, you don’t count” – so I like to exercise my right to vote to ensure that I will always have a voice.”  -Miyako Takashima, Board Member 

“I vote in order to hold my local and national lawmakers accountable for their actions. And to ensure officials and lawmakers put the needs of families, frontline workers, and community organizations before big corporations and the upper class.” – Puja Kranz-Howe, GOLD Program Coordinator 

“I vote because my people fought and died for their right to vote. I take pride in voting, and being engaged and active in my community. Black lives matter now and always.” -Ayesha Wilson, Board Member, Cambridge School Committee Member

“I vote because it makes me feel like I have a voice. Voting is deceptively simple, and the decision of who you vote for also forces you to re-examine what and who you care about and how you can protect those interests in your city, state, and country.”  -Marina Zhavoronkova, Board Member

Resources:
Get text alerts for important voting dates, polling locations, etc: 
TurboVote
Register to Vote in MA: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ovr/
Request your Vote By Mail Ballot: https://www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/eleev/early-voting-by-mail.htm

Primary Election

Deadline to Register to Vote: Sat, Aug 22, 2020 8:00PM EDT
Deadline to Request Mail in Ballot: Wed, Aug 26, 2020 12:00PM EDT
Primary Election Day:   Tuesday, September 1, 2020
(ballots must be received, not postmarked, by 8pm)

General Election

Deadline to Register to Vote in the General Election: Saturday, October 24, 2020
Deadline to Request a Mail in Ballot: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 at 5:00pm
(must be received by this time) 
Election Day: Tuesday, November 3, 2020

#MyEthnicityIsNotAVirus

Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion/experience and does not represent the MA Asian American Commission in any way, shape or form. 

“They eat dogs, bats, and all of those other weird things and they died? GOOD. They deserve to die for eating that.” Those were the words that I heard come out of a Caucasian woman’s mouth at my friend’s nail salon on February 5th. This is the perception of many people who are unfamiliar with Asian, particularly, Chinese history and culture, who choose fear and blame over compassion and empathy. 

Statements like these immediately remind me of the privilege of first world countries. In the 1970’s, China’s Communist Party began the Cultural Revolution where 1.2 million people were tortured and killed, 30 million starved to death due to famine, the economy was destabilized, and the people lost trust with their government. During that time, China controlled all of the food supply and was failing to feed 900 million people. When the regime began to collapse, they relinquished control and allowed private farming. While major corporations dominated large farming of what is normalized to us such as chicken, pigs, cows, etc, small farmers turned to wildlife as a means of survival, such as bats, turtles, snakes. The Chinese government allowed these types of activities in order for people to survive and as a way for people to lift themselves out of poverty. 

Growing up, I remember being bullied in middle school for being Chinese and my classmates asking if I ate cats. But as I grew up, I became more educated and aware of the truths behind how we sustain societies. Time and time again, I’ve heard many people criticize what people in Asia eat and how animals are treated. But have you ever looked into the mass production of the US’ meat and dairy industry? While some of China’s laws are absolutely devastating, when you understand the extremity of third-world poverty and starvation, you may have more compassion for the way another person is forced to live. But it can also be easily said how devastating US laws are regarding the cruel treatment of factory farming for profit. The difference between the two is that one is for survival and one is for profit. Neither are okay. But again, it goes back to privilege.

When I see how my fellow Asian Americans are being attacked verbally, assaulted, or spat on, it shows me how little progress our society has made toward dismantling racism and white supremacy. In the 19th century, Americans popularized the belief that the Chinese were disease-ridden and dirty, which eventually led to the justification for the Chinese Exclusion Act. Two centuries later and we are allowing history to repeat itself. I’m infuriated with how our elected officials fail to see their blatant racism behind their efforts to create bills to blame China and call it the “Chinese Virus or Kung-Flu” and no one was speaking up for us. 

As the Program Director for the Massachusetts Asian American Commission, our Commission strongly felt that we should speak up for ourselves and condemn the racism happening towards our community. On March 12th, we gathered Asian American leaders from all sectors (legislative, health, business, community, law) to speak out against the discrimination and xenophobia surrounding COVID-19 within the Asian American community. It was important to have representation in the media to speak out against those who were continuously spreading misinformation and using a hateful narrative that only perpetuates anger and fear. There is nothing medically or scientifically “Chinese” about this virus. A virus knows no borders. 

On a more personal note, I have been extremely frustrated with the way society has failed to productively respond to this pandemic. In my opinion, everyone has failed. The Chinese government has failed to effectively take care of their people and create new laws: even after they experienced a similar situation with the 2003 SARS outbreak and the United States government has failed to effectively take precautions when we first got warnings about the COVID-19 outbreak. When you look at this on a larger scale, it is a systemic and structural problem. The last thing that should happen is a “me versus you” mentality, where blame, fear, anger, and hate consume society and everyone goes down. But rather, “us versus the problem”. This happened during 9/11 with Muslims, this is an everyday experience for African Americans, and now it’s happening to Asian Americans. The need to selfishly fight and hoard toilet paper and spew racism towards the Asian community easily shows how humanity is failing. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up a lot of ugly truths from top to bottom. But I also feel that it is necessary that people are seeing this because it allows us to really see how we cannot allow ourselves to get too comfortable and that there is still much work that needs to be done. The only way for us to overcome these obstacles is to unify and work together. It is important for everyone to care about others outside of their own communities because at the end of the day, we are all human, who all struggle and we are never alone. 

Jessica ‘Jay’ Wong
Program Director of AAC

My Time as a YWCA Cambridge Intern

by Serina Matthew, CCSC Senior, YWCA Cambridge Intern

My name is Serina Matthew and I have been an intern at YWCA Cambridge for the last few months. I am a Senior at Community Charter School of Cambridge. One of our requirements is to complete 100 hours of community service for an organization over 14 weeks. With the help of Whitney Mooney, my supervisor and  YWCA Fund Development Manager, I have learned a lot about nonprofit organizations since my start in January 2019.

Over the 14 weeks, I have had the chance to learn about event planning and fundraising for a nonprofit. We may all think that event planning is not a difficult task but it is when you have to find catering and a space that is within your small budget. YWCA has held multiple events since I have been here. Starting with events to help the residents with their credit and ending with Trailblazing Women, an event that highlights key women figures in the community. When planning these events the first thing is advertisement and that’s where I came in. For many of the events that happened over the last 5 months, I had to use my creative skills to create flyers that appealed to residents and community members. From there, I hung the flyers around the building and surrounding area coffee shops.

After advertising, it’s time to prepare the the logistics and details for the event. For Trailblazing Women,  there were folders that provided information about the community conversation and the women that were being celebrated. Along with preparing folders I also helped with creating name tags for the event speakers which helps set them apart from the audience.

Event planning has many small tedious tasks that help to make an event look professional and put together.  It is important for nonprofits to get their name out into the community and showcase the work they are doing. Making a name for the organization  in the community is important because it drives new volunteers and donors. People become invested in your mission. For example many people come into YWCA Cambridge looking for the swimming pool or exercise equipment. Throughout these moments, I realized many people think that the YWCA is the YMCA.  

I have learned that this nonprofit organization is determined to help young women be empowered to live and work in this predominantly male led world. YWCA is the most caring organization that I know in Cambridge because of what they provide for low income women and children, from Girls Only Leadership Development to safe, affordable housing at the Tanner Residence.

Through this time at YWCA Cambridge, I have gained a multitude of skills that I will take with me to college and beyond. I have learned how to professionally answer phones and guide customers. Along with my customer service skills I have gained the basic necessities of working in an office. I believe this is the most important skill to take away because in the future I will have a job or an internship that will require office experience.

YWCA Cambridge is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Through this experience I have felt empowered to grow as a future business professional and a conscious citizen.

Whitney Mooney, supervisor, and Serina Matthew, YWCA Cambridge intern

Tanner Residence, a Safe, Affordable Home for Single Women

LeNay Harper
Director of Housing and Shelter Services

No matter how you think about it, the one thing no one ever wants to be is homeless.

Without a roof (permanent or temporary) over your head, without a bed to sleep in, and without a  place you can come to at the end of your day, lock your door, and feel safe, the world can be a scary place in which to live. Not all, but many of the residents at the YWCA Cambridge’s Tanner Residence have experienced long term homelessness. They have known that feeling of being invisible – where no one wants to acknowledge, speak to, or even provide you with any assistance. Tanner Residence is a respite from that sense of not belonging. A place of welcome for all.

YWCA Cambridge offers 103 units of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing at the Tanner Residence with a number of different payment options. Some of our rooms are private pay, market rate; others are set aside for specific service providers, and yet other rooms are available through Cambridge Housing Authority’s Mobile Resource Voucher Program (MRVP) or Section 8 vouchers. Regardless of how women arrive at Tanner Residence or what payment arrangement meets their individual needs, each has her own room with access to shared bathroom, kitchen and laundry facilities, and to a large ground floor community room as well as to smaller community rooms located throughout the building.

YWCA Cambridge’s Director of Housing & Shelter Services provides supportive services to our residents through assistance identifying and engaging community resources and referrals, advocacy, housing searches, crisis intervention and much more. She also coordinates educational and informational workshops and meetings, wellness activities and social events. Tanner Residence is a non-smoking, elevator accessible building with 24-hour staffing. A beautifully landscaped outdoor area is available for the residents to enjoy, weather permitting.

Agency and service provider representatives are invited to share information and resources with our residents and to offer assistance in areas such as job preparedness, life skills training, credit repair and other services in Cambridge and the surrounding area..

Whether our residents wish to continue living at YWCA Cambridge’s Tanner Residence or move into accommodations elsewhere, our goal is to help provide the necessary tools that will enable them to live long-term in safe, affordable housing, while using their voices to advocate successfully for themselves.

YWCA Cambridge Launches GOTV Campaign

According to PBS News Hour, “Estimates show more than 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls during the 2016 election, nearly breaking even with the turnout rate set during the last presidential election in 2012, even as the final tallies in states like California continue to be calculated, according to statistics collected by the U.S. Elections Project.” This means that nearly 42% of Americans stayed home that day and didn’t participate in the democratic process.

YWCA Cambridge is on a mission to increase this percentage. We believe that voting drives change. From July-November 2018, we will host a series of events to educate the public on the issues and facilitate voter registration. Stop by to get yourself registered at your most current address, learn more about getting involved in local elections, take the pledge to vote and so much more.  Help us reach our goal of 50 new registrations in the Cambridge area before the next election.

Upcoming Confirmed Events:

July 23, 2018, 12-2pm- MassVOTE will be providing voter registration in YWCA Cambridge’s lobby

August 7, 2018, 12-2pm- Cambridge Election Commission will be providing voter registration in YWCA Cambridge’s lobby

There is so much in store for this campaign and we hope to see you at one of our events!

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
– Larry J. Sabato, Pendulum Swing

Donate to this effort here: http://bit.ly/donatetoywcacam

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Stand Against Racism

To kick off this year’s Stand Against Racism campaign, YWCA Cambridge is making
t-shirts available through Bonfire.
On April 21, 2018, YWCA Cambridge will host a panel discussion featuring Women of Color Elected Officials on “The Importance of Registering to Vote, Voting and Running
 for Public Office”. Order your t-shirt and save the date! A portion of each t-shirt sale goes to YWCA Cambridge.
Keep an eye out for more details on this upcoming event!

We Are On a Mission in 2018.

When thinking about the New Year and what it means for YWCA Cambridge, we began to look at the four core programs that make us who we are. Those four programs are: Housing and Shelter Services; Health and Wellness; Empowerment and Economic Advancement of Women and Girls; and Racial and Social Justice. Each area is key to the success of our mission: to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

In order to highlight our efforts in 2018, we have created this blog to showcase issues, achievements, stories, and events surrounding our program areas.  From telling the stories of our girls leadership program (GOLD) participants to reporting on our efforts to overcome the issues of personal and institutional racism, we want to give you the ins and outs of YWCA Cambridge through monthly blog posts. Our goal with this blog is to educate, motivate and create conversations about each program area.

We want to know what issues are important to you. Tell us what you want to hear or learn more about! Email Whitney at wmooney@ywcacam.org.