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.

Housing First

At the age of 17, I was a teenage mom experiencing “coach-surfing,” a term used quite often to describe those moving from place to place because they lacked housing. Being a young mom and due to my family situation, I needed to find affordable housing quickly. Luckily, I received Emergency Assistance and was able to find an apartment. Later, I received a Section 8 voucher and moved to an apartment that was better suited for a small family.

Housing First is a housing approach that understands that for people experiencing homelessness, housing is needed first, and supportive services are often needed to increase housing stability. As a participant receiving Section 8, I utilized these supportive services and enrolled in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS).

The FSS Program provided case management, financial coaching, and workforce development opportunities. These services provided the skills and education I needed to become more self-sufficient. In addition, the program worked with me to establish an Emergency Savings account. As my earners grew, a portion of the rent increases under the program went into the Emergency Savings Account. Having this account helped move my family from poverty to become economically sufficient today.

Today, thanks to all the teachers and direct care staff who believed in my potential, I can give back to those in a similar position as part of the Team at Renae’s Place, the YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter. Renae’s Place has been providing Emergency Assistance Housing and supportive services to families since 1987. Staff work independently as well as with other nonprofit agencies so that residents have access to a whole wide range of supporting services areas such as:  

  • Financial Literacy
  • Parenting
  • ESL Classes
  • Vocational training
  • Children’s programming
  • Legal Services
  • Camp and summer referrals, and more.

If you know of anyone in need of housing, please check out our YWCA Cambridge Resource page at https://ywcacam.org/resources/.

By: Carol Lyons, Director of Operations

The Power of Acknowledgement

I am not proud of this story, but I share it in hopes that fewer among us will make this mistake. For Women’s History Month, I want to talk about the importance of acknowledgement. Women go without it too often. We must change that because human beings need others to value them. Even when there isn’t an immediate answer to the struggle people are going through, an acknowledgement can be the first step towards healing. Let’s make an effort to really see women this month and make it an ongoing practice. 

As a sixteen year old, I was beginning to feel the weight of patriarchy but was not yet awake to the concept. I could already tell that the world assigned value to women based on looks though, and I resented it. I wanted people to understand me in all my complexity. I tried to disassociate from womanhood to escape the trap. I shaved my head and adopted a black sweatshirt as my self-imposed uniform. But in my quest to feel seen, I made a big blunder. 

My “solution” was only meant to help me (spoiler alert: it didn’t). I wish I had seen that I was not the only girl or woman feeling misunderstood. In fact, I was guilty of writing off women who I should have appreciated in all their complexity.

One day, my father asked me if I had noticed that my mother had not spoken to me in a month. I hadn’t. He shared that she was hurting from one of my past transgressions and was waiting for me to reflect on my actions. She waited for a month and I had been none the wiser. I look back at this moment and feel shame. This was the woman that woke me up every morning, made sure I ate right, drove me everywhere, and stayed up if I was out. She was the licensed psychologist that put her career aside to care for me and my sisters. But I was so concerned with my own struggle that her work had become invisible to me!

In the same way I became blind to my mother’s role in my life, our communities routinely fail to recognize women’s work, especially work inside the home. The patriarchal system interacts with a white supremacist framework. It is no coincidence that Black and Latinx women are the most likely groups to be employed in low-wage jobs associated with the home sphere, like cooking, cleaning, and caregiving. This is the result from a long history of white America shutting them out of other types of work.

More broadly, out of the 25 lowest paying occupations in the country, 18 are primarily held by women. Women make up 83% of middle-skill workers earning $30,000 or less, while only 36% making more than $35,000 are women. Nearly a third of Black women work in service jobs compared with just one-fifth of white women. And these jobs are crucial to our survival. Agriculture workers, home health aides, childcare workers, housekeeping services, and hairdressers are essential. Yet, their compensation does not reflect the value they provide. We need to talk about that! We need to change that!

My mother raised four strong Latinx women. It took work, effort, and love. She was not compensated for it and her contribution is not included in GDP. But it is as important for her daughters to tell her that we see her, as it is for Cambridge to acknowledge all the women that tie our community together. Whether you are a childcare worker, a cleaner, a home health aide, or a waitress, YWCA Cambridge thanks you. We will be acknowledging many of you throughout this month.

Statistics source

By: Tania Del Rio, Executive Director

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

Mentorship: An Intergenerational Learning Process

My name is Amelia Joselow and I have been a volunteer mentor with the Girlx Only Leadership Development Program (GOLD) at YWCA Cambridge for nearly three years.

In my outside life I am a researcher and don’t spend any time with youth, so I was thrilled when I went into the YWCA Cambridge after having learned about their mission of empowering women and eliminating racism, and they told me I could help out by being a mentor with the GOLD program. Each week the girls meet and go over a variety of topics to enrich their lives and their understanding of the world, everything from financial literacy, to performance art, to healthy boundaries, to difficult race/racism conversations. I am always amazed at how excited and insightful they are, seemingly much more so than I was at their age. I find fulfillment in my volunteer work with the program as a supplement to my professional work, but really what is most impactful for me is showing up every week and trying to be a positive influence in these girls’ lives, in a way that was lacking for me when I was their age. 

When I was in middle school I was painfully shy and lonely and didn’t know what interests I had beyond what I thought would get me accepted by others. The girls in the GOLD program are so much more self-aware and aware of the society they live in in a way that is truly miraculous. GOLD gives them the space to explore who they are and want to be, as well as empowering them to believe in what they could be when they are older. For the girls it is a growth experience, and for me as well. Over the years I have found healing in seeing these girls grow confidence and grow strong bonds together and it gives me hope for the future of young women everywhere. I am incredibly grateful for the GOLD program and all the amazing work that YWCA Cambridge does. I thank them all for letting me be a part of their work.

Dear Blogger readers and YWCA Supporters,

My name is Puja and I am the Coordinator of the GOLD program. I also have the wonderful opportunity to work with GOLD mentors like Amelia. I want to give a shout out to all of our GOLD mentors for their dedication and the effort they have put into the GOLD program. Our mentors welcome everyone each week, assist with weekly sessions, and provide support to the GOLD participants. Our mentors always come to GOLD with a smile, ready to learn, and have fun, too! From making everyone laugh during dinner to being there to listen during hard times, our mentors are a central part of the GOLD program. The GOLD program would not be the same without them!  Personally, I want to thank all the mentors for their support and guidance during my transition as I joined the YWCA Cambridge staff earlier this year. Mentors,we thank you for all you give to our program.

Interested in becoming a GOLD Mentor? Email Puja at pkranz-howe@ywcacam.org to learn more!

Authors: Amelia Joselow & Puja Kranz-Howe

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

3004595893_2fd8ffdbe3_b

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.