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

A Very Equitable Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2020 comes at a moment of reckoning. We have spent the last nine months in the midst of a pandemic. During this time the United States has experienced some of its largest civil rights and social justice protests in our history following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery. The NY Times Nonfiction Best Seller section had been filled with books on anti-racism topics. The need for education on racial justice, how to be an ally, and understanding the movement has grown exponentially around the country. This work means there is a tremendous need to continue one’s own education about anti-racism, a need to unlearn the whitewashed history learned in school, and a need to have conversations with our loved ones about these important topics. 

The US education system has spent centuries glamorizing Thanksgiving. Children are taught that the settlers invited Native Americans to a peaceful and friendly meal that in return created a partnership between the two. This narrative is far from the truth. The European settler colonialists brought with them diseases and a desire for power. They stole and settled the land from the indigenous people, created laws to control them, and murdered them indiscriminately. 

Today many Native American tribes use Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning, to honor the many lives lost during that period in this country’s history. This year we mourn the disproportionate loss of native lives to COVID 19. While every year during the same time many of us are sitting down to enjoy turkey, stuffing and cranberries with our loved ones, in Plymouth, MA not two hours from Boston, Indigenous leaders gather to mourn the violence their ancestors experienced, the land stolen from them, and the continued injustices and efforts to make them invisible that they endure today. 

As you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this week, virtually or face-to-face with family members, YWCA Cambridge asks you to engage in a conversation about the real history of this holiday and the importance of recognizing the many Indigenous people who died at the hands of European settler colonialists. Then we ask you to commit to learning about and honoring the innumerable positive contributions Indigenous people made to these United States throughout the year.

Articles to Read: 
The Myths of the Thanksgiving Story and the Lasting Damage They Imbue
Everything You Learned About Thanksgiving Is Wrong
How to Support Indigenous People on Thanksgiving
Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef: ‘This Is The Year To Rethink Thanksgiving’

Books:
Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee, by David Teruer

Learning and Exploring about Indigenous Land that we live on: 
https://native-land.ca/ -Interactive Map
Tribal Land Acknowledgement

Instagrams to Follow: 
Autumn.pelitier
Nativeapprops
Queernature
Indigenousrising

Boston/ New England specific resources:
http://www.naicob.org/

Podcasts: 
All My Relations
Unreserved

Contributors: Elizabeth Baldwin, Puja Kranz-Howe, Georgia Wyman, and Whitney Mooney

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

Summer Yoga, Engaging the Community

Since June 2019, YWCA Cambridge has offered free summer yoga classes to members of our community. This opportunity is funded by a Cambridge in Motion mini grant awarded  to projects that engage their community in healthy lifestyles. 

This project actually started last year at  Tanner Residence, our affordable housing for women. Funding allowed us to provide our residents  with monthly yoga and healthy eating classes. Residents enjoyed the experience so much that we thought it made sense  to open up this opportunity to the community at large. 

One of the goals of this project  is to break down the financial barriers that often exist around programs focused on health and active living. For many people, paying for a gym membership or yoga classes simply is not in the budget. YWCA Cambridge believes in breaking down these financial barriers to give everyone an equal opportunity to thrive. The free yoga classes are an example of how we carry out that belief. It is important that in every community there are opportunities like this one that give people the chance to get active and try new things, at  no cost.

The class is held every other Wednesday at noon and taught by the wonderful Malika Ms. Bonafide. Participants enjoy a one hour class that is geared towards beginners and those looking for a middle of the day respite. One participant said, “Summer yoga at the YW is the perfect escape and release for the middle of the day. The instructor is inspirational and invites us into our best practice. I always leave feeling refreshed and renewed. Thanks for offering this wonderful experience!”. Getting to participate in and observe the class myself has been a wonderful experience, and it has been a joy seeing women in our community partaking in the class together. 

By: Kate Fulton-John
YWCA Administrative Intern, Forest Foundation

The Girls of GOLD

The first weekend in May, GOLD (Girls Only Leadership Development), a partnership program between Councilor E. Denise Simmons and the YWCA Cambridge, hosted a day long summit, Beyond All Limits, for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade girls in the Somerville and Cambridge area. The summit focused on leadership skills, self identity and expression, and meaningful career paths. I had the privilege of moderating the panel with local women who built their own careers and are paving the way for future women leaders in their field.

Maybe you are thinking – these girls are only in 7th, 8th, or 9th grade why do they need to think about careers now?

The women on the Beyond All Limits panel were diverse: a health and wellness entrepreneur, a software engineer, a poet-rapper-educator, and a photographer. Each of these women spoke about how they held onto their self expression and creativity, followed their passion, and practiced self awareness throughout their career journey. These are all values that GOLD holds and strives to uphold with the girls. As described by the panelists, it can be incredibly challenging to take on a nontraditional career path and especially difficult to feel empowered to begin this journey, whether it’s starting a business doing healing yoga or being one of the few women majoring in computer science.


Why invest in girls?

Empowering women and eliminating racism is the mission of YWCA Cambridge and it must start at a young age. Investing time and energy in these middle school girls is crucial for self empowerment, self expression and self esteem. GOLD aims to create a safe space for girls to talk about their self identity, practice leadership skills, and learn in an inter-generational space. Creating these kinds of spaces for girls builds up their self worth and helps them develop community support. Through the GOLD program, this support is cultivated not only with their peers but also with women in the Cambridge community. These spaces and this community of support empowers the girls to create their own career path and follow their authentic self.

Investing in girls breaks down barriers of inequality.

You can’t be what you don’t see – having women role models for these girls inspires them to engage in activities and to explore paths that they may not have thought of before. Strong women inspire strong GOLD girls.

Written by: Elizabeth Baldwin, YWCA Board Member and Chair of the Racial Justice Committee

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

Reflections on Youth Empowerment

Theodora Skeadas
YWCA Cambridge Board of Trustees

YWCA Cambridge is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity. These have always been passions of mine. After college, my passion for combating discrimination, the promotion of youth and women’s empowerment, and conflict resolution led me to work and study in Morocco, Turkey, and Iraq. 

In Morocco, I worked for the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, where I managed a community development project that provided programming on theater, music, and athletics to Moroccan Arabic-speaking women and youth.

While working with Search for Common Ground’s Morocco office, I helped lead a multimedia and intercultural relations program in Casablanca. The project consisted of training French and English-speaking Sub-Saharan migrant women and Arabic-speaking young Moroccan mothers to produce films, documentaries, and advertisements dealing with intercultural relations. We also held discussions on the various forms of discrimination the women encountered, to empower and build relationships amongst our participants, and to break down cultural stereotypes and prejudices.  

I then sought to undertake a Fulbright grant in Turkey, in part, because I desired to leverage my English teaching skills and knowledge of the region and culture in service of Turkish students eager to learn English. Further, as part of my fellowship, I researched the barriers to employment for Syrian refugee youth in southeastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan through interviews in Turkish and Arabic, reading, and travel.

My experiences around anti-racism, women’s and youth empowerment, and conflict resolution in the Middle East and North Africa were tremendously meaningful to me.

Today, I am thrilled to be supporting these initiatives through the YWCA Cambridge! I serve as the Clerk on our Board of Trustees, and I have helped support our efforts around the annual Tribute to Outstanding Women, an event where we recognize resilient women who work to eliminate racism and empower other women, and we thank them for their commitment to our local community. Further, as a member of the Governance Committee, I help the Board increase its efficiency, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of the YWCA Cambridge in delivering meaningful services and programming to our constituents.

Theo 1
Conducting research in Erbil, Iraq; November 1, 2013

Theo 2
Theo and her students in Antalya, Turkey;  December 23, 2013

36225075_10156242597056125_4647888379369750528_o
Board Members, Theo, Jennifer, and Emily; June 25, 2018