Dear YWCA Friends,
The Deseret News article article about the YWCA was a disheartening way to begin a new year. While disturbing and hurtful to me, more importantly, the article was harmful to the YWCA and to those who care about our mission, our programs, and our future.
As YWCA Utah’s leader for the past 20 years, I accept responsibility for any personal and corporate failures to fully express our mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Our mission is bold and powerful, and expectations for our fidelity to this mission are high.
At the same time, I want to affirm and bear witness to an unmistakable truth, which is how dedicated YWCA staff, volunteers, and friends are to our life-changing work, and how much they care about expressing our whole mission with integrity. YWCA staff work selflessly every day to serve, educate, and benefit Utah women and families of every faith, race/ethnicity, nationality, and circumstance. They protect and support those who are escaping abuse and violence, educate young children, encourage women to become leaders, and advocate for changes that will help all Utah women flourish. It is good, important, and hard work. However imperfect, we are continuously adapting, evolving, and learning.
I’ll respond to several areas in the article.
First, as many YWCA friends already know, I will retire from the YWCA this spring. I shared this information with Board leadership in March 2019, and the transition committee’s work is well underway. We plan to announce the next CEO in late January/early February 2020.
Second, at the beginning of May 2019, the executive of another nonprofit distributed a letter that stemmed from her unhappiness about a decision the YWCA made not to sign an MOU with her organization. The letter cited concerns about a practice of conducting safety screenings that had been in place at the Salt Lake Area Family Justice Center since 2007. In response to this concern, our team looked carefully at our current practices; the result was a revised safety screening procedure.
Third, nearly three years ago, in early 2017, a Board disagreement about the strategic direction and leadership of the YWCA led to some members resigning from the Board. The majority of the board supported the YWCA’s strategic direction and leadership, and we continued to implement our long-term mission-based strategies, which include racial justice work and creating a model workplace.
Last, the article cites concerns about the organization’s treatment of women of color. Working for racial justice has been important to the YWCA for years, and we have shown our commitment in a variety of ways, both internally and externally. We are committed to being a diverse and inclusive workplace; to combatting the trauma inflicted by violence, racism, and sexism; and to addressing the structural and systemic challenges facing people of color. We strive every day to listen, to learn, and to respond in a way that is trauma-informed. We make mistakes. But I can say with complete confidence that we are deeply committed to this work.
We are sharing some examples of our recent internal and external racial justice work, and I’d like to mention a few that exemplify our approach to this work. A recent internal example is our commitment to integrate a racial justice lens into our implementation of the Sanctuary Model. In mid-2016, with the knowledge and support of our Board of Directors and major donors, YWCA Utah became the first organization in Utah to embark on a long-term journey to implement and embed the trauma-informed, trauma-responsive Sanctuary Model as the foundation of our organizational culture. It is one key component in creating a model workplace. In addition to being a core element of our internal racial justice work, the Sanctuary Model responds to organizational challenges stemming from our domestic violence work. You can read more about this transformational commitment here.
A recent external example is the Utah Women’s Well-Being Initiative, which specifically includes research about racial disparities among Utah women and a public policy priority area focused on racial justice and civil rights. Another example is leadership development opportunities through Real Women Run and YWEmpowered, which welcome and encourage women of color to run for public office and to become professional and civic leaders. I have fully supported these and other efforts to live our mission faithfully inside and outside the YWCA.
Thank you for your friendship, which gives us strength and courage to continue our important work. As my time at the YWCA draws to a close, I look forward to a new YWCA leader who will bring a deep commitment to the mission, abundant talents, and a powerful new vision for the YWCA in the years ahead. I am confident that the new CEO will find—as I did—a warm, welcoming, and generous community that cares as deeply as we do about the YWCA’s mission and work.
With kind regards,