“Women helping women, women supporting women, women nurturing women, women growing by leaps and bounds— now that’s empowerment. I see myself in the women I serve. I am not my sister’s keeper… I am my sister.”
-Shquestra Sitawi, Manager of Economic Empowerment
Women Supporting Women
YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, founded in 1876, is the oldest women-focused social service organization in Chicago. Born out of concerns over a lack of employment opportunities for women, it has grown to touch the lives of more than 150,000 women and children in neighborhoods all across the Chicago region. Today, YWCA’s comprehensive and integrated programs are designed to empower women and eliminate racism by providing a continuum of support and resources that promote self-sufficiency. YWCA staff members like Shquestra Sitawi believe that “if you stabilize a woman, you stabilize her family, and a secure family will help stabilize a community.”
Survival, Grow, Thrive: A Model for Self- & Financial-Empowerment
YWCA participants, and the situations that lead them to the YWCA, are diverse, but YWCA’s approach is always the same: that a woman can move from surviving to thriving if given the proper tools, support, and resources. These come in many forms at YWCA, from sexual and domestic violence support, to child care resources, to client-driven economic empowerment tools. The YWCA path to financial empowerment starts with participants identifying short-term, intermediate, and long-term goals with input from their Economic Empowerment coach. These goals are focused on asset acquisition like building savings, obtaining the education to kick-start a career, or purchasing a home.
YWCA then provides participants with the tools to reach their goals. Coaches train women and girls to be successful in school and the workplace. Community Technology Centers, like the one to the left, enhance participants’ employment opportunities through computer training. YWCA’s Financial Literacy Program educates participants on many topics ranging from how to open a checking account to how to save for a home. YWCA embraces being part of the larger financial empowerment community in Chicago. As an active partner in the Bank On Chicago initiative, YWCA helps participants put their financial education curriculum into practice by providing unbanked participants with access to cheaper and safer banking services. Additionally, this spring YWCA joined a 2014 Pilot with America Saves and Money Smart Week to help participants build their savings through making a savings pledge and sticking to it with the help of email and text support.
Roots and Wings: A Story of Impact
The YWCA provides the Roots to stabilize women’s lives and the Wings for them to thrive. About two years ago, aparticipant named Lisa came to the YWCA seeking various services. At arriving at YWCA she was sad and somewhat defeated, but there was a spark in Lisa’s eyes and Shquestra Sitawi, her Economic Empowerment coach, knew if Lisa received the right support she could achieve her goals. Lisa enrolled in a GED program, attended YWCA Saturday math classes and meditation exercises. The math classes prepared her for the math portion of the GED while the meditation allowed her to focus and become peaceful in the face of test anxiety. She passed the GED test, and empowered she went on to complete the Healthcare Career Bridge Program with Kennedy-King College, and is now getting her state license to be a Certified Nurse Assistant. These goals were achieved within 15 months. YWCA provided Lisa with the resources to put down roots and stabilize her life. With her goals accomplished Lisa is now flying.
The Future of YWCA Chicago
YWCA will continue to focus on women empowerment along the continuum of survive, grow, and thrive, integrating efforts to best meet the needs of women and their families. YWCA is enhancing the Economic Sustainability initiative that already includes career mapping, specialization in skilled trades, and micro-entrepreneurship. Just recently YWCA created a new workforce development program to train and employ women in a career in utility construction. YWCA is always looking to bring new resources to their participants and would love to hear of opportunities to continue to do so.