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Featured Grantee Partner: YWCA Southern Arizona

Interview Series: Transformational Grantmaking

What are three interesting things people don’t know about the YWCA?

  • The YW has been around for 100 years, and in that time we’ve become a leader in Southern Arizona that works to empower and provide leadership development for women.
  • We’re committed to advocacy, particularly when it comes to changing systems and policy for the impoverished, for women, for minorities. For example, during our 100-year history, our leaders testified against child labor and strongly supported the 8-hour work day and for the right to reproductive healthcare.
  • We are radically inclusive in our mission, which is to “eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” We have programs for women, such as Your Sister’s Closet, but we have a lot of programs that people might not know about, such as grief counseling for LGBT people who have lost loved ones. We recently had a workshop about understanding trans children, which was very successful. We are here for immigrants, men of color, people who are underrepresented.

What are you most excited about that’s happening at the YW?

I’m most excited about how we’re being more strategic. We’re all about the need to have our voices hears, but we need to look at systems, structures and barriers against women in general and women of color to make a difference. At the local level, we look at people’s access to capital and how we can help fill the gap, so we’re looking at changing the way things are happening in lending. Statewide, we’ve mobilized and we’re working with our sister organization in Maricopa County.

How has a grant from the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona transformed the YW? Is there something you now do differently?

The fact is a grant from the Women’s Foundation is unrestricted is absolutely key. This has enabled us to do our work; it has liberated us to experiment with new programs and to do things that we haven’t looked at or done before. The Women’s Foundation has given us the freedom to respond to opportunities and needs as they arise.

The Women’s Foundation has begun to engage in advocacy at the right time. Partner organizations like the YW feel emboldened and empowered to either start or continue with advocacy work, either on their own or partnered with other organizations. The Women’s Foundation is truly at the forefront of that effort in terms of its leadership.

How has your organization grown stronger, increased its impact or changed because of your partnership with the WFSA?

When the YW received a WFSA grant in 2014, very early in my tenure with the YW, and it came at a critical moment for us. Year after year, it has been kind of like a seal of approval from a respected funder in town. Receiving a grant from the Women’s Foundation means that they have confidence in our work. This has also helped us secure other funding, which has helped create momentum. For example, we’ve had 400% growth in the last 5 years, taking our operating budget from $500,000 back then to $2 million now. This year, in a 6-month period, we’ve been able to raise 96% of our $1.5 million goal, which will give us greater capacity for programming.

How did you first hear about the WFSA and their grants?

Knowledge about the WFSA grants is everywhere in this community:  in the water, in the air we breathe. But in terms of a more specific way we heard about the grant, I think Maryann Dobras was a YW board member at the time, and she introduced us Laura Penny and the WFSA.

What keeps you up at night when thinking about your organization?

As I mentioned earlier, part of our mission is to eliminate racism. We want great job security for people in this community, and it would be absolutely great if our organization would disappear because it would mean that we’ve accomplished our mission. Unfortunately, we’re facing a magnitude of challenges, and we have to think about how to be most effective, especially with our resources.

The YW has an absolutely incredible staff of diverse and creative folks. They work so hard, and so I worry about their capacity to keep at it, to pay them enough, to show them how valuable they are. I want us to be an equitable workplace with good benefits. I don’t want to be the type of organization where our employees end up having to use YW programs.

What do you see ahead for women and girls in Southern Arizona?

Around 40,000 women marched on January 21st of this year in the 11 marches around the state, which included around 10,000-15,000 who marched in Tucson. We need to maintain momentum, build on it, create meaningful change. Our challenges go beyond one election. We need women and girls to take to lead, to enter the political arena and to get involved so that everyone can thrive.

And finally, is there anything else you would like to add about how the Women’s Foundation helps you in fulfilling the mission of your organization?

The Women’s Foundation has really made a difference, especially in its leadership in the advocacy arena, which has emboldened not only us, but others.

Kelly Fryer is the Executive Director at the YWCA Southern Arizona, which has been leading the fight for social and economic justice in Southern Arizona since 1917.

Special thanks to Women’s Foundation volunteers Gabriela Cervantes and Liz Levine for interviewing this organization and for serving as guest editors.