Editor’s Note: The Northside Business Partnership (NBP) is an association comprised of Northside businesses, property owners, and organizations. It serves as an advocate group for the Northside, strengthening the vitality of the business community by connecting, engaging, and promoting its members. NBP is administrated by NEHDA.
Liz is the Programs & Development Director for the YWCA Syracuse & Onondaga County. The YWCA is one of the newest NBP Members and is dedicated to “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” Read on to find out . . .
Q: Could you give me some of the history of the YWCA in Syracuse & Onondaga County?
Liz: So, I’m going to pull out my handy dandy note sheet, because I wasn’t exactly sure of the history—the YWCA has been around forever. I guess the first one, according to this, was in London, England and that was in 1855. The first one in the USA was in 1858, and then we were established here in Syracuse in 1892.
Q: Has it always been at this location?
Liz: No, I don’t know what the initial location was, but we moved here a number of years ago. Maybe five or six? We used to be over Downtown, on Washington Street, where the main offices were. Then we moved over here. This building actually used to be just the Girls Inc. building. Before Girls Inc. it was the Zanta Foundation, which was like a women’s club, I believe, and then Girls Inc. was here and then due to funding issues, the YWCA adopted Girls Inc. and so now Girls Inc. is a program of YWCA. It fits pretty seamlessly into our mission.
Q: So what exactly is Girl’s Inc. on its own?
Liz: Girls Inc. is also a national organization, like the YWCA, with local chapters in different regions. They do programing for young girls, teenage girls. Here, we do a lot of STEM programming for girls. So we’re the local chapter for Girls Inc. and the YWCA. But in kind of a unique situation, Girls Inc. in Syracuse is a program of the YWCA. There’s similar situations in other regions, too. I think there’s maybe 10 other YWCAs that have the same set up with Girls Inc. It’s a natural fit. Women’s empowerment and working with young girls—it’s more of a preventative aspect rather than sort of a reactive measure to fighting those systemic barriers.
Q: In nonprofits, the titles of various positions can sometimes seem confusing. Can you shed some light on what “Programs & Development Director” involves?
Liz: So my title is, I think, intentionally vague, because I do—like everybody that works in nonprofits, especially small nonprofits—everybody wears 10, 15 different hats. My title encompasses a few different things. I do program supervision, so I supervise the YWCA programs. I help with finding different pathways and strategies for making our programs better, training and developing staff, all that good stuff. I help with the grant writing, so I constantly am researching grants, trying to figure out, find things that fit our agency but also aid in our program development. We need the funds to be able to do what we do. That’s a big part of it. I do coordinate a lot of our events. Day of Commitment, Girls Summit, Spirit of American Women, Day of Commitment and Spirit of American Women are two annual fundraisers, so those are our two biggest events. I coordinate the organizational efforts for those events. And then, helping with social media and marketing efforts, so we actually just created an Instagram account a few months ago, which has been awesome. It’s fun. That’s the fun part of it, social media is its own kind of unique bubble. So it’s a little bit of everything, but it keeps me on my toes.
Q: So is social media one of your favorite parts of your job?
Liz: I do—yes. It’s one of my—it’s the fun part. There’s no deadline. It’s kind of a little break from the more serious parts of the job.
Q: Any other favorite parts?
Liz: Probably just—this is kind of a generic or vague answer, but just the people. Working in nonprofits, you meet so many different people and everybody—whether it be your coworkers or the people that are in your programs or the people that you meet at meetings, organizations that you collaborate with—I think people in the nonprofit world are great people. It’s easy to get caught up in the stressors of nonprofits, but when you keep it in the back of your mind to look past those stressors, and that everybody’s on the same playing field, everybody has the same goal, trying to do better for each other and the community, that keeps me going.
Q: Are there any particular people you want to highlight?
Liz: Let’s see. Well geez, I don’t want to leave anybody out. I guess most recently, what’s sticking out in my mind, is the basketball program that I facilitated here at the YWCA, working with those young girls. They were ages 8 to 12 and I worked with them every Saturday for four months, and it was just awesome to see them grow as individuals, but also they all became friends. And they’re just awesome girls. Obviously there’s many more people but, right now that’s a big one.
Q: How did you get into this line of work?
Liz: Well, I’ve always been interested in human behavior and human dynamics. My background is in psychology but I didn’t want to be a psychologist or anything like that. I realized I’m way more into social justice and community level issues, so that’s when I decided to go into social work for grad school. I had always worked a lot in direct practice, one-on-one work with clients and individuals, but always with it in mind that I want to get more into community level programs, administrative type field, to still make an impact but a different kind of impact. So that was the reason that I took the AmeriCorps position that you’re in now (Side note: Liz used to be the AmeriCorps VISTA at NEHDA, where I now serve!), because it has that community organizing component to it, and neighborhood revitalization. It was cool to see social work from a bigger lens ’cause I had always seen it on the ground level, but to see how anything from a development effort, construction of a new building, a new program, can trickle all the way down to an individual impact, and to see how that happens was really fascinating to me. So when I got connected, through my AmeriCorps position to this job, that was something I had still in mind. So I started out as a case manager, but I was kind of going where I was needed, and I came over here to the main office and am doing more program-level work, which is really cool and I like it so far.
Q: If somebody is interested in getting involved with the YWCA, what would you recommend to do?
A: Don’t go to the YMCA’s website. We still get calls like, “When are your open pool hours? When do you guys open up?” We’re like, “Ahh, we don’t have a pool.” There’s no affiliation between the YWCA and the YMCA. So, first, make sure you know where you’re going. But other than that, we’re always open to volunteers, always looking for—we take interns every semester, we have three or four interns right now for the summer. It’s through SU, OCC, we actually have an intern from a college in Vermont right now. She’s home for the summer and needed an internship. They get credit and it works out for us because they’re all really smart and motivated students and they help us tremendously.
Other ways to get involved, we’re taking donations for our women’s residents right now. I think we’re kind of over capacity for clothes right now because that’s what people are always getting rid of, and obviously we need clothes and we really appreciate that, but—other things that the women’s residence is in the market is for household items, toiletries, feminine hygiene products, even like home decor. They want to decorate their apartment, making it cozy and everything, but that stuff is a bit harder to find. So yeah, donations, volunteering. . . Just call our office. Also, subscribe to our email newsletter. We do a quarterly newsletter and we sent out one-time newsletters for specific events and programs.
The Spirit of American Women is one of the YWCA’s annual fundraiser’s. This year’s event is October 17th from 6-8PM at the Genesee Grand Hotel. The evening will be spent celebrating how far women have come and of all of the work that still remains to be done. There will be a presentation from a current Women’s Resident and from participants of Girls Inc. The event is part of the YWCA’s National Week Without Violence, a week of programming and events about eliminating violence against women. Tickets will be available on the YWCA website closer to the event.