Welcome to the YWCA Blog!
It’s exciting to be “going live” with our very first post during our “Week of the Women,” a series of special events in celebration of Women’s History Month. This feels like the perfect time to be sharing some thoughts about women, history and one of my favorite topics – change.
I find it impossible to think about women’s history without thinking about change: How much things have changed for women. How instrumental women have been in creating some of these changes. And how we, as women, have changed.
From voting rights to civil rights, the YWCA has been on the front lines of many of the monumental changes that have impacted women and girls over the last 100 years or so. Here in Bergen County, our YW’s history of “firsts” dates back to 1920, and ranges from providing childcare and health and fitness programs to honoring women for their professional achievements.
When the national organization took shape in the early 1900’s, its wise founders knew that changing the world would involve changing the way the world viewed women – as well as the way they viewed themselves. The YWCA Archives in the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College includes an excerpt from a membership leaflet, circa 1924, that reads, “It is the ideal of the Association that…people shall because of it begin to think differently about women…especially young women may begin to think more consideringly about themselves – their place in the work of the world and in their homes.”
Isn’t it amazing that, despite the considerable progress that’s been made, women and girls continue to grapple with these issues today? The world’s often outdated views of women are encountered as we work to increase our income levels and job skills; to ensure that women and children have access to quality healthcare; and to support anti-violence policies and programs. Simultaneously, many women struggle with doubts about their self-worth, even as they encourage younger generations to embrace their own strength, intelligence and passion.
This is why the YWCA and its mission of empowering women remain so vital. To be empowered is to have control over our own destinies – to choose the paths our lives take and either initiate or manage the changes that happen along the way. As women, we often find empowerment in the company of others. From its earliest days, the YWCA has dedicated itself to “helping diverse groups of women learn to work together effectively,” operating on the principle that we are “enriched through an understanding of the struggles of others.”
Think about it: When we want to make something happen – on a small or grand scale – what do we do? We reach out to our women friends and colleagues and say, “Let’s meet for breakfast!” It’s in this spirit that we created our upcoming Women’s Summit, “The Big Shift: Planning for Change.” I like to think of it as meeting for breakfast – super-sized! We’re providing women and girls with a forum for exchanging ideas, experiences and strategies for navigating the changes they’re facing right now – whether they’re graduating from high school or re-entering the workforce; starting a family or launching a business; facing an empty nest or looking forward to retirement.
That old adage – the only thing we can be certain of is change – is not entirely true. We can also count on the enormous capacity women have for adapting, evolving and making a positive difference in the world. And that’s something to celebrate!
Helen Archontou, MSW, LSW, is Chief Executive Officer of YWCA Bergen County. She has more than 15 years of executive management experience in the not-for-profit sector and is the proud mother of 12-month old twins.