Our Big Reveal: Celebrating Our Past, Embracing Our Future

7 Oct

Our Big Reveal InviteWhen the YWCA of Asheville issued a request for proposals to update our lobby as part of a planned Capital Improvement project, we had no idea that we were in store for a complete reimagining of how we tell the story of our organization through the spaces in our building. Jaan Ferree, of Intentional Design, submitted a proposal outlining a design vision that presented the YWCA’s rich legacy through a historical time-line and lobby mural, while updating its furniture and accessories.  As Creative Director she brought together a team of local professionals to transform the lobby, a main hallway, an administrative stairwell, and the pool viewing room.

The YWCA has had its 185 S. French Broad Ave location since 1962; it served as the Black YWCA branch from 1962-1967, and then was gradually integrated beginning in 1968. In 1974 a pool and gymnasium were added to the building, and in 2001 the building was renovated and expanded thanks to $3.8 million in donations from more than 800 donors.

“Our building is a huge part of our legacy as an organization and as a community – and several of our spaces needed an update in order to better represent who we are and the pride we feel in our work and in each other,” says Beth Maczka, executive director. “Jaan and her team have truly gone above and beyond our wildest dreams and created a space that is beautiful, inviting, and – most importantly – honors our past and our future.”

Jaan Ferree was generous with her time and talents, spending more than 400 pro bono hours on the project.   Other local designers and business that fully or partially donated their time and talent include Jay Fields, Connie Aridas, Ann Baker, Mobilia, Ian Wilkerson, Michael Wray of Creative Cabinetry, Kim Hayes, CEG Electrical, and Blackbird Framing.

“I am grateful to have assembled a ‘Dream Team’ to enliven the interior public spaces of the YWCA,” says Jaan Ferree. “All of the team have given countless hours over and beyond their monetary compensation and about 90 percent of the time toward this redesign was given pro bono. I could not be more pleased with the newly created ‘visual storytelling’ of the YWCA’s strong legacy, and the inspiration and beauty that has been designed to surround the staff and members of the Asheville YWCA.”

Ian Wilkerson of the Asheville Mural Project created a mural for the lobby that was inspired by a 1920s photograph from the YW archives. “I was given a great historic photograph of a special keystone moment in the Asheville YWCA history,” says Ian. “I wanted to combine that moment of those two young women that embodied the spirit of eliminating racism in a time when that was more difficult.  The mission of eliminating racism and empowering women is a lesson that we have to refresh with every new generation. Maybe someday we will be born with an innate acceptance of differences. But until then we need to water the flowers of appreciation for our fellow humans. The imagery and symbolism in this mural seemed to flow easily out of this strong foundation.”

Jay Fields worked with research conducted for the YW’s Centennial by Holly Jones, executive director of the YWCA of Asheville from 1996 to 2011, to create a 26’ x 8’ historic timeline on display in a main hallway of the building.

“Once I got into the YW project, I realized I had known a number of women who had helped shape the organization over the years, including Mary Parker, Elspeth Clark and Laurey Masterton,” says Jay. “Soon enough I discovered that the combined Asheville YW had been a driving force in race relations and integration in the civil rights era – an innovative and courageous national leader.  This realization energized and fueled the effort, and my colleague and friend Connie Aridas, through her design, brought some wonderful theater to the project.  Because of the heart and soul of everything that’s gone into this organization’s history, the exhibit easily took on a wonderful kind of grateful and celebratory presence.  It speaks to the many, many women who have ‘gone before us’ in making Asheville a remarkable place to call home.”

All are welcome to join the YWCA in celebrating Our Big Reveal on October 17 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m., with a brief program at 9 a.m. We always welcome community visitors to our building for a tour of our mission and programs.

Les Mills BODYCOMBAT – A New Cardio Kickboxing Class at the YW!

1 Oct

The YWCA’s Club W Health & Fitness Center is excited to launch a new Les Mills BODYCOMBAT class – beginning Monday, 10/6 the class will take place Mondays at 8:15 am and Wednesdays at 6:30 pm.bodycombat

“In the most recent Club W Member Survey our members told us that they wanted a cardio kickboxing class,” explains Charley Cox – Club W Coordinator, “and that’s exactly what this class is. We chose Les Mills because it’s a curriculum-based class that changes up its routine every 3 months so that everyone can get an optimal workout. I’m excited to try the class out – it should be fun and energetic.”

BODYCOMBAT is inspired by martial arts, and draws from a wide array of disciplines such as karate, boxing, Tae Kwon Do, tai chi, and Muay Thai.

The class will:

  • Tone and shape key muscles
  • Burn calories
  • Improve coordination and agility
  • Improve bone density
  • Improve posture and core strength and stability
  • Build self-confidence

BODYCOMBAT is for everyone with moderate fitness levels. Because the moves are simple, you don’t have to be particularly well-coordinated!

For more information visit http://www.lesmills.com/bodycombat, or talk to Charley in the gym or at charley.cox@ywcaofasheville.org. As always, we welcome your feedback.

Not a current Club W member, but want to check out the class? Ask Charley for a Club W day pass so you can give it a try!

Encouragement as Empowerment

19 Sep

001Pauline Cheek has been a YWCA Club W member for the past 5 years, and can often be seen power walking on the treadmill.

Mrs. Cheek is 80 years-old, and even though she has stage 4 lymphoma, says: “I want to live as fully as possible.” Her Club W routine is part of that goal for herself.

Mrs. Cheek has always enjoyed the outdoors and walking, but transitioned to indoor exercise at Club W because she finds that it’s not only safer, but allows her to have a rich social life around “upbeat people.”

She recently came on an Empower Hour tour, which inspired her to want to start volunteering her time in the Child Care. The tour also allowed Mrs. Cheek to put names and stories behind the many faces she sees around the building. She says: “I’m an advocate for the YW, and have a big appreciation for the YW as a force for good in the community. Everybody who works here is engaged in something worthwhile, and that’s important.”

Mrs. Cheek, who attended a Quaker seminary, says: “to me, the most important Christian value is courage, which is part of encouragement. The encouragement people receive at the YW is central to its mission of empowerment.”

Meet Two New Staff: Our Director of Women’s Empowerment and Volunteer Coordinator

8 Sep

 Diana Sierra, Director of Women’s Empowerment012

We are excited to welcome Diana Sierra to the YWCA as our new Director of Women’s Empowerment. Diana will oversee our MotherLove program, as well as get our new program dedicated to women’s financial empowerment up and running.

Diana was born and raised in Brooklyn, the first generation of her family to be born in the U.S. – her father is Dominican and her mother is Puerto Rican. She moved to Northern Virginia while she was in high school, and attended James Madison University for undergraduate studies, where she “fell in love with the mountains and the outdoors.” Diana received her Masters in Social Work and then worked for 8 years in the education field. Most recently, Diana ran social services and family engagement for the East Harlem Tutorial Program.

Diana has lived in Asheville since June. “I’m loving it! I had been visiting for the past 5 years. I finally thought: ‘I’m coming down here all the time – I might as well move here.’” She enjoys hiking, canoeing and kayaking, running, and working out. She’s also a “big foodie” – she loves trying new restaurants, wine bars, and baking.

Diana has hit the ground running in her work. She says: “I’m most excited about the combination of working with a reputable, long-standing program like MotherLove, combined with launching a new program focused on low-income parents that can fill in service delivery gaps. Being a licensed social worker will allow me to infuse that clinical depth to our women’s empowerment programs.”

Diana believes that the YWCA is a great fit for her: “The YWCA is a well-known organization with long-standing roots in the community. I like that there’s a variety of programming – there are so many things going on – and that there are children in the building. I really believe in the mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. I want to be part of an organization that puts that at the forefront.”


Gerry Leonard, Volunteer Coordinator002

We would also like to welcome Gerry Leonard, our new Volunteer Coordinator. As part of Gerry’s position at the YWCA he will also help coordinate outreach activities and the Stand Against Racism.

Gerry is a native to Jakarta, Indonesia but grew up in Richmond, VA. Gerry attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where he graduated with a BA in anthropology with a focus on Cultural Anthropology. After graduating, Gerry traveled many parts of Europe and South America, and also worked on a dairy farm in Utrecht, Netherlands for six months. He only has lived in Asheville for a year; he chose to move to Asheville for the mountains, rich culture, vibrant music and art scene, and all the delicious food that Asheville has to offer.

Through Gerry’s passion for traveling, he helped start and organize the first ever Richmond Hostel, where he worked in outreach, fundraising, and volunteer coordination. Gerry has also worked in the field of animal welfare for about 7 years, highlighted by his time working at the Richmond SPCA as an Adoptions Counselor. Most recently he has worked at Charlotte Street Animal Hospital and in the YWCA’s Drop-In Child Care.

Describing his interests outside of work, Gerry says: “I like to play and see music, which Asheville has an abundance of. I’m an avid reader, with a huge literary soft spot for fantasy novels and comics… I write poetry on the side! I love soccer, both playing and following my favorite club, Liverpool FC. I also enjoy hiking, running, biking, being outdoors and enjoying life in Asheville. Probably my favorite thing is hanging out with my dog Fernando – he and I do everything together.”

Gerry was drawn to the YWCA because of the organization’s diversity, positive energy, and rich history. Most importantly, “the mission of eliminating racism and empowering women is at the core of my own philosophy and beliefs. It coincides well with my own personal mission statement. It’s very rewarding to be a part of such a great organization like the YWCA.”

In his role he’s looking forward to developing personal relationships with volunteers and other organization members. “In my role I’m in a unique position where I get to meet people one-on-one before they go on and become volunteers. To be able to get to know someone’s background and story, and also why they want to get involved with the YWCA – I think that’s one of the neatest things about my job.”

Gerry is also excited about his involvement in the Stand Against Racism. “Racism is a big topic that many people aren’t conscious enough about. I think getting the awareness out there, so that it becomes something in the forefront of all of our thinking, is really important. Hopefully the great work that Stand does here in the community of Asheville will ultimately lead to a bigger movement.”

Nuanna’s Story

2 Sep

017Nuanna Horn grew up as part of a commune that traveled frequently. But when she became pregnant with twins at the age of 14 her mother sent her to Asheville to live with her grandmother; she has now been in North Carolina for 26 years.

A cervical and skin cancer survivor, Nuanna continues to struggle with several health issues, including thyroid problems, arthritis, and hypoglycemia, and twice had gestational diabetes. She wanted to exercise more, but as a single parent she couldn’t afford a gym membership.

Nuanna’s health outlook started to brighten when she joined the YWCA’s Diabetes Wellness & Prevention program, which serves those at risk of or living with diabetes to prevent, manage and live with the condition. Participants learn healthy eating habits at support groups, exercise with a trainer in our Club W Health & Fitness Center, and learn about diabetes management from health professionals.

Nuanna says of the program: “I appreciate that in the program I have someone to keep me on course and to suggest new things. I especially like the peer support group – it’s highly motivational. We discuss topics like time management and exercise, sleep issues, and understanding cravings.”

Nuanna finds that this nurturing environment goes beyond the confines of the Diabetes Wellness & Prevention Program – “I like the environment at the YWCA – it’s supportive of everybody and every type of person. There’s a feeling of acceptance that you don’t find in a lot of gyms.”

Nuanna has lost 27 pounds since joining the program, and has high hopes for what she would like to accomplish before the year is through:

“My goal is to match the weight I’ve lost so far, if not exceed it. I want to build endurance. When I first started the Diabetes Wellness & Prevention program I couldn’t do 10 minutes on the tread mill at the lowest setting; now I can do an hour on a much higher setting.”

Nuanna adds: “I’d like to potentially go into the mentor program. After everything I’ve gone through I could be a good motivator or support and an inspiration for other participants.”

Interested in volunteering with the YW’s Diabetes Wellness & Prevention program? Contact our volunteer coordinator, Gerry Leonard, at gleonard@ywcaofavl.org. We’re always looking for guest speakers on topics related to health management for support group meetings or monthly dinner lectures.


To Heal Our Communities, We Must Treat Each Other As Family

22 Aug

By Amy Hunter
Director of Racial Justice, YWCA Metro St. Louis

Amy Hunter, YWCA Metro St. Louis

What’s going on in Ferguson?

We have failed as a community to treat each other as kin. This is apparent in the way this incident was handled. If Mike Brown had been Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s son, he would still be alive. This is not about breaking the law, or being under the suspicion of breaking a law. Every adult, at some point of their lives, likely has broken the law, but it doesn’t have to cost a life. We have a judicial system to assess crime and punishment. The situation in Ferguson, where there is mistrust of that authority, exposes the issues that are deeper and more systemic, like failing educational systems, profiling, and the lack of trust between people that are different from one another. Today Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said there may be “bumps in the road” ahead. No doubt. How we navigate those “bumps” will be key.

Some of the media who covered my public remarks in Ferguson identified me as a “mother.” I am a mother; I am also the Director of Racial Justice for the YWCA Metro St. Louis. Racism is a social construct, and its defeat can be as well. I am encouraging everyone to reach for each other with love, as if we are connected and related. If we are going to learn from this incident, grow, and elevate our current disconnection, we are going to have to embrace, support, and handle each other as if we were related. In scholarship, this is called “fictive kinship,” meaning that, although we are not related, we are claiming each other as if we were in the same bloodline. As women, we do this with each other all the time: our best friends are often referred to as our sisters and our children even call them aunt. It happens with men, too.

If we are going to get through and beyond this, we are going to need to adopt this belief. It will dramatically change our actions and work toward healing. The world is watching, and it will take all of us to move forward in healing communities.

I don’t know Darren Wilson, so I am going to take some license that he is a good person who misjudged his response to the situation. If Mike Brown had been his biological son, he would have handled the situation much differently. Maybe he would have taken him to the police station and booked him, or talked sternly about the positive responsibilities of manhood.

If I apply this rule to myself and other mothers, Mike Brown could have been our son; in some ways, fictively he is my son. As a professional and as a mother, I never want to see a young person die from violence. Nor do I want tear gas, police dogs or swat teams used on U.S. citizens who are protesting.

The tragic events this week in Ferguson highlight the importance of the YWCA historically and today. We have much work to do in this community and others around the world to prevent these moments. We need the support of our community leaders, major corporations, supporters and families to fulfill the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. A mother’s movement is a powerful force.

This incident has provided an opportunity for the YWCA to make a difference. We can take a stand against violence in any form, support grieving families, assist in peaceful demonstrations, and teach our youth to accomplish change through non-violent means. It has opened the dialogue about the need for more racial justice programming, like our Witnessing Whiteness groups to educate, inform, train and equip our white allies for social justice advocacy. Or our Mosaic Group, for people of color, to understand the impact of racism and to heal and work towards liberation from its harm and hurt. I have seen the good that honest communication in a safe space can accomplish. Together, we can change the world for the better.

As director of racial justice for YWCA Metro St. Louis, Amy Hunter is responsible for ensuring that eliminating racism, part of the YWCA’s two-prong mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, is incorporated in all of the organization’s internal and external programming. She serves as a representative of the YWCA in matters that address institutionalized and systemic oppression. She joined the YWCA in 2008; she has more than 15 years of experience in the corporate sector. She previously worked at Edward Jones in the area of diversity and served on the faculty for the Dismantling Racism Institute, a program of The National Conference for Community and Justice. Hunter has provided strategic direction for organizational development for universities, school districts and the corporate community. She has published works and is a presenter on issues of race and social justice throughout the United States and Canada.

Hunter is a native St. Louisian and is currently pursuing her PhD in Social Justice from the University of Missouri St. Louis. She has served on several boards and committees in St. Louis.

Hunter’s zeal and passion for creating an equitable society is unmatched. She is extremely busy being engrossed in her quest for equality while loving and being loved by her family.

Cross-posted from YWCA USA. See more at: http://www.ywcablog.com/2014/08/15/to-heal-our-communities-we-must-treat-each-other-as-family/#sthash.xt2BwHZN.dpuf

Uncomfortably Predictable: Race, Community and the Cycle of Violence

22 Aug

By Donte Hilliard,
Director of Mission Impact, YWCA USA

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- U. S. Declaration of Independence 1776

YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
- Adopted by the General Assembly, 2009

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.
- Zora Neal Hurston

Donte Hilliard

Donte Hilliard, YWCA USA

Once again, an unarmed Black person is dead at the hands of local law enforcement agents. How many spectacles of bullet-riddled, broken Black bodies must we endure? How many cablecast reports and tweeted acts of grief and rage must we consume before we declare it is too much? How much evidence do we need before we admit that the United States of America has a problem?

Unfortunately, we at the YWCA USA know all too well that racialized community violence is neither novel nor rare for people of color in the U.S. Even as we join the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrate their solidarity with the Brown Family (on the ground and online) as they grieve the loss of Michael Brown and seek justice, we know there are innumerable victims and survivors of this type of systemic violence who will never be acknowledged on a national platform.

We also know, that despite what continues to be revealed about the specifics of this incident in Ferguson, Mo., the script is uncomfortably predictable:

  • A person of color is racially profiled, surveilled and killed;
  • Despite being unarmed, he/she is accused of being a threat or threatening;
  • Peaceful, organized community action is ignored — framed as a riot rather than a protest or civic engagement, or rendered moot because of other acts (such as looting);
  • The local community is admonished for “rushing to judgment” and not waiting on the facts;
  • Images of the dead person of color surface that portray him or her as a scary, menacing, or gang-affiliated;
  • Local and national law enforcement agents and agencies will seek to frame the death in a race-neutral context, denying the reality of institutional and systemic racism; we will be asked to see victims, survivors and perpetrators only as individuals and not as members of social groups of varying institutional and structural power, while simultaneously being bombarded with racially-coded words and images;
  • Taxpayers will be treated as “enemy combatants,” rather than citizens who are guaranteed the right to gather, speak, and protest per our founding and governing documents.

What do we say and do in the face of this gut-wrenching, all-too-familiar cycle of violence against the psyche and soma of people of color?

We at the YWCA USA dare not desecrate the lives and memories of the victims and survivors of racialized community violence with hollow platitudes. Rather, we seek to transform our anger, confusion, and despair into action.

Here’s what we can do:

  • Locally, those near Ferguson can contact the YWCA of Metro St. Louis. This YWCA has a long history of working on racial justice and to end discrimination in St. Louis, through workplace seminars, hosting speakers, guided dialogues, and more. Amy Hunter, Director of Racial Justice, leads these groups to “increase understanding of the institutionalized and systemic impact of racism, work towards peace and healing and positively impact the community we all live in.” Earlier this week, she joined other community leaders at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant for a forum with Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.
  • No matter where you live, please take action today and tell Congress the time is now to end racial profiling—a United States problem that destroys American values of fairness and justice. Congress must take action and pass the End Racial Profiling Act this year. This bill requires that local law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds maintain adequate cultural competency policies and procedures for eliminating racial profiling. In addition, this bill allows victims to obtain declaratory or injunctive relief.
  • If you are or aspire to be a White racial justice ally, you MUST show up. Racism is a problem for all of us. People of color cannot be the only ones putting their bodies on the line.

Do not let this movement end here. Racialized community violence must not be allowed to remain a normal part of our daily lives. We must come together and continue to fight for the fair and equitable treatment of all.

The YWCA is a social justice organization and movement with over 150 years of experience providing direct service to, building with, and advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our society: low wage workers, the unemployed, women and girls, people of color, non-native English speakers, members of the military, abuse survivors, etc. As a social justice organization, we have a deep and abiding commitment to working on issues of economic, gender, and racial justice — particularly in the places where these systems of oppression overlap each other.

As an organization dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women, we will not allow issues of racial profiling, hate crimes and/or community violence be placed on the back burner.

Donte brings more than 10 years of administrative leadership in the areas of: Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice; education/training in African American, Gender, and Religious Studies; knowledge and application of various social change models; history of advocacy for historically underrepresented groups; and coalition building within and across various communities. Donte has notable experience as faculty, trainer, community volunteer and activist, researcher and author, and has received many awards and honors. He is the co-founder and Chair of the Institute for Justice Education & Transformation (IJET), an initiative of the UW Madison Multicultural Student Center, that provides and supports opportunities for deep reflection and action around issues of Social Justice for underrepresented communities and their allies. Donte has a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas, a M.A. in African American studies from Ohio State University, and a M.A. in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary.

Cross-posted from YWCA USA. See more at: http://www.ywcablog.com/2014/08/15/uncomfortably-predictable-race-community-and-the-cycle-of-violence/#sthash.5rnqgnkr.dpuf


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