Meet Two New Staff: Our Director of Women’s Empowerment and Volunteer & Outreach 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 & Outreach Coordinator002

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

Gerry grew up in Richmond, VA where he attended Virginia Commonwealth University. After graduating, Gerry traveled around the country and spent a time in Europe, specifically in the Netherlands. He only has lived in Asheville for a year; he chose to move to Asheville for the mountains, vibrant music and art scene, and all the delicious food that Asheville has to offer. In Gerry’s words: “The writing was literally on the wall as to why I should move here, and on whim, I just decided to uproot my life and start anew in Asheville.”

Through Gerry’s passion for traveling, he helped start and organize the first ever hostel in Richmond. Gerry has also worked in the fields of animal welfare, environmental justice, immigration policy, food access and other social justice related issues. He is looking forward to bringing his experience in community organizing and activism to Asheville.

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 also write poetry on the side! I’m a massive soccer fan. I enjoy hiking, running, biking, and generally just being outside. 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 the YWCA is at the core of my own philosophy and beliefs. It coincides well with my deeply-held values and passion to work towards creating social change. I’ve spent much of my career working on grass-roots efforts, and it’s exciting to have an opportunity to have a larger, more robust platform to speak out on issues of system racism.”

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 to connect with people who share the same passion of getting involved in an organization whose mission statement is ‘eliminating racism and empowering women.’ It will be rewarding for me to get to know folks and the narrative of what brought them to the YWCA.”

Gerry is also excited about his involvement in the Stand Against Racism. “Bringing awareness around institutional and structural racism is a massive deal for me. Often we look at racism through the vantage point of interpersonal bigotry and discrimination. A campaign designed to look at how systemic racism impacts us all will hopefully wake people up to what they can do within their sphere of influence to dismantle racism. It has to be something that is in the forefront of all of our thinking. Hopefully the work around Stand in our community will lead to a bigger movement nationally, and even globally.”

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