Tag Archives: women’s empowerment

Staff Spotlight: Amanda Read, Mother Love Coordinator

22 Jul

Our July Staff Spotlight features Amanda Read, MotherLove Coordinator. Amanda is new to the YWCA and to Asheville, and we couldn’t be more excited to have her part of our YWCA team & community.image1

How long have you lived in Asheville? I moved to Asheville in May, so I’m really new to town. Previously, I lived in Columbia, SC where I completed my Masters in Social Work at the University of South Carolina. I grew up in Greensboro, NC.

How long have you been at the YW? My first day at the YWCA was May 30th, so I have been here for just a little over a month.

Favorite thing(s) about the YWCA? I love the culture here at the YWCA. I am so happy to be a part of an organization that values the community served and its staff members. I like knowing that I am working for a purpose that will benefit peoples’ lives. It is also a perk to come to work every day and see people being active and working out. It motivates me to get moving for my own health and wellness.

What do you like to do in your spare time? I love to spend time with my family and friends. On the weekends, I like to watch live music. I will often drag a family member or friend to see a show with me regardless of the musical genre—I listen to anything from Hip-Hop, Indie, Grunge, R&B, Classical and Turkish music.

People would be surprised if they knew I… Love to watch Chinese and Thai soap operas. I find the acting and storylines more entertaining than American television. If asked, I will shamelessly recommend amazing dramas to watch on a rainy day.

Getting Ahead Graduation

16 Dec

On December 15th, 12 new graduates of the Getting Ahead In a Just Gettin’ By World program celebrated completing the 16 week curriculum.

This group of ladies – ranging in age from 19-80 – have explored the causes of poverty, the hidden rules of class, and the importance of language and communication.  They have all formed plans to achieve the ‘future stories’ they have planned for themselves.



The YWCA will support these graduates through follow-up support for  the next 18 months, and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish!


Here is some of what the graduates had to say about their experience in the program:

It has been amazing to learn about everyone’s stories! I have learned a lot of tips of how to get ahead in my future!


My overall experience was wonderful. I was able to learn many things that can help me in the future….The class was never a “sit and read the book” experience. It was a pleasant place to be.

This class has reshaped my thinking process – the way I approach situations as possibilities, not as obstacles.

I liked the friendly, respectful atmosphere I encountered with the other Getting Ahead Investigators!


I learned to plan ahead and think about my actions before I actually do something.

Getting Ahead was a great experience to learn about how I came into poverty and it wasn’t all my fault. But how easy it is to get yourself out and it can be done. I love the class and the people, you all are so supportive.


Beginning now I am going to take control of my finances and get them under control. And by that I mean to pay them off one by one or get help and do it right and fast.

The Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World program is made possible through funding from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina’s People In Need grant, as well as the Sisters of Mercy of North Carolina Foundation. Thank you!

“I Want Them to Know They Can Do It!” MotherLove Alumni Give Back

8 Oct

By Holly Gillespie, YWCA MotherLove Coordinator

I want to celebrate with you a realization of the ideals of empowerment…  

MotherLove alum Gaines and her son

MotherLove alum Ahmarie Gaines and her son

The other week, 8 graduates from the MotherLove program gathered for the first Alumni Meeting of the year.  Several women came directly from a full work shift, most brought their baby with them, and no Alumni are older than 20.  That means 8 working teen parents took 2 hours of their busy and often complicated lives to come together to, in their words, “give back” to the program.

I was deeply moved when, inspired by a prompt from our star volunteer, Debbie Welch, each Alum offered her or his reason for giving up a weeknight of potential downtime to come to the group. The consensus sounded something like this: “MotherLove has meant so much to me and helped me so much.  I want to do whatever I can to help the program and to offer that support to young moms who are still in high school.  I want them to know they can do it; they can graduate!”

I asked the group how they wanted to spend their time together, suggesting a range of ideas from regular social gatherings, to planning Evening Support Group Sessions for the young parents enrolled in the program this year.  The group unanimously chose to take on the responsibility of not only planning, but facilitating a Group each month for the parents still in high school!

The 2015 Alumni Committee’s first delivered Evening Group Session will take place this month.  Alumni chose to begin the session by each sharing the story of their personal journey through parenthood and high school.  Afterwards, they will co-facilitate small groups to ask current participants what they want to gain from the MotherLove program this year, and any skills or information they feel they need to learn as new parents.

Nancy Herrera-Mendoza, MotherLove alum, in her high school graduation cap and gown

Nancy Herrera-Mendoza, MotherLove alum, in her high school graduation cap and gown

I want to highlight that the format of this session is top-notch, utilizes best practices, and is infused with the ethics of empowerment.  These women and men are fresh out of high school and leaning on instinct and personal experience… and they have created a model that scholars would envy.  

Words cannot express how impressed I am with this group of young parents.  I am deeply grateful for the privilege of walking with them on their parenting journey, and am inspired by their drive and motivation to share what they have learned.  This is the essence of empowerment.

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.”

TWIN Banquet a BIG Success!

30 Mar

The 18th Annual YWCA Tribute to Women of Influence Awards Banquet, held last Thursday, was a huge success. There were 350 people in attendance to celebrate the 24 impressive Honorees, women who excel in their fields. The event raised funds to support the YWCA’s vital programs. At the end of the evening, Maria Roloff of Mission Hospital received the distinction of  being named TWIN 2009 Honoree of the Year. Below is a photo by Jason Sandford of Maria being congratulated by Mission chief Joe Damore. We’ll be posting more photos from TWIN soon.

honoree of the year

Women’s Advisory Committee

19 Nov

Women's Advisory Committee

YWCA Women's Advisory Committee Meeting

Yesterday was the quarterly meeting of the YWCA Women’s Advisory Committee for MotherLove/APP and New Choices. Community members supportive of these programs make up the committee.

The committee discussed holiday plans for participants, including the MotherLove Giving Tree. MotherLove Director Tangela Bowman shared that, in order to receive gifts from the Giving Tree, the girls in MotherLove are required to do community service.

MotherLove participants are going to volunteer at the Rescue Mission.

New Choices Director Jenny Sliker gave a report about the Week Without Violence. She also gave out information about the Job Fair that will be held on December 30 at Biltmore Square Mall. New Choices is going to provide transportation to the Fair and child care for partipants.

Looking ahead, the second annual YWCA/AAUW Women’s Confidence Day will be on Saturday, March 21. Jenny will be looking for speakers and workshop presenters starting in January.

And, just as an aside, the committee also enjoyed a lovely lunch.