By Erin Barstow,
YWCA Missoula GUTS! Program Coordinator
Originally published on 6/14/13
The YWCA USA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., encompassed four days of women speakers, presenters and voices. Whether participating in one-on-one networking opportunities or listening to the inspiring speakers, the message was strong and clear: women of the YWCA speak with conviction. Women are daring, dreaming and achieving on such an impressive scale.
I was moved to tears by Ayanna Pressley’s address on “What Women Want: Breaking the Cycle of Poverty and Violence.” Pressley is a member of the Boston City Council At-Large and is the first woman of color ever elected to the Council. She spoke fervently about how broken girls become broken women, and then the cycle repeats. She encouraged the 400 attendees to embody the word “entitlement,” because “It means I’m strong enough to know what I deserve,” and talked about daring to be herself. I witnessed stories of survival, hope and progress. After her daughter was killed by her ex-boyfriend, Sharon Love started the One Love Foundation to end relationship violence. Commander Zoe Dunning made history fighting for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which excluded gay people from serving openly in armed forces. And Eva Longoria, whose philanthropy and advocacy in the field of racial justice is truly commendable.
I learned the power of my own voice while lobbying on Capitol Hill. Along with three other Montana women leaders, I met with our state representatives and senators to present and discuss issues relevant to Montana women and girls. We were known and respected for the work we do and were able to engage in meaningful conversations with these key players. We were given a mission: empower citizens on how Comprehensive Immigration Reform is a necessary step for this nation, for the 11 million aspiring Americans, for our economy, for each and every human being’s right to freedom and dignity. We stepped away from the conversation with real tools and action steps to enlighten our communities on this bill.
One thing is very clear to me: the YWCA is a sisterhood. I made contact with so many brilliant women, for example, a 35-year-old woman who was recently hired as CEO of her local YWCA. There are so many incredible programs. The YWCA Berkeley/Oakland’s youth leadership model is particularly notable to me, and so many young women are finding themselves and their passions through the work of YWCAs across the nation and the world. I connected with young women with whom I have been conversing solely via phone calls on the YWCA USA Young Women’s Task Force. I left D.C. with exciting ideas for the program I work for (GUTS!) and with real connections and relationships with women from across the country.
I returned to YWCA Missoula with a renewed sense of commitment to and passion for this organization. There is so much room for my personal and professional growth and so many accomplished women to follow and seek for mentorship and inspiration. My impact on the YWCA and the YWCA’s impact on me have just begun, and I am so excited to move forward.
Cross-posted with permission from YWCA Missoula