How Key Tax Credits Promote Economic Empowerment

By Roxy Caines
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

While the beginning of March means that spring is almost here, it also represents the midway point of the tax season, and a good time to highlight the importance to women and families of the Earned Income Credit (EIC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC), federal tax benefits for people who work. In addition to helping taxpayers meet their basic needs such as groceries, utilities, and other bills, the credits can also put eligible workers on the path to securing better housing, dependable transportation, and quality child care, pursuing higher education, or covering out-of-pocket health care costs. The EIC and CTC lifted an estimated 10.1 million people out of poverty, including 2.8 million women and 5.3 million children, in 2012.

Research demonstrates long-term benefits to claiming refundable tax credits, especially the EIC. Children in families that claim the EIC perform better in school and are more likely to attend college. In addition, claiming the EIC is associated with improved health outcomes for children and adults.

These tax credits are a critical component of economic empowerment: with 41 percent of adult women living in households that lack economic security, the EIC and CTC can provide a much-needed income boost.  Yet, the IRS estimates that nationwide, 21 percent of eligible workers don’t claim the EIC because they don’t know about it, don’t know that they are eligible, or don’t know where to get help.

Many of those filers turn to commercial tax preparers. But tax preparation fees along with products offering “quick refunds” can drain tax refunds of $200 or more. As an alternative, the IRS-sponsored Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program trains volunteers to provide free tax help in communities across the country. Free tax preparation is also available through AARP Tax-Aide.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities invites you to join its National Tax Credit Outreach Campaign to promote the EIC, CTC, and free tax help. Here are three ways you can get started:

  1. Request a FREE copy of the Tax Credit Outreach Kit. This Kit provides materials and information needed to conduct community outreach to promote the EIC, CTC, and VITA.
  2. Find out what is happening in your community. Learn who benefits from the tax credits in your state. Contact your local tax credit outreach coalition to determine what outreach activities are already taking place in your area. Many coalitions also prioritize asset development and financial stability as goals.
  3. Inform others about the tax credits and free tax help. Distribute flyers available in 21 languages; share infographics about the impact of the credits and VITA; or disseminate other materials to get the word out.

No coalition in your area? Interested in learning how you can integrate tax credit outreach activities into your work? Have something else in mind? Send an email to for assistance.

Roxy Caines is Senior Project Associate for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ National Tax Credit Outreach Campaign

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Black History through a White Woman’s Eyes

By Norene G. Ball
Director of Hallmark Programs, YWCA McLean County

February was Black History Month and March is Women’s History Month. My own limited life experience convinces me that both Black History Month and Women’s History Month are good ideas. I grew up in the ’50s and early ’60s in a small town that had one black family living there. I never interacted with that family. Consequently, I grew up knowing nothing about black people. I had no idea of the contributions they make or the lives they lead. I saw blacks in stores or on the street, but since they were not a part of my world, the only information I had was the racial stereotypes and prejudices of my family and friends.

When I graduated from high school in 1965, I went for training as a dental assistant in Chicago Heights, Illinois. For the first time, I saw large groups of black kids hanging out together, and it terrified me, but there was one black girl in my classes. For the first time, I saw a black person as an individual and I learned we had a lot in common.

I finished school, met and married my first husband, and had a baby. When we were in the process of building our home, a black family started a home in the neighborhood. One night, vandals came into the sub-division and knocked down the framework of the black family’s house. The next day, my father-in-law was at their property with his tractor, helping to clean up the mess the vandals had made. I knew the haters were still out there and their children probably went to the same school that my little daughter attended. There was fear, but more than fear; there was also pride. Our family had taken a stand for justice. Intuitively I knew it was the right thing to do, and that gave me courage.

Over the years, I still lived my separate life, encountering people of color now and again, but never having a close black friend. I started working at YWCA McLean County in the Senior Services program. Soon I found myself in charge of programs for our women. I attended meetings where we talked about racial inequality and injustices committed against people of color. A side benefit of my involvement in the organization is that I met a black woman who took a chance and befriended me. I will never forget the look of pain on her face when she heard that employees of a local business were caught on audio tape denigrating black people. “No matter what we do or what we accomplish, it’s never enough,” she said. The goal for my life became to help create an environment in which every person is given the opportunity to be all they were created to be and contribute to society in a way that fits with who they are. I learned that there were far too many people still living in a “separate” world, as I had done.

Upon reviewing YWCA McLean County’s history, there are some real shining moments. In the late ’40s, YWCA members, including the only African-American board member, held sit-ins at area “whites only” restaurants, including the YWCA’s own tea room. In 1952, we invited the Director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations to discuss a race riot in Cicero that happened when an African-American family moved into the all-white community. In 1955, YWCA McLean County named our first African-American Board President. Recently, we have sponsored summits on racial justice, held study circles to educate people, and participated in “Not In Our Town” events to send the message that hatred and intolerance is not welcomed in this community. We hosted a racial justice council where area agencies and people interested in the issues could come to share ideas and tell their stories.

But the work has just begun. A local radio station is doing a series of interviews entitled “In Their Own Words.” The series was inspired by interviews conducted by Zora Neale Hurston in the 1930s. Hurston traveled throughout the South inviting Black Americans to share their experiences, memories and aspirations. The local radio station is asking people of color in our community to do the same. A handful of the stories have aired and the experiences are not all positive. There is still a divide in our community and society. Women and people of color have so many stories about their individual and group experiences that need to be heard. Given the diversity of our community, there are numerous opportunities to learn and grow.

It makes me sad to look back over my life and realize the opportunities I have missed because I was afraid to get to know people that were “different” from me. The precious relationships that I have with other women and  people of color have enriched my life so much, and I know my life would have been much fuller if it had been populated with a variety of people.

If I had begun, at an early age, to learn about the historical accomplishments and contributions of women and people of color, respect and appreciation could have grown along with my knowledge. Relationships would have been established through common interests and curiosity about the stories of others. I would have learned what it is like to live in another person’s world. I would have discovered that we share some basic human values, and that attitudes are often shaped by our personal experiences. It might even have resulted in our worlds coming closer together. I know it would have given me more confidence to follow my dreams, and more courage to be myself, rather than the girl/woman others expected me to be. I would have spent my time and energy working for positive change in the world, rather turning myself inside out to please other people. I want today’s children to have the opportunity to see into other worlds, broaden their own, and know the people that inhabit their world. And I want them to be all they are created to be, because that makes this a better place for all of us.

Norene Ball is the Director of Hallmark Programs for YWCA McLean County, Illinois.  She grew up in northern Illinois, but has lived in Bloomington, Illinois since 1979.  She has received the Illinois Municipal Human Relations Association Award and the Baha’i Light of Unity Award.

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Women at the Forefront of Change: The YWCA One Imperative

By Desiree Hoffman
Director of Advocacy, YWCA USA

In honor of Black History Month, I was pleased to have the opportunity to interview a true YWCA leader: Mary Douglas, a 40-year YWCA veteran and advocate. She was present during one of the YWCA’s most historic moments; she shares her reflections below.

1) Tell me: how did you get involved in the YWCA? What positions have you held?

Mary Douglas

Mary Douglas

In the 1960s, I was going through a divorce and my first job was with YWCA in Wisconsin as a program director. I continued to hone my empowerment tools that had already been in the making as an independent professional working for an insurance company as a student at University of Wisconsin prior to this position. Within a couple of years, my brother and family moved to California. I decided to follow suit, and I first became a volunteer with small YWCA in Glendora that is no longer there. I became the Secretary of the Board, then Treasurer, and eventually became the President.  Then I decided to leave real estate, and I landed a position as a Program Director at the YWCA Pasadena. After that, I became the Executive Director in Orange County for 17 years.

Collectively, I was with the YWCA almost 40 years. I was also on the National YWCA Inaugural Board after the Change Initiative, and served on the Nominating Committee.

2) Black History Month is coming to a close. Do you think everyone should celebrate it?

Absolutely. I had such an awakening in my own life. Growing up in a segregated community, the only black people I saw growing up were stewards on the train in Green Bay, Wisconsin. That was a point in history, in the early 1930s, when there were also Polish and Jewish sections – it was very segregated. I am very happy to say I grew up into a passionate, open-minded person dedicated to fighting for the rights of all.

3) In the YWCA’s history, we were the first to hold an interracial meeting in 1915 in Kentucky. The Atlanta YWCA cafeteria opened to African Americans in 1960, becoming the city’s first integrated public dining facility, and in 1970 we adopted the One Imperative: “To thrust our collective power towards the elimination of racism, wherever it exists, by any means necessary.” Why has the YWCA been at the forefront of racial justice and women’s issues?

I think that the YWCA has been at forefront because it is WOMEN, women caring for women. When we talk about all the YWCA programs we have, we have to remember the precious words of our mission statement, of empowering women and girls and eliminating racism, and think about what it really means. A long time ago, I started thinking about women in my own neighborhood and women all around the world. We are only strong as our weakest link. The focus has to be about women caring for women and helping one another.

4) You had mentioned to me previously that you attended the 1970 Convention when we adopted the One Imperative. What did it feel like to be a part of the movement at that time? What conversations do you most remember?

For me, it ran the gamut. There were 500 Black women gathering at the Convention who brought forward the resolution of the One Imperative. My recollection is that there were 2,700 in that convention, and probably 1,500 of those women were voting delegates. That was my first convention. I was 41 years old and was in Houston, Texas for the Convention, far away from California. It was the first time I left my children for an entire week.

You could feel an undercurrent happening. I was trying so hard to learn and get to know other women. You know that feeling, when you are in a room and can feel things going on. We knew something was happening. There were conversations swirling about how one woman who had a nervous breakdown, emotions were running so high.

I remember how you had said it was like a pressure cooker. After all the years/decades of things building up, this was a place where it could either be pushed under rug or come to the surface.

That is a perfect way to describe it. I remember Helen Claytor, the first Black president of National YWCA. Her words felt good to me — to hear a Black woman want to be a leader of all of us was amazing. The one thing I remember so clearly was hearing her talk about her concern for change, and then speaking to the need for self-determination in meeting the needs of different groups in that Convention Hall. I can still see her face and hear her words to this very day. I felt as if she was encouraging everyone to listen and understand this resolution.

There were students of the YWCA, young women committed to action who were very much a part of it, and other white women who were a part of it. I shiver still thinking about the end of the Convention where we all held white candles and walked out into the darkness. We sang, “We Shall Overcome.” I still get choked up.

5) How was the adoption of the One Imperative received? 

The One Imperative was voted for almost unanimously. In the past, the protocol was to have all associations chew on a resolution for a year before the Convention, and the Black Women’s Caucus brought the Resolution up during the Convention. I assume many women were working on it before the Convention. Before the Convention, Dr. Dorothy Height was working with women in the North and South to bring them together. This was all working towards that end.

6) You had mentioned you had an opportunity to meet Dr. Dorothy Height. What was that like?

I treasured every minute I was able to be a part of meetings with Dr. Height. What a teacher, oh my goodness! Her passion for bringing women together was incredible.  Helping us to see one another and be a part of one another. It was incredible.

7) What kinds of current initiatives do you think that the YWCA can undertake to achieve its mission of eliminating racism and empowering women?

As much as I have really struggled with technology and accepting my age as I am, I still think the greatest change comes about is when women come together physically. When we are able to see one another and talk with one another. It is when the greatest possibility of focusing on what women need comes about. We have all these reports, emails, and blogs and everything else, and this can help. But if you really want action and long lasting change, you need to bring women together.

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Gen. Cadoria is a pioneer of our lifetime

By Kris Kieper
Chief Executive Officer, YWCA of Rockford

Kris Kieper

Kris Kieper

February and March are reflective months for me as both provide insight and inspiration for the work of the YWCA Rockford; February is Black History month, which leads into Women’s History month in March.

There are so many women in history we’ve never heard of, never celebrated their efforts and impact on our world today. As guilty as historians have been of neglecting women in history, they’ve been even more neglectful to women of color.

While we all learned of Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, there are other notable African-American women whose names rarely come to light. Women like C.J. Walker, who after her husband’s lynching created a specialty hair line and became the first self-made female millionaire in the U.S.

Or Charlotte Hawkins Brown, who in 1902 founded the Palmer Institute for African-American students; the school ran for 60 years and now houses a museum that explores the history of African-American women and education.

Thinking through the neglectful history brought to mind a woman of a more recent time, a woman I had the pleasure of knowing but didn’t fully appreciate until later. We don’t necessarily think of legends living in our own time, so it wasn’t until recently that I began to think of her as such.

Gen. Cadoria (via USS KIDD)

Gen. Cadoria (via USS KIDD)

I would wager few know the name Sheridan Cadoria, and she probably doesn’t realize the long-term impact she has had on young women, especially young women of color. I had the absolute pleasure of working with her in Washington, D.C. I knew her then as Gen. Cadoria. She was one of the most elegant women I’d ever met, softly spoken, encouraging and always smiling. You’d have been a fool to allow the soft, southern accent and expertly coiffed hair fool you; she had a backbone of steel, commanded attention, and was a pioneer for women and African Americans in the armed forces.

Gen. Cadoria grew up in the South during a time of intense segregation and Jim Crow laws; she entered the Women’s Army Corps in 1961 as a first lieutenant but couldn’t serve as a platoon leader because she was black. From Fort McClellan, Ala., to Vietnam to the Pentagon to the White House and many posts in between, she navigated a highly decorated military career of “firsts” that is impressive: she was the first African-American woman selected to attend the U.S. Army Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the first African-American woman to attend the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Army.

Gen. Cadoria was one of the first women to serve as a military police officer, the first woman to command an all-male battalion, and was the first woman to lead a criminal investigation brigade. In 1985, she became the first African-American woman to serve as a director for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After 29 years of service, Gen. Cadoria retired in 1990. At the time, she was the highest ranking African-American woman in the United States armed forces and one of only four female generals in the U.S. Army.

There are so many people Gen. Cadoria influenced; so many that I’m sure today, she’d never remember most of us. I’m proud to recognize a pioneer of our lifetime, and I’m honored to have benefitted from her encouragement and mentorship.

Kris Kieper is chief executive officer of the YWCA of Rockford and a community member of the Rockford Register Star Editorial Board.

Article published in the Rockford Register Star

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Helen Claytor: A YWCA Leader and Inspiration

By Heather Colletto 
Development and Communications Coordinator
YWCA West Central Michigan

Heather Colletto

Heather Colletto

It was a bit of a scandal, to say the least. When Helen Claytor was elected as the YWCA West Central Michigan’s (then the Grand Rapids YWCA) first African American board president in 1949, three board members resigned in protest. Thankfully, the remaining members reflected the YW’s forward thinking on civil rights. Even then, Helen was more than qualified to lead the association on a mission to empower women of all races.

Helen’s parents led by example. When their family was building a home in an all-white neighborhood of Minneapolis, neighbors tried desperately to purchase the home to prevent her family from moving in. As their offers went up and up, Helen’s father replied, “There is no amount of money you can offer because my principles are not for sale.”

Helen was unable to find a job with her teaching degree from the University of Minnesota position because of racist hiring practices. Instead, she took a job with the YWCA, having grown up participating in its girls’ programs throughout her childhood and teen years.

Helen eventually became the YWCA Secretary for Interracial Education. In 1942, she spoke in Grand Rapids about the organization’s role in the war effort. The West Michigan city would become her permanent home after that trip led to her “love at first sight” meeting with Dr. Robert Claytor, a pioneer in his own right as the first African American doctor employed at local St. Mary’s Hospital.

Helen Claytor

Helen Claytor

When the newlywed Claytors went to purchase a home together, the realtor only showed them homes in all-black areas of town, so they eventually purchased a “for sale by owner” home in a neighborhood of their choosing. When the all-white neighborhood protested, the Claytors moved in anyway (though the previous owners did try to rescind on the sale when they learned their buyers were black). The Claytors made friends with everyone on the block, making waves of change one person at a time.

Helen also brought about change in ways that affected the entire city. She led the 1950s Grand Rapids Human Relations Study Commission to explore improving race relations; she led a similar committee in the 1960s to make recommendations for integrating the 1960s Grand Rapids public schools. Helen was here when we integrated our services, years before the U.S. military and the national baseball league. In fact, our public pool was the first to be racially integrated in the area.

Though Helen eventually served as the first African American board president for the national YWCA and traveled across continents with the YWCA World Council, she never forgot her early days in the YWCA girls’ programs. In her final years, Helen supported our association’s national affiliation with Girls Incorporated®, preventing vulnerability in girls by teaching them ways to be “strong, smart, and bold” in after-school, classroom, and summer camp programs.

When Helen died at age 98 in 2005, she left a legacy of graceful determination to bring racial equality everywhere she went, from Michigan to the rest of the world.

Heather Colletto is the YWCA West Central Michigan’s Development and Communications Coordinator. Like Helen, she is a Grand Rapids transplant because of love.

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York YWCA: Icons of Black History

By Yvette Davis and Roberta Geidner

February is Black History Month, a time to honor the rich history and contributions of the innumerable African-Americans who have risen from adversity in order to contribute
knowledge, skills and inventions to American society and beyond. African-American history is one filled with stories of people who have thrived in spite of decades of slavery, legalized segregation and systemic racism.

Black History Month was first established in the 1920s to encourage the coordinated teaching of the history of African-Americans, who are too often overlooked or deliberately
ignored in mainstream curricula.

In the decades since then, progress has been made.

However, too often mass media accentuates and perpetuates negative images of communities of color rather than revealing the truth of African-Americans’ lives and accomplishments.

We ask our white readers to think for a moment about your own heroes and mentors, and question what it would be like to have few positive role models around who look like you,
your family and your race.

The lack of those role models in everyday life leaves a tremendous hole in what could be possible in community building and justice.

Society does a grave disservice to rising generations when education does not incorporate all peoples who have made positive contributions to the world. African-Americans
have played an essential role in the development of every facet of the world, yet how many black inventors can you name? Scientists? Authors, architects, chefs, teachers, leaders?

If your knowledge of African-American history is a little less than stellar, then the YWCA
York’s Racial Justice Committee invites you to come learn with us: throughout Black History Month, the Racial Justice Committee has honored one icon a day via social media. We have honored some of the better-known icons, but we also touched upon those less familiar unsung heroes, as well.

For us at YWCA York, the importance of Black History Month goes beyond the month of February into every day of our lives.

We dream of a time when the wealth of African-American history is so ingrained
in our mainstream learning that a special commemorative month will be unnecessary.

Until then, please join us at YWCA York’s website, and click on the
Facebook logo.

We also urge you to visit our website and consider taking the pledge to end racism in
your life.

Together we can change our world for all humanity by celebrating the richness that diversity brings to our community.

The Rev. Yvette Davis is chairperson of the YWCA York Racial Justice Committee. Roberta Geidner is CEO of the YWCA York.

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What’s In It for Me? Strengthening Your YWCA Network

By Sarah Raser
Development Officer and Volunteer Coordinator
YWCA of Minneapolis

Our new YWCA USA CEO, Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D., visited the YWCA of Minneapolis during a recent visit to Minnesota. She shared her vision to find new ways to connect the YWCAs from across the country, and to infuse new energy into the national YWCA movement. I am so inspired by her vision and have been waiting for an excuse to connect with my YWCA colleagues around the country in meaningful ways.

Six summers ago (having worked at the YWCA in Minneapolis for less than a year), I was walking around Montreal with my now-husband on our very first real vacation together. I still remember walking past their YWCA. Then, on the last day of our honeymoon several years later, as we wandered around San Francisco, I got a photo of myself in front of that YWCA (looking rather wind-blown). But I didn’t go in. I didn’t say hello. I didn’t have the courage to connect.

Our YWCA vision of cross-country connection gives me that excuse – that courage – to reach out to my peers from the east and west coasts, and from north to south. Through an online platform, I now have the opportunity to learn best practices, ask questions, and form relationships with my fellow YWCA colleagues. I also had the privilege of being part of a highly-engaged team of young women who are strategizing and shaping the future of the YWCA.

As I continue to expand my network within the young professional community here in Minneapolis, the same question keeps coming up, time and time again: What’s in it for me? Research indicates that Millennials and Gen X-ers, like myself, are more interested in engaging with nonprofits who really show us how our contributions of time, talents and dollars make a difference. We want to grow through our involvement with the organizations that we hold closest to our hearts.

Simply said: we want more.

Sarah Raser

Sarah Raser

For example, one of the strongest assets of the YWCA of Minneapolis is our leadership, both the inspiring Vice Presidents within the organization and our smart, well-connected, all-female Board of Directors. The GenYWCA committee, a group of passionate young professionals in Minneapolis, has been strategizing around how to better connect GenYWCA with the leadership of the YWCA – how to provide opportunities to network with and receive informal mentorship from our powerful group of women leaders.

This is the type of work that YWCA USA’s network of young YWCA leaders wants to do as well. By bringing the younger generations of our organization’s leadership together, no matter where they live, the national YWCA will be able to provide specific trainings, conversations and resources to help us grow personally and professionally as employees and volunteers of the YWCA.

Those of us who provide direct services to local communities can sometimes lose sight of the larger movement with which we are connected. Reaching out and engaging your network is truly energizing. Sharing with and learning from my counterparts at other YWCAs reminds me that I am working in solidarity with advocates across the country – and that is a great and powerful thing.

Sarah Raser has been at the YWCA of Minneapolis for nearly seven years, first as the Development Assistant and currently as the Development Officer and Volunteer Coordinator. In her time at the YWCA, she has launched GenYWCA, a young professionals group for the YWCA of Minneapolis, continues to grow a robust multi-channeled giving campaign, and manages many aspects of the YWCA’s three signature events.

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Women Veterans Partner with YWCA of Alaska

By Diane Kaplan, President and CEO
Rasmuson Foundation

In the summer of 2012, I was privileged to be a fly on the wall during a conversation between Mary Louise Rasmuson and several Alaska women veterans. At the time, Mary Louise, who served as head of the Women’s Army Corps (WACS) in the Eisenhower/Kennedy days and on the Rasmuson Foundation board for 50 years, was 101 years old. The women were members of the emerging Alaska Veterans Organization for Women (AVOW) organization, led by founder Vanessa Meade.

Mary Louise Rasmuson shared stories with members of the Alaska Veterans Organization for Women in 2012.

Mary Louise Rasmuson shared stories with members of the Alaska Veterans Organization for Women in 2012.

The conversation was exciting. The AVOW members asked question after question about Mary Louise’s experience in the service from World War II through the sixties. And Mary Louise asked the women about which branch they were affiliated with, what rank they had achieved, and details of their service. At the end of the discussion, Mary Louise expressed her appreciation to the women for establishing a resource for Alaska’s women veterans, and surprise there were so many (est. 12,000.) She invited the women to come see her again when they had determined how she could best assist in their efforts. A month later Mary Louise Rasmuson passed away. An all-woman color guard attended at her funeral.

Soon after that, the YWCA of Alaska embraced the emerging organization, inviting AVOW to become a program of the Y. And months later, Rasmuson Foundation established the Alaska Women Veterans Endowed Fund at the Alaska Community Foundation, designating the AVOW group as the initial beneficiary of fund earnings.

Today, fewer than a quarter of Alaska’s veterans are seeking services from the VA. Many don’t even THINK of themselves as veterans. On January 22, I had a chance to attend a very special gathering. The Alaska director of the Veterans Administration, Susan Yeager, the first woman to hold that position, announced that Konstanse K. Shuey, Alaska VA Patient Relation Assistance, would be moving into a new office at the YWCA and begin working as the Alaska VA Women Outreach Liaison. This unique partnership between the VA and YWCA will provide Alaska’s women veterans with a pathway towards accessing the services they have earned.

Cross-posted with permission from the Rasmuson Foundation

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Passing the Torch, Blazing the Trail: National Girls & Women in Sports Day 2014

By Shellie Pfohl
Executive Director, President’s Council on Fitness, Sport & Nutrition

Today, people from all 50 states will celebrate the 28th Annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. This year’s theme, “Passing the Torch, Blazing the Trail,” is particularly pertinent because we are two days away from the Opening Ceremonies of the Sochi Olympics. More than 100 of our 230 winter Olympians traveling to Sochi are females; in London in 2012, the U.S. sent more female than male athletes to participate in the Games. In fact, many referred to London 2012 as “the Women’s Olympics,” because it was the first time that women competed in all of the same sports as men, for 302 total medal events.

Along with the great strides that have been made in the U.S. and on the international stage, female athletics is growing at the high school level as well. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, only one in 27 high school girls participated in athletics. Now, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, one in three girls in America participate, which amounts to approximately 3.2 million female student-athletes. However, that number still falls short compared to males; about half of all boys participate in high school athletics. Examples like these show that we’ve come a long way, but there’s still work to do.

Participation in sports does more than teach student-athletes to lead healthy lives. Studies show that girls who play sports have higher levels of self-esteem, a more positive body image and higher states of psychological well-being than those who do not. They’re also more likely to perform better in school, posting better grades and higher graduation rates than girls who are not active in sports. These positive effects continue long after leaving the school gym: 82 percent of female executives played organized sports after elementary school. I am confident that my participation in sports is the reason I am doing what I do today.

Since kids today spend a good portion of their waking hours each day in school, the Council has focused much of our efforts on the school environment.  We all know that physical education classes and even recess have been cut in schools across America over the past few decades and we believe there is a direct correlation to the rising childhood obesity rates.

The prevalence of unhealthy children and families prompted the First Lady to start the now widely known initiative – Let’s Move! nearly four years ago.  This time last year, during Let’s Move!’s 3rdanniversary celebration in Chicago, the First Lady announced a new sub-initiative for which the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition serves as the federal lead called Let’s Move!Active Schools.

Let’s Move! Active Schools encourages physical educators, parents, and community leaders to become champions for schools and create early, positive experiences for all students. It is our goal to make physical activity part of their daily lives. If we do this, generations of young people across America will begin to adopt healthy habits that last a lifetime. This is just one program we hope will help make a difference but we also know we are not there yet. It will take a collective effort from all of us to create even more opportunities for girls across the nation to achieve 60 minutes or more of physical activity a day where they live, learn and play.

Sports for all remains an important goal that we must work together to achieve. With more female athletes becoming America’s leaders every day, the health and prosperity of our nation depends on it!

Cross-posted with permission from

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YWCA AmeriCorps Members Honor MLK with Day Of Service

By Travis Swinford and Patrick Bradford
YWCA Central Alabama

AC-MLK 2_0On January 20, the YWCA’s AmeriCorps members spent their Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national day of community service. The 33 members, along with the support of volunteers, including the YWCA’s new CEO Yolanda Sullivan, worked together to enhance the beauty and vitality of the historic Woodlawn community in honor of King’s legacy of service for the sake of others. The AmeriCorps members’ service also contributed to the ongoing effort of the YWCA’s YWoodlawn Revitalization Project, which has, over the past seven years, transformed several acres of once blighted housing into an award-winning neighborhood. The sunny weather and rich soil were great signs of good things to come.

Members shared the task of creating raised flower beds for a garden designed by current AmeriCorps member and YWoodlawn Healthy Living Coordinator Molly Gross. She along with other members built the beds, blocked and removed weeds, laid foundational materials in the beds and built a worm composter. The raised garden beds are great for a community that cannot work in the garden full time because they’re less maintenance and can grow more food in a shorter amount of time.

“It’s really exciting to see this plan go into action,” said Gross. “Communities all over the country live in food deserts or neighborhoods where there is little or no access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. I’m hoping to play a part in changing that for the Woodlawn community.”

Along with the newly developed learning garden, YWoodlawn also features 58 units of service-enriched permanent housing, a first class shelter for families experiencing the crisis of homelessness, the area’s only playground and a Family Resource Center that supports the neighborhood through a range of programs for those with low and very low incomes.

Chief Housing Officer Jennifer Clarke shares Gross’ enthusiasm: “The energy and commitment our AmeriCorps members brought to the YWoodlawn Teaching Garden on MLK Day was not only heartwarming, but it was also perfectly timed! With these multiple, large planting beds constructed, the neighborhood is now able to look forward to a beautiful garden, great opportunities to learn and a renewed connectedness to healthy, natural foods.”

If you would like to find out more about how you can help the YWCA Central Alabama’s mission to revive the Woodlawn community, click here.

Travis Swinford is a graduate of the University of Montevallo where he received an Interdisciplinary Studies Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy and Literature. Travis serves as the Communications Specialist at the YWCA Central Alabama and is also a local freelance event promoter and designer.

Patrick Bradford  is a native of Birmingham, Alabama who studied art at Berea College and earned a Master of Journalism from Florida A&M University. He served for two years as an AmeriCorps member with the YWCA Central Alabama and now works as the Media Manager.

Cross-posted with permission from the YWCA Central Alabama

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