Hello, Santa Monica! We are the YWCA. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Seems funny to have to introduce ourselves. After all, we’ve been at the corner of Pico and Fourteenth Street since 1971-in Santa Monica since 1926. But many residents probably don’t know that. And if we’re going to be honest, many probably don’t care.
What was once an organization at the forefront of some of America’s most progressive socio-political movements somehow finds itself with an outdated, even archaic, image today. In the midst of passionate protests for civil and labor rights during the first part of the 20th Century, the YWCA could not be more relevant to the community’s needs. In 2014, it seems we couldn’t be less so.
What happened? Why is caring about women’s issues so passé?
We’re not sure, Santa Monica. Maybe we’re too immersed in our own culture to see the answer. Help us understand what we’re missing. What we do know, is that it’s 2014, almost 100 years after this organization’s founding, and women still only earn 81 percent of what their male counterparts make. Statistically, women have been earning more degrees than men in recent years, yet men continue to outnumber women as managers in the workforce. In 220 years, only four women have served as justices on the Supreme Court. Please don’t get us wrong: We see and celebrate progress too. For example, the number of Fortune 500 women CEOs has reached a record high this year. It’s just hard to ignore that this “record high” only makes up 4.8% of the CEOs on the list.
Look, we don’t want to bitterly spit out numbers at you. A quick Google search will give you all the figures you need to confirm that disparity in status and power between men and women still exists. As a society, we have not yet successfully helped women overcome our historical disadvantages, so there is undeniably still a need for an agency with a passion for empowering women.
But no matter how much we shake our fists and spew data, the fact remains: We’re just not seen as cool anymore. Sometimes, we wonder if we’re seen at all. We think we’re a hotspot for sociopolitical discussion and change: You think we’re a gym. Okay, to be fair, we do have a gym on our property (with some of the most competitive membership prices in town!). But that’s just one facet of who we are.
We serve young families in our community through our progressive early childhood development program. Toddlers don’t have to be potty-trained to come to us-that’s not very common for a program of this kind. The community that develops among these families is remarkably powerful and long-lasting. Young parents find refuge and strength in this place.
Our preschool is a cooperative that gives parents an opportunity to be directly involved in their child’s development outside of the home. It’s what a preschool should be: Child-directed and play-based. There’s a space dubbed “The Pillow Room,” where children can let all their energy out in the safety of a room covered in-you guessed it-giant pillows. We also have two state-of-the-art outdoor classrooms. We wish we had a preschool like this when we were kids.
Middle and high school girls come to us for specialized after-school workshops and community experiences. We bring guest speakers to these at-risk teens to provide a holistic supplementary education that includes planning for college, self-defense, peer education, and a new TV talk show that airs weekly on Santa Monica’s CityTV and in 10 other communities (that’s a potential viewership of 14 million!).
And we can go on and on about our fantastic Housing and Education program: We give young women who have aged out of the foster care system a home and the resources that allow them to finish college, graduate with a savings account, and become self-sufficient members of society. A newly received government grant is allowing us to expand this program and welcome even more young women into our home.
Adults have a home at the YWCA too: Women of all ages and life stages come to us for classes and workshops-from creative writing, to life drawing, to cancer support. For young professionals, we have a Junior Board that builds female leaders in the community and embraces creating a legacy of generosity and change.
So here we are. It’s time to step out of our old brown building and be your YWCA, Santa Monica. We are not an outdated, irrelevant relic of the past. And we’re not a bunch of angry radicals out to scream our unsolicited opinions at you. We are real women-mothers, daughters, grandmothers, young professionals, old professionals-And we’re here to talk.
So, Santa Monica, it’s very nice to finally meet you. And the pleasure is all ours.
The YWCA Santa Monica/Westside is a nonprofit organization that empowers women and girls. Annually, we serve more than 2,500 women, girls and children from 10 communities on the Westside of Los Angeles.