Happy 10th Anniversary to Young Women Empowered (Y-WE)! This outstanding organization has been helping young women* empower themselves and their community for a decade and Washington is a better place for it.
*those who identify as women or girls or who were assigned female at birth
Earlier this month, we chatted with Silvia Giannattasio-Lugo, Y-WE’s Development Director, about what makes this organization so special and especially relevant during the Movement for Black Lives.
For those unfamiliar with Young Women Empowered, Y-WE provides learning and leadership programs centering marginalized young women ages 13-26 in the Greater Seattle area. The mentorship-based empowerment programs help young women become leaders who effect positive change in their communities. Each year these programs directly serve 700+ girls and women and benefit 2,000+ community members. Of current Y-WE youth, 70% are first or second generation immigrants, 85% are youth of color and 90% are from low-income backgrounds.
Silvia talks about Y-WE Magic: the type of community and sense belonging cultivated by bringing together diverse groups of young women and centering their voices. They are able to learn from differences, such as race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, immigration status, physical ability, life experience, family status, and living circumstances, and define leadership not as a status-quo structure, but as they see it. Y-WE is majority women-of-color-led, and they create meaningful and intentional engagement through culturally relevant programs supported by committed adult women mentors who participate in program activities alongside young women. Mentors model positive risk-taking and a willingness to be transformed which, also helps cultivate a deep sense of community.
Y-WE removes barriers to participation by making all programs 100% free and providing transportation and healthy meals to allow the girls to be fully present. From Nature Connections programs to Y-WE Lead girls are experiencing new things such as rock climbing, poetry writing, art, and performance together, allowing them to be vulnerable in front of one another. This creates trust, a sense of belonging, and self confidence to know that if they can learn this new challenging skill here, they can go out and accomplish anything.”The young women develop confident self-expression and mutual understanding through creative workshops, trainings, and community conversations. Youth learn to speak about their beliefs and find ways to help their communities.”
In 2020-21 Y-WE is most excited about the conversations on racial injustice that communities and organizations are now having during the Movement for Black Lives. But this isn’t a new conversation for them. Y-WE has been having conversations about racial, environmental, and economic injustice, as well as patriarchy and homophobia for the past 10 years. They have been doing the work. “For the past 10 years, we have been having conversations about what leadership looks like and challenging the typical idea of the white cis male leader. Being a leader doesn’t mean you have to be a certain way. Our society often elevates those that are the loudest or the most assertive but true leadership often looks different and developing and discovering what each person’s leadership is and nurturing that potential is what makes Y-WE and the Y-WE community so special.” They have created a healing community space that welcomes the lived experience of their diverse participants. They are currently watching their young alumni and current participants spread the Y-WE magic by leading conversations, organizing protests, and starting clubs to stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives and commitment to fighting for justice and supporting their community.
All this, while dealing with a global pandemic, during which Y-WE has pivoted from in-person programming to majority on-line programing. Y-WE has maintained a sense of community and learning by using technology such as Instagram Live, Facebook Live, and Zoom, and helping get mobile hot spots to those who need them. But as we all know, nothing can replace in-person connection, and the Y-WE family loves to be together. One of the summer weekly cohort programs in Y-WE Create is Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) Weekly Hands on the Land at Marra Farm in South Park’s Marra-Desimone Park. They learn gardening skills, and grow fresh, culturally relevant produce expanding food access to their local communities. Due to COVID 19, Y-WE had to pause trips to the farm for a while, and even now only four participants are allowed at a time. “They miss being connected to the land and to each other, by taking care of nature, they are taking care of themselves. “
For Y-WE and most other non profit organizations there are challenges ahead with the uncertainty of COVID 19 and the economic downturn making it difficult to plan for the immediate and more distant future. Y-WE worries about on-line learning and teaching fatigue for their participants and mentors, and still being able to support their community while they navigate this uncharted territory.
So how can we support the important work of Y-WE? Four ways:
Second, spread the word, help share their story because they are and will continue to be important leaders in racial, environmental, and economic injustice conversations.
Fourth, get involved and volunteer to help with food and supply deliveries to the community.