YWCA Greater Austin
- Number of Years as Executive Director
It will be three years as of August 17th of this year.
What does your organization do?
YWCA Greater Austin is on a mission to eliminate racism and empower women by promoting the health and safety of women and girls, their economic empowerment and advancement and civil rights. We have been doing this kind of work in the greater Austin area for 111 years. We serve over 4700 families a year in Travis, Llano, Blanco, Burnet, Williamson, Hays and Bastrop Counties. Our services include free or affordable culturally and linguistically appropriate mental health counseling and therapeutic support groups for women, couples, families and children; life skills classes for at-risk youth to improve their social, emotional, behavioral, intellectual and physical health to avoid the cycle of substance abuse; limited case management and childcare subsidies for families in crisis and training to building capacity both within the YWCA Greater Austin and trainings to build capacity to address the root causes of the gender and racial injustice from the personal to the professional and institutional.
How did you become interested in this work?
Early life experiences generally knowingly or unknowingly informs the paths people take. I am not different. A difficult, yet ultimately beautiful, childhood primed me to be an advocate for both people like me and those less fortunate. In retrospect, one might say, I have always been interested in finding innovative ways to address the needs and challenges of real people that often find themselves victims of structural violence, bias, and inequity in all shapes and forms. My career began as an Intern at the United Nations in Bonn, Germany. I later served as a Human Rights Observer for Centro de Derechos Humanos Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, and interned at the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. During my senior year of college, I founded ConcienciAccion a Spanish-language platform to promote human rights through new information communication technologies. Over time, I was fortunate to come across opportunities that led me to work on global issues locally.
What drives your passion?
The need to be part of the solution: I want to help people find their voice and their power. It is an honor to bear witness to how they grow into their full potential. In one of my favorite books, Brida, by Paulo Coelho there is a passage that says, “In life, a person can take one of two attitudes: to build or to plant. The builders might take years over their tasks, but one day, they finish what they're doing. Then they find that they're hemmed in by their own walls. Life loses its meaning when the building stops. Then there are those who plant. They endure storms and all the vicissitudes of the seasons, and they rarely rest. But unlike a building, a garden never stops growing. And while it requires the gardener's constant attention, it also allows life for the gardener to be a great adventure.”
Did you have a mentor or a role model?
My role model is my mother. Always unassuming, she is the gentle current that helps those who know her ease into the vastness and strength of who they really are. A lifelong educator, her openness, curiosity and desire to find common ground taught me to navigate rainbows of people, cultures, abilities, and languages with reverence and awe. My mentor is a former supervisor who is a model of true, honest and compassionate leadership. She taught me to give people the tools they need, get out of the way, and to let them succeed.
What's the biggest challenge in your work?
Lack of capacity. In this political environment, the communities we serve are under siege. It is difficult to respond to the cascade of events as they happen.
What's the best advice that you have ever received?
An immediate response is not always required. Give things time to percolate. Reply with a cool head. Choose your battles by asking yourself: “Is this the ditch I want to die in?”
What are your top tips for new Executive Directors?
1) Strive to make your organization an example of social justice in action by how you internally and externally operationalize and fulfill your mission. Nonprofit growth and sustainability have far too often been built on the disconnect that exists between the purported quest for the greater good at the expense of overworking and underpaying the individuals who do the work that makes achieving the mission possible. This incongruence is unacceptable. Social service providers must find ways to walk the talk.
2) Foster a culture of openness, collaboration, and creativity. Delegate: give your people the opportunity to shine. When I have done this, I have been in awe of how people rise to the occasion, problem solve, find synergies and invest themselves in furthering the organization’s mission beyond my wildest expectations.
3) Keep your eye on the prize. You know the old adage about the “the best-laid plans of mice and men…?” Well, it is true. Sometimes, despite one’s best efforts, the ball gets dropped, mistakes happen, or unexpected events derail the best thought out strategies. When this transpires - and it will - mourn, vent, feel the frustration, learn the lesson and move on. Focus on solutions. Be good to your people.