YWCA Southeast Wisconsin Leads Community in Economic Opportunity Access and Racial Justice

Impact Partner Spotlight 

YWCA Southeast Wisconsin

Nov. 19, 2020 


Two photos of Patricia Najera are framed in orange and red. In one picture, Patricia works at a computer, pencil in one hand and head propped in the other; their face is reflected in a mirror behind their laptop. In the second picture, Patricia wears a colorful Stohl and stands in front of a class of 2020 banner. Between the photos, an icon of a graduation cap floats above text that says, "HSED CLASS OF 2020! CONGRATS, PATRICIA NAJERA!" At the bottom are the logos for YWCA SEW, Gateway Technical College, Racine County Workforce Solutions, United Way of Racine County, the City of Racine and Racine Unified School District.​​​​​​YWCA Southeast Wisconsin (SEW) is part of a national network on a mission to eliminate racism and empower women. At YWCA SEW, individuals stand up for social and racial justice, help families and strengthen communities. It has been serving women and families for generations and, every day, challenges its community to commit itself to peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all of our neighbors.

What makes YWCA Southeast Wisconsin stand out among other organizations?

YWCA Southeast Wisconsin (SEW) is part of a national network on a mission to eliminate racism and empower women. This bold mission guides all of our work. Beyond working to meet the needs so often created by injustice, YWCA SEW also engages decision makers in systems-level work to root out inequities. This combination of direct service to those in need and systems-level engagement around racism and sexism is critical to achieving our mission. 
In this region, YWCA SEW stands out among other organizations as the primary resource for racial justice services and the most robust and fastest-growing community-based adult education program, offering both GED and High School Equivalency Diplomas.

Can you tell me a story about a time when you realized your organization’s impact?

We work daily with community members who have persevered through challenges with awe-inspiring tenacity. Every day we are reminded of why advancing economic opportunity access is impossible without programs like ours, such as our personal financial management coaching, job readiness coaching and adult education classes.

Every time a student shares their story, we are reminded that we provide a much-needed bridge to economic mobility. As one student shared with staff the night before she graduated:

"This program has changed how I look at my whole life. Even my mom says she’s noticed a change in me.

I really didn’t ever think I would get my diploma; I tried to get my GED for so long and would just get so nervous before the math test that I couldn’t do it. Even though I wanted it badly, I gave up because I lost hope.

When I started working with you all to start my HSED, I can’t even explain it, but I got on fire about my own future. I have more than hope now because I have a PLAN. I owe it to you and this program. I just wanted to say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. I’m gonna make you all proud. You watch.”
When students take the time to share what’s in their heart about hope, growth, pride and future plans, which is facilitated through experiences in our HSED program, we know we are very tangibly connected to the bigger picture of our program’s purpose: opportunity access. We are deeply honored and humbled to be a part of this work, which will reverberate through generations to come.

What do you think most people would be surprised to learn about YWCA Southeast Wisconsin?

YWCA SEW has been a resource to the community for more than 125 years, and Racine has been a part of our service area since 2012. Our rapid growth since then reflects not just the significant opportunities we brought to the community, but also the support of our partners. This includes United Way of Racine County's early commitment to our work and the important partners of our Racine HSED program: Gateway Technical College, Racine Unified School District, the City of Racine, Higher Expectations for Racine County and Racine County Human Services.

Our job readiness and personal financial management coaching is another essential part of our economic opportunity access work. Our services here include Dress for Success Racine, an affiliate of the national Dress for Success organization; a boutique that provides interview and employment clothes and accessories; interview preparation; job search coaching and leads; work experience; resume building; and YWCA SEW's personal financial management coaching and workshops. We offer all these services, as well as our adult education programming, at no cost to community members.
YWCA SEW has been a local leader in racial justice work for over 15 years, providing organizational consulting, convening and workshops. We offer two trainings multiple times a year: "Unlearning Racism: Tools for Action," and our newest course, "Conversations on Race."

Is there anything else you think the community should know about your work?

YWCA SEW is grateful to be a trusted member of the Racine community. We are deeply committed to our community and relentlessly responsive to the needs of those we serve. Our programming would not be possible or accessible without the generous support of the community.

In March 2020, in response to COVID-19, YWCA SEW shifted from in-person HSED classroom delivery to virtual instruction via Zoom and Google Classroom. Without a single lost day of instruction, we persisted with great purpose. Staff and learners worked diligently to quickly acclimate to new digital tools and new ways of doing work. Our virtual classrooms are full, our pipeline is growing and our work continues, now with the notable silver lining of a new emphasis on digital skills development.
Since our expansion to Racine in 2017, more than 250 Racine residents have earned their HSED through our program, and more than 60 are in progress. During 2021, with community support, we can double those results. Prospective students are invited to visit us online to get started by completing a simple, mobile-friendly interest form. 

The region's investment and support of our work is always at the forefront of our goals as we work to exceed expectations and build an increasingly just, economically inclusive community. 

Micala Peete is the communications manager of YWCA SEW.