Next Steps for the YWCA

What's coming up for the group

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It may not be evident to those who pass by its headquarters on South College Road, but the YWCA Lower Cape Fear is brimming with ideas and initiatives.

Under the leadership of new CEO VELVA JENKINS and an expanded board of directors, the YWCA is exploring ways to live out its mission of empowering women and eliminating racism. Those strategies range from advocating for racial justice to boosting programs that help women become more self-sufficient and self-reliant.

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“Here we are in 2020: Women make less than men, and they are not promoted at the same rate as men,” Jenkins says, when speaking of conditions that “definitely need to be changed” to provide equal footing for women in the workplace.

As to the other element of the YW’s mission, Jenkins relates a recent encounter.

“I was at my doctor’s office the other day. He said ‘I kind of smile when I see your mission statement. How can you eliminate racism?’ He may have a point, but, my God, why can’t I try? Why can’t we all work together on the same terms?”

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Jenkins, who retired in early 2019 as vice president of Continuing Education, Economic and Workforce Development at Brunswick Community College, says she views her new role through the lens of education. She says the organization must not only provide educational options for its clientele, but must educate its members and the community at large to understand the needs of women and minorities.

That education is starting internally, says CAROL KENNEDY, chairwoman of the YWCA board.

“We’ve increased the number of board members to twenty-one, and have diversified the board,” she says. “One thing we’ve really pushed is multi-diversity: We’ve added an American Indian woman and an Asian Indian woman. As board members roll off, we are looking for further diversification. We would welcome applications from … women who represent diversity in religion and sexuality as well as other nationalities and ethnicities.”

Under Kennedy’s leadership, board members are rolling up their sleeves. Each board member’s assignments are matched with her interests and skills.

“We have subcommittees, and each board member is on one,” she explains. “Our community outreach committee has been renamed the advocacy and social justice committee. We are advocating in ways such as getting our voices in front of policymakers where there is injustice. The committee is looking to expand its activities into Columbus and Pender counties. (Members) are coming up with three key things they want to achieve over the next three years.”

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Both Jenkins and Kennedy speak about the organization’s ambitious expansion goals. One target for expansion is the YW’s New Choices program, which supports women who are taking steps toward financial independence and self-sufficiency.

Participants include domestic violence survivors, recently divorced women and mothers, and single parents re-entering the workforce.

“It’s everything from confidence building to resume help,” Kennedy says. “Small-business entrepreneurship, business loans. We coordinate with Brunswick Community College and Cape Fear Community College to help women get the training they need.”

Jenkins points to data showing that women are more successful in starting businesses than are men, and that when women have control of their finances, their lives improve. It all starts with education, she says, but to pursue its goals, the YW must improve its facility.

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“This facility is not state-of-the-art,” she adds. “We can’t do some of (the programs we want). We don’t have the technology; we don’t have classroom space for entrepreneurship education. We’d like to create a coworking space for women, where they can be comfortable and share information and resources. Our AV equipment … is lacking. To fulfill our mission of getting women to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, we can’t do it with our current facilities.”

Another key YW program, its Grandparent Support Network, must meet off-site because of headquarters space restraints, Jenkins adds.

She is bringing an assessment of facility needs to the board as a first step in determining how the organization can fund its expanded initiatives.

The YW’s revenues come in part from its annual Women of Achievement event. They also come from its five-star, licensed day care program – one of the few thus-distinguished day cares in the area – and from its aquatics program, as well as from whatever grants it can secure. The YW’s donor base is small, according to Jenkins.

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This year’s Women of Achievement Awards event – which had been planned for June 4 and featuring the Rev. Nontombi Naomi Tutu as the keynote speaker – was canceled because of large event restrictions related to the coronavirus.

“This organization has not asked the community for money since we got a little more than $3,000 in 2002,” Jenkins says. “First, we need to ask our 3,000- plus members, ‘What do you want?’ Then we ask the community, ‘What would you like us to be?’”

With broader financial support, Jenkins says, her organization can return additional benefits to the community. She believes the board will develop a path to that greater support.

“We need (the board’s) energy and guidance,” she adds. “With it, this YW will be unstoppable.”

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Writer Marianna Boucher contributed to this story.

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to

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Categories: Features