New Staff Spotlight: Patti Ovalles, Chief Program Officer













Patti Ovalles, Chief Program Officer

What sparked your interest in social impact work?

College was a big turning point. As a person of color like me on a predominantly white campus, I craved that feeling of belonging, a home away from home. That’s when I started a Latin sorority chapter, not just for myself but to build a community for others like me. I discovered a passion for helping others and fighting for justice, which became super important to me. After graduating, I knew I wanted to pay it forward and be the support system I never had as a first generation Afro-Latina growing  up in a single-parent home. So, I jumped in at a community center, helping young people, especially minorities who often face challenges, navigate college, and stay on track. That’s how my journey in social impact work began, and it’s been amazing ever since!


What is your vision for YWCA Central Massachusetts’ programming in the next few years?

When I joined the YW, my goal was not to ‘fix’ what was working but rather build upon it. Ideally, every program would be fully staffed and bustling with even more participants in a few years; I dream of this place bursting with life, good vibes, and, even more, people experiencing all the fantastic things YWCA offers. It’s already a special place, and I can’t wait to see it reach even more people in our community!


Are there any unique routines or practices that help you stay creative and energized in your fast-paced role?

Staying connected to people helps me stay fresh. I’m a huge pop culture person, especially coming from a youth focused background it helped me relate to the youth I worked with (they kept me young, even if they gave me some gray hair, too, ha-ha!). But really, the key is just having genuine interactions and getting to know people. Hearing their stories and experiences sparks new ideas and burns that creative fire!


How do you navigate the emotional challenges of working on critical social issues? What keeps you motivated?

As a licensed clinical social worker, I’ve seen some tough stuff, especially in recent years with individuals experiencing homelessness. Dealing with that can take a toll, but I rely on the tools I have and remind myself I can’t fix everything at once. It’s about chipping away at the more significant issues, like broken systems, bit by bit. To stay sane, I separate myself emotionally and indulge in some guilty pleasure reality TV and time with my loved ones. It’s all about balance.



Program Spotlight: Domestic Violence Clinical Counseling Program











“I hope this program grows into a team of clinical social workers who really understand coercive control, interpersonal violence, and domestic violence. That any victim, survivor, and thriver of domestic violence have access to therapy; otherwise, this violence will persist in our culture and harm those with the least amount of power to speak out and receive life-saving support.” -Marienelly Vazquez, LICSW (she/her/hers), Director of Clinical Services and Community Outreach

Program Spotlight: Domestic Violence Clinical Counseling Program

With the Clinical Counseling Program, social workers offer free talk therapy to participants to bridge the gap to formal support.

Domestic and Interpersonal violence is a national epidemic that impacts 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men. However, it most impacts marginalized communities, such as black, indigenous, and LGBTQIA+ groups of people. These groups are at a much greater risk of violence and consequently have less access to formal support such as the legal, medical, and behavioral health system.

Our clinical counseling program utilizes evidence-based models and frameworks specifically designed for those who have experienced gender-based violence but have little to no access to trauma-informed, culturally specific care.

Licensed Clinical Social Workers on staff work with participants with a holistic approach that incorporates psychoeducation related to:

  • Healthy Relationships
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Skills to manage unhelpful ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills to help regulate intense, negative emotions.
  • Motivational Interviewing to inspire change.
  • Behavioral Activation to assist in managing symptoms of depression.
  • Solution Focused Therapy to shift focus on future goals and aspirations as opposed to past experiences.
  • Mindfulness Skill Development such as mindfulness, meditation, and body-scanning.
  • Grief, Loss, and Bereavement informed counseling.

The program is FREE and available in a multilingual/multicultural capacity, so it’s especially beneficial to undocumented people and people who speak English as their second language. The program is also person-centered and specializes in treating PTSD, Anxiety, and Depressive symptoms related to domestic and interpersonal violence.

After an initial intake, clients can schedule weekly or bi-weekly sessions, with treatment evaluations completed every 3 months. Sessions can be held in-person at YWCA at 1 Salem Square or via telehealth on a secure platform. Participants will need access to a secure device with a reliable Wi-Fi signal in a confidential location.

Participants can be referred from another department within the YWCA Central Massachusetts, such as Domestic Violence Community-Based Services or the Housing and Shelter Department.

For questions regarding the program structure, referral process, or internship opportunities, please get in touch with Marienelly Vazquez, LICSW, directly at 508-767-2505×168 (confidential) or email at (non-confidential).

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, call our 24-hour helpline 508-755-9030 or visit our 24-hour chatline at


Board President Profile: Christie Bik

Christienne “Christie” Bik

Board President

Christie Bik (Shrewsbury) was elected to serve as president of the YWCA’s board of directors. Christie has held various positions on the YWCA’s board of directors for 11 years with increasing roles of responsibility including vice president and president-elect. She also served as a member of the executive committee and chaired the YWCA’s Public Policy Committee. Most recently, Christie served as a tri-chair of the YWCA’s LIVE Capital Campaign, spearheading the fundraising campaign for the YWCA’s $24 million renovations of its Salem Square facility in downtown Worcester.

Christie is director of government affairs and public policy at Fallon Health. In this role, she supports Fallon Health’s business objectives and mission by focusing on strategic public, community, and government relations opportunities. Before Fallon, Christie spent eight years in the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office as an assistant district attorney. Previously, she was a legislative assistant for Congressman James P. McGovern and legislative aide for State Representative Robert Spellane. Christie is a graduate of American University and received her Juris Doctor from Suffolk University Law School. She is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association. In 2007, Christie received the Massachusetts District Attorney Association’s Spotlight Award, and in 2014, she was honored with Worcester Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty award. Christie also serves on the Boards of the New England Council and the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans.

What does “empowerment” mean to you?
Empowerment is when your voice is heard and acknowledged and change happens.

What are you most excited about being the new YW Board President?
I am very excited about the next chapter at the YWCA Central Mass. Under the leadership of our new CEO, I see so many ways the YWCA can continue our mission in our community and our nation.

What advice do you have for young girls today?
My advice is to stay engaged and committed to your beliefs. We need to all of you to be engaged and make change.

Who Inspires You?
Young girls inspire me especially my daughter. They are so strong and committed to making the world a better place and making sure they will be leaders in it.

What’s Your Favorite Quote?
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Candidate Questionnaire: Jermoh Kamara

Jermoh Kamara, School Commitee

What are the first 3 steps you would take to address the disparate impacts COVID-19 has had on women, people of color, and especially women of color in the City of Worcester?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been instrumental to ensure that communities of color and women have access to COVID education, PPE, face masks, gloves, and when vaccination became available, worked to bring vaccination clinics (11) into the African/ Black community. Working with UMASS and DPH, and along with leaders of the African/African-America community, BIPOC female nurses, I brought Health Equity Vaccination clinics that have vaccinated more than 3,000 individuals, mostly women.

As food insecurity became a prevalent issue in many communities of color, my public health research focused on understanding how COVID impacts Food Insecurity in the African/African American community. Working with students from Clark and WPI, we held focus groups, attended mostly by women of color, and the data helped to glean about the barriers and how to connect services into communities that are always forgotten. From that project, I worked with the Worcester Public Schools Meal Van and a route was established in an accessible area, that served over 67-100 school-aged children and families daily. More work is being done to address food insecurity in the African/African-America community.


Three steps I have taken,

  1. Understanding the barriers of how women and their households are impacted by COVID
  2. Working with women to target programs that they have identified as being significant
  3. Advocating/ using established community-based resources by partnering with organizations that women of color could benefit from. As a Wellness and Health Equity Director at the YWCA, this also reminds me of our Women’s Health program that specifically targets women breast and cervical cancer survivors. Such a program that aims to provide wraparound support to meet the needs of BIPOC women cancer survivors.

The past 15 months has been especially hard on students in Worcester. How do you plan to improve and increase access to mental and social emotional supports for Black and brown girls in Worcester? What is your plan to prioritize their voices in the City’s recovery?

I am running on my Five Point Plan and one of my points tackles providing more support to “Modernize Health, Nutrition, Social and Emotional Education and programming” for WPS students. The covid pandemic has exacerbated the prevalence of social, emotional, and mental health support for WPS students and all staff. I support the use of ARPHA dollars to hire more School Adjustment Counselors and social workers to work with our students who may be experiencing or may need social, mental, and emotional support. I also support the use of a space or spaces within the Worcester Public Schools that can serve as a stress-free environment where students can go to take a break, destress, relax, take a nap, and feel like the space is there for them.

Provide an example of when you have organized a diverse and inclusive group of people in your work. How do you plan to build an intersectional leadership team if elected?

A few examples can be taken from my line of work here at the YWCA and in the community. I work with three coordinators, Fitness, Aquatics, and Women’s Health Specialist directly with my job at the YWCA. As the Director, my team is diverse in gender and ethnicity. We work together every day to ensure people are happy with our fitness and Aquatics programming at the YWCA. For our Women’s Health programs, we ensure that our members have the information that they need to advocate for themselves. As an adjunct professor at WPI and previously at Clark and in the community, I serve on many diverse boards that has allowed me to work with different people to provide services to diverse students and those in need. Working on an intersectional team helps when goals are communicated and aligned. The need to allow people to feel comfortable to express their goals, to agree and disagree, and the ability to work with people even when things do not fall into place, rather than expressing power by shutting down their ideas and work, is immense.

I plan to be open to different ideas, to understand people’s goals and to keep the focus on the main goal, which is, to improve outcomes for all children attending Worcester Public Schools so that they can pursue a healthy and prosperous future

How have the events of last summer’s racial reckoning impacted your policy decisions? What work is still left to be done?

This past summer’s reckoning has always been a fabric of the American democracy. Black and brown people have always been treated brutally in this country, and for such, policy decisions of any public servant or candidate should have not only been impacted as the result of last summer’s racial reckoning. As a young woman who proudly identifies with my African/ Liberian roots, I obtained my US citizenship in 2016 (after fighting 2 years with USCIS on their mistake). The history of this country and all the racial reckonings has allowed me to strengthen my voice and stance on what I believe and will stand for, and what I do not stand for. I do not stand for any level and form of suppression and racial injustice or any form of injustice that seeks to cause harm to the human race.

The fight against racial injustice starts inside of us and around us. Every human being has inherited the blessing of fighting and standing up against injustice in every sector and living environment. It does not start on a big platform. How we speak and treat people (anyone) every minute and daily, is as important as marching on capitol hill or marching on the Main Streets in Worcester, against racial injustice.

Candidate Questionnaire: Tracy O’Connell Novick

Tracy O’Connell Novick, School Commitee

What are the first 3 steps you would take to address the disparate impacts COVID-19 has had on women, people of color, and especially women of color in the City of Worcester?

  1. Acknowledge those disparate impacts. There continues to be far too much “back to normal” in the language around COVID, which ignores not only that the pandemic isn’t over, but too quickly brushes aside the losses that have occurred as a result of them. That starts with actual deaths–one out of every four is estimated to have impacted a child–of which we know the rates have been much, much higher in communities of color, both here and across the country. That also, then, recognizes everything from job loss to housing instability to the emotional impacts that have resulted.
  1. That last is my second point: our focus as a community and as a district needs to start with building and rebuilding relationships, and getting students the support that they need. That is why I made the successful motion in our FY22 budget to transfer funds to allow for the hiring of 14 additional school adjustment counselors this school year. Students need to have that support available to them in schools. We need, I am sure, still more.
  1. This, to me, has also re-emphasizes how unequal access to health care and even health information has been. This may seem a bit unrelated, but this has reconfirmed for me the importance of the Worcester Public Schools having comprehensive health education in our schools. Our students need quality, scientifically grounded health education in a supportive atmosphere. We owe this to them.

The past 15 months has been especially hard on students in Worcester. How do you plan to improve and increase access to mental and social emotional supports for Black and brown girls in Worcester? What is your plan to prioritize their voices in the City’s recovery?

The above motion transferring funds from our budget to add 14 adjustment counselors is one way. I was very concerned to receive a recommended budget from administration that did not prioritize that need; it is up to the School Committee to step in and ensure that value is backed up with funding.

In terms of voice, I see two things. The first is that we haven’t, thus far, had any public input into our federal ESSER funding. There are substantial funds that we have plans for, but there is certainly room for public, including student, discussion. I have filed an item asking that this be taken up by our subcommittee on Finance and Operations.

The second is we don’t, as things stand, incorporate student voice into our work as a school committee as we are legally required to. While we do have student representatives, as required, which I have continued to check are actually elected rather than appointed, we don’t have the student advisory council required by MGL Ch. 71 sec. 38M which is to meet with the committee every other month. I have proposed this as part of our rewrite of our rules in our Governance subcommittee. I hope that this is taken up by the end of this calendar year, so we may start the new term with this in place.

Provide an example of when you have organized a diverse and inclusive group of people in your work. How do you plan to build an intersectional leadership team if elected?

I honestly feel as if this is something I’m still working on. During the pandemic, though, I’ve been glad to see that my outreach through Instagram has been picked up by students, who then are weighing in on items that are of interest to them. I think this is something we need to continue to work on as a committee as well as individuals, to move that forward as a district. I would say that I see an elected student advisory council, regularly consulted by the Committee, is a part of that.

How have the events of last summer’s racial reckoning impacted your policy decisions? What work is still left to be done?

I think it has emphasized to me how urgent it is that leadership in schools really concretely understands and takes action about things like implicit bias. We cannot run a just school system if combating the history that yields such disproportionate impact is denied.  I was encouraged that the committee was willing to take on this work this term, and I am hopeful that the leadership to come will embrace this as a centerpiece of the work of the district.

YW Staff Profile: Darlene Belliveau

Darlene Belliveau

Darlene Belliveau

Director of Children’s Services

Where Did You Attend School?
Doherty Memorial High School, studied at Becker College and earned an  Associates Degree in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelors in Psychology.

How Long Have You Been At YWCA?
37 years

What’s The Best Part Of Your Job?
Welcoming families and children being a resource and building that home to school connection. Supporting families with events at the YWCA and in the Worcester Community my goal is to make parenting as seamless as possible for them! My goal for the educators at the YWCA is to support, coach and mentor and provide a team of professionals who respect parents as equal partners that practice core values. My goal for the children is for them to make valued friends, successful learners and develop a foundation for kindergarten and beyond!

Who Inspires You?
When we collaboratively work together as a TEAM to implement strategies that help children and families succeed!

What Song Empowers You?
You Light up My Life By Debbie Boone helps me to keep positive energy!

What’s Your Favorite Quote?
“We can FEAR everything and run or we can FEAR everything and rise!”

What Does The YWCA Mean To You?
Empowerment! Welcoming, Family-Centered! We strive for our families and educators to become part of our extended family!

About Darlene’s Department: Early Education & Care

YWCA’s Worcester and Westborough Childcare Centers serve children ages 1 month to 5 years. Our programs are designed to spark each child’s natural curiosity and encourage age-appropriate learning. Group childcare allows children to learn and play in a healthy, secure, and friendly environment. YWCA Early Education and Care centers feature:



YW Staff Profile: Amanda Mattingly

Amanda Mattingly

Pronouns: she/her/hers
ICAPP Supervisor

Amanda Mattingly is the ICAPP Supervisor for the Domestic Violence Services (DVS) department at the YWCA of Central Massachusetts. In her role supervising ICAPP, which stands for Intensive Co-Assessment Planning Process, Amanda works with survivors of domestic and sexual violence who are experiencing housing instability using a trauma informed social justice lens and wellbeing orientation.

In addition, Amanda works on the DVS training team to train staff and community members on domestic violence, advocacy, and vicarious trauma. Amanda also sits on the Worcester Domestic Violence High Risk Team, the Housing Stability and Self-Sufficiency Sub-Committee of the Governor’s Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, and regularly attends community meetings such as the Coordinated Community Response Network (CCRN) and Continuum of Care (COC).

Where Did You Attend School?
UMass Amherst- English

How Long Have You Been At YWCA?
2 years

What’s The Best Part Of Your Job?
I love being able to witness when a survivor achieves their goals and feels empowered. I also really enjoy envisioning and working for a better world with my brilliant colleagues.

Who Inspires You?
The survivors I get to work with inspire me all the time with their courage, persistence, and wisdom.I am constantly learning from our participants!

What Song Empowers You?
Times Like These by Foo Fighters

What’s Your Favorite Quote?
“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept” – Angela Davis

What Does The YWCA Mean To You?
The YW means a great deal to me – I have the opportunity to serve survivors, to think critically about how our culture and systems can change to prevent violence, and actively strive to shape a better world. I am lucky to be part of a great team!

About Amanda’s Program: ICAPP

Intensive Co-Assessment Planning Process (ICAPP) is a new pilot approach supporting sexual and domestic violence survivors, in four counties across Massachusetts (Worcester, Berkshire, Hampshire, Franklin). ICAPP is an intensive, time-limited process to support positive outcomes and increase wellbeing for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. ICAPP addresses some of the systemic fragmentation and inaccessibility that impedes survivors’ progress and access to housing. ICAPP is centered around using a Wellbeing Orientation which includes building on what’s going well in people’s lives and what’s working for them, in their family and community. ICAPP provides immediate intervention during approximately the first 24 hours when a Participant is in need of emergency housing. Over the following weeks, mid-term options are co-assessed, balancing the need for assessing the longer-term implications and tradeoffs of any decision with the need to focus on the here and now. The purpose of ICAPP is to join with the Participant and their family to determine what is needed in the immediate future, without having to make decisions that may trigger a cascade of events that are hard to undo or that have long-term consequences.


YWCA Building Dedication Celebration

Consigli construction Leadership team and Linda at building dedication

On June 23, surrounded by campaign donors, YWCA members, volunteers, city and state officials, and the Worcester community, the YWCA celebrated the completion of its $24 million building renovation. The event included a ribbon cutting, tours of the facility, and tribute to Linda Cavaioli, who served as the agency’s Executive Director for 29 years. The YWCA also introduced its new executive director, Deborah Hall.

Mayor Petty presenting Linda with Key to the City

Sue Mailman, Tri-Chair for the YWCA’s LIVE – leading with integrity and vision for equality – Capital Campaign announced that it is in striking distance of achieving the $7.5 million fundraising goal. The YWCA received hundreds of gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations, including two gifts of more than $1 million each – the largest single gifts in the agency’s history.  Warner Fletcher chairman of the George I. Alden Trust and Stoddard Charitable Trust was on hand to lead the ribbon cutting.

Linda hugging friend

“Throughout the renovation, we had women living in our facility, and at the same time, we were operating as an emergency childcare facility in the middle of a pandemic— adding additional layers to an already complex construction project,” stated Cavaioli. “Their presence set an example for the children, highlighting what female leaders look like in a historically male industry.”

Linda speaking at June 23rd building dedication

YWCA’s renovation, in partnership with Consigli Construction, made history in the City of Worcester as the first project in the city to incorporate a “Community Benefits Agreement.” A Community Benefits Agreement or “CBA” is a contract signed by community groups and a real estate developer that requires the developer to provide specific amenities and/or mitigations to the local community or neighborhood as part of a project. The YWCA’s CBA stipulated that the project would be led by an all women construction management team, provide living wage jobs with benefits, and emphasize a diverse construction team that employed union contractors, local women, and people of color. YWCA exceeded their targeted goals set in the CBA.

Linda posing with friends at June 23rd building dedication

Built in 1961, the Salem Square facility required several larger-scale enhancements and upgrades to the building’s infrastructure. After a yearlong renovation, without one day of service lost, the building now features STEM-focused childcare learning and play areas, additional transitional housing space, secure mentoring spaces, updated heating and cooling systems, and improved security throughout the building.

Program Participant Spotlight: Amber From THP

Program Participant Spotlight: Amber From THP

For the first time in a long time, Amber is feeling optimistic about life and what her future holds.  “I’ve never felt so empowered before in my whole life as I do now. When you’re a mom you’re on top of the world, but they (your kids) grow up. I needed to find me. The YWCA empowered me to do that again.”

Amber came to the YWCA’s Transitional Housing Program (THP) in June 2019 after her time in a rehabilitation center recovering from a stroke. Her goals upon entering the program were to continue her physical and emotional healing, maintain her recovery, get a job, find permanent housing, and reunite with her son who stayed with family while she healed and got her life back on track.

Amber YWCA THP Participant“I just feel this sense of growth,” says Amber. “Growing as an individual, focusing on myself, and having a safe place to do that has been a big deal.” Amber credits the staff with helping her to maintain stability and overcome barriers that prevented her from previously being independent and self-sufficient.

According to THP Manager, Shimeca Wilson, women in the program are given hope and the opportunity to build their personal capacity through individualized case management and life skills training.

Using a self-sufficiency matrix assessment and measurement tool, Amber worked in partnership with staff to develop a plan to help her achieve her goals. Amber’s plan spanned several domains, from well-being to financial management,  employment, and housing. Achieving success in each of these domains ultimately will help Amber move from in-crisis to stability to thriving.

Today, Amber is working and has been approved for independent housing. She continues to focus on herself attending recovery support groups and meeting regularly with staff who believe that her resilience, determination, and personal power helped Amber to change her circumstances and lead the life she was meant to live.

February 2021 Member of the Month: Geno Toloczko

YWCA member of the month Geno Toloczko

Meet Geno! ⁠

According to long-time fitness member, Geno Toloczko, “the water is the best thing for you.” Geno was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1990 and in 2005 after retiring from UPS he found a program at the YWCA that was being offered in partnership with the MS Society. He joined the program and never looked back. ⁠

Geno is back in the pool three days a week after the facility was closed due to renovations and COVID-19. ⁠

“The low impact of the water and just being able to come and swim makes a huge difference both mentally and physically,” said Geno. He’s glad that he’s back to doing something good for body. According to Geno, he has “everything he needs at the YWCA” from the water in the pool being the right temperature to friendly and conscientious staff who are doing everything they can to keep members safe and healthy. ⁠