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.

 

 

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.

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.