YWCA Unveils Women’s Empowerment Program

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The YWCA Mahoning Valley was one of 20 chosen by the national association for a new program, Women’s Empowerment 360, that caters to female entrepreneurs.

The WE360 program began in the spring of 2021 at the YWCA on Rayen Avenue in Youngstown. It continued with a fall cohort that started at the end of the year.

Through the program, female business owners or those seeking to start a business got the opportunity to use Ureeka, an online platform with business and networking resources while also gaining access to capital. Two YWCA WE360 participants won funding for their businesses in national pitch competitions through YWCA USA.

The local YWCA plans to build supportive services for female entrepreneurs through its own WE360+ program, says its president and CEO, Leah Merritt. The program will assess the needs of female entrepreneurs, such as continued mentorship opportunities, networking, shared office space and online resources.

This year, YWCA Mahoning Valley will work to obtain more partnerships with national and local organizations for programming and events that focus on racial justice, Merritt says.

The YWCA is a leader in community equity efforts. Over the past year, the local organization has held staff and community training sessions, virtual lunch and learns, and an online 21-Day Challenge. YWCA will continue such programming, including Stand Against Racism in April with the national theme of “We Can’t Wait: Equity & Justice Now!”

YWCA is a partner in the effort to declare racism a public health crisis, Merritt says. The goal is to address the disparities among marginalized communities and to meet the needs of those who are disenfranchised in terms of health care, education, housing and criminal justice.

Looking ahead, the YWCA will continue its Emergency Rental Assistance for pregnant and new mothers who are at risk of homelessness or who are facing housing instability.

Housing is a social determinant of health, and by providing stable, quality housing, YWCA aims to improve health outcomes and decrease infant mortality among Black babies. To that end, Merritt says, YWCA partners with Mahoning Valley Pathways HUB clients to provide them with stable housing.

The YWCA also is working on a plan to strengthen its Y-Girls Steam Ahead summer camps for middle school girls. The organization will continue to collaborate with businesses to offer a high quality, interactive curriculum for participants.