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Most Innovative YWCA Programs

April 25, 2013
Personal Finance
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The YWCA has always been ahead of the curve in the fight to end racism and empower women nationwide. In the early 1900s, they were already working to promote many of the values we often take for granted today: women’s health and safety, career advancement, safe labor laws, and affordable housing, just to name a few. With more than 1,300 sites across the United States, the YWCA continues to offer an impressive array of programs to holistically support women and families.

Creative and Effective Social Services

You’ll find many similar services at most locations, such as childcare, health and fitness classes, after-school education programs, domestic violence prevention, and new-mother support programs. However, local chapters often create unique programs to serve a specific need in their communities, with support from the larger YWCA organization. The NerdWallet team did some research, and we were impressed with the creativity these programs embodied. Read on to learn about eight of our favorites. We hope you’ll be inspired to visit your local YWCA, or donate time or money to one of their many causes.

Diabetes Wellness and Prevention Program

YWCA Asheville, North Carolina

This multifaceted wellness program, for anyone who has diabetes or is at-risk, empowers people to make healthy decisions. Through peer mentoring, weekly support groups, fitness counseling, cooking classes and more, participants are able to lower their blood sugar levels, lose weight and make new friends. No one can conquer diabetes without attacking it from multiple angles, and we applaud YWCA of Asheville for this low-cost, comprehensive support program. Men and women of all ages and fitness levels are also welcome to join the YWCA Health & Fitness Center.

Rollercoasters Support Group

YWCA Salem, Oregon

Rollercoasters is a low-cost group therapy program for young children and middle school students (8 – 14 years) who are dealing with a divorce, separation or blending of new families. Lead by a licensed therapist, this eight-week workshop series helps kids tackle tough (but perfectly normal) issues that occur with a changing family, such as feeling angry or alone, and coping with change, all in a safe and supportive environment with other people who understand. Although it’s not required, parents are strongly encouraged to participate in the last 10-15 minutes of each class discussion. Divorce and separation affects entire families, but YWCA Salem recognizes the benefits of creating a support group just for kids, who often don’t have same skills for expressing grief that adults do.

YWCA GirlsFirst

YWCA Seattle | King | Snohomish, Washington

Every girl needs a good support network, but not everyone is lucky enough to find one on her own. YWCA GirlsFirst is a support program that helps high school freshmen girls of color set goals, network, develop confidence and learn the skills they need to succeed in high school and beyond. Before starting high school, girls attend a three-week summer leadership academy. During the year, girls attend weekly after-school sessions, monthly leadership action days, and an overnight retreat at Seattle University. They’re also connected with an adult mentor who provides additional one-on-one guidance.

My Sister’s Closet

YWCA Central Alabama, Alabama

YWCA Central Alabama has a knack for creatively responding to a need when they see one. When they opened a shelter for victims of domestic violence, they soon learned that many of their clients fled to the shelter with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. Their solution? Collect clothing donations from the community and create a free clothing boutique for their clients called My Sister’s Closet. Thanks to overwhelming community support, the program now serves women in 12 local shelters. They also specialize in providing business and interview clothes, and prom dresses for local junior high and high school girls from disadvantaged families. In 2012, they provided clothing for 1,064 women from 41 local shelters and organizations. Counselors at partner organizations refer women and encourage them to pick out whatever clothes and accessories they need.

Teens as Successful Parents Program

YWCA Hartford Region, Connecticut

Teen moms face the same challenges as other at-risk youth, and then some. Only 50% of teen moms receive a high school diploma by age 22, for example. YWCA Hartford’s Teens as Successful Parents Program prepares teen moms to juggle the challenge of being a successful parent and student. Participants attend weekly workshops and support groups, and are assigned a Family Support Specialist to guide them toward achieving their educational and personal goals. The program is open to pregnant and parenting teens ages 14 – 20 in East Hartford and Manchester. Support services for teen fathers are also available. To participate, teens must be currently enrolled in high school or a GED program.

Women’s Alternatives to Violence Program

YWCA Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Maryland

YWCA Annapolis offers a variety of support groups and workshops to help all abusers, both male and female, find healthy ways to express themselves and tackle the issues that lead them to act violently in the first place. The Women’s Alternatives to Violence Program is an educational support program especially for women who have been abusive toward others, including their significant other. Program participants meet weekly to work through problems together, but many women also opt for individual counseling, which allows them to understand the root of their personal behavior on a deeper level. YWCA Annapolis understands the myriad ways in which violence impacts women’s lives, and we think their compassionate support of all women, whether they’re victims or abusers, is essential for stopping the cycle of violence.

Child Care Business Development Program

YWCA Minneapolis, Minnesota

Like most chapters of the YWCA, YWCA of Minneapolis offers high-quality, low-cost childcare programs for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. YWCA of Annapolis also offers a childcare business development program for Somali and Latino women. This on-the-job training program teaches women everything they need to know to start a home-based, licensed childcare business out of their own homes, including Minnesota state laws, childcare subsidies and tax policies. Program participants train at the YWCA’s innovative multicultural childcare facility that includes two bilingual “bungalows”. These two rooms feature a family setting where infant through school-aged children learn together in a Somali or Latino cultural context.

Bilingual Credit Counseling and Financial Literacy

YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region, Texas

YWCA El Paso Del Norte Region knows that one of the fastest roads to empowerment is real-world financial literacy training. To this end, they offer personalized credit counseling, debt management assistance, housing counseling, pre-file bankruptcy counseling and financial education classes. This year, they’ve also rolled out some exciting new services – financial coaching for unbanked or under-banked community members and emergency financial assistance for veterans. All services are free or low-cost, and available in both English and Spanish.

Get Involved

To learn more about local YWCA programs in your area, read more about the history of the organization, or donate money, visit