YWCA and Lead(h)er Partner to Further Empower Quad-Cities Women
For four years, the Quad-Cities nonprofit Lead(h)er has spread warmth through its “Strike a Match” mentoring program. Now, it has formally caught fire with its 103-year-old big sister, YWCA Quad Cities.
The two nonprofits – which both work to empower area women – now share office space, at the aptly named Iowa Empowerment Center at One River Place, 1225 E. River Drive, Suite 110, Davenport. Leaders of Lead(h)er and YWCA will make a formal announcement of their new
match on Dec. 1, at 1 p.m., which also will be livestreamed on Facebook.
After months of discussion, the nonprofits decided to formally partner together to reach more Q-C women. Deanna Woodall, the YWCA’s first vice president of development and growth (since January 2019), works out of the Davenport riverfront location, which opened in October 2019.
“I just felt that it was pretty obvious, being two women-led organizations focused on empowering women – though our missions are different, we’re doing the same thing for women,” she said Tuesday. They didn’t know what form the collaboration would take, but the two groups knew 100 percent it was something they needed to do.
“Because our goal is the same – we want to reach more people in this community,” Woodall said. “And doing it together just makes sense. We’ve got the groundwork laid; I think this is going to be an evolving partnership, with time. I will support Lead(h)er however I can, and I know Megan will support the YWCA however she can.”
The only paid staffer for Lead(h)er, Megan Hasselroth became new executive director last January, when it was based at coworkqc in downtown Davenport, and for most of this year she’s worked from home due to Covid.
“We’re so, so happy and so grateful for our opportunities there,” she said Tuesday of the coworking space. “But it’s important – Lead(h)er has been this great thing, but we want people to feel like they have a home. They’re connected to our organization with a physical place.
“So we’ll be having our events there, our board meetings there, networking there when we can go back in person,” she said of One River Place. “Having a physical space allows there to be a space for our women to grow in. That physical part is important too, so having a space where they can go and be themselves – and also have access, just by being there, to all these other resources.”
A good number of their women (matched with mentors) are low-income, who can benefit from YWCA programs, Hasselroth said.
“We want to be the connector; we can’t solve all the problems for women. But we can connect them with someone who can,” she said. “Sometimes that’s a mentor, and sometimes that’s another organization.”
“We are more closely aligned with this vision and it gives our mission a home,” Hasselroth said of YWCA. “It gives it a place to grow and flourish, and support women in more ways.”
YWCA – which is based at 229 16th St., Rock Island, and plans to build a much larger facility two blocks away – not only works on women’s empowerment, but has a mission to eliminate racism, stand up for social justice, help families and strengthen our community.
Lead(h)er is a local mentorship program fueling career and community engagement for women in the workforce. Founded in 2016, over 300 women have been matched with an individually recruited mentor. Hasselroth said mentorship is the sixth-highest barrier for women in Iowa and is as essential as ever during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Iowa Women’s Foundation.
“They address the top five barriers for women in Iowa, and we address the sixth, which is mentorship,” she said of YWCA, noting the top obstacles to women’s self-sufficiency are employment, childcare, housing, education and training and transportation.
Woodall – who previously worked for Iowa Women Lead Change, setting up the Q-C chapter – has served on the board for Lead(h)er over a year and has mentored two women (but isn’t currently involved).
For YWCA, she’s in charge of all fundraising, getting ready to launch a public capital campaign to help build a new $9-million Rock Island center at the old Zimmerman Honda site on 5th Avenue and 18th Street, two blocks from its current facility.
The campaign will be announced in mid-December, Woodall said. The former car dealership is being torn down and they plan to begin construction on a new 38,000-square-foot building in the spring. Currently, the YWCA provides childcare for 130 children a day, which could grow to 210 in the new facility.
“Our current facility in downtown Rock Island is just not conducive to our childcare,” she said. “It’s constantly a money pit because it’s old. We’re having to put money in it to keep it running. So when we started the capital campaign for a new facility, we reached out to major donors and they said we’re tired of giving you money to Band-Aid your current facility.”
“We wanted to promote economic development in downtown Rock Island. We’ve been in downtown Rock Island for 103 years,” Woodall said. “The Iowa Empowerment Center is just a year old, so even though we’re chartered in both states, we only operated out of the Rock Island facility, so now having two centers is really helping us be able to serve more individuals on both sides of the river.”
When Julie Larson, CEO of the YWCA, hired her for the new fundraising position, they talked about expanding the organization’s reach and improve public awareness of all its services.
“While we’ve been in the Quad-Cities for 103 years, a lot of people still don’t know what we do, or they think we just do childcare,” Woodall said. There was not room for her in Rock Island and she asked about an Iowa office.
Woodall found One River Place, and they have a seven-year lease, to grow on the Iowa side of the river. “I felt we were missing out on serving individuals in the Iowa Quad-Cities,” she said.
The Empowerment Center includes donated clothes, hygiene items (including baby goods), a food pantry, and people can get products free of charge. They are now closed due to Covid (open by appointment only), Woodall said.
“We can provide them with their immediate food needs, clothing needs, hygiene needs,” she said. “Also in the Empowerment Center, it’s a big open space, and we have individual workstations there.”
They have laptops, printers, free Wi-Fi, and a job-search resource center. “There’s nothing we won’t provide,” Woodall said.
YWCA growth in empowerment
The YWCA has been providing Empowerment Services in the Q-C since 2018. With Empowerment Centers in Rock Island and Davenport, the YWCA provides job search & resume services, food & hygiene pantries, and referrals for other services to the entire area.
YWCA’s Empowerment Services are focused on creating long term self-sufficiency. This is achieved by financial literacy support, problem
solving and communication skills, and education. Both Rock Island and Davenport centers offer free assistance with immediate crisis needs.
With the help of Google and YWCA USA, YWCA Quad Cities is providing two IT training programs, to improve job training and to increase access to digital skills for women and underserved populations.
That includes the YWEB Career Academy – a 400-hour program to provide training to become web developers/designers, while supporting people with services such as transportation assistance, financial coaching, childcare assistance, and job coaching and placement.
Due to the negative impact Covid has had on many individuals, the services and programming provided out of the Iowa Empowerment Center is in even greater demand, Woodall said.
She’s waiting to hire instructors for the new programs. The YWCA got $199,000 from the state of Iowa for Covid relief, and $150,000 from YWCA – one of only five YWCAs nationally to get that. “It’s exciting,” Woodall said. “If we don’t have something, we’ll try to hook you up.”
“It’s been the greatest thing,” she said of the past year. “We just continue to do great things, one of which is this collaboration with Lead(h)er.”
YWCA’s Theplace2b in Rock Island used to average 30-50 youth a night, coming in for a hot meal, shower, tutoring and mentoring, and access to a gym and pool (also free of charge). But that’s been closed due to Covid, and they’ve been doing outreach in Rock Island, giving homeless and at-risk youth (where they congregate) hygiene products, Woodall said.
“We’re going out into the community and handing that out as best we can,” she said. “As long as Covid’s here, everything’s a little different. We recently purchased a tall truck and we’re in the process of getting it outfitted, for our mobile resource unit. It will be the Empowerment Center basically on wheels – we’ll have two desk spaces with Wi-Fi, Internet access. We can go to the clients, because that’s a barrier we’re often presented with – transportation.
“We’re creating this community mobile resource unit, that we’re taking out into the community,” Woodall said, noting that hasn’t started yet. Childcare is not available in Davenport.
Lead(h)er growing at four
Lead(h)er held its 4th birthday party at the Iowa Empowerment Center on Sept. 29, which was conducted mostly online, with Hasselroth and as few others leading it from there. From the event, they raised over $12,000, and she recently got $1,500 in grants from the Moline Foundation and Rock Island Community Foundation, to grow in Rock Island County (about one-fifth of their matches are there).
Lead(h)er has matched 71 pairs of women so far this year, and 40 more matches will happen by the end of December. There is still a need for
more mentors, Hasselroth (who’s already working in the new office) said.
“Mentorship is the most important thing women today are craving, and it’s not only the mentees getting something out of it. The mentors are getting something more fantastic out of it,” Woodall said.
“A lot of really good relationships have been made,” she said. “A lot of community involvement has been created. That’s one thing I’m huge in – being involved in our community and region.”
“We have found that connection is even more essential now,” Hasselroth said of Covid, forcing many people to work from home and help with their kids’ schooling.
“It’s going to really impact women more than men,” she said. “We have to stay in front of what their needs are – that might be technology, totally innovating things. We found a lot of women are really searching for connection and they’re still meeting. We’re trying our best to offer
more opportunities that are intentional, but meaningful for women.”
There were about 50 people at the virtual birthday event, and Nov. 17-18 events will be Zoom “huddles” for mentors and mentees (networking and goal-setting), separately.
“Now with a lot of women – with the uncertainty around so many things, so sometimes just being uncertain next to someone else who is also uncertain, who has the same boundaries as you, is empowering on its own,” Hasselroth said. “We’ve had women who have been laid off; they’re 10 years into their career, and they never thought at this age, I’d be looking for a job again, and I don’t know how to navigate looking or interviewing or advocating for myself.”
The changing economy is a big deal with Covid, as is retaining talent. If people are more connected to their community, they’re more likely to stay and raise a family here, she said. That’s why Lead(h)er supports volunteerism.
“Women gain so much through mentorship, but so does our community,” Hasselroth said.
Woodall has been a role model for her, as a strong leader in the community.
“She empowered me, and then full circle, here we are,” Hasselroth said. “This partnership – not only are we living the mission on a micro level, it’s living the mission on a macro level for our community. This is how it should be done, right?”
“We’re a small organization, but we have a big impact, and that’s not gonna stop.”
“Lighting a fire”
“Whatever a woman’s barriers are, a mentor is the bridge that connects young professionals to all the things they might need to be successful,” Hasselroth said. “It’s the idea of lighting a fire – here are these other resources, other women that are also experiencing the same thing you are, and we’re able to multiply our impact through all these women who are now empowered to make changes in their life – which include arguing for a raise or asking for leadership opportunities.”
“There are a lot of reasons this is important,” she said of the new partnership. “As change exists in our community, the best practice is to collaborate. We want to serve women; they want to serve women. We both want to address barriers to women…We don’t offer childcare; we need our women to have access to a 360-degree menu of options, to achieve their goals.”
“Working together and understanding that people have depth and their problems have depth,” Hasselroth said. “It’s rarely just one of those barriers. Besides the collaborative piece, the YWCA has the ‘Yes She Can’ series – an educational series and they’re doing that really well. I want to spend my time supporting our mentors, especially during the pandemic, through some of these things, while still being able to offer a wide variety of opportunities that ‘Yes She Can’ offers.
“We can’t be everything for everyone,” she added. “But we know that women deserve everything.”
Lead(h)er wants to capitalize on all the YWCA programs, Hasselroth said, noting that series has been on hold due to Covid.
Racism is another obstacle to women in the workforce, which the YWCA addresses, she said. “Lead(h)er was not going to go ‘and now we’re going to tackle racism.’ We’re going to leverage the YWCA’s mission to do that, to support our women.”
Mentorship improves everyone’s network, to help solve problems, Hasselroth said. “We don’t know what we don’t know,” she said. “As women, our success comes from standing on the shoulders of giants. So, we are constantly absorbing all these things to constantly make us better people.”
The possibilities for future growth with YWCA are endless, she noted.
“This is a first step – it seems really natural and appropriate. But as we move forward in a changing world, where they anticipate 30 percent of nonprofits won’t make it; we’re going to match more women this year than we have historically. Mentorship is essential and so are these other things.
“So moving forward, we’re going to continue to have conversations about how we can best serve women in our community,” Hasselroth said. “We’re gonna do our best to match those needs.”