By Jean Carroll, President & CEO
YWCA Rochester & Monroe County
March is designated as “Women’s History Month,” and I’m honored to live and work in a city that has such a rich history of strong, powerful, influential women. Rochester, New York is where Susan B. Anthony lived, worked and campaigned for women’s rights.
In 1872, Anthony and several other women voted (illegally at the time) in the Presidential election. She was found guilty and ordered to pay a $100 fine (which she never paid). 14 years after she died, women were granted the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. The goal of equality and empowerment for all women continues today, and a recent poverty report issued about Rochester shows we have a long way to go.
The poverty report, issued by the Rochester Area Community Foundation, showed that Rochester is the fifth poorest city in the country. The statistics get worse when you look at women of color, worse for female-headed families, and worse yet for female-headed families with children under the age of five. Our YWCA Housing and Teen Services programs get to see first-hand how the issues of poverty, race, education and housing disproportionately affect women. But I’ve also seen how, with just a little bit of support and help, women can accomplish amazing things!
Each year the YWCA hosts an event called the Empowering Women Luncheon. We invite speakers to come and share their stories of overcoming adversity and what it took to empower themselves to do better. In addition to these keynote speakers, we invite participants from our Housing and Teen Services programs to share their stories. The most moving and inspiring stories often come from the women we serve. Incredible stories, like the one told by Safari from our Teen Services program, who faced an abusive household, the sudden death of her sister and then became pregnant at 14 years old. Case workers from our Teen Services program provided support and guidance for her and she’s graduating this spring from high school and making plans for college.
A YWCA resident named Dellenna also shared her story at the luncheon about her journey. She arrived at the YWCA a recovering addict who had spent most of the past decade on the streets until she went to jail. She stayed at the YWCA two years, earned her Master’s Degree this past May, and is now the director of a prison outreach program here in Rochester. She told me, “I came here on my knees and I left standing, walking. I’m fully self-sufficient. I love the woman I am today.”
I think Susan B. Anthony would like her too.
Jean Carroll has been with the YWCA of Rochester and Monroe County since 1985, as its controller. She became the President and CEO in 1995. She is known for her strategic planning skills and her passion to improve the lives of women and girls, especially those facing personal challenges such as homelessness, domestic violence, substance abuse or teen pregnancy.