Class of 2024

Dalila Cardona

Chief Operating Officer, YWCA of Western Massachusetts: Age 34

Dalila Cardona has seen a lot during her time at the YWCA.

She started there in 2018 as a child and family clinician, providing therapy to children who had either experienced or witnessed physical or sexual violence. The following year, as director of Parent and Youth Support Programs, she supervised a team of 20 employees and oversaw five community-based programs.

In late 2020, once she became a licensed clinical social worker, Cardona was promoted to clinical director. In that capacity, she worked closely with the former chief operating officer to ensure that every YWCA employee provides trauma-informed care to the Springfield-based nonprofit’s residential and community-based clients.

Her goal was to educate staff to help women and children — many of whom had experienced human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, and stalking — “transform from a victim to a survivor,” as YWCA CEO Elizabeth Dineen put it.

Since being promoted to COO a year ago, Cardona has worked closely with Dineen and the chief financial officer to oversee an almost $9 million operating budget, which supports, as noted, some truly critical services for women in need. In recognition of that work, she was named Employee of the Year for 2023.

It’s a far cry from her original career goal of being a probation officer, though both are impactful roles, in different ways.

“Criminal justice piqued my interest, but I decided I wanted to make a different kind of an impact,” she said. “There are bad days sometimes — dealing with a sexual assault, and seeing that it’s a kid, 10 years old … those are hard cases, but they really push us to keep serving them. It’s exhausting sometimes, but I get as much support as I need from Liz and my staff. It’s a really special place to work.”

Active in the community, Cardona is a board member with the World Affairs Council of Western Massachusetts, a Springfield Puerto Rican Parade committee member, and a public speaker around Western Mass. on issues such as trauma-informed care, human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, and trauma-focused, cognitive behavioral care for women and children.

They’re important conversations to have, she said.

“I think people don’t like talking about trauma. It hits the heartstrings. But more people have experienced trauma than haven’t; everyone’s been through something,” she said. “Getting those stories out about the kids and families we serve within the community is another way we can make change.”

—Joseph Bednar