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Leadership Initiative for Young Women Taps Steering Committee

Laying the Groundwork

The Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts recently announced a slate of initial appointments to the steering committee of the Partnership for Young Women’s Progress (YWP), its multi-sector partnership aimed at driving economic prosperity for young women in Springfield.

In February, the MassMutual Foundation and the office of state Treasurer Deb Goldberg announced their participation as lead corporate and government partners, respectively, for the project. The MassMutual Foundation awarded $150,000 to the Women’s Fund to support the launch of the partnership, while Goldberg’s office will offer its Women’s Economic Empowerment series, share state-agency-generated research and data, and participate in final recommendations.

“The YWP initiative is a new, innovative way to showcase the talent and leadership skills of young women in the city of Springfield. We are excited to be a part of this initiative and look forward to working with the young women selected for the program,” said Sarah Williams, vice president of Global Capital Risk at MassMutual, and one of the steering committee members chosen in April.

The YWP aims to elevate the leadership of local young women (ages 12 to 24) and design a lasting blueprint for investing in the Springfield community that addresses the needs, programming, best practices, policies, and research that will build the pathways to economic prosperity for themselves, their families, and their community.

The pilot is made up of two core groups, the Young Women’s Leaders Advisory Council (YAC) and the steering committee. The YAC will consist of up to 20 young women (again, ages 12 to 24) who will be selected by a competitive, city-wide nomination process that opened last month.

The steering committee is comprised of cross-sector leaders from the education, government, business, philanthropy, and nonprofit sectors (see list below). The committee’s purpose is to provide thought leadership, as well as leadership development and mentorship opportunities, for the young women on the YAC. They will also help facilitate community outreach, help attract additional resources to the project, and assist with sequencing final recommendations.

“What we know from available data is that young people, and particularly young women, are leaving our region for perceived lack of economic opportunity,” said Layla Taylor, board chair of the Women’s Fund. “While these statistics are troubling, we are excited about the opportunity to work closely with city leaders to make this project transformative for our community, and as a model for peer cities across the country.”

The three-year YWP challenges partners to:

• Create leadership and high-level decision making opportunities for young women, and reward their efforts as part of the YAC;

• Encourage the participants to become peer educators by launching philanthropy clubs or hosting workshops at their school;

• Analyze available data, examine current investments, and identify where partners can make a lasting impact;

• Create a public document with young women’s economic growth and empowerment recommendations;

• Engage message research conducted by a leading national firm to help shape strategic communications, which will be aimed at creating a positive shift from the current negative cultural narratives regarding young women; and

• Generate and fund a phased action plan for the region that will include re-granting partnerships.

“What a wonderful opportunity this initiative offers for young women in our community,” said Lydia Martinez-Alvarez, assistant superintendent of Springfield Public Schools and a member of the steering committee. “I am extremely proud and excited to be part of an initiative that will make a real difference in the lives of our young women. The guidance and mentorship they will receive is beyond measure, and we will be keeping our eyes on these young women and expecting great things from them in their future.”

Besides Williams and Martinez-Alvarez, other members of the steering committee include Ann Burke, vice president, Western Mass. Economic Development Council; Michael Clark, senior advisor and director of Strategic Engagement, office of state Sen. Eric Lesser; Dawn Creighton, Western Mass. regional director, Associated Industries of Massachusetts; Ernesto Cruz, legislative aide to state Rep. José Tosado; Dawn Forbes DiStefano, chief finance and grants officer, Square One; Pattie Hallberg, CEO, Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts; Denise Hurst, Springfield School Committee member; Justin Hurst, Springfield City Council member; Ronn Johnson, President and CEO, MLK Family Services; Rachel Parent, vice president, MassMutual, and chief of staff, MassMutual U.S. Business; Suzanne Parker, executive director, Girls Inc. Holyoke; Marian Sullivan, communications director, office of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno; and Samantha Washburn-Baronie, deputy director, Office of Economic Empowerment, office of the state treasurer.

“As a husband and father of two daughters, I recognize the importance of young women being able to have equal opportunities to succeed and contribute to their communities,” Tosado said.

Added Sarno, “this is all about empowerment access and pathways to secure better educational, social, and economic-development opportunities for the women of our community.”

Goldberg noted, when the YWP program was launched, that public-private partnerships like this one are crucial in creating opportunities to empower young women across the state.

“We truly value this partnership that leverages available resources in an innovative and collaborative way,” added Ali Mathias, MassMutual’s director of Charitable Giving and vice president of the MassMutual Foundation. “This program will not only expand the economic opportunity for young women, but also economic development in the city of Springfield.”

Even as it transitions from the leadership of former president Elizabeth Barajas-Román, who stepped down in March, the Women’s Fund has been busy with new initiatives. It recently announced a partnership with Bay Path University aimed at driving women’s leadership and educational access by providing college credits as part of the Women’s Fund’s Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact (LIPPI) program.

Through that partnership, which aims to educate women for leadership roles, LIPPI will give participants access to Bay Path’s online classroom tools, including virtual sessions with instructors. LIPPI participants will also be able to earn three undergraduate or graduate credits from Bay Path or, upon approval, credits that can be transferable to a college or university of their choice. To date, more than 250 women have graduated from the LIPPI program.