By Magdalena Verdugo, CEO, YWCA Southern Arizona
This Hispanic Heritage Month, YWCA is committed to sharing the stories of members of this community within our YWCA sisterhood. We’re proud to elevate the words and story of Magdalena Verdugo, CEO of YWCA of Southern Arizona. Her impact within her community has been profound and for her leadership we are grateful.
When I share the YWCA’s mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women”, these words more than any others make me excited. As a woman of color, an immigrant, a daughter of migrant farm workers, first-generation college graduate, and now the first Latina to assume the CEO leadership role for the YWCA of Southern Arizona, I am proud, and I am hopeful.
I am an example of how programming and services that are strategically focused to support and empower women truly work. I would not be where I am today without the opportunities opened to me through such programs, and now to be given the opportunity to lend my leadership, experience, knowledge, and voice through the YWCA, I feel a sense of purpose, and I am honored to be able to give back to the women and their families that we serve in this way.
My vision for the YWCA of Southern Arizona is to build the organization to become the top-of-mind resource for women in our community. I want women to know and trust our organization and for them to see the YWCA as the organizational choice for meeting the needs of women from all backgrounds and perspectives, and to do this in a transformative way that empowers women towards economic advancement, community leadership, health and wellness, and self-sufficiency.
When I took on the CEO role in January of this year, there was no way to know how difficult this year would be. Just a few weeks into stepping into my new role, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and we had to shift and pivot in ways large and small to meet the needs of our struggling community. We became a place that any woman could turn if they needed food, shelter, or other immediate resources. The needs were urgent, and the stories painful and familiar to so many of us. The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to the killings of Breona Taylor, George Floyd, and here in Tucson, Carlos Ingram Lopez, at the hands of police officers deepened both the urgency and familiarity.
We are now administering a City of Tucson grant program that is keeping dozens of small businesses afloat, their stories as sad, beautiful, and hopeful as those you are hearing in your cities. As an organization we are doing the hard but necessary work of looking at ourselves and the ways we are complicit in structures, systems, and culture of oppression, so that we can be an active part of building a future where all of us are truly free. There is so much healing to be done, and we need to be having conversations about how we can support each other to do this healing work together for our communities and our nation.
I know that the upcoming election holds a lot of uncertainty, especially for people of color and our LGBTQ+ siblings, but it also brings a sense of hope that things can be not only different, but better. I earned the right to vote – a right that is more critical now than ever to exercise. We must be the vehicle that empowers our communities of color and our women to learn the process and the impact of voting, to not be afraid, and to know that our votes and our voices truly matter.