The YWCA has a long history of using the resources of Leadership Stark County to advance its mission. We spoke with some of the Y’s staff and administrators to get some specifics on how YWCA Canton’s experience with Leadership Stark County has contributed to its current level of service.
CEO Kelly Blandford Bah is a graduate of the 22nd class of the Signature Program and has found great value in having a network of program graduates, “I know if someone is a Leadership Stark County graduate, then I know that they have training and a knowledge and vision for our goals.” Kelly says that her Signature Program experience gave her “professional growth and the ability to see the bigger picture, which led to my first director’s position.”
Kelly relates how her Leadership training in collaboration and strategic agility helped the YWCA bring millions in Federal grant money into the county for Early Head Start programs. The YWCA collaborates with numerous area organizations, including JRC Learning Center and Stuckey Interfaith Child Development Center in providing the care and learning for children ages 6 weeks to 3 years.
Currently serving on the Signature Program Cultural Competency steering committee Kelly related that her work on the program day committee “is a great fit with the the YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women.” “The program day and my part in it was very powerful as people began to see where they fit” in the diversity of Stark County.
The YWCA also brought Leadership Stark County in for a custom program, a StrengthsFinder workshop involving Y administrators. “I think it helped the staff to think strategically, feel more empowered, and take initiative,” Kelly related, “Knowing the staff’s strengths is helpful in planning.”
Karma Cline, learning center operations coordinator, is also an alumnus of the Signature Program (28th class). For her, there is daily professional benefit; “I use my experience from Leadership every day in my job to help the people I work with daily at the YWCA. Stark County has a lot to offer and it is my responsibility to let other people in the community know about what it has offer.”
Executive assistant Stephanie Sweany relates her experience in the Spotlight for Young Professionals class, “I was part of the first spring class of the Leadership Stark County Spotlight program. As the program
progressed, I was reminded what an amazing and diverse workforce, culture, and history we have in Stark County. This county has so much to offer. What struck me most is the common theme of collaboration I heard throughout each session. We are a community that works together, we hold each other up. My goal after completing this program is to use my strengths, which I now have a better understanding of, to form partnerships through my workplace and volunteer experiences that work for the great good of the community. I enjoyed seeing my fellow Spotlight classmates grow throughout the program as well. Young people harness a great power to do big things. I am excited to see what this Spotlight class achieves throughout our community!”
Even the YWCA Canton board is involved with Leadership Stark County through the board matching program, in which Leadership program participants are matched with non-profits in need of board members. Long-time board member Gloria Pope (13th Class Signature Program) has been involved through more than one organization: “I serve on both the Canton YWCA and Massillon Museum boards. They have both participated in the board matching events. We have received very active and committed professionals on both boards. It makes a huge difference to have board members who understand their role and impact. They are trained, informed and ready to serve, as well as share their talents and expertise. The board matching event plays a significant role for having strong boards in our community.” YWCA Canton has participated in several of the events.
Another way that Leadership Stark County has had a direct effect on the Y’s clients is through the annual Breakfast with Santa held for shelter residents and families in the preschool and childcare. Begun as a Signature Program class project over 15 years ago, the breakfast has continued annually and has been run by various groups of Leadership program participants. Most recently it has been a project of the Spotlight for Young Professionals class, giving them a taste for community building. The merry atmosphere, festive food, gifts, and the big man himself are a bright spot for those whose holidays might otherwise be rather bare.
YWCA Canton is just one of many, many area non-profits who benefit from the programs of Leadership Stark County. The benefits those organizations provide for Stark County citizens combine to improve our area’s overall quality of life for everyone.