YWCA Minneapolis

YWCA Minneapolis.

I started working here one year ago August 31st. I knew when I took the job  it was on the mark for who I am and what I care about. But I’ve been surprised at just how great an organization it is and the true impact it’s making on our community. Particularly for women’s health, racial justice, and the empowerment of women, kids and families.

Personally, it has been so good for my physical and mental health. YWCA is a fitness center. A health club with tons of offerings in classes, equipment, training opportunities… plus these triathlons, specialized athletic events. As an employee I think about my long-term happiness, and then the simple benefit of access to classes and a fitness sensibility. At 35, I feel I couldn’t be luckier to have landed in an org where health and wellness is the culture! Wouldn’t we all want our work places to encourage, fully support and actually even require us to take good care of ourselves as a part of our work?

It’s also having a big impact on my own awareness of my identity, and the way that shapes my reality. My first day I went through an awesome training as part of new hire orientation about the era and cultures we grew up in and how that impacts the lens through which we see the world. Our racial justice department leads these trainings internally for staff, but primarily externally for organizations throughout the community. They are so eye-opening and precisely illuminate privilege dynamics. I wish everyone had the chance to attend one of them and to educate themselves on this subject.

One could write novels on our ECE centers and extensive after school programming for Girls & Youth. Like swim lessons for kids of color, climbing walls and collaborations with MacPhail, girls getting the chance to explore STEM subjects and learn how to make financial investments.  All of these areas are so important to the future of our citizenry, communities and world.

But, what I’ve been working on lately is the Women’s Tri! It’s tomorrow morning at Lake Nokomis. (In fact, event support starts arriving at 3:30 am!) It’s the largest women’s triathlon in the region. This year, we’ve got triathletes ages 11 – late 70s, I think? It’s also the triathlon with the most women over 50. It’s mission is to celebrate the strength in all women.

To get ready for it, today we spent the day at Nokomis setting up a zillion tents and hauling all sorts of supplies and equipment. We’ve got these amazing volunteers who make it all possible, and who, for their own unique reasons, want to be involved and part of the event’s community. This includes many fabulous women and men who often get connected through the Twin Cities’ cycling, running or swimming worlds. Our volunteer leads also deserve special mention. They commit these huge chunks of their time (and summer!) to executing the event, which draws 1,200 triathletes and approximately 5,000 spectators. Why do they do it? Because they care. Because it enriches their lives.

My role in volunteer coordination fuels me. It is simple exchange of support, hard work, and the desire to make an impact. But at it’s heart it is community building. (And the chance to wear a YW orange tee!) I so enjoy meeting all the people who get involved, and the simple camaraderie and chance that’s drawn us together. In the case of the tri, it’s an event that brings enjoyment and a profound sense of accomplishment to hundreds of people. It’s one of those real, tangible community experiences that makes Minneapolis what it is. (And hopefully, makes life good here for as many people as possible.)

My main job at YWCA is fundraising, and it’s truly got to be one of the best jobs in the world. For the Women’s Tri, I’ve gotten to work with a special group of fundraisers; twenty-six triathletes signed up to do peer-to-peer fundraising for us throughout their training and tri journeys. It has been so incredibly rewarding to get to know their individual stories and motivations for competing. We’ve got first timers to veteran athletes. We’ve got a sister-sister duo who has set a goal of raising $2,500 together. We’ve got a mother-daughter team who also has a third generation family member in our ECE program. We’ve got a grandmother competing with her granddaughter. We’ve got this and so many more. They’ll all be at the finish line tomorrow for a team photo and in matching jerseys made especially for them. They’ve raise over $22,000 so far for YWCA Minneapolis programs. The best part of the job is getting to see all the comments and words of encouragement from their friends and family as they make donations in their support. To quote them, team, “You’ve got this!!”

A budding goal of the tri  is to attract more women of color to the race to compete. I’m really excited about this and look forward to seeing this grow. With the help of our racial justice department, we could examine in depth why it is historically a white sport and get creative on how to intentionally attract and be inclusive of women of color. This would further the event’s mission to celebrate the strength of ALL women.

I’m wiped right now, sitting at my computer, after today and all the work going into the event! But I’m plain excited for tomorrow – to watch these athletes stride towards their goals. I’ve even been bitten by the bug now myself thanks to the YW. I did my first triathlon this spring which led to my first 10K trail run this summer. I can say first hand that it is so worthwhile to set a fitness goal like that. It keeps you exercising in your life, which in turn has so many benefits. It’s also just so empowering to feel your own strength, determination and GRIT get you across that finish line. You finish to huge smiles, lots of water, and the welcoming hugs and congrats of those cheering for you.

(Another bonus about tomorrow?  Lake Nokomis. Blue waters, green grass, hot sunshine. And all sorts of Minneapolitans doing their thing: walking dogs, pushing strollers, swimming on the beach. A great place to spend the day.)

Coming up on that work anniversary, I look back at a year that has stretched me, taught me so much, inspired me, exhausted me… and rewarded me. I am in a lucky place in life. My passions and work align. It’s taken a lot of personal and professional exploration. It’s had its ups and downs. But, it’s been a worthwhile adventure. I wish this for everyone, to find that thing that clicks, and the chance to spend your days doing it. I’m glad to be part of this community!

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