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YWCA Northern New Jersey

Creating space for women to dream.

YWCA Northern New Jersey provides comprehensive services to empower women and promote equity for all. Stop & Shop has supported this nonprofit organization through its Community Bag Program.

Tell us about YWCA Northern New Jersey.

The mission of YWCA Northern New Jersey is to eliminate racism and empower women. YWCA is over a century old and has been at the forefront of gender and racial discrimination since its inception. As a regional part of this national organization, we serve five counties here in Northern New Jersey, which are Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, and Passaic.

YWCA is over a century old and has been at the forefront of gender and racial discrimination since its inception.

Our work centers on creating more just and inclusive communities for women. We do this through focused programs centered on trauma-informed care, empowerment, and anti-racism training and education. We also engage in all types of mission-linked advocacy around policy that supports our work.

What services do you provide to the community?

All our programs fall within three areas of our work: equity, trauma-informed care, and safety and support for our community.

We have workforce development initiatives that are designed to support women on their paths to educational, professional, and financial success. We also offer STEM programs for women and girls.

We have reentry programs with clinical and case management support for women who are transitioning back into our community after incarceration. We operate our sexual violence resource center called healingSPACE, which is a state-designated program for New Jersey that serves Bergen County.

In addition, we offer high-quality childcare and summer camp opportunities that focus on social, physical, and emotional growth. The key is that these programs are intentionally affordable, allowing women to focus on what they need to while knowing their children are receiving quality care.

Our senior wellness programs keep our senior community healthy and strong. These services support and prioritize mental and physical well-being and socialization.

All these initiatives are focused on supporting equity for all and increasing access and resources within our service areas.  

What sets YWCA Northern New Jersey apart from other nonprofits in your community?

Our organization works as a companion to many other organizations in our community. We definitely link arms, but the piece that separates us is our focus on equity. We have a wide portfolio of work, but it all hinges on creating economic equity, strengthening mental health, enhancing opportunities, and increasing access for all. We provide very specific services, such as childcare and wellness initiatives, that connect to our mission.

Equity has become a buzzword, but for us, it’s not. Equity has been the heart of our work for over a century. We have strategic and thought-out initiatives focused on giving individuals the skills they need. At the same time, we are promoting strategic culture change across our entire society to make the systemic shift we need to support change.

Equity has been the heart of our work for over a century.

Please tell us a story that illustrates the good work of your organization.

A few years ago, we started a Women Entrepreneurs Program to help women who had an idea for a small business or who had already started one. Statistically, we know women in the workforce and their small businesses are very much linked to this country’s economic survival.

The program features coaching, business planning, and core infrastructure pieces to help individuals develop their business networking and relationship-building skills. We knew how important it was to put capital directly into women’s hands, but we had not been able to do this previously.

This year, for the first time, we were able to host a pitch competition. We are so grateful to Procter & Gamble for giving us $20,000 to launch our first effort. The women who had participated in the first two years of the program were able to apply to participate in this competition.

Not only did these women have the opportunity to actively compete for these funds, but they were able to keep growing through more skill development and mentorship opportunities during the experience as well. The final three competitors had the chance to do a live pitch at our Women’s Leadership Conference. This is a signature event we’ve held yearly for over a decade to unite women and support them in finding their paths. We had over 150 women present this year alongside a group of judges for the pitch competition in the front row. The excitement in the room was unbelievable.

All three of the finalists walked away with a cash prize. Everyone who participated said the process was a great opportunity for skill development. It was wonderful to be able to put money right in the hands of our women business owners. The event is about creating space for women to dream for themselves and plan how they will position themselves to achieve their professional and personal goals.

What is your most outstanding achievement or contribution to the community?

We are really proud of our work to develop women in the workforce. Whether it’s our women coming back into our community from correctional facilities, sexual violence survivors, or small business folks, we are working to strengthen women at their core and move them closer to economic equity. Providing opportunities to enhance their lives is always a proud achievement.

I’m also proud of the work we’ve been doing to create systemic change and promote racial justice. We know systemic racism is, unfortunately, well-rooted in every system in our country. So, we help empower individuals to think about becoming actively anti-racist. No matter how someone may identify, we all have a responsibility in this pursuit. I’m grateful to all who support us in this effort as well.

What do you want people to know about YWCA Northern New Jersey?

Based on the depth of our work, there’s something for everyone at the YWCA Northern New Jersey. Since we focus on equity, some people may think the YWCA is not the place for them because of how they might identify, but YWCA welcomes all those who believe in our work.

We offer our community the opportunity to not only benefit from our programs but also to give back through our volunteer initiatives. We welcome support and partnerships with those whose values align with ours. By reaching out to us through our website, we can learn how your skill set best fits the needs of our organization.

How will you use the funds you’ve received from the Stop & Shop Community Bag Program?

Having partnerships with a company like Stop & Shop has twofold value. One benefit is the unrestricted dollars coming into the organization. We can use these funds for programs that need the most support, such as camp scholarships for children or counseling for sexual violence survivors.

The other side that can’t be measured as easily is how impactful this is for outreach. By Stop & Shop pushing out our name and mission, they are helping us build awareness around our work. This helps the community better understand the services they can access through YWCA. We hope that by sharing information with others, we are able to make a connection and impact in the lives of those who need our services and support. Our goal each and every day is to live our mission of empowerment and racial equality for all.  

Our goal each and every day is to live our mission of empowerment and racial equality for all.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I hope that folks understand how Stop & Shop is amplifying the platforms of nonprofits through their community partnership programs.

There’s so much ahead for YWCA Northern New Jersey and our work. We’re always looking for ways to continue to evolve. We hope that everyone can not only benefit from our services but also join our efforts as we move forward.

Interview with Helen Archontou, Chief Executive Officer

Published June 20, 2024.