New CEO Christie Angel is reconnecting the community with her 132-year-old nonprofit.
When members of the YWCA Board of Directors explained the duties of the organization's president and CEO, Christie Angel realized they were describing her dream job. “It spoke to me,” she says. “The opportunity to serve the community in a different way, to fulfill the mission of this organization, to lift up the women of this community.”
Angel, who was working for a government relations and public affairs firm and had previously served on the YWCA board, saw the position as a way to use her varied experience in the public and private sectors to make a difference in the region. She previously served as deputy chief of staff and director of external affairs and services for former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. Angel replaced Elfi Di Bella, who resigned in August 2017 after seven years in the top post.
The YWCA's mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all resonated with Angel, a lifelong Columbus resident. She identifies homelessness, eviction policies and pay equity as some of the most pressing issues for the YWCA—concerns that go hand-in-hand, she says, as women need to earn a fair wage and be able to find affordable housing to shelter their families. She's currently working with the Columbus Women's Commission and the Community Shelter Board to evaluate local eviction laws and propose changes.
Angel's “breadth of experience,” coupled with her superior people skills, will be instrumental in helping address the needs of the YWCA's clients, says Coleman, who served as the city's mayor from 2000 to 2015. “Her record of accomplishments is long and legitimate,” he says. “She has the ability to bring people together from divergent backgrounds to forge unique resolutions and solve pretty tough problems.”
Renée Shumate, the chair of the YWCA board, agrees. “She is a visionary who's a recognized problem solver and relationship builder.”
Several YWCA programs already are tackling the issues. The Family Center is an emergency shelter for homeless families that offers food and resources to help them find permanent housing.
Angel hopes to identify some of the “early-warning signs” for homelessness or other serious issues and provide preventive solutions. She plans to expand programming aimed at girls who come to the family center to help them see the value of education, become more confident and develop sound decision-making skills. “The young women who come in with their parents—I want to connect with them now so we don't possibly see them back in our shelter.”
The YWCA also operates the recently-renovated Griswold Building that provides housing to low-income women. The organization spent $25 million renovating the historic Downtown building, altering its housing offerings from a dorm-style facility to 91 individual apartments. The project was funded through donations and $15 million in tax credits.
Many residents are working at their first jobs, recovering from substance abuse or mental illnesses, or pursuing their education. Residents are eligible for a variety of programs and assistance. Tenants pay what they are able and can stay for an indefinite period.
Since taking the job, Angel has spent time visiting with clients, staff, donors, board members and others. The process revealed a need to help people reconnect to the institution. “What surprised me the most was some people felt like this wasn't their YWCA,” she says. “They felt disconnected.”
She attributes that in part to the ongoing construction project that required clients to move out and restricted access to the building. She's working to reaffirm the idea that: “This is your YWCA. We do want you here.”
Angel also is prepared to help initiate conversations around racism and equality, ensuring that the process does not create a “greater divide” in the city. She's encouraged by the actions and efforts of many in the business community and nonprofit sector, she says. “We're all doing our bit of the work,” she says. “We need to come together and decide how we're going to tackle it. I look forward to the discussions—determining what is the trajectory for this community.”
Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.