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On the Heels of History: A Conversation with Ángela-Jo Touza-Medina

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The executive director of the YWCA of Greater Austin talks equality and social justice. 

By Lauren Jones, Photos courtesy of the YWCA

The Young Women’s Christian Association of Greater Austin has been at the forefront of the city’s history for more than a century, making strides to eliminate racism and empower women through its one-of-a-kind community programming. The organization, which is celebrating its 110th year in September, is led by the eloquent Ángela-Jo Touza-Medina.

Austin Woman sat down with Touza-Medina to discuss her passion for equality and the organization’s fascinating history.

With an inviting Spanish accent, Touza-Medina shares her story. Her career has been impressive: She has a background in human rights and international law, and has worked for decades with marginalized populations in both Europe and the U.S. When the YWCA sought a new executive director, she couldn’t pass up the chance to lead an organization that aligns so perfectly with her life’s work.

As the oldest community organization in Austin, the YWCA continues to propel the city’s populations forward, addressing poverty, health inequity and food insecurity, Touza-Medina says.

From the local YWCA’s humble beginnings as a Christian woman’s club at the University of Texas, to standing on the lines of history as active participants in the peace movement, the labor movement and the civil rights movement, the YWCA has always been on the right side of history. In January, representatives from the organization attended the Women’s March, joining 5 million other women from throughout the world.

“We started out as a women’s club that just happened to do charity work, and today, we are a social-service agency that works to address society’s biggest issues by promoting the health and safety of women and girls, their economic advancement and racial and civil rights through our diverse programming,” Touza-Medina says.

In the agency’s 110 years, the YWCA has left a mark on the city. Beloved Austin nonprofits such as Out Youth, Austin Community Gardens and LifeWorks Austin were born out of YWCA initiatives, programs that have impacted many Austinites throughout the years.

Every year, the YWCA serves 2,500 people, offering affordable mental-health services and trauma-resolution therapy for individuals, children and families, as well as other community programming.

“Women come to us in times of crisis, as survivors of rape or domestic violence,” Touza-Medina says. “They come for job training and career counseling. They come for child care. They come for health and fitness. They come for a variety of reasons. But they come. And they leave with a renewed spirit, new skills and stronger lives.”

In addition to the YWCA’s mental-health services, it helps at-risk youth through its Generation YW program.

“We provide life skills to help kids cope with the stress of being a teenager,” Touza-Medina says.

By teaching them life skills, Touza-Medina says she hopes these teenagers will avoid a cycle of substance abuse, a common theme among at-risk youth.

For parents looking for a new job, the YWCA is there, providing emergency child-care subsidies. For families in crisis, the YWCA’s services are invaluable.

While the YWCA has surely left its impression on Austin, the organization is also helping communities throughout the world. In the wake of recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and corporate anti-diversity rhetoric, the YWCA is shedding light on racism, sexism and hate. This weekend, it will host a community conversation, exploring the issues from an action-oriented perspective.

As the oldest and largest multicultural women’s organization, the YWCA has more than 25 million members in 122 countries.

To learn more about upcoming events with the YWCA, its 110th anniversary celebration and its community programming, visit the website at ywcaaustin.org.

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