STEM education is an outreach program of the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh. Photo courtesy YWCA.

Most organizations have experienced profound changes over the last year or so, but few more so than the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh.

Angela Reynolds took over as chief executive on Feb. 24, 2020, just as the Covid pandemic was taking off. Reynolds inherited an organization in need of her steady hand. Less than a year before, the YWCA lost a $67 million state contract to manage child care centers for Allegheny County. And the previous CEO, Janine Woods, lasted about four months.

But things took a decided turn when Reynolds found out that the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh was receiving an unsolicited (and unrestricted) grant of $20 million from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

So how does an organization keep on track when it’s riding a roller coaster of lows and highs?

“By keeping the mission at the forefront,” Reynolds says. “I will say in both situations, it was always about keeping our mission and our mission is about eliminating racism and empowering women.”

Reynolds says the MacKenzie Scott grant not only allows the YWCA to “hit the mission even harder,” but to be strategic about its collaborations and partnerships.

“We don’t want to create anything that is overstepping our mission or was stepping on someone else’s mission. So if there was an organization out there that was already doing that work, we want to be able to partner with them as it aligns with where we’re heading.”

As part of that directive, YWCA Greater Pittsburgh is partnering with two other YWCAs (YWCA York and YWCA Tri-County Area, which is based in Montgomery County) on a joint racial justice advocacy pilot that they hope to expand to the entire state.

“We continue to see women of color who are an overwhelming percentage of those that were in need of additional support [during the pandemic]. It’s because they’re also the ones who are most vulnerable,” Reynolds says.

She adds that while the pay gap between men and women is improving, it’s still far from equitable and also varies widely by race and region. The YWCA is working with the Black Women’s Policy Center and Women & Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania to address these disparities.

Together they launched a pay equity campaign this month on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day (Aug. 3), which came well after Women’s Equal Pay Day on March 24. These are the dates in 2021 that the average woman had to work to earn as much as the average man did in 2020.

“So that’s why pay equity is one of the things that we want to highlight, not only because I believe that we can affect a change … but also because we need to be able to put into the hands of women, who are most likely to be the caregivers within their families … the empowerment and the opportunities that they need to care for themselves and their families.”

Angela Reynolds. Photo courtesy of the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh.

Reynolds has built her career on addressing the needs of others. She taught at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, where she researched racial disparities in housing and criminal justice before joining the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

That background gives her perspective when helping the board of directors decide how to allocate the $20 million windfall.

In Phase One, the YWCA will spend $10 million over three years to advance racial justice and gender equity through seven initiatives:

1. Expanding the Resource Center, which provides food, housing, transportation and other urgently needed support services.

2. Advancing pay equity, including ensuring all staff members are paid a living wage and offered competitive benefits.

3. The YWCA Fellows Program will offer paid internships to women who are reentering the workforce, including those who were laid off or had to leave jobs during the pandemic.

4. A statewide advocacy initiative on racial justice and gender equity with other YWCAs.

5. Expanding the Liz Prine Memorial Fund to offer grants to women struggling with financial stability.

6. A partnership with the POISE Foundation to support organizations focused on race and gender equity intersectionality.

7. Partnerships with organizations to help women-owned and minority women-owned businesses recover from the pandemic economic crisis.

Is it hard to raise money even with ambitious goals once you’ve received a gift of that magnitude?

“This doesn’t set you up for life,” Reynolds says. “These are not dollars that we’re just sitting on as an organization, they are going back out there into the community. We’re very fortunate and extremely grateful for the funding and the flexibility that it provides to us. But also understanding that we still need to continue to do great work.”

Some of the women who are helping to advance the YWCA’s mission will be honored at the 2021 Equity Awards at the Fairmont Hotel on Nov. 5 from noon to 1:30 p.m. The event’s keynote speaker is Gisele Barreto Fetterman. Tickets go on sale on Sept. 1 for the luncheon. NEXTpittsburgh is a presenting sponsor.

Brian brings a passion for Pittsburgh, doughnuts and ice cream to his job as editor. His more than 30 years of journalism experience have taught him the importance of community engagement and a sense of humor.