National YWCA president shares message of empowerment for girls and women

YWCA USA board president Tina Herrera at the 2023 YWCA Luncheon podium giving the keynote address

After two years of virtual luncheons – and last year at half capacity – YWCA Walla Walla joyfully welcomed more than 400 supporters to the Marcus Whitman Hotel Ballroom.

This year’s luncheon took us back to the fundamentals with a focus on being present: “Just be.”

Presence – to live in the present moment and give it our full attention – is challenging in a world where everything around us is designed for distraction.

But it’s what our world needs, people who will show up and hold space for each other.

It’s what you did during our years of uncertainty, a time when folks could have slipped through the cracks. You were present, consistently looking out for some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

Award presentation

The 2023 YWCA Leader of Distinction was a longtime educator who has always been present for others, whether leading a classroom or chatting with a friend. YWCA board president 2016-2017 and close friend Rhonda Olson presented the 2023 award to Mary Lynne Schroeder. (See article.)

Taking a “Mission Moment,” Executive Director Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin stressed how hard it can be to ask for help and expressed admiration for the brave souls who reached out to the YWCA last year. And when they showed up, there are good people, like our luncheon guests, who make sure someone is there for them, someone who will listen.

“With a mission that insists on peace, justice, freedom and dignity,” she said,  we can’t NOT convey to people: You are welcome here, you are safe here, you can be YOU here.”

LiNC Director Andraya Anderson and Advocate Alejandra Lopez shared bright moments from their YWCA work in a 5-minute video followed by a heartfelt giving appeal from YWCA friend and investment advisor Jim McCarthy.

The keynote

Our 2023 keynote speaker and YWCA USA board president, Tina Herrera, acknowledged the wisdom of taking a moment in our chaotic lives to just be, to connect with our life purpose and “unique journey on earth.”

She recommended we all listen more to young women, a population she characterized as true to what they believe, who question “our generation’s way of life and our endless pursuit of the next accomplishment.”

She urged a third wave of the feminist movement, one that values “affordable child care, paid family and medical leave…paid safe leave, expanded child tax credits, and trauma-based support for survivors of gender-based violence.”  Removing obstacles like a lack of childcare make it possible for all women and girls to thrive.

Finally, she called for education to ensure the voices of women and women of color “are represented at the highest levels of government and society.”  More women in positions of power and as decision makers at community, national and institutional levels will lead to “more inclusive policies, laws, and practices that protect and contribute to gender equality at all levels.”

Throughout her presentation she shared photos and experiences from her extraordinary career (which included shuttling her experiments to the Russian Space Station on Atlantis as a NASA engineer) and from her longtime involvement with the YWCA. This afforded opportunities like visiting the New York Stock Exchange for the 2018 launch of the YWCA exchange-traded fund “WOMN” and attending a 2022 groundbreaking to rebuild the YWCA New Orleans destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

In Tina’s long and varied journey with the YWCA, it’s clear that the challenges facing women and girls across generations are central to her life purpose and that she sees YWCA as the organization with the heart and resilience to address these challenges.

Special thanks: Early in the program, Molly Gordon thanked our community partners: one who wants to remain AnonymousBanner Bank, Coffey Communications, Providence St. Mary Medical Center, and the YWCA Leadership Circle. She expressed appreciation for other luncheon sponsors, Whitman College, CLA, McDonald Zaring Insurance, Northwest Collision, Tallman’s Pharmacy, and the Eastgate Lions Club.

She also acknowledged our sponsors who provided goods or services: Lane Printing & Design; Walla Walla Union-Bulletin; Marcus Whitman Hotel; and David Lopez, Executive Director of the Center for Humanitarian Engagement at Walla Walla University who stepped in when our longtime volunteer photographer Keith Crain couldn’t make it.

We are grateful to them all.