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Diabetes and Mental Health: The importance of taking care of mind, body and soul



Imagine receiving a diagnosis of diabetes- being told that you will have to live the rest of your life with a chronic disease that affects nearly every system in your body. Imagine being told you need to make changes in your diet and exercise routine, and that you may have to prick your finger multiple times a day to keep track of your blood sugar levels, not to mention the potential for a daily regimen of pills and insulin shots. Finally, imagine you receive this diagnosis on top of the already present concerns of making ends meet, being a single parent, not having health insurance, or not speaking the same language as your doctor. What sort of impact does such a diagnosis have on a person’s mental health? One answer to that question is the fact that, in the United States, people with diabetes are twice as likely as the average person to have depression.

According to the “Health of Boston” 2012-2013 report, 9% of African American adults and 6% of Latino adults have diabetes, compared to 5% of White adults, which indicates a clear health inequity. The Women’s Health & Wellness program at YW Boston educates underserved women (primarily Black, Latina and immigrant) on sustainable healthy lifestyle behaviors for the prevention and management of chronic disease, including diabetes, in an effort to address this and other health inequities in the greater Boston area.

So why highlight the relationship between diabetes and mental health?


Because self-care is the foundation of diabetes management! A healthy mind and self-esteem are essential to living a long, healthy life with the disease.

When you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. In addition to the possible scenarios mentioned above upon receiving the initial diagnosis, diabetes management can continue to be overwhelming and potentially lead to symptoms of depression. Some people may feel isolated from friends and family because they can no longer enjoy activities like before they were diagnosed. Certain times of year may be more challenging, like the holidays for example, with the increased access to sweets and alcohol. Stress and illness can cause your blood sugar to fluctuate, making you feel as though you cannot get a handle on the disease.

If you have diabetes, it is important to watch for signs of depression, like long periods of sadness or hopelessness, loss of interest in normal activities, and unexplained physical problems. If you find yourself in this situation, there are things you can do:

  • Enroll in a diabetes self-management program; they not only serve to promote healthy behaviors for physical wellness, but can also improve mental health by addressing quality of life and self-confidence.
  • Discuss the emotional side of diabetes with your doctor and communicate your needs if you are having trouble managing the condition.
  • Counseling can help to lessen the symptoms of depression, which in turn can result in better diabetes management.
  • Finally, there are many things you can do on your own to manage the stress that can result from diabetes management and life in general. Healthy stress management activities include talking with friends and family, getting enough sleep, making lists to keep organized, and practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and prayer.

For further information on the relationship between diabetes and depression, please visit:

There are a number of blogs out there kept by people with diabetes. Support can come in many forms, even online. So check out these links to see what people find challenging and rewarding about living with diabetes.

If you are interested in hosting a women’s health workshop at your organization, please contact 

Partnering to Improve Breast Health Awareness



Much progress has been made in the prevention and treatment of breast cancer, but there is still a lot of work to be done to keep women healthy. According to the American Cancer Society, 12 percent of women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer and nearly 40,000 women will die this year from the disease. (“What are the key statistics,” 2013).

These statistics reinforce why Neighborhood Health Plan (NHP) and YWCA Boston have partnered to improve awareness about breast health and bring health education and prevention efforts directly into communities in greater Boston. Together, we are committed to improving the health and wellness of the diverse residents of the Commonwealth.

As part of this effort, we are celebrating our fifth annual Breast Health Phone-a-thon on November 12. Approximately 40 volunteers across both of our organizations will call more than 200 local women to answer questions and provide education and information about mammography screenings. Callers will help arrange screening appointments, using creative resources such as Dana-Farber’s Mammography Van that visits different community health centers throughout Boston. This year, volunteers from Dana-Farber will be onsite to schedule appointments at health centers or hospitals that are most convenient for each woman contacted.

Our Phone-a-thon has made an incredible impact. Together, we have placed over 2,000 calls and reached more than 800 women in greater-Boston. And volunteers help women to overcome fears and misinformation about mammograms. For instance, many women are unaware that their mammography screening is fully covered by insurance at no cost to them, and that they do not need a referral.  

Central to NHP’s mission is our belief that all individuals should be treated with fairness, honesty, and respect, without bias, and that we should embrace diversity in all of its dimensions. We are proud to partner with an organization committed to eliminating health disparities, while empowering women to access the high-quality healthcare that they need and deserve. Together, we will continue to ensure the health and well-being of communities most in need.

Reference: What are the key statistics about breast cancer? (2013)

Deborah C. Enos is President and CEO of Neighborhood Health Plan

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Why You Are At Risk for Breast Cancer



“Am I at risk for breast cancer?” is a question that many women ask themselves and their healthcare providers.  One out of 8 women are at risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her lifetime and determining that risk is complex.  The uncertainty women experience speaks to the mysterious nature of the disease, which has led scientists to research possible causes outside of a woman’s body.

Breast Cancer and Estrogen

We know for certain that as a woman ages, her chances of developing breast cancer increases.  The majority of breast cancer is found in women over 50 who have no known risk-factors other than growing older.  On the other hand, breast cancer is rather rare- even in women with one or more risk-factors.  We also know that there is a link between breast cancer and estrogen produced in the body, which stimulates mammary tissue and in excess can heighten a woman's propensity for developing tumors.  This explains why women who begin menstruation before age 12, start menopause after age 55, become pregnant for the first time after age 35 or who never become pregnant are more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Still, the lack of full understanding around what causes breast cancer has led researchers to investigate the impact of environmental exposures across a woman's lifespan. More specifically, scientists are concerned with chemicals that mimic estrogen called endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs.

What are Endocrine Disruptor Compounds, or EDCs?

According to the National Institute of Health, “Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”  The presence of EDCs is pervasive and can be found in products that we come in contact with everyday such as:

  • plastic bottles
  • metal food cans
  • detergents
  • flame retardants
  • food
  • toys
  • cosmetics
  • pesticides

The Silent Spring Institute (SSI), an environmental research organization focusing on preventable causes of cancer believes that “given the role that hormones play in the development of breast cancer…other hormonally active compounds—including synthetic estrogens in consumer products and pesticides, natural phytoestrogens in food, and other compounds that affect hormone signaling—deserve careful study.” Studying the carcinogenic effects of EDCs in humans is difficult, so it is likely that progress will be made slowly.  Although researchers are still working to gain clarity around the connection between these harmful substances and breast cancer, all people could benefit from limiting their contact.  

What can I do?

To lower your breast cancer risk and reduce what SSI calls your “body burden” of contaminants, there are several actions you can take.  Since a large amount of compounds identified as causing breast tumors in animals have been present in consumer products or as contaminants in food, SSI lists the following top ten tips:

1.  Leave your shoes at the door to avoid tracking pesticides and other chemicals inside.

2. Use less toxic methods to control pests at home such as sealing cracks and storing food tightly.

3. Choose organic food as much as possible.

4. Opt for fresh instead of canned foods.

5. Use glass, stainless steel, cast iron, and ceramic instead of plastic or nonstick cookware in the kitchen.

6. Choose natural fibers for furnishings and clothing to avoid flame retardants.

7. Keep dust levels low and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.

8. Make your own cleaning supplies with baking soda, vinegar, and olive oil.

9.  Read labels to avoid “fragrance,” “phthalates,” “antimicrobial,” and “parabens” in personal care and household products.

10.  Join with your neighbors and friends to take action in your community and our nation to advocate for preventative education, care and research.

To receive reminders to schedule your yearly mammogram, annual physical, or to perform your monthly breast self-exam, click here to enroll in YW Boston’s healthy text reminder service.


Nyjah Wyche-Alexis is YWCA Boston's Manager for Health & Wellness.

Improving Oral Health Through Collaboration



I am honored to be chosen as one of five women for this year’s 2013 Academy of Women Achievers by the YWCA of Boston. I am humbled to be in the company of great women who are leaders in their communities and making a difference in the lives of others. Together we work to champion gender equity and leadership opportunities for women in greater Boston.

I learned early in my career that to be successful, you have to stand up for yourself and take charge of your future and what you believe in.  Women especially have to learn that, sometimes the hard way.  Early in my career, I was passed over for a promotion because I was pregnant and my boss just assumed I didn’t want the job. I told him I did. Three months later, I was promoted to become the first female regional director of the company.  It was a turning point for me because I learned that you have to speak up for yourself. I taught my daughters this as they grew up – you have to be willing to take risks, to say ‘yes’ to what you need so you can move forward. 

I am grateful that I have had the opportunity to work on issues that I am passionate about.

Today, I devote that passion to improving oral health and eliminating dental disease. Dental disease (cavities) is the most common chronic disease in children, more common than asthma. Sadly, one in 10 minority and low-income children in Massachusetts feels pain in his or her teeth. At Delta Dental of Massachusetts, our mission is to improve the oral health of all. It is a very important mission. If you care about education, you have to care about oral health; how can children be successful in school, if they have mouth pain and can’t concentrate? If you care about jobs, you have to care about oral health; how can you feel confident in an interview if you’re embarrassed about your teeth?  We are working to eliminate dental disease, which is almost 100% preventable with prevention and education. I am inspired every day that with hard work and dedication, we will eradicate dental disease and improve the oral health of all.

I am also passionate about helping women advance in their careers and that is why this YWCA recognition is so meaningful to me. We need organizations that advocate for equity and the empowerment of women, such as YWCA Boston, to help our society overcome discrimination and injustices that lead to disparities in care.  YWCA Boston does really important work to lift women up and support them as they advance in their careers and improve their lives and those of families.  I am humbled to be among the 2013 Academy of Women Achievers.

Click here to learn more about Delta Dental of Massachusetts.

Faye Donohue AWA

Fay Donohue is President & CEO of Delta Dental of Massachusetts. She was recently inducted into YW Boston's Academy of Women Achievers.


What is that White Spot on Your Mammogram?



If you are a woman over the age of 40 who is getting screened for breast cancer with an annual mammogram, your test may serve another important purpose. Approximately 40% of women who have mammograms in the U.S. are considered to have dense breasts.  Women in this group who have “very dense breasts” are almost 5 times more likely to develop breast cancer than those with “low breast density.”  If you are wondering where you may fall on the spectrum, I have a few things to share about dense breast tissue and breast cancer detection.

What is breast density?

The anatomy of a woman’s breast is made up of mostly fat along with a complex network of fibroglandular (breast and connective) tissue. Breast tissue includes lobules, which produce milk and ducts that transport it from the lobules to the nipple when breastfeeding.   Connective tissue serves as the glue that holds everything together.  Breast density refers to the ratio of fat to fibroglandular tissue detected by a mammogram.  Women who are categorized by high or extremely high breast density have considerably more fibroglandular tissue than fat.

 Breast Density and Mammogram

Mammography images that show large amounts of denser breast and connective tissues can be difficult to interpret.  On a film-screen, or digital image these areas appear light gray or white, whereas fat in the breast appears dark. Cancerous cells look similar in color to dense breast tissue, causing the effect of what many have described as finding a “polar bear in a blizzard.”   Since dense breast tissue can hide cancer from view on a mammogram, it is important for a woman to ask her provider for an assessment of her breast density.

Breast Density resized 600

                                                         Image courtesy U.S. Department of Health

What can I do?

More research is being done to understand breast density and its relationship to breast cancer.  Determining the level of a woman’s breast density is a helpful step toward understanding her individual risk.  A woman having high levels of breast density is quite common, and by itself is not necessarily a cause for alarm.   Future advancements in breast imaging technology may give physicians better views of dense breasts.  For now, the American Cancer Society continues to recommend the following screening guidelines:

·        If you are 40 or over, have annual mammograms, yearly clinical breast exams and perform monthly breast self-exams

·        If you are 20 or over, have clinical breast exams by a medical provider every three years and perform monthly breast self-exams

·        Women at any age, talk with your doctor about your family history and any other factors that may increase your risk for breast cancer

To receive reminders to schedule your yearly mammogram, annual physical, or to perform your monthly breast self-exam, click here to enroll in YW Boston’s healthy text reminder service.

Nyjah Wyche-Alexis is YW Boston's Health & Wellness Manager. YW Boston provides women's and girls health awareness and education on chronic health issues to more than 3,000 women annually.

Supreme Court Ruling Is a Victory for Women



Today’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling is a victory for all Americans, particularly for women. Now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been found to be valid under the U.S. Constitution, millions of individuals will be covered by health insurance for the first time – leading to better health outcomes and lower costs for women and their families.

The ACA has already provided significant benefits to women and children and more protections are on the horizon once all of the provisions of the ACA take effect. The list of tangible benefits for female patients is extensive beginning with the fact that women no longer have to pay a co-pay or deductible for basic, preventive care like mammograms, pap smears and prenatal care. Starting this August, women of all socioeconomic backgrounds will be able to obtain contraception, visit their gynecologist annually, be screened for gestational diabetes, get breastfeeding counseling and supplies and be screened for sexually transmitted infections – all at no extra or out-of-pocket cost. These ACA provisions will save lives and money, promote health and prevent acute illness in the long run.

This Act also abolishes unfair pre-existing condition limitations that hurt women in particular. Previously, insurance companies could classify domestic violence, cesarean sections and cancer as preexisting conditions and deny women coverage. According to a story in Kaiser Health News, the National Women's Law Center found that, even excluding maternity coverage, nearly one-third of the most commonly sold insurance plans charged women aged 25 to 40 at least 30 percent more than men for the same coverage. Thanks to the ACA, these discriminatory policies will no longer be legal, nor will higher premiums based solely on gender. Under the new law, companies are also banned from denying health insurance coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. For young adults getting out of college with no jobs or health coverage, one of the most popular provisions of the law allows young adults under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ plans.

YWCA applauds the Supreme Court for its ruling and urges the swift implementation of the much-needed benefits of this law. We sincerely hope that the U.S. Congress and the states will fully implement the ACA without further legislative maneuvering to delay these provisions that will benefit every woman and family in the country.

Gloria Lau is CEO of YWCA USA

Former Boston Fed CEO Keynotes YW Academy




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(This speech was originally given by Cathy E. Minehan, Dean of the Simmons College School of Management, at the 18th Annual Academy of Women Achievers Celebration Luncheon on June 4th)

"Good Morning. It’s a pleasure to be here with you to celebrate the new entrants to YW Boston Academy of Women Achievers.  They are extraordinary role models for all of us, and the significance of that should not be underestimated.

 As a new Dean just finishing her first year in academia, I have been impressed once again with the importance of role models in the development of young leaders. In my years at the [Federal Reserve Bank of Boston], I often said that if a young staff member-a woman or ethnic, racial, or social minority especially- cannot see someone who looks like her or himself up in the management chain, the message is very powerful. Be careful; success in this organization may be a difficult road.

Similarly, in the academic setting, perhaps especially in a business school, role models like Professors, Deans, and professional visitors to the classroom must provide evidence that success is possible.  They also must reinforce that evidence with care and attention to the students’ concerns, or the wear and tear of the academic road, especially part-time, can take its toll in terms of discouragement and drop-outs.

So the message is clear- if we want successful employees, or successful students, with the overall benefit to our endeavors more generally that success brings, we must have credible role models. YW Boston, along with all the other great work that it does, preforms a valuable if not vital service in recognizing inspirational women role models across a variety of local industries. So it is with a great deal of thanks, and no small amount of admiration for the work that is involved in making this luncheon such a success, that I offer you a few thoughts today.

I have three objectives in speaking with you this afternoon. First, I want to sketch the outlines of the current national and local economies, and comment a bit on what the near-term future might hold. Next, I believe that women in particular are facing challenges in this economy that are unusual, and I want to share a few thoughts about that. And finally, given the stresses on women specifically and families more generally, I want to comment a bit on the joint efforts of YWCA and the Massachusetts General Hospital which work together across a wide array of initiatives.

On to the economy. One word sums it up-frustrating. After what seemed like a promising start to the year with job growth averaging above 200,000 for three months, last Friday’s dismal numbers and the downward revisions to the two previous months dampened any remaining enthusiasm.  Analysts had been worried that the slow GDP growth-Q1 was revised downward to below 2% last week too-and the slowness of second quarter demand were out of step with employment growth.  I expect that is no longer a worry.  Rather the question is whether the underlying pace of demand in the US economy is abating on its own, or whether the uncertainty regarding Europe and the fiscal situation in this country are the proximate causes of what are very disappointing economic data.  Or, more likely, is it some combination of the two?  Let me start with the strength of US demand and then move to the issue of uncertainty.

For most of the first half of this year, the US economy has been growing at a pace that, while slow, exceeds that of nearly all of the other major developed countries.  To be sure, that may be damning with faint praise, but it is important to remember that even a sluggish U.S. economy is vitally important to overall world growth. Warm winter weather across the U.S. got us all thinking the economy was about to take off.  But it now appears that job growth in the winter prompted by the weather simply borrowed from second quarter hiring.  The much slower second quarter data brought home the reality of this continuing very slow recovery.

Some see the deceleration of the second quarter not simply as a matter of the pattern of growth in the face of unusual seasonal trends, but as a harbinger of a potential double dip into recession. That concern has some merit but may be overdone. Economic history tells us that financial crises breed long recoveries, as it takes a long time to deleverage and derisk both financial and household balance sheets. That process is taking place as we speak, but it is gradual almost by definition.

Even with the revision to GDP growth for Q1, we are beginning to see some life in consumer spending, especially for autos. Business spending and investment slowed recently, but given strong corporate finances, it should pick up. Energy prices, especially natural gas and increasingly gasoline are retrenching and taking less of a toll on consumer pocket books. Job growth has been disappointing to be sure, but averaged over the past 6 months, it remains consistent with slow overall progress.  With this level of job growth and related state and local tax revenue, the pace of budget tightening within the states should ease and with that the significant pressure on jobs in the public sector.  Inflation trends are moderating, and my former colleagues in the Fed are maintaining very accommodative monetary policy, though whether they can or should do more is a question.  Based on low mortgage rates and estimates of pent-up demand, some brave analysts now even see housing as a possible plus by year-end.  I certainly hope they are right.

So absent the continuing crisis situations facing us, there is room for a bit of optimism on the US economy, and that extends to Massachusetts as well.  Our state has weathered the recession and recovery fairly well with job growth well above average and an unemployment rate that is about 2 full percentage points below that of the nation as a whole.  Unlike the last two recessions, the mix of industries in our state has served us well in this recovery and we have seen expansions in bio tech, medical and other high tech industries and resilience in our financial businesses. Obviously, we are dependent in many ways on the continuing growth of the US economy here in Massachusetts. That takes me to the sources of frustrating uncertainty that together threaten the future of both the US and the global economies. 

            The first of these lies beyond our borders.  It involves the continuing, and potentially worsening political, financial and economic situation in the European Union.  Some believe that the departure of Greece from the Union- the so-called “Grexit”-should have manageable side effects since it has been so long in coming and involves such a small economy.  But the knock-on effects to larger European countries with their own problems, like Spain and Italy to name two, could be devastating and the impact on the rest of the world, the US in particular, equally concerning.  The fact is that there is no precedent for even a small tear in, let alone a full break-up of, the Euro area and no playbook to go by in terms of assessing the spin-off problems it could present.  I had thought that somehow calm heads would prevail and the Europeans would “muddle through” but each day’s headlines create a higher level of uncertainty about whether that can happen.

In the United States we face our own crisis situation-not as existential as the European crisis- but extremely daunting nonetheless. Last year at this time, while we were approaching one of those periodic debt-ceiling struggles, it seemed likely to me that our own calm heads would prevail as we approached the August deadline. I was surprised they did not.

  Fiscal negotiations went to the edge of the precipice of actual default, resulting in the downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, something almost unthinkable even a couple of months before it happened. The Committee established to work out an approach to cutting several billion out of the U.S. budget over a 10-year period by year-end, failed in its task as well. So now, just after the 2012 election, we face the possibility of strong fiscal tightening with the combination of the automatic spending cuts known as the sequester that were part of the August 2011 agreement, and the end of the Bush tax cuts, the temporary payroll tax cut and the emergency extended unemployment insurance benefits that in some states are already winding down. This is coming to be known as the fiscal “cliff”.

 Last year I would have thought that in the face of such a fiscal crisis a bipartisan way would be found to muddle through without risking the economic impact of fiscal tightening falling over the so-called “cliff” would bring. While that may be just what the lame duck Congress will do after the election, this is by no means assured.

            And even if the Congress does address the “cliff,” the way in which it approaches that task makes a difference.  In my view the best solution would be to focus short-term policy on supporting growth even if in the short run the deficit grows; this should be accompanied by credible plans for the medium and longer term that address the real fiscal issues that face this country. That might be asking a lot of the lame-duck Congress, but models exist, like Simpson-Bowles, and taking such a reasonable, and measured course of action could reduce the headwinds facing US economic growth.

As things stand right now, however, uncertainty on both sides of the Atlantic is a dark cloud overhanging the continued growth of the US and global economies.  Europe is in recession, and the major countries of the developing world are slowing as well, at least in part reflecting the developed world’s issues.  While I continue to be relatively optimistic about the ability of the US economy to keep chugging along, that belief gets challenged more and more with each passing day. That does not augur well for things both nationally and locally. But given the impact on working women in this recession so far, the effect of further economic uncertainty and fiscal tightening on women and families could be significant.

            During the recession, industries with mostly male workers, like construction and manufacturing lost jobs at a faster pace than others.  During the recovery, however, jobs with higher female participation, like state and local government where women make up about 60% of the labor force, were harder hit.  This is because this recession hit state revenues harder than any other on record, thus affecting women workers more than men.  Male employment has for the most part rebounded, but female employment is just now beginning to grow again.  With more women functioning as heads of households, this long period of job loss has meant suffering for families and children as well.

            And we know that women in the work force face challenges that preceded the recession.  Women make up the majority of graduate students in most specialties, and fill pipelines in a wide variety of professions, but there are very few at the top. Women make up about half of middle management, according to research done by Catalyst, an organization focused on women in business.  Yet they only account for 14% of executive officers in Fortune 500 companies, 16% of the board seats in those companies and just 3.6% of CEO’s.  Only about 7.5% are counted as top earners at those companies.

And this is just executive women.  The situation is even more difficult for women down the ranks where persistent wage gaps remain.  A celebrated 2010 survey found that unmarried, childless, urban female workers actually earned more than men in the same categories.  But when women have children they both earn less than men and a wider gap emerges between their wages and those of childless women.  Moreover, it appears that children decrease women’s earnings, while they tend to increase the earnings of men.


            Why such a differential? Some of the reason has to lie in the fact that inadequate policies on childcare and family leave both at the level of the individual business and for the country as a whole make reconciling work and family obligations difficult.  And women bear the majority of those obligations especially at the low end of the income range.  What worries me is that if the approach chosen to resolve the fiscal situation facing this country acts in one way or another to further restrict support for working women and their families, the social consequences of that will be significant.

And that is why the work that YW Boston does to support working women and their families is so important.  I also know that the community that YWCA has created around these issues is an important mainstay to the Boston economy and to so many families here.  That is why as the chair of the Board of the Massachusetts General Hospital I am proud to say that we are engaged with YW Boston in many ways in the communities that the Hospital serves.  This involves the time and effort of several leaders on the Hospital’s staff who both serve on the board of YW Boston and work on programs that further their efforts both legislatively and in the community.  It also involves major Hospital initiatives in the Center for Community Health Improvement, headed up by Joan Quinlan who I believe is in the audience today, and in our Disparities Solution Center. The work of both these centers, involving as they do so many MGH staffers, intersects with and amplifies the work of YW Boston in many areas-improving community health, solving issues that lead to disparities in heath care for minorities, improving care for vulnerable populations such as immigrants and the homeless, just to name a few.

This work with YWCA is ongoing and forms an important part of the Hospital’s over 200-year-old mission to improve the communities which it serves.  But I would argue that this partnership, and all the partnerships that YW Boston has with organizations around Boston, are more important now than they may have ever been. With the economic uncertainty that faces this country, and the longer-term fiscal challenges that it faces, it is the community partnerships that will make the difference in the well being of greater Boston.

            In sum, this has been a long and rocky recovery from the deepest recession in the past 70 years or so.  We are far from fully recovered and while the national economy is growing, the pace is not sufficient to make a real dent in the unemployment and other problems caused by the recession.  And storm clouds are on the horizon, in Europe, in the US and elsewhere around the world.  Women and families are suffering, and the support provided by the Y and its partners, including the MGH, will be increasingly vital.  Thank you all for being part of this luncheon to honor the important Women Achievers who bring hope and confidence to the ranks of women workers, and to support the important work of YWCA Boston.

[Cathy E. Minehan was the first female Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and held that position from 1994 to 2007. She is currently the dean of the School of Management at Simmons College]

Women’s Empowerment and Racial Justice – What’s the Link?



The mission of YWCA Boston is boldly stated:  eliminating racism, empowering women.   Many ask about the connection between these two goals.  It’s simple.  YWCA’s foremothers realized that they could not empower ­all women as long as racism exists.

The long racial justice history of YWCA is not well known, but dates back to the 19th century.  Early leaders noticed that African women (as they were then known) and other non-white women (e.g. Irish and Italians) had even greater struggles than poor white women.  Leadership wisely decided that the cause of helping women should not be exclusive, but expansive.  In 1889, the first African American YWCA branch opened in Dayton, OH and in 1890, the first YWCA for Native American women opened at the Haworth Institute in Chilocco, OK. 

Given Boston’s history and image, it surprises many to learn that Boston was one of only two YWCAs in ­the north to never have a separate, segregated branch for women of color, but included all women from its beginning in 1866.  In light of Boston’s status as a hotbed of the abolitionist movement, it makes sense that YWCA leaders reflected the belief that advocacy for the rights of all women was a noble cause.

Racial justice initiatives were significant in the work of YWCAs before the civil rights movement of the 1960s.  In 1934, members were encouraged to speak out against lynching and mob violence and to work for interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African American’s basic rights.  In 1942, YWCA extended its services to Japanese American women and girls incarcerated in World War II relocation centers.  The 1949 national convention pledged that YWCA would work for integration and full participation of minority groups in all phases of American life.

The link between women’s empowerment and racial justice continues in the 21st century.  YWCA Boston’s health education and outreach programs for women and girls are aimed at reducing racial and ethnic disparities in health outcomes.  Our Community Dialogues and Youth/Police Dialogues programs are designed not only to increase understanding and build connections between people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds, but also to change attitudes and behaviors, making Boston a better place for all of its residents.

YWCA Boston is moving toward its vision of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  That’s a cause worth fighting for and I invite you to join us in our efforts by volunteering your time or contributing resources.


Sylvia Ferrell-Jones

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones is President & CEO of YWCA Boston.

Breast Health on the Line



Despite the confusion prompted by the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force earlier this year, research has consistently shown that regular and consistent mammogram screenings remain the best current line of defense for catching breast cancer early. And although major medical organizations recommend regular mammograms for women age 40 and over, not all women are screened regularly and black women continue to die of breast cancer at higher rates.

But, why? While some research suggests that the types of breast cancer that victimize women of color, are more virulent, other studies show that women of color and lower income women have higher mortality rates due to intrinsic health disparities and cultural disconnects: such women are often the caregivers of their families and put the health of their children and families before themselves, pushing off their own health needs. Other barriers include lack of health insurance, transportation or child care, poor patient-doctor communications and/or language barriers, lack of information, negative experiences or beliefs of the medical system, fear, and cultural or religious beliefs. Women lead busy, stressful lives, and breast health usually just isn't a priority. Until it's too late.

Faced with staggering mortality data and promising research suggesting consistent reminder calls can significantly increase the rate at which women get regular mammograms, YWCA Boston and its numerous health sector collaborators have recommitted themselves to tackling these disparities and increasing screening rates.

Last week, Whittier Community Health Center and YWCA Boston launched a joint-project to that just that:

YWCA Boston staff, members of its Spirit-Wise Sisters breast cancer support group and 7 YW volunteers teamed up with Whittier staff to reach out to more than 280 women who had lapsed on their mammograms from more than 2 years.

Through YWCA Boston and Whittier's combined resources, the group placed phone calls to remind women in their native languages (English, Spanish, Somali and Haitian Creole) to make an appointment for their long-overdue mammogram.

The result was inspiring: In less than 90 minutes, more than 30 appointments were scheduled on the spot and more than 15 women were scheduled for follow up calls or referrals to other health centers.

Most importantly, more than a hundred women were educated on the importance of their breast health, bilingual volunteers were able to connect to women in their native tongue, and breast cancer survivors were able to share their strength with those who expressed fear about mammography.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure Massachusetts Director of Community Initiatives Jeanette Beltran, who participated in this Komen-sponsored event summed up the night aptly: "As a person making the calls, it reaffirmed that we have so much more work to do on educating women across the state on the importance of screening. It is partnerships like this that begin to address the barriers to screening."

And begin it is. With thousands of Boston women having lapsed in their mammograms in the last year, we have much more work to do. And building on our initial successes, we are more determined than ever to reduce health disparities and make women healthier. Please consider joining us as a volunteer, donor, or both.

Anya Priester is the Associate Director of Programs at YWCA Boston.

Dance, Ride for Peace and Health



As part of its mission to eliminate racism and empower women, YWCA Boston has a 144-year long history of promoting peace and better health for Boston residents. Whether it has been through our work with the Boston Public Health Commission, our decades-long racial health disparities education program, or our ongoing youth/police dialogues, YWCA Boston has worked tirelessly to combat neighborhood violence, and promote healthier lives.

And so, we were delighted to learn that our long-time Dialogues facilitator Michael James is a key organizer of the 6th Annual Peace Ride of the Concerned Men Cycling for Peace on Saturday, June 16th.  This event will bring together hundreds of community members from the Greater Boston area to exemplify team work and unity, and includes a dual gender Zumba For Peace activity.

The events will unite members of the Greater Boston community concerned with issues of publc safety and health awareness,  two issues that YWCA Boston is dedicated to improving.

Concerned Men Cycling for Peace was birthed out of Greater Love Tabernacle under the direction of Rev. William E. Dickerson I, and has served more than 3,000 community members since its inception.

We gladly join with Greater Love in our shared vision of a community focused on healthy lifestyles, positive interactions, good nutrition and physical activity. 

Join YWCA Boston  in helping families, friends, and neighborhoods to combat health disparities and unnecessary violence as well as thrive in this time of social and economic challenge.

Organizers hope to raise $10,000 for structured youth activities and health awareness initiatives. The 6th Annual Peace Ride of the Concerned Men Cycling For Peace will begin in the parking lot of Greater Love Tabernacle Church located at 101 Nightingale Street in Dorchester. The church is located across from the Boys & Girls Club on 15 Talbot Avenue, Dorchester, MA 02124.

The men's bike ride is six miles through Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan, and riders aged 16 and above are welcomed to participate.

Zumba For Peace is open to all will begin at 10am at the Boys And Girls Club. The  events culminate with a free family cookout, health education stations & screenings (including YWCA's!) and a spectacular concert.

Click here to learn more about how you can participate.


Larry Seamans is Sr. Vice President & COO of YWCA Boston.

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