Five Questions With: Gail Fortes

Gail Fortes is the executive director of YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts. The New Bedford-based nonprofit, which promotes advocacy and health services in the pursuit of ending racism and empowering women, recently received the Nonprofit of the Year award from the SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce at the Chamber’s annual APEX Business Awards dinner at Century House in Acushnet.

PBN: What does the recognition from the SouthCoast Chamber of Commerce mean to both you and the organization?

FORTES: The YWCA is honored to be selected by the SouthCoast Chamber … as the 2019 nonprofit organization of the year. We are truly appreciative of the recognition and are excited to be selected as this year’s recipient.

PBN: The YWCA completed its $4.5 million campaign to build a 6,550-square-foot addition on the property. Can you explain what will be housed in the addition?

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FORTES: The YWCA embarked on a capital building project several years ago to bring all of our programs and services “Under One Roof.” This project makes our administrative offices here at the Levi Standish House accessible by installing an enclosed walkway to connect the addition to our current building. The addition will house two of our programs: Another Women’s Place Residential Program for Women and YWkids School Age Child Care Program.

YWkids will be housed on the first floor of the addition. This new center will increase child interaction and produce higher educational and skill-development outcomes. The YWCA will also remodel the lower level of our current building to provide additional classroom and office space for YWkids. The new location will be carefully and specifically designed for age-appropriate educational activities for as many as 50 children ages 5-13.

YWkids is currently housed at Campbell School in New Bedford and will move this summer to the new building addition. The second floor of the addition will be the home of Another Woman’s Place Residential Program for Women; eight single-room occupancy units of permanent housing for low-income women ages 18 and older. Our current location, A Woman’s Place, will remain open and at 347 Pleasant St. and provide single-room occupancy housing for eight women.

PBN: How is the organization increasing development, communications and branding, as well as growing programs in the south coast area?

FORTES: The YWCA is currently working with a consultant from the Highland Street Foundation to increase our development, communications and programming. At the end of the six-month period, the consultant will provide the YWCA with a final report identifying specific measurable indicators for each outcome for programming, development and communications, and a long-term strategic plan for the organization.

PBN: What new programs, if any, is the YWCA offering the community?

FORTES: One new program we are currently working on is a program for high school girls that will focus on empowerment, leadership and advocacy. We are still working on developing the pilot for this program, which will be held at one of our local high schools this fall. We plan to offer more new programs once the building addition is complete.

PBN: With the recent #MeToo movement, how vital is the YWCA’s role in helping women advance in the community, especially economically?

FORTES: The YWCA is committed to raising awareness, providing education, promoting inclusion and building coalitions for all people, regardless of race, gender, class, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, immigration status, as well as underrepresented populations and protected classes. Intersectionality, defined as analysis and action that takes into consideration multiple factors of identity [such as] those listed above, is central to the work the YWCA does.

A foundation for equity in this region is to have more women, especially women of color and those who have faced economic challenges, in decision-making and leadership roles. We also want to strengthen the broader women’s and economic justice movements in our region. With more clout locally and at the state and federal level, laws and policies will better match the realities and needs of women and girls.

James Bessette is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Research@PBN.com.