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USA Excellence Award for Women’s Empowerment

BAY CITY, MI In 2009, the YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region was in danger of closing its doors. The nonprofit closed its fitness center in Bangor Township and reorganized as an organization aimed at empowering women and eliminating racism.

Five years later, the organization has earned national recognition for excellence. 

The Bay City-based YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region on Friday, June 13, was honored with the YWCA USA Excellence Award for Women's Empowerment. It's one of three national awards given to YWCA chapters across the country, the others being in the areas of racial justice or advocacy and commitment to advancing the mission of the YWCA.    

More than 300 associations throughout the United States are considered for the awards, which were presented during the YWCA USA Annual Conference and Gala in Washington, D.C.

"We were quite surprised, because we are a smaller association than a lot of the others, and to be recognized at this level, for this prestigious of award, was quite surprising and exciting," said Lisa Perreault Grills, executive director of the YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region. "It's acknowledgement and testimony that we are making an impact in the Great Lakes Bay region."

Grills and YWCA Board Member Kristi Kozubal were at the gala and accepted the award.

USA Excellence Award for Women’s EmpowermentThe Association Excellence Awards "are our way of celebrating and honoring the vital contributions that YWCAs make to communities all across the country and to lift up those who do exemplary work," Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of YWCA USA, said in a news release. "Their passion and commitment to improving the lives of women and their families is truly inspiring."

Grills said she attributes the win to the rebirth of the organization beginning in 2009 with the introduction of programs like the Getting Ahead Workshop and the Women's Resource Center, which provide a foundation to help women achieve educational and employability goals and provides free assistance for those completing resumes, searching for a job or developing computer skills.

The success is a relief to past and present board members who helped guide the organization through some difficult times, including financial turmoil, in 2008 and 2009. This led to the closure of the YWCA headquarters on Midland Road in January 2009.

The organization now makes its home at at 723 Washington Ave. in downtown Bay City and also has an office Saginaw.

"Dedication, perseverance and love for the history of the agency and its impact on the region have propelled us to this point," Laurie Bush, former president of the YWCA Board of Directors, said in a news release.

After closing the fitness center, officials planned to reinvent the agency to better promote the mission of the organization: empowering women, providing employability and educational programs and services.

The group changed its name from YWCA of Bay County, to reflect a more regional approach and introduced the new economic empowerment programs."The YWCA is here to serve the Great Lakes Bay Region and we are proud of our accomplishments and look forward to our future," Carolyn Wierda, current president of the YWCA Board of Directors, said in a news release.

That future includes investing in the community, women and families in the area, as about a month ago, the YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region crew celebrated becoming debt-free and financially stable after about two years of operating on a balanced budget.

Pam Monastiere, former president of the Board of Directors, said in a news release the agency began using Greek mythology for inspiration, specifically the legend of the rising phoenix.

"The legend of the rising of the phoenix represents rebirth," she said. "When a phoenix dies or is no longer effective or functional a younger more powerful phoenix rises from the ashes. We were committed as a Board of Directors to ensure the YWCA would rise again stronger and more powerful as a mission-based organization to empower women to successfully achieve a self-sufficient life."

Molly Young , MLive

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