Reflections on Reframing Justice– Entre Sueños: Voices from the Inside/Out

I am sitting here listening to Dra. Grace Gamez’ words.   Her words, like always, are ringing in my ears, hitting my heart, impacting my thoughts.  They are flowing from students’ mouths, under the theatrical direction of Marissa Garcia.
My dear friend, Marissa, is directing the students as they prepare their roles as a Greek chorus.  They are preparing to tell stories.  Telling the stories of other children.  Children who lost their childhoods.  Reframing Justice is a courageous set of stories that center the experiences of people who were imprisoned as children, tried as adults.  It is an honor for us to present this work here at the YWCA.
The following is an excerpt of an OpEd that Grace and I worked on earlier this Summer.  We never finished it for publication in this form, but with Grace’s permission I have submitted it here for your consideration. 


Formerly incarcerated/convicted people are systematically denied agency around the stories told about their lives—their identities are reduced to stigmatized labels such as, “inmate,” “prisoner,” “ex-con,” “offender,” “felon,” and finally “bad.”  It is only by allowing ourselves to see, hear, and feel life at the margins, that we can retrieve the fullness of people’s histories and experiences.  What we might name “fugitive histories” are those lost stories and silences of entire parts of our communities with the effect of dulling the collective knowledge of our national identity.  Historical erasure has led to laws, practices and beliefs that constantly constrict the possibilities for the same communities. Personal stories about the human punishment system bring to life the reality of how people experience incarceration, criminalization, and penal policy/legislation in their daily lives.  Truth-telling as James Kilgore asserts, is a central component in moving towards a vision of transformative justice.  Human stories about topics that are silenced or stigmatized have the power to impact policy and drive practice.    Everyone can radicalize the spaces they inhabit- in the way they think, the ways they choose to engage in conversation and with whom. Where you are, is where you begin.

In Ghostly Matters (2008), Avery Gordon writes, “to study life one must confront the ghostly aspect of it” (p.7). In other words, to understand life, to shift directions, perceptions, and ultimately-discourse- we must engage hauntings; we must actively listen to the silenced.  The stories, experiences, and the knowledge of people who have been system-involved must be central in efforts to alter the course of our carceral system.

Shifting away from a punishment-as-justice paradigm requires diverse approaches that include

  • changing the social/political discourse
  • systematically attacking persistent racial disparities and penal and social policy reforms that do not expand the reach and power of the punishment system
  • Statutory and paradigmatic changes will be impossible without a sustained people’s movement

Transformative shifts require an informed and empowered community that is motivated by justice.  Thus, to modify the structure, power, and flow of resources we need to work toward cultivating caring communities by fostering connectedness, and (re) humanizing both the harmed AND the person who harmed- because both are our neighbors.  Morally and politically we must include and address the needs of everyone impacted by the system, particularly those who face acute marginalization- including gender non-conforming people, LGBTQ, families of formerly incarcerated and convicted people, and perhaps most difficult–people with violent or sexually-based offenses.

When Frederick Douglass said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without finding the other end fastened about his own neck” he was speaking about the interconnectedness of our communities. In other words, your oppression is my oppression, your captivity is my captivity, your brokenness is my brokenness, and your fate is my fate. Conversely, your joy is my joy, your healing is my healing, and your freedom is my freedom- your redemption, my own.  No one escapes the injustices of our current system.  The continued discourse of punishment-as-justice imprisons us all and reduces us all to “bad” people.

What does it mean to be human? How does the law work to make distinctions between whom is/not human?  How does the law subvert humanity to intensify suffering?  Is humanity borne equally by all?  What is the relationship between injury and personhood?  These questions are imperative to understanding the intent and impact of the criminal punishment system.

Confronting the behemoth that is our carceral system is overwhelming.  However, the answer to “what can I do?” could be as simple as sharing a meal and talking about issues around incarceration with people that you care about, if you own a business–or have friends that do– you can make a commitment to hire individuals with a conviction history. These engagements are some of the ways that we create community because it is closeness that breeds compassion and change. The immediate goal is not merely accomplishing a set of reforms; it is creating a more just world that embraces complexity, redemption, compassion, love, and hope.

We hope that this compassion and hope is what Reframing Justice: Entre Sueños will generate in the hearts of audiences here in Tucson on October 15th and in Phoenix on the 19th.  We hope that you will join us.

Entre Suenos – Oct 15

Reframing Justice

Entre Sueños: Voices from the Inside/Out

Oct 15, 2016 • 6:30 p.m.
Reframing Justice Theater@YWCA
YWCA’s Frances McClelland Community Center
525 N. Bonita Ave • Tucson 85745
Suggested Ticket: $5


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Race to Justice Book Club-Oct 12, 2016

We are feeling the weight of Baldwin’s words today as we watch our brothers and sisters struggle for survival in Haiti.  His conversations around time, kingdom, Equalité, empire, all ring as we watch the desperation of families who need water and food.    We send our thoughts to you.
His invocation of personal responsibility hit my heart as I see the events in the world today.  His voice of 1963 rings in my mind as I consider that we must proceed with courage and strength in the pursuit of justice.  
In Community,

We started this book club as a means of having a common language to share ideas around race.  Our first text, New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander yielded a great conversation that continues in our work at the YWCA.  The last month has seen the convening of our 7th panel/community conversation on the issue of mass incarceration and this week we eagerly await the American Friends Service Committee’s storytelling event led by our friend, Dr. Grace Gamez. We hope to see you there.

Entre Suenos: Voices from the Inside/Out by Reframing Justice                                                 October 15, 6:30; $5 at the door
Entre Suenos: Voices from the Inside/Out by Reframing Justice Theatre.

A live storytelling theatrical event featuring six storytellers who share one thing in common: all have experienced Arizona’s criminal punishment system. Three of the storytellers are currently incarcerate and three are now navigating life on the ‘outside’.
Sat Oct 15, 2016
YWCA Tucson, 525 N Bonita Ave, Tucson, AZ 85745

This work has become a calling for us.  Together, Sara and I spend much of our time discussing the interventions that we can make to help raise voices and make spaces for people who are system involved here at the YW and at the Pima County ReEntry Coalition. The book club session around Alexander’s book helped our colleagues and friends see the connections between our Anti-racism work and the struggle to eliminate our carceral state.

This month, our text is Baldwin’s classic, The Fire Next Time.

In this text, we see the articulation of so many themes and concepts that Alexander championed in the previous text.  We see Baldwin utilize concepts that Dubois articulated in 1891 quoting Douglass from 1881. We see that the messages, struggles, pain and resistance of yesterday not only does, but must, inform the struggles for resistance of today.

In reading and listening to this text, the frustrations and pain of the personal are also articulated in such clear and beautiful language that I found myself in tears at times.  The soul of the artist is revealed in his recounting of his struggle with faith, love, choices and place in the world.  We hope that you will join us, but if you can not please do take the opportunity to read this text.    We look forward to our conversation this morning and we hope that you will gather your friends to your table and have this conversation as well.

Here are a couple of documents to help out that Sara has put together.  Join our conversations, have your own.  Together, we can make a difference.

In fact, we believe that ONLY together will we make real systemic change and help to shape a future of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  Let us know what you think.


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BLM and Anger


I have the incredible opportunity to work with 2 fantastically intelligent and accomplished interns from the ASU School of Social Work, Sara Galaz and Valerie Denogean.  Together, with our colleagues from the Latina Leadership Initiative, led by Alba Jaramillo,  we are working on the Racial Justice and Human Rights for the YWCA of Southern Arizona.  Valerie and Sara are taking a respite this week as part of their Fall Break, but Valerie sends this postcard to us from North Carolina, where she attended undergraduate. We send the families and communities of North Carolina and Haiti our thoughts and hopes for real recovery.
Thank you for your support and we look forward to your comments,
In Community,


Greensboro, North Carolina was my home during undergrad. It is a beautiful city with beautiful culture. I love the South. However, the news right now from North Carolina is troubling. I have friends and peers protesting in Charlotte because of police brutality. Additionally, recently Greensboro police have been criticized for targeting African Americans.

The worst part is that I cannot say I am surprised. The South is where millions of African Americans were forced into slavery, where the KKK originated, and where confederate flags are still proudly flown. Unfortunately, racism is deeply rooted in Southern history and culture. This has resulted in the loss of African American lives in the hands of the police.

So often I hear people describe the Black Lives Matters (BLM) protesters as angry, immature and/or as thugs. The only one of those descriptors I would agree with for the Black Lives Matter group is angry.

And I have to ask is it any wonder that they are angry? Is it any wonder my friends in Charlotte are angry when police target them and harass them? Is it any wonder they are angry when this leads to injuries and/or death?

In “The Uses of Anger” Audre Lorde wrote, “My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, on that anger, beneath that anger, on top of that anger, ignoring that anger, feeding upon that anger, learning to use that anger before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight of that anger. My fear of that anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also. Women responding to racism means women responding to anger, the anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and coopting”.

Anger is not always a bad thing. Anger is a powerful force and to be angry as a woman or a member of minority group is akin to being alive. I offer my solidarity to the Black Lives Matter movement and hope that they succeed in channeling anger into real and lasting change.

Valerie Denogean is MSW PAC student at ASU. She was born and raised in Tucson. She is interested in prison-reform, immigration, education-reform, politics, inequalities because of race and gender. However, currently she is interested in Eco-Feminism and how the treatment of women connects with the state of the environment, the treatment of animals, and our food. Valerie likes to run, hike and swim. She swam competitively for the Guilford College Quaker Swim team. She likes to travel and hopes to use her Social Work Degree in Northern Virginia after graduation.

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Lobbying with A 501(c)(3) status


In my short time so far as a YWCA advocacy intern my primary concern was being non-partisan while running a Get Out the Vote social media campaign. To me being non-partisan meant avoiding talking about political issues. Additionally, I believed that having 501(c)(3) status meant that because we were tax exempt we could not be overly political, we could not lobby, and we could not voice concerns directly about the government even though politics directly influences our work.

However, on Friday September 16th I attended the Worry Free Advocacy Work-Shop put on by the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona in partnership with the YWCA of Southern Arizona. They invited national expert Sarah Matlin, Bi-lingual Counsel for the Alliance for Justice to lead the workshop. Previous illusions about non-profits were quickly shattered. What I learned is that 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations can sometimes be partisan and engage in lobbying efforts.

First and foremost, 501(c)(3)’s are limited in their lobbying efforts, however, Sarah Matlin, informed me and the rest of the audience that very rarely will a 501(c)(3) do too much lobbying. The way that the IRS looks at the lobbying efforts of a 501(c)(3) is to measure efforts. How do you measure effort? The answer is simple. You do not measure effort; rather you submit a one-time form called the 501(h) Expenditure test. This form allows your non-profit 501(c)(3) agency to measure your lobbying efforts in money rather than vague terms like efforts. Additionally, once this form is submitted 501(c)(3)’s can spend 20% of their overall budget on lobbying efforts. Additionally, because you do not pay volunteers, volunteer time does not count as part of the 20%. Thus, 501(c)(3)’s can and should be lobbying.

Sarah Matlin also destroyed my ill-conceived notions of what lobbying is versus what it actually is. Lobbying is trying to influence new laws, including supporting or opposing ballot measures. However, an non-profit organization can criticize and praise incumbent officials. Additionally, if the non-profit has a social media page, the page needs to have a disclaimer of some sort, saying that the organization is non-partisan. However, non-profits can let partisan comments from others slide as long as they have the disclaimer on their page.

I learned that non-profits can do a lot more in terms of politics and lobbying than I had previously thought. I will be using the social media tips that Sarah shared such as making sure that the GOTV Facebook page has a disclaimer on it immediately. Additionally, any non-profit that I work for in future will likely file the 50(h) Expenditure test form in order to use 20% of our overall budget towards lobbying. Hopefully, Sarah will spread her knowledge far and wide so that nonprofits can help make big legislative changes in the upcoming years.




Valerie Denogean is MSW PAC student at ASU. She was born and raised in Tucson. She is interested in prison-reform, immigration, education-reform, politics, inequalities because of race and gender. However, currently she is interested in Eco-Feminism and how the treatment of women connects with the state of the environment, the treatment of animals, and our food. Valerie likes to run, hike and swim. She swam competitively for the Guilford College Quaker Swim team. She likes to travel and hopes to use her Social Work Degree in Northern Virginia after graduation.

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Monday Changemaker Book Club

Monday morning the Changemaker Bookclub met at the Frances McClelland Community Center to discuss our personal reactions to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  As an individual, I have been aware of the racial disparity in the age of Mass Incarceration. I grew up knowing people who looked like me were more likely to be incarcerated. This knowledge inspired a greater value on fairness and justice. In an age of mass incarceration for communities of color how can we inspire greater compassion and care and move into a place of action for criminal justice reform? The important aspect is to consider who is deserving of compassion and care which is related to what we have as a society value in Justice. To us, justice is a person paying a personal debt for their mistakes with their money, their time, and their freedom. To us, Justice is a sentence. Something with a beginning and an end, to repay back to the victims of a loss. Justice is the quality of being fair and reasonable. However, the Life Sentences that the societal vision justice imposes extend farther past the completion of a probation, prison, and parole sentence. This is beyond the scope of what is fair and reasonable.

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander compares current practices of justice and its relation to colorblindness in mass incarceration. The problem with being colorblind is that when we avoid the topic of race in mass incarceration, we are not seeing who really is represented in our prison populations. It allows us to be blind  to what is really happening in our justice system. When one third of our nation’s African American males and a quarter of Latinos are incarcerated– yet we scrutinize men of color for lack of engagement in their communities.  We are seeing colorblindness fail our communities of color. This is beyond the scope of fair and reasonable.

Now understanding the failure of fair and reasonable justice for our communities of color, how do we inspire and model care and compassion for individuals who are formerly incarcerated to advocate for actual justice?

 The Changemaker Bookclub meets at the Frances McClelland community center to discuss the issues and our responsibility for racial justice. This conversation will continue on October 12 with our next book of the Changemaker Bookclub series, The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin.-we hope that you will join us for this on-going conversation.

-Sara Cota Galaz


Sara Cota Galaz is a Master’s of Social Work Candidate at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work-Tucson Component working with the YWCA of Southern Arizona’s advocacy programs. She is a proud Wildcat Alum with earning her BA in Political Science from the School of Government and Public Policy. She is an advocate for issues relating to economic justice and its intersectionality between workforce development for women in poverty, mass incarceration, and reentry. She is a member of the Oracle Board-Greek Advisory Board at the University of Arizona, Pima County Re-Entry Coalition, and the Coalition for Fair and Just Policing.

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Thanks SURJ-a brief speech

This was delivered an Ally event sponsored by Standing Up for Racial Justice, Tucson.  This event was part of the National Call to Action on July 21st, 2016.  This event, Rally and Outreach in Solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, took place  at 5Pm in front of the Federal Courthouse @ 405 W. Congress–this is the site where the travesty of justice, Operation Streamline, takes place each week in Tucson.  

–liane, (@loquesera) August 2, 2016



First, I want to say thank you.  Thank you to the organizers for gathering these voices in support of and in solidarity to say very clearly that BLACK LIVES MATTER.

Today, in response to a call for Freedom Now:

A freedom from violence

A freedom from oppression

Freedom to be our full selves

A freedom to Love

We hear that call and Tucson Showed Up.

Here in this community we gather to collectively imagine a new and inevitable future where we are all safe and able to not only live but to thrive and say very clearly that Black Lives Matter.

Today, we recognize that the tradition of state sponsored violence against black men and boys extends from a national history that devalues life.  So, our collective advocacy and action is also a continuation of the struggle for self-determination, free from the tyranny of neglect and the cycle of state sponsored violence and willful indifference to the suffering of entire communities.

We, of the YWCA, have been working alongside and from the margins since 1889.  In this time, we have centered women and communities of color in the ongoing struggle to eliminate racism, empower women and the promotion of peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.  We further understand that the pain, historical trauma and legacy of violence in our communities is not equally responded to, nor is it acknowledged by the leaders, judges, system or by our own communities at times.

How else is it possible that in the year since Sandra Bland’s death, 800 additional people have died in US Jails?

How else could it be that our carceral system can destroy the lives of 1-in-3 Black men, while simultaneously shattering and fragmenting the lives and well being of Black women and children?

We see that this structural and institutional racism is not discreet, rather it extends to all aspects of our lived experience from our national promise of the pursuit of happiness, to access to healthy food, green spaces for communities to gather and flourish, fertile soil, drinkable water, participation in the democratic process or the interaction with an ever increasingly militarized police presence here and on the border.  We see that the wheels of change must cover a vast and ever-shifting terrain.

So,  we all have work to do to ensure that our sisters and brothers of the black community as well as all of us who believe in freedom, have the ability to thrive.  We must all make daily interventions from asking questions and demanding answers of who in our communities get justice and who do not.

We must acknowledge that social justice is both a process and a goal.  But, that means that there are roles for all of us in developing a future that is equitable, safe and secure for all our community.

So, thank you for showing up here on the steps of Operation Streamline.  Thank you for showing up for each other and for a movement that battles the complex systems of oppression that we all carry to say Black Lives Matter.

Together, and only together, can we uncover truths, right wrongs and collectively build the future that we all deserve.


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A Survivor’s Guide

The Pima County Women’s Commission has released a helpful resource called Domestic Abuse, Assault and Violence Survivor’s Guide. Click here to download the guide and please share with others.

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98 is the new 28

On May 1st, we celebrated the 98th anniversary of the YWCA in Tucson with a breakfast for 250 in our courtyard. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, new civil rights leader and state senator from Missouri, representing the district that includes parts of St. Louis and Ferguson, was our keynote speaker. These are remarks from our Executive Director, Kelly Fryer:

The other day one of my team mates (ok, it was Liane) stopped by the restaurant supply store to pick a few things up for our café, and one of the guys who runs the store said, “Boy o boy, it looks like the YWCA is getting a little radical.”

I think he probably saw an ad for this event and saw who the keynote speaker was. (All I have to say, Maria, is that, if I was getting tear gassed in the street by my governor, I’d probably use the F word, too. If you’ve Googled Maria, you know what I’m talking about.)

I’m not surprised that our friend at the restaurant supply store was surprised. There are a lot of misconceptions about the YWCA. There are all those people who think we’re the yMca, first of all. Then there are all the people out there who never heard of us before and when they DO find out about everything that’s going on here, say things to me like “So when did THAT place open?” (ummm, 1917) But my favorite people are the ones who HAVE heard about the YWCA before and have this idea that we’re a bunch of little old church ladies.

I want to put that one to bed right now.

First, we haven’t been church ladies since about 1932 (sic). And even before that the YW has always been a place where women of every religion, race and ethnicity have worked together to make the world a better place. Second, there is nothing little about us. There are 30,000 people that come in and out of this building every year, including 1000 in and out of Your Sister’s Closet alone. And we belong to a national movement that has 1300 sites and 2 million members across the United States. Third, we might be celebrating our 98th birthday in Tucson, but there is nothing OLD about us.

Does the work of justice ever get old? Does speaking up for those whose voices have been silenced and standing with those who have been trampled on ever get old? Here’s what I have to say to people who think the YWCA is “old”: 98 is the new 28.

We have so much work to do.

Three-four out of every ten children in Southern Arizona live in poverty, and most of them belong to single moms. But this State has made it nearly impossible for poor women to find affordable access to reproductive health care. And the Budget our new Governor just signed cuts aid to needy families, includes $0 dollars for child care subsidies and completely eliminates all funding for community colleges – three things research by the Women’s Foundation says are necessary for women to get themselves and their kids out of poverty.

Instead, we get prisons. And more prisons. Prisons that are privately owned. Prisons that someone, somewhere is making a lot of money on. Did you know that, in Arizona, three private prisons operate with a 100% occupancy guarantee? That means the state GUARANTEES they’ll have enough prisoners to fill every bed. And you know who’s filling those beds, right? Let me just put it this way: Those folks don’t look like me.[i]

A little radical, huh? You bet your granny pants we’re a little radical. That’s what the YWCA has always been. We marched for the Right to Vote in the early 1900’s. We lobbied Congress for an 8-hour work day and an end to child labor. We opened our hearts and doors to women of color, on both sides of the Mason Dixon line, before the muskets had even cooled off at the end of the Civil War. We marched with Dr. King and stood beside him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We helped get the Violence Against Women Act passed last year and made sure it included protection for LGBT folks, immigrants and Native American women. More than 300,000 people all across the United States (including a lot of you) stood with the YWCA and took a Pledge Against Racism last week.

And last week I was in Washington, D.C. with other YW CEO’s lobbying Congress to finally get the End Racial Profiling Act passed into law – and demanding that it apply to ALL law enforcement agents and agencies, including the United States Border Patrol. (Maria, I know this sounds strange because you and I are both from the Midwest and we don’t have to go through a checkpoint to get from Illinois to Missouri – but we have to go through one to get from here to California. And, believe me when I say, I never get stopped – but you would. In fact, a lot of our Latina sisters, especially immigrants, are so afraid of getting in trouble they are afraid to leave their neighborhoods, go to their kids school, go to the doctor or report a crime.)

We are living in a time that demands a little radical. You know, like writing a letter to the Governor or calling your Senator. How many of you have ever made a call like that?

Let’s do it right now. (This is when we actually dialed Senator Flake’s DC office and all 250 of us left a cheering message, thanking him for his leadership on trying to get immigration reform passed and asking him to co-sponsor the #EndRacialProfilingAct.)

Now that’s what I’m talking about!

We do so much good for so many individual women and their families here at the YW. And many of you – through your foundations and government grants – help fund that work. But we haven’t found a grant that can help us do THIS (hold up phone). This is where you come in. Your personal giving does BOTH things: It helps individual women change their lives…and it helps us change the systems that make their lives so darn hard in the first place.

Happy birthday YWCA! You don’t look a day older than 28.

[To make a donation in honor of the YWCA’s 98th birthday in Tucson, please click here. Thank you for your support!]


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Five Reasons to Support the YWCA Southern Arizona!

AZ_GD_2015_Logo_F_CMYKThere are so many great organizations in Tucson! Today on #AZGivesDay please support your favorites. But don’t forget to include your YWCA.

Click here to make a donation.

Here are five unique reasons to make a donation to the YW today. The YWCA is the ONLY organization in Southern Arizona offering:

1. Workforce education & support specifically for women living in poverty, immigrant women and domestic abuse survivors (200 each year)

2. Free professional mental health counseling to low income women(400 served annually)

3. A week’s worth of work ready, professional clothing and one-on-one coaching for low income, unemployed women(800-1000 each year!)

4. Leadership training for professional women and entrepreneurs (500+ each year)

5. Small business education, counseling and incubation focused on women, immigrants and people in poverty(400 each year)

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Arizona earns C- in women’s pay, employment*

Women in Arizona face enormous challenges. Nearly 50% are unemployed and, of those who are working, more than 60% are in low wage jobs. Based on research from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington, DC, that earns Arizona a lukewarm C-. Several states, all in the South, earned an F. So, while things could be much worse, in Arizona we’re #notthere yet.

According to the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, 500,000 Arizona women live in poverty. Based on their research, a pathway out of poverty for women requires:

  • Child care subsidies and early childhood education for the children;
  • Temporary Aid to Needy Families while women get the help they need to find work;
  • Access to affordable adult education and community colleges, so they can qualify for work with self-sufficient wages.

This year our State leaders passed a budget that slashed or eliminated funding for each one of these critical programs.

Here at your YW, we are taking action to help women in Southern Arizona. Through our new Women’s Center for Economic Opportunity (WCEO) we are expanding our programming to help women across the economic spectrum get the training and support they need to succeed. But we also need to make our voices heard. We need both Action and Advocacy.

Call the Governor & your elected State officials – or better yet go see them while they’re on break from the legislature. Tell them Arizona can’t afford to balance the budget on the backs of women and children.

Arizona has its priorities wrong. Let’s change that, together. #noceilings #notthere

*An article with this headline appeared in the Arizona Republic, March 23, 2015.

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