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YWCA of Greater Cleveland boasts an alumni association in the form of its Women’s Leadership Initiative

By Holly Hammersmith  |  Photo by Doug Khrenovsky

Amy Martin, an alumna of YWCA Greater Cleveland’s Women’s Leadership Initiative, describes the organization’s development program as an immersion experience that impacted her professional life in a big way.

As a 2014 graduate of Momentum: Leaders Leading Leaders, one of three programs under the initiative’s umbrella, Martin now joins approximately 700 other program alumni in Northeast Ohio.

“Liken it to a college alumni association,” Gina Cheverine, the vice president of business development at YWCA Greater Cleveland, says. “I don’t know of any other groups like that.”

The YWCA program began about 10 years ago, but it’s been within the last few years that the alumni association and complementary networking component has really taken flight. 

The leadership initiative encompasses three areas. Boot Camp: Leaders Leading Self is geared toward individual contributors and technical experts within an organization or industry, Quest: Leaders Leading Others, targets new and experienced managers and the program Martin graduated from – Momentum – is ideal for women in mid to upper management seeking the next step in their careers. 

All three programs work to empower women to be more effective leaders, and to give them the necessary skills to grow both personally and professionally. More than 80 Northeast Ohio companies and organizations have had female employees graduate from this program since its inception. 

All three programs are offered on an annual basis from September through May. In total, about 100 women complete the program each year. Admittance into the program requires an application process, and if accepted, a participation fee. Scholarships are available and raising funds for them is a core facet of the alumni group, Cheverine says. 

(The Women’s Leadership Initiative) started due to the lack of women in executive positions in Northeast Ohio. Once you go through the (three) programs, you are automatically part of the alumni association.

“It started due to the lack of women in executive positions in Northeast Ohio. Once you go through the programs you are automatically part of the alumni association,” Cheverine says.

Involvement in the alumni association varies from member to member. About 15 women serve on a committee to help organize events, which range from networking, to fundraising and speaker events where women share about topics ranging from professional presence, to negotiation, communication, and more.

“We were targeted in whom we invited to be on the committee,” Cheverine says. “We went back through the entire list of alums and chose women so there was representation from all the classes. Women who we know are committed to the YWCA and would have energy to move it forward.”

Martin will be one of those speakers as she plans to teach an upcoming workshop on generational differences in the workplace.

What makes this group unique is the diversity among its members and their career levels. From large manufacturing companies to law firms, nonprofit organizations, and companies in the healthcare field, women who have completed the YWCA’s program come from all backgrounds, Cheverine says.

“You name it, we probably have women from their organization participate,” she says. 

Martin said she was aware of the program and had an interest, but it wasn’t until her previous employer approached her and encouraged her to apply that Martin filled out the application.

“For most of my career I have been in kind of male-dominated environments and I was excited to jump in and really start networking with women,” Martin says. “For me the content was exceptional. They were extremely valuable topics.”

Martin says she enjoyed hearing first-hand stories from other professionals. Additionally, she gained more than just classmates from the five-person group she was placed in as part of Momentum — she gained life-long professional cheerleaders and support system that is ongoing post-graduation. 

Following the program, Martin took a new position as principal of marketing at JumpStart Inc., and also founded her own small side business – both with the encouragement and advisement of the professional network she made through the program. Her business, Hyperthink LLC, aims to provide marketing strategy and branding to startups and people trying to develop their own personal brand or voice. 

“It’s really something you can take with you throughout your whole career. We are all in this together. I think we all have an obligation to each other to stay in contact with each other, to network,” she says.

“I think we really kind of gave each other that confidence and I plan on staying connected to these woman as long as I can. They really did give me the confidence I needed to make a career change.”   

For more information: ywcaofcleveland.org

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