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24th Annual Tribute to Women

Women Making a Difference

(page 1 of 7)

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Expanded Vision

by david j. williams for metroMAGAZINE

There’s been a flurry of activity on such weighty matters as constituency buy-in, logo design and communication strategies coupled with the more mundane tasks of ordering new stationery, signage and even t-shirts. But when it came time for the April announcement that the Omaha Chapter of YWCA would officially become known as the Women’s Center for Advancement, it had the aura of the most natural and seamless of transitions.

“That’s because by the time people saw the name change, it was the very last leg of a very thoughtful journey,” explained WCA CEO Dr. Natalia Peart. “It was the logical conclusion of what we have been doing to transform the agency over the last couple years. The name change reflects an evolutionary path that brought us to the reality of who we are, of what we do, of that we have become.”

Along with the name change, the WCA has ended its more than century-long relationship with the national parent organization. A

“We started in 2009,” Peart added, “with some fundamental questions that, I believe, every nonprofit must ask itself about how to best align with the very specific needs of the communities they serve. Our aim as an organization is to be increasingly resonant and relevant in addressing unmet needs.”

An East Coast native who was raised in New York and spent much of her professional career in Washington D.C., Peart also serves on the UNMC Board of Counselors and was recently appointed to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

“Anyone who has known us over the past decade or so, knew that we were first and foremost recognized for the crisis work that we do,” Peart said. “That remains a vital core of what we do, but we are also so much more,” she said of the organization’s myriad educational, career development, prevention and health programs and services.

“We had many voices involved in the strategy process, here at the agency and in every corner of the city,” she said of a collaborative effort that involved a wide array of staff, clients, stakeholders, funders and community leaders. “After working through how we viewed our place in the community, a revised plan regarding programming and services found us broadening the scope of our reach.”

That reach now includes a newly launched partnership with UNO where the campus works to train staff, faculty and students on intimate partner violence. The training also provides tools and skills to work with victims and friends affected by intimate partner violence.

Discussions are underway to expand the program to other area colleges and universities. Also new since Peart’s 2008 arrival is a greater emphasis on education and prevention promoting healthy families and healthy relationships through work with elementary schools, secondary schools and adult audiences.

“We’ve moved more into a philosophy that recognizes a continuum approach,” Peart said of the WCA’s expanded vision. “Our ability to help women and families from all walks of life and at every stage of life connect, grow and thrive is more important than ever because the needs of women have evolved.”

Just as the organization’s strategic plan was born of asking questions, the nonprofit that has been an Omaha tradition since 1893 may best be described as a place where questions remain at the very heart of their mission.

“More than just ‘how can you help me?’” Peart said, “it has become ‘how do you help me and my family in my ability to, in turn, make an impact on my neighbors and the community as a whole?’”

No discussion of the WCA’s motto of “Impacting Women, Transforming Families” would be complete, Peart said, without recognizing central issues of microeconomics at the most “micro” and personal level.

“Whether you’re coming in our doors because you are facing an acute crisis of domestic violence,” she said, “or you are struggling with multi-generational poverty, or you are just trying to get on your feet again after a loss of any kind, they all tie back to critical issues of financial stability. They are basic questions that, when left unaddressed, find too many women falling into the pattern of stalled progress or a return to situations that are less than desirable or even dangerous.”

So Peart and her team are probably due for a welldeserved breather? Not just yet.

“We’ve been in this community for 118 years and stand on the shoulders of many women who came before us,” she said. “That’s a big responsibility and there is always big work to do.” Michael McLarney, CEO of United Way of the Midlands, agreed.

“The WCA has provided strong community leadership on the matter of domestic violence for many years,” McLarney said, “and has improved many lives in the process.”

Natalia Peart now has a new business card, but a scrap of paper has never meant much of anything in this town. Results are what matter.

“This community, this city of Omaha, rallies around major issues like none other I’ve seen,” she said. “When we all pitch in time, talent and treasure, even what some consider the most intractable of problems become within our reach to solve.”


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