Pictured: Penny Lopez, Executive Director of Administrative Services of YMCA of Greater Whittier, and Janice Hahn, Supervisor for the 4th District of Los Angeles County
The YMCA of Greater Whittier service area encompasses Whittier, South Whittier, Santa Fe Springs, Norwalk, La Mirada, Pico Rivera, and La Habra Heights with over 400,000 residents, of which are 70+% are Latino/Hispanic. The YMCA of Greater Whittier is celebrating its 105th Anniversary in 2020 and is an anchor institution to the 86,000 residents in the City of Whittier.
The history of Whittier is much like many cities of America in that social justice actions and change are met with resistance from city leaders and residents. While Whittier is a city with a history of opposing change, one Y’s voice can spur change in a community.
The YMCA of Greater Whittier's journey of change started with our strategic plan 5 years ago that identified barriers in our Y and service area communities that were unacceptable any longer by our leadership and our Board. We began with By-Law changes, updating those to current societal as well as cultural acceptance. We began by influencing culture within our doors by supporting the National Y campaign commitment “For All”. A wide promotion of the campaign via our website and social media platforms as well as signage showed our support. Our Past-Chair would bring a sign to Board meetings to serve as a reminder of who we were and still are trying to become.
We then began seeking opportunities outside our walls to advocate for social justice with the Whittier Pride Community. But first, we needed to back up our action by adopting an organizational-wide diversity and inclusion policy. Board and staff members formed a task force to develop an organizational statement with policies that would forever guide our Y when developing programs, media outreach, Board members selection process, and personnel decisions.
“The YMCA of Greater Whittier is committed to promoting inclusion and diversity among all people and groups within the communities we serve. We strive to achieve equal access and resolve inequities for all people to grow toward their full potential.”
Our Y then opened our doors to other nonprofit organizations supporting the advancement of youth educational attainment. YouthBuild is one of the organizations that found a home at our Uptown Whittier Y Branch. YouthBuild is a nonprofit charter school that serves low-income 16 to 24-year-old students who left, or have been “pushed out” of traditional high schools. Young adults are pursuing what may be their last chance to earn a high school diploma. Many of the students are LGBTQ+ and are from working-class families of color. The Y looked at the opportunity to partner with the school to actively live out the Y values of caring, honesty, respect, and responsibility “For All”.
These changes laid the groundwork for how our Y supports social justice for our LGBTQ+ community. In 2019, organizers of Whittier’s first Pride Festival asked for a show of support from the Y and other community organizations as the city council prepared to vote for final approval to hold the festival in a city park. Whittier unfortunately was known for supporting anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, but at the meeting, the Mayor stated his support for granting the permit because of the Y's letter specifically referencing our support and partnership with YouthBuild and recommended the council do the same.
Above: The ribbon cutting with California State Senator Archuleta, Supervisor Hahn and the Whittier Pride organizing committee.
The vote was 5-0 in favor of granting the license. The Pride Festival Organizers' objective was to bring unity to our community with a family-friendly festival in a safe place for the LGBTQ+ community to come together with allies. At the Pride Festival, LGBTQ+ community members celebrated that they belonged in Whittier.
The example of the YMCA of Greater Whittier as an advocate and voice for the LGBTQ+ community shows that, even in a city adverse to change, our Y voice matters!