By Jatrice Martel Gaiter
Maud Booth, an indefatigable disrupter and advocate, was the co-founder of Volunteers of America in 1896. She drafted the original constitution of VOA which granted women equal votes, well before women could vote for President of the United States. VOA continues to build on its legacy of respecting women leaders. Today, 16 of the 30 affiliates are led by CEOs who are women.
With bipartisan leadership, the affiliate serving Kentucky has expanded its pioneering programs to provide housing and addiction services to women who are pregnant, nursing, and mothers to toddlers. Amid the opioid crisis, these women were previously excluded from most residential addiction treatment programs.
Former naval housing was transformed into a 73 -townhouse community for female veterans and their children facing homelessness by VOA Los Angeles. Women comprise most of the residents in our expansive network of nursing homes and continuing care communities. These are just a few of the innovative programs focused on women and their families.
We have enhanced our DEI initiatives to include building a leadership pipeline for women of color. Too often, women of color are excluded from executive positions in nonprofits. Change is more than just a hire - it requires an adjustment of norms, culture, and expectations.
Throughout my career, I have always been considered too strident, too animated and too much. As a six-foot African American woman, it was impossible for me to assume an unobtrusive and diminutive demeanor.
I identify with the five-foot Maud Booth who was brave and outrageous in her day. She almost single-handedly spearheaded prison reform and halfway houses. She sold tickets to her wedding to raise money for the fledgling VOA.
The world is frothing with climate change, war, growing racial disparities, poverty, and frightening uncertainty. It will take more women with vociferous voices, compassion, and strategic alliances in the executive ranks of nonprofits to increase the relevance, influence, and power of our sector.
Volunteers of America is one of the largest comprehensive human services organizations in the country. Our mission is driven by 16,000 professionals working in 46 states including the District and Puerto Rico. We provide affordable housing, health, and human services to assist 1.5 million people to rebuild their lives and reach their full potential.