Written by Christine Bork, CEO, YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago Tuesday, July 17 2012
Christine Bork on Starting her Career
In a recent New York Times article, Mike Sheehan, ad agency Hill Holliday CEO, says the best leaders take their company's failures to heart. "If it doesn't really bother you, I don't think that you're going to be a great leader. You've got to lose sleep at night," he says.
As CEO of the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago (YWCA), I can attest to many sleepless nights. The causes are endless: fretting over the Illinois budget deficit and its impact on client services, guessing about future trends, and satisfying an ever-more demanding set of donor expectations. Thanks to 20-plus years of nonprofit management experience, I’m not surprised by these priorities. Yet I must confess there is something I was completely unprepared for: murder.
Seven years ago the YWCA made a commitment to open a new community center and provide economic empowerment services for women. The management team and the board of directors relied on census data and trend analysis to choose the right Chicago neighborhoods for our unique services. As a result, a beautiful new community center opened in the Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.
Christine Bork on Human Trafficking
Since then, our dreams for uplifting women with new financial empowerment tools, job placement, life coaching, computer skills and crisis counseling have largely come true. The first hint of a problem came a few years ago when someone found a bullet hole in the front window. That was soon followed by the discovery of a dead body in the alley behind the building. Then the robberies at the nail salon and cellphone store next door worried us despite the recent addition of our own security guard.
On April 10, during a program to teach teen mothers healthy parenting skills, the moms and their babies were leaving the community center. As they were departing, an alert employee noticed a group of nearby men acting suspiciously just moments before the shooting started. The mothers shielded their babies and ran back into the community center, some crawling the last few yards and throwing themselves on top of their children. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured.
Homicides in Chicago are up by 38 percent from a year ago. As of June 17, 240 people have been killed here this year, 66 more deaths than occurred in the same period in 2011. While the YWCA’s first intention is to help women become empowered, I’m now frighteningly aware we must also respond to gang warfare.
Christine Bork on Fundraising
When news of the shooting first reached me, the first thing on my mind was that no one can die. I was struck by the words of one of our teen moms, who wrote, “I was scared. The shots were so close that I could smell the smoke. All I can think about was getting my baby to a safe place [sic]. This incident really made me think about how precious life is.” I’m sure Mr. Sheehan and his peers stay awake at night worrying about net profits and client services. My sleeplessness stems from fear and worry that someone will die in my care.
Today, I’m sleeping much better thanks to the heroic people with whom I work. I was utterly amazed by their response. The staff was resolute in their commitment to serving the YWCA’s mission and, in particular, this community. This was their home, and they were willing to fight back. It was a great lesson in servant leadership. A CEO, any leader, must know when to lead, when to follow, and how to get comfortable during those long, dark nights.
More women taking on sleepless nights to benefit their causes:
Five women took on the physically demanding challenge of rowing across the Atlantic for 45 days to raise awareness about human trafficking in their community. Learn more about their adventure and admirable courage to end human trafficking not only in their neighborhood, but everywhere.
China is often criticized by international animal rights groups for their lack of animal protection laws. Lee-Anne Armstrong is improving conditions as the director of Second Chance Animal in Shangai, which has found homes for over 700 rescued animals.
One Simple Wish (OSW) is a New Jersey-based nonprofit that makes wishes come true year round for children in foster care. If founder Danielle Gletow could have one wish, it would be to close the gap between those who want to help foster children and their ability to do so.