Linda Cavaioli has made a career of empowering individuals on the margins. As Executive Director of the YWCA of Central Massachusetts for the past 26 years, she’s made it her business to support women fleeing domestic violence (DV); deliver essential early care and education to young children so that parents can work or pursue education; and empower homeless women by providing transitional housing, job coaching, mentoring, and other supportive services. She’s also been a strong voice for social justice in Worcester and acts a convener and facilitator of the City Manager’s Community Coalition Against Bias and Hate. CEDAC and the Children’s Investment Fund are proud to be partnering with the YWCA of Central Massachusetts on a critical housing and child care project in Worcester.
Key to the YWCA’s mission and achieving their goals is their 74,000 square foot facility in Worcester’s Theatre District, which they are seeking to turn into more affordable housing and high quality child care. Built in 1961, the structure now needs a serious makeover- the roof of the housing wing leaks, the building is brutally hot in the summer months, and several child care classrooms lack windows.
Last year, the YWCA approached CEDAC and the Children Investment Fund (CIF) team to obtain both predevelopment financing and customized training and technical assistance through CIF’s Building Stronger Centers’ training institute. To date, CEDAC and CIF have provided $200,000 in predevelopment funds and a $20,000 planning grant. This critical early support allowed the YWCA to hire a team of experienced consultants to devise a feasible redevelopment plan for the building and, in June, Linda and her board of directors launched a $7.5 million capital campaign. A capital campaign consultant determined the scope of the campaign after conducting interviews and focus groups and trained the board of directors and executive staff to make powerful “asks.” With $3 million already pledged or in hand, the organization will approach foundations, corporations and individuals donors. The City of Worcester has already committed CDBG funding and is contemplating committing additional housing funding. The YWCA will also apply for state housing bond financing, Federal Home Loan Bank financing, federal and state historic tax credits, New Market Tax Credits, and Early Education and Out of School Time (EEOST) capital funds through the Department of Early Care and Education (EEC).
A major impetus for the rebuilding campaign is to improve the quality and functioning of the 41 existing units of transitional housing. In a recent interview, Linda outlined how the program works to inspire women to become self-sufficient. Some women are coming out of recovery and need support to maintain their sobriety. Many participants come with specific goals like going back to school or reuniting with their children who have been placed in foster care. Staff members work with program participants from a strengths-based perspective. Each participant is asked: What’s going well right now? What can we/you build on? Linda notes that “staff walk side by side with each woman on her journey, not ahead.” All supportive services are designed to build independence by connecting women with clinical services, identifying available resources, and modeling self-advocacy.
The second catalyst for the re-envisioning of the YWCA’s headquarters was the quality of the several child care classrooms and the high demand for affordable child care in the region. The renovation will allow the child care program to move the infant and toddler classrooms from basement space up to the ground floor, ensuring that all classrooms have natural light sources, improved security, and better access to outdoor play spaces. Finally, the building makeover will allow the YWCA to add another classroom, serving an additional ten pre-K children and their families.
As she pursues funding for the YWCA headquarters, Linda continues to challenge herself and her organization to improve the Y’s programs and initiatives through the lens of social justice and intersectionality- “a framework [that] takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face.” This includes the YWCA’s mentoring program with Girls, Inc. that serves at-risk girls at every Worcester middle school, the agency’s work with DV survivors to break the cycle of violence, and Linda’s efforts to raise staff wages. A steadfast advocate of girls, women and social justice for all marginalized people, Linda is paving the way for a brighter, most equitable future for all Worcester community members.