As YWCA Columbus Supports Children and Women, It Also Aims to be an Agent for Change

For the past five years, Christie Angel has led the nonprofit’s efforts to promote social justice, educate kids and support the homeless. Though she’s leaving, her support of its mission won’t waver.

Chuck Nelson
YWCA Columbus President and CEO Christie Angel (left) with Nichelle Harris, managing director of education

Change has been a constant at YWCA Columbus since its founding in 1886. Later this year, President and CEO Christie Angel will pave the way for a change in leadership at the nonprofit after five years in the top job. Angel, who has a long history of volunteering for the organization, plans to step down after her successor is found.

Her dedication to the organization’s mission won’t change, though. “I’m not going anywhere,” says Angel, who became the YWCA’s leader in 2017. “I’ll just be in a different chair. I will serve the organization in a different way, whatever way they need me to serve.”

The organization touches the lives of thousands of people in Central Ohio daily through supportive housing and emergency shelter programs, social justice work, and youth development and education offerings—the core elements of its mission.

The YWCA offers housing to about 100 women through a residency program at its Downtown location, and its Family Center is an emergency shelter that helps many more families and individuals experiencing homelessness.

“For so long, I think we’ve heard a lot about the housing piece and not as much about the other pieces,” Angel says. “We’ve been building those up and talking about them a bit more, especially the youth development and early childhood education.” Those efforts include the Kids Place after-school program and the Bright Futures initiative to empower middle school girls.

The pandemic heaped changes on the organization, forcing staff to adapt quickly, especially in the areas of child care and youth education. “We’ve had to really adapt and pivot—a lot of times,” says Nichelle Harris, managing director of education. “Pivots within pivots within pivots.”

That arm of the organization went from serving nearly 3,000 kids in 2019 to less than 1,000 last year, Harris says, in part because more parents were working from home.

“Our education staff have done a really great job at making sure that we are practicing COVID protocols, and we are keeping our programs open and continuing to serve families,” Harris says.

The YWCA also aims to be an agent of change on issues such as social justice and affordable housing. One of its goals is to decrease the number of people who are homeless, subject to eviction or living in shelters. Continuing to advocate for resources to help fight homelessness is part of that push, Angel says. “A sustainable source of funding is important,” she says, “while at the same time we need more affordable housing in this community.”

According to YWCA Columbus’ 2020 annual report, of its $7.8 million in expenses, 70 percent went to housing and Kids Place programs—45 percent and 25 percent, respectively. The nonprofit reported $8.6 million in revenue, 40 percent of which came from corporate contributions, special events and individual donations. Government grants, earned income and contributions from United Way of Central Ohio and the Community Shelter Board make up the remainder.

Carlie J. Boos, executive director of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Central Ohio, calls Angel a clarion voice and says her ability to tackle big issues and help craft achievable solutions as a member of that organization’s board is inspiring.

“We’ve worked on some projects, and I’m positive that she brings it everywhere she goes,” Boos says. “She’s focused on coming up with the right answer, the best answer for the community, for the city, even if that is something that feels ambitious, feels like a longshot.

“I’m trying to learn from that, trying to find a way to get comfortable with being uncomfortable sometimes. Because if we’re going to push for real change—whether it’s solving the affordable housing crisis or addressing racism in our society—we all have to get a little bit uncomfortable. Those are big problems, and we’ve got to get big solutions.”

Angel hopes the “fresh eyes” and different perspective of a new leader will continue pushing the organization forward. “The biggest achievement for me is the people—the strong leadership team we’ve developed, the work that our team has done,” she says. “To me, the crown jewel of my time here is leaving and knowing that there’s this strong core team to carry out our mission and continue to serve the community.

“You don’t do any of those things without the people. That’s infrastructure that’s going to carry the day for the next five years. Or 10. Or 20.”

As she transitions out of the leadership role, she still expects to be involved. “We try not to let people get too far away,” she says with a laugh.

She has also offered to help new YWCA USA leader Margaret Mitchell—as long as it doesn’t require moving to Washington, D.C.

“I can’t wait to see what she does next,” Boos says. “We’re all going to be impressed, whatever it is.”

This story is from the Spring 2022 issue of Columbus Parent.