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Interview with Pam Axberg on Joining National YWCA USA Board

By Pam Stegora Axberg, UnitedHealthcare, Senior Vice President and YWCA USA board member
July 13, 2017
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How long have you been involved with YWCA Minneapolis?  

I became involved with YWCA Minneapolis as a volunteer for Circle of Women in 2008. When I relocated back home to Minnesota, I was looking for organizations that supported my passion for empowering girls and youth. I sought out then YWCA CEO Becky Roloff, since she was a fellow alumnae of St. Kates. Soon after, I was nominated to the YWCA Board of Directors and served two three-year terms from 2008 to 2014. I served as Board Chair from 2011 to 2013.

Why is YWCA’s mission important to you?

I became involved with YWCA Minneapolis because of its mission of empowering women. Girls and women continue to need more advocacy at all stages of our lives. Giving women a stronger individual and collective voice on important issues is a fundamental part of the YWCA mission.

I love the Early Childhood Education program. It gives all the children a head-start in life and helps their moms and dads be financially independent. I didn’t initially know much about the Health and Wellness program, but now I appreciate how it is incorporated into everything YWCA Minneapolis does. Working with youth and their families to be fit is part of taking care of the total person. Healthcare is such a major issue in our society too. We need to teach kids how to be healthy when they are young so they can be healthy when they become adults.

Eliminating racism is a critical component of YWCA’s mission as well. I have recently become more active in this part of the mission and it has broadened my understanding of how racism continues in our society and the challenges in overcoming it.

In what other ways are you involved with YWCA Minneapolis?

YWCA Women’s Triathlon

This year will be my ninth year racing in the Women’s Tri. I’m getting slower, but it does motivate me to stay fit and to exercise when I’d rather sleep in. I always laugh when I think about joining the Board of Directors and being asked to compete in the Women’s Tri. I thought the YWCA Board just wanted money! I didn’t know they also wanted my “body”!

Circle of Women

I was co-chair and then later chaired the event. How many places can you bring people and ask them to donate money and they thank you for inviting them to come? This is a great way to get others to know about YWCA’s mission and the great work they do.

YWCA Board of Directors

I served as the Finance chair and Treasurer.

It’s Time to Talk Racial Justice Champion

How can I be more inclusive or even just aware of how can I be an advocate? Hearing others’ stories and sharing my own helped me appreciate and understand different perspectives. I have so much more to learn in this area, and I appreciate that YWCA is helping me on this journey.

Can you please tell us about a mission moment?  

While I cry every year at the Circle of Women luncheon when I hear the girls’ and mothers’ stories, I really love the Strong Fast Fit program. My most memorable mission moment is experiencing the YWCA Minneapolis Women’s Triathlon. Every year I am amazed and empowered as I get to compete with these tenacious female athletes who each have a different reason for doing it.

My children volunteered at the Women’s Tri when they were young. They would remark at how amazing it was to see so many women of all sizes, shapes, ages and physical abilities completing the triathlon. In 2013, my daughter joined me in racing at the Women’s Tri, and has competed with me ever since. We share a special bond because of the Tri.

When my girlfriends and I did the “Fun, Fabulous and Fifty” buddy team for the Women’s Tri, I saw the power of how women rise to the challenge. With support, my friend Brenda overcame her fear of water and learned to swim at age 50 (she had to take the lessons twice!) in order to join us in the triathlon. That is giving women their own power. That is helping women see what they can accomplish.

Regarding the YWCA USA board, how has your work on the YWCA Minneapolis board prepared you for this new role?  

In many ways the YWCA Minneapolis Board was a pre-requisite to joining the YWCA USA board. As YWCA USA has recently gone to its national model, they are very conscious of incorporating the needs of the local affiliated chapters.

In addition, my board role started me on my journey to better understanding the importance of good board governance. How do you let the CEO lead but also guide them strategically and ensure the board’s priorities are aligned with the mission? I was able to participate in strategic planning work at YWCA Minneapolis. It was because of my role on YWCA Minneapolis’ CEO selection committee last year that I thought about how else I could stay involved in YWCA in a different capacity. I learned as you work through difficult problems, staying true to your mission and values will ensure you and the organization emerge intact and stronger.

What do you hope to contribute or accomplish on the YWCA USA board?  

YWCA USA is early in building the national model. They are working to identify how it can be a stronger national organization, yet still foster the local and regional needs as well as the diversity of the local programming. The organization can be even stronger when it is able to leverage both – it’s not an “either/or”.

I hope to continue the relationship between the national organization and local affiliates, but also see how YWCA can have local programs that can be leveraged nationally in a way that makes them even stronger.

YWCA USA communicates nationally on a public policy level. I hope to continue to support and guide its work — and become more knowledgeable — so that YWCA can be an even stronger voice in the advocacy of its mission.

What are YWCA USA’s priorities and how do you see them aligning with YWCA Minneapolis?

The mission is the same. You can’t be more aligned than having the same shared mission. YWCA USA does a lot of policy advocacy, and I think that can be supportive and helpful to the local affiliates. Also, since affiliates vary greatly in size and financial strength, YWCA USA can provide support to help nurture smaller affiliates as well as share best practices and great programs. Programming is still done at the local level so I see YWCA Minneapolis continuing to do its great work that meets the needs in its community.