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The New Philanthropists

By Rev. Christie Cozad Neuger, Ph.D.
June 6, 2016
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“A friend once said, ‘you have to live each day as if you can change the world while knowing at the same time that the world won’t fully change in our lifetime.’ That might be my slogan.”

Learn more about why long-time donor and past YWCA Minneapolis board member, Rev. Christie Cozad Neuger, Ph.D., continues to fight for the well-being of girls and youth and for a just, inclusive, and egalitarian future.

How long, and in what ways, have you been involved with the YWCA of Minneapolis?

I first got involved with YWCA Minneapolis 12 years ago. A good friend was on the Board of Directors and she introduced me to YWCA’s mission. I was invited to serve on the Board and joined what was then the Policy Committee. Unfortunately, within a few months I took a new job and moved to Texas.

Shortly after I returned from teaching in Texas, I was again invited to join the Board of the YWCA. At that point I was able to become much more familiar with the mission and work of the YWCA and was deeply moved by what was happening there. My academic research had largely focused on issues of cultural marginalization, especially through gender and race, and I felt that the work of the YWCA dovetailed with both my research and my activism over the past 25 years.

How did you come to be a donor? Why did you give your first gift to YWCA Minneapolis.  Why does this cause matter to you?

Early on in my introduction to YWCA Minneapolis, I had expressed how important the issues of girls’ development was for me. Although the progress for girls and women has been significant over the past 25 years, I continue to be deeply concerned about the risks to girls of losing their confidence and voice, of internalizing cultural stereotypes about appropriate and acceptable “femaleness,” about buying into the “marketing of ‘girliness’ and consumerism,” about the increasing risks of abuse and harassment that come with female adolescence, about the subverting of girls’ dreams of achievement with lesser culturally endorsed roles, and so much more. Certainly some groups of girls are at more risk than others, but many of these concerns apply to all girls. In presentations I had been doing about the parenting of girls, I had encountered parental viewpoints about the essentialism of gender stereotypes that could have been just as easily from the 1950’s and 60’s. This was all very troubling to me. I had supported Girls, Inc. for many years and appreciated their research and their programs for girls. I discovered that YWCA Minneapolis had partnered with Girls, Inc. and had done significant programming related to the risks named above. Their focus was particularly on the intersection between gender, race, and class. I wanted to find a way to be a part of that work. When they asked if I would be willing to make a significant donation to this work with girls and youth, I was eager to participate. In conversations with my spouse, who feels equally deeply about these issues, we decided to give the amount asked and an equal amount through a legacy gift.

What do you want your gifts to accomplish?

I really trust the knowledge, wisdom and skill of YWCA Minneapolis leadership team, staff, and Board of Directors. I want my gifts to financially support their decisions as they continue to develop educational and empowerment-based programs for the well-being of girls and youth and for a just, inclusive, and egalitarian future.

What would you want others to know about the YWCA’s Girls and Youth programs?

There are many things I would want others to know about the YWCA’s Girls and Youth programs. First, these programs are carefully conceived, consistent with research, and collaborative with others for whom these issues are a priority. Second, the programs are effective. The long-term achievement of girls who participate in the afterschool programs has been documented. The groups offer support and the development of knowledge and skills that equip them for a better future. Girls learn how to care for and empower each other – attitudes and skills that will serve them well throughout their lives. In addition, the Girls RAP programs are powerful in shifting potentially negative life paths into new and productive possibilities. The low rate of recidivism after moving through this program is impressive. Third, we need to continue to prioritize the lives of girls, especially those in disadvantaged circumstances, to counter the unhealthy and limiting cultural messages that continue to bombard them in both subtle and overt ways. As YWCA Minneapolis continues to enhance their programming in the area of Girls and Youth, I hope that this aspect of YWCA’s mission even further captures the passion of the philanthropic community.

If you had a personal mission statement or slogan, what would it say?

I like John Wesley’s often quoted statement: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.” A friend once said, “you have to live each day as if you can change the world while knowing at the same time that the world won’t fully change in our lifetime.” That might be my slogan.

What would you like to pass on to the next generation?

Two things come to mind. I would like to pass on a strong commitment to care about the betterment of the world and never to become complacent that someone else will “do it.” At the same time, I’d like for them to know that they don’t have to do it alone, that collaboration is always better than isolation. Second, I’d like to pass on a love of critical thinking – to never accept cultural “truths” as valid without challenge. There are always multiple truths and perspectives that need to be considered and respected in considering any situation or problem.

Who have been the leaders and mentors in your life’s journey?

Mentors have often come through reading. Strong feminist theologians like Mary Daly and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza would be two examples. Mentoring has been a constant and relational process through parents, teachers, friends, and students, sometimes over years, sometimes in a transformative moment. It never ends.