October 2011

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work to inspire Someone You Should Know: Eileen Mershart A mainstay of the Madison community is handing over the reins of the YWCA By Elishah Oesch At 7:30 on a Friday morning, the usual hustle and bustle of downtown Madison has yet to begin. In fact, if not for the bright orange sign on the doorway of the YWCA, you might mistake the stately building on Miffl in Street for just another business waiting to open. But this place is anything but your typical offi ce space once you walk through the doors. Bright colors, beautiful paintings, and dozens of pictures of women making strides throughout our community's history adorn the walls. Smack dab in the middle is a photo of a woman many have come to know as a staple of our community: Eileen Mershart. For the past 13 years, the soft-spoken Mershart has served as the president of the YWCA Madison with vigor and passion. Th roughout her tenure, she's spearheaded dozens of projects for the YWCA—many of which were not even in existence before she came on board. It's been a tenure that Mershart is proud of. "[She] is one of those folks who just inspires other people to work hard," says friend and YWCA board member Beth Norman. Like most inspirational people, Mershart leads by example. She's put in countless hours on initiatives like the new Empowerment Center, Girls Inc., Job Ride and other training programs for wom- en in our community who need a leg up. But more than that, Mer- shart has been a guiding voice in the community and in the lives of women. In fact, Mershart knows and identifi es with on a very personal level many who have come to the YWCA for help. "I've had some tough times. I've had some times when I've not had a job, when I've been through a divorce, and I've had kids who didn't understand that," she admits. Which is why working at the YWCA has been a perfect fi t for Mershart. She's been instrumental in giving women who need a second chance, much like herself at one time, "a place to regroup and recoup." Nonprofi t Profi le: YWCA Madison What it is: A nonprofi t organization dedicated to eliminating racism, empower- ing women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Its history: The YWCA Madison was founded over 100 years ago. This year, the YWCA opened the doors to their newly renovated build- ing downtown. How to get involved: Volunteers assist in tutoring adults and planning children's programs, helping women prepare for work and more. Find applications online. Upcoming events: On Oct. 5-7, the YWCA Madison is hosting its annual Racial Justice Summit, a gathering focused on a restorative approach to racial justice. For more information: (608) 257-1436 or Mershart's time at the YWCA has shaped her life in ways she can never fully express, even as she approaches the end of this journey. After years of service to this community, Mershart is retiring next month. After leading the YWCA through its recent multi-million dollar campaign to renovate its downtown building, she says she's ready for this new phase of her life—but she also intends to con- tinue her mission to empower women. Mershart sums it up. "I'm very passionate about the issues, I'm passionate about the work, and it's been a gift and a blessing to have been here for this period of time." She still fi rmly believes that everyone, whether working or not, "can do something little or big in the world to make it a better place." Her successor has yet to be chosen, but, as Norman says, "we know whoever the new director is going to be, they will have some big shoes to fi ll." ••• Elishah Oesch is co-anchor of WKOW27's Wake Up Wisconsin. See Mershart's story on Wake Up Wiscon- sin on Oct. 5 and 27 News at 10 on Oct. 6. 36 BRAVA Magazine October 2011 Photo by David King

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