South Dakota YWCA ‘Breakaway’ Provides Services to Youth, Women

South Dakota: Little girl dressed in pink holds wiring from panel.

Photos by Stell Simonton

Leilani Liggins, 6, was among about 100 girls who took part in Girls Maker Day at the Sioux Falls, S.D., nonprofit EmBe. The organization, whose name stands for Empowering You to Be, focuses on youth development and women’s leadership.

A jumble of multicolored wires spilled out of the open side of a computer as Leilani Liggins, 6, dressed in a pink shirt and matching hair band, peered in.

“I’m taking it apart,” she said, as she wielded a tiny Phillips-head screwdriver. “I’m just not sure where everything is supposed to be.”

But she proceeded with confidence, fingering a small fan and then unscrewing another connection.

It was Girls Maker Day at the nonprofit EmBe in Sioux Falls, S.D., formerly the YWCA, an event in April intended to empower girls in science and technology. Girls Maker Day fit well with the organization’s two-fold mission of youth development and women’s leadership development.

“We’re exposing girls to opportunities in STEAM that they might not think they’d be interested in,” said Stacy Stahl, executive director of youth programs. “We wanted to create an environment where everybody could find something of interest to them.”

EmBe, which stands for Empowering You to Be, was formerly the YWCA Sioux Falls. Its double focus on women and children developed out of the YWCA’s original mission of meeting the needs of women.

EmBe provides early child care, before and after-school care, and a summer program for kids that includes arts, science, sports activities and community service.

Camp Changemaker, a four-day program, educates kids about nonprofits, and a girls leadership camp exposes girls to nontraditional careers with the description: “Learn to be a future #ladyboss.”

EmBe offers a running program through Girls On the Run and FIRST LEGO League robotics. The Fantastic Five, a robotics team of fifth-grade girls from Dakota Valley Elementary School in Sioux Falls, were on hand to show their projects at Girls Maker Day.

Dakota State University graduate student Kanthi Narukonda sat at a table showing girls how to use a Caesar wheel, a simple device for creating secret code. “We do events like this to increase the number of women in cybersecurity,” she said.

The programs for women at EmBe include a group exploring entrepreneurship, a Dress for Success clothes closet and a civic engagement roundtable discussion. A yearlong women’s leadership program involves a two-day retreat and six training sessions.

South Dakota: Smiling little girl seated at table cuts paper.

Third-grader Awstyn Lundy cuts out a Caesar wheel she’ll use to encode a secret message, as her father, Dave Lundy, looks on. The two attended Girls Maker Day at EmBe, formerly the YWCA.

Breaking with the YWCA

Despite its long history as a YWCA affiliate, EmBe has diverged from the YWCA mission.

The YWCA prides itself on being a leader in the most important social movements for women over the past century and a half. It was founded in response to the social ills of the industrial revolution and its impact on women. Early goals were to protect and meet the needs of young single working women.

When YWCA Sioux Falls was created in 1921, it offered an employment service and apartments for women coming from rural areas to work in the city.

The YWCA USA has continued its activism, challenging racism and focusing on domestic violence, which is the leading cause of injury to women in the United States.

The Sioux Falls YWCA affiliate split from the parent organization in 2013.

“There was a lot of advocacy happening on the national level,” Stahl said. The national YWCA focused on issues of diversity and domestic abuse, she said.

“Our missions were not aligned based on the programs we were doing,” Stahl said.

EmBe CEO Karen Lundquist said: “We looked at where the Y was headed nationally and where South Dakota was headed.”

While it has broken with the more progressive YWCA, EmBe retains some legacy programs rooted in the community. Spinsters is a committee of high school girls who plan a dance for about 1,500 youth. Local businesses sponsor the social event, which also  raises money for scholarships.


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