Rather than name a single recipient for its yearly Woman of Distinction honor, Grand Island YWCA has honored women across several fields as 2020 Women of Distinction.
For the year of the pandemic, YWCA has honored Grand Island women serving in education and health care, as well as first responders and essential workers.
YWCA has given the honor every year since 1986, Executive Director Amy Bennett said.
“It honors a woman who embodies our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women,” Bennett said.
The recipient is nominated by the community and chosen by a YWCA committee, comprised mostly of previous honorees.
“In a normal year, we would have had a big event where they are honored and presented with a big award, and this year we knew we could not do that,” Bennett said.
YWCA did not want to interrupt the legacy of honoring Grand Island’s exceptional women.
“We retooled and said, ‘How can we make this still happen?’” Bennett said. “That’s when we decided to really focus on women on the frontlines of COVID, and change the way we were doing it just for this year.”
The honorees this year deliberately cover wide-ranging sections of the community working to combat the pandemic.
“We wanted to make sure we were not missing anybody,” Bennett said. “We know that in our community women have been on the frontlines of COVID.”
Women in leadership experience difficulties and resistance even in normal times, Bennett said, and this has been far from a normal year.
“We’re at a very polarizing time,” she said. “It’s hard to know what is because they’re women and what’s because of the polarization. I do think being a woman in leadership in the pandemic is definitely harder, because there’s just different expectations people have for women than they do for men.”
The pandemic has affected women more nationally, Bennett said.
“Jobs lost have mostly been by women. It’s even been coined the ‘she-cession’ or ‘her-cession’ because of the loss of jobs for women,” she said.
Rather than having a banquet or ceremony, YWCA highlighted the achievements of these women through a series of videos available online and via social media.
Bringing together so many leaders to share their stories presented no challenge, Bennett said.
“We brainstormed what areas and reached out to people in the community, and everyone we asked said yes,” she said. “They really wanted to talk about their experience, but also wanted to shed light on what it was like to really be in the pandemic.”
The purpose of the honor is to “highlight the incredible work women are doing in our community.”
“We really want to show and honor women who are empowering other women,” Bennett said. “There is still a lot of work we have to do for gender justice and gender equity in our world, the same as racial justice and racial equity.”
Bennett said there is no concern that Grand Island YWCA will run out of women of distinction to honor in the community.
“Our community is full of incredible women,” she said. “There are always going be women, and maybe it’s women we don’t see everyday, who are going to be able to be highlighted as women of distinction.”
To watch the video stories of Grand Island’s women on the frontlines of COVID, visit the Grand Island YWCA website at https://www.ywca-gi.org/get-involved/events/woman-of-distinction/.