Maria Imperial stepped up to a huge challenge as CEO in 2009, when the YWCA White Plains & Central Westchester faced the need to renovate its Women’s Residence in an economy that weakened funding for nonprofits. Undaunted, she and her team patched together $26 million in funding to renovate the residence (which was completed in 2011) and provide permanent, supportive housing for 193 people.
Now, with a $9 million budget and 250 staff members, Imperial has strengthened the YWCA’s infrastructure and reinvigorated its mission of empowerment and equity. Imperial joined the YWCA in August 2007, and under her tenure, the organization has tripled its assets to $28 million and grown its operating budget by $2 million.
“It’s not about getting girls and women a seat at the table. It’s about building a new table.”
Imperial holds a BA and JD from Harvard and an MPA in nonprofit management from NYU. Early in her career, she realized she wouldn’t find a lifetime in corporate law fulfilling. “Focusing on women’s issues has always been my calling,” says Imperial, who worked for a decade at Safe Horizon and the City Bar Justice Center before taking the reins at YWCA.
One of the YWCA programs she’s proudest of is Girls Empowered through Meaningful Support (GEMS), which seeks to bridge the opportunity gap for African-American and Latina girls, particularly in STEM. More than 50 percent of GEMS students are on the honor roll; all of them are accepted to college, and they’ve competed in local and statewide robotics contests. “I feel like they’re my daughters,” Imperial says.
Above all else, Imperial’s mission is to build a better world. “Everyone would be liberated by an equitable society,” she says. “It’s not about getting girls and women a seat at the table. It’s about building a new table.”