Spokane Journal of Business

Parting Thoughts with Reginia Malveaux

Regina Malveaux is leaving her position as CEO of YWCA Spokane

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Regina Malveaux is leaving her position as CEO of YWCA Spokane to become director of the Washington state Women’s Commission. Malveaux was appointed to the directorship position by Gov. Jay Inslee on Aug. 10 and ends her tenure with the Spokane YWCA as of Friday, Aug. 28. 

Malveaux has been with YWCA Spokane for more than seven years and has been on the YWCA USA board for three years. She’s the second woman to lead the state’s Women’s Commission since its formation in 2018 and has been a part of that organization from its earliest days.

The Journal spoke with Malveaux about how she came to nonprofit work, the work YWCA Spokane has done since she arrived here, and how the Women’s Commission directorship fulfills her career goals.

Journal: How did you end up in Spokane?

Malveaux: I am a long-term Y-woman. I started my career with YWCAs in 2005, as a legal advocate after law school, at the YWCA of San Diego. I worked for another couple of nonprofits after that job.

When my kiddos were graduating from high school, I took my first YWCA executive position as the executive director of the YWCA South Hampton Roads, which is in the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area. I was there two years. I loved my job, loved that community, but it turns out that Virginia Beach is a long way from San Diego, and the people I love were all in San Diego. There started being grandbabies and all that good stuff.

I moved back home to southern California for about a year, and I was doing consulting work. I really wanted to get back into my YW network — I missed the work and the people and the difference that we made. I started looking for a YW executive position at an organization that was the right size and scope and offered the kind of programming that I had experience in, and that was the YWCA of Spokane. Spokane is closer to San Diego than Virginia Beach, but very much aligned with my experience at that previous organization, in terms of our program similarities.

What drew you to work for organizations like the YWCA?

I grew up in a very middle-, maybe even upper middle-class household. But in my late teens, early 20s, I met and married a very good-looking loser and ended up with pretty significant experience with domestic violence. When I left that marriage, my kiddos were 1 1/2 and 3. Around that same time, my mother and my stepfather of 25 years had their own significant domestic violence incident. I almost lost both my mom and my stepdad in an attempted homicide-suicide, which thankfully was not successful.

Those experiences informed my passion around the domestic violence prong of our work. I was also a little Black girl growing up in Casper, Wyoming, in the mid-’70s, which is a very challenging thing to be. The eliminating racism aspect of the YWCA’s mission was also deeply personal to me. Our stated mission is “eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.” That’s the umbrella mission of all YWCAs across the nation, but at each different YWCA, based on the needs of that community, the programs and scope of work can look very different.

When I first learned about the YWCA through that first job at the YWCA San Diego, I just fell in love with our mission and knew that it was a place that I wanted to vest my career. Although I only stayed about a year in that particular position I was in, I knew that when there was the right opportunity, I definitely wanted to go to work for a YWCA in a leadership position. 

When the executive director position at the YWCA South Hampton Roads came open, that’s when I started my executive journey with YWs, and that was in 2010.

How has the Spokane YWCA evolved since you arrived?

As a leader, you have your own perception of all the things that you feel like you’ve accomplished. One of the most rewarding things, for me, has been when I run into both people I know and people that I’ve never met who compliment me on the things that they see the agency doing.

When I arrived in 2013, we had all of the same programs that we have now, and we’ve always had amazing programmatic staff operating those programs, but our budget was around $3 million, and our budget is now about $5.5 million. That’s from the growth of our individual programs. We have increased the number of clients served from 2012 to this year by about 5,500 individuals. Today, we serve about 17,000 primarily women and kiddos each year, although our services certainly are also available for men and nonbinary folks. That’s a big point of pride, the fact that we’ve been able to expand our services.

We’re all proud of having expanded the community’s knowledge about the YWCA — and not just about us, but about the issues tied to our work. You may be familiar with the End the Violence campaign. That was an incredible community education campaign, and we were just one part of that, along with several dozen other organizations that are members of this partnership. That was a private sector partnership with AmpliFi Advertising to create awareness around the significance of domestic violence in our community. 

Spokane actually has the highest rate per capita of domestic violence in the state, and that’s something that not a lot of people know, so our goal was to help folks understand how prevalent the issue was, and therefor how prevalent the need. But equally as important is to provide education about how to identify it in your own relationship or with family, friends, or coworkers, and give some guidance around what you do to help support someone who’s struggling with intimate partner violence.

Our agency is roughly funded about 65%, sometimes 70%, by grants. That’s mostly state and federal grants, with some grant funding from the city and county, as well. The rest of our budget comes from individual, corporate, and foundation support. That has also been a big part of the growth of our budget—those additional supporters who’ve learned about and started to support our work. That’s probably one of the things I’m proudest of.

We joined together with city and county law enforcement and prosecutors and DV teams of each of those entities. The partners had been working together for probably 15 years prior to that, but in separate locations. We created the Spokane Family Justice Center, where all of those partners are co-located here at the YW. The goal of a family justice center is to both keep victims safe and hold perpetrators accountable. Victims are more likely to participate in prosecution when they feel seen and heard and they can trust law enforcement, which is not always the case, and victims are more likely to be open to talking with law enforcement in an environment like this, as opposed to having to go to a police department or go to the prosecutor’s office. That’s a partnership we’ve been really proud of. That opened here at the YW in February 2015. The county prosecutors are actually no longer located here; their team outgrew the space, so they relocated back to a county building. However, those core prosecutors still have a strong relationship with our legal advocates, and they still have access to meet clients here at the YW, as opposed to in their county offices, to retain that victim-friendly interview environment. 

What challenges is the YWCA of Spokane currently facing? 

I’ll start by saying we feel extraordinarily grateful. We have actually been able to remain financially stable during a time when lots of our social service colleagues have not had that same level of success. A large part of our funding is state and local government funding, and all of those funders were extraordinarily generous in allowing us to continue to charge our staff to those grants, even though, particularly during the stay-at-home order, we have been reduced to seeing very few clients. We weren’t seeing anybody in person, other than at our 24-hour emergency shelters. Staff were so creative, and I was so impressed with how quickly they were able to move to provide services remotely. Having said that, people did not choose to access services at a normal volume.

The biggest challenge was our concern that there were victims whose needs were going unmet, not because we weren’t available, but because they were not able to or choosing not to access us. 

You were recently appointed to director of the Washington Women’s Commission — what do you hope to accomplish in your time as director?

When I left my own abusive marriage, I ended up needing to apply for public assistance. And the indignity that came with that was so stark to me. It felt like it was indignities that were directly targeted at people who were poor or didn’t have any resources. I remember feeling if I had as much difficulty navigating that system as I did—and I had a private school education and lots of internal resources—I just thought, this has got to be next to impossible for other people who maybe haven’t had any of those benefits.

Then I met a woman named Marian Wright Edelman. She’s the president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, which is a social policy advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. The primary scope of their work was policy advocacy around issues impacting low-income women and families. That’s how I came to the work and came to realize there are these public systems that are broken. There are these policies that don’t make any sense. One of the primary reasons I was so excited about working with the YWCA was that our organization, nationally, has always been one that both provided direct service and did significant policy advocacy around the issues that impact our clients.

So, I changed my major to interdisciplinary studies, it was a social policy degree. When I went to law school, I did so specifically with the intention of doing policy work, and all the internships I had centered around that desire. That was 20 years ago. This commission position is exactly the kind of position that I envisioned for myself when I entered law school.

The implementation of services at organizations like the YWCA and Catholic Charities and Transitions and other human services organizations, that’s really where the rubber meets the road, relative to social policy and what resources our state, federal, and local governments have chosen to invest in the kinds of organizations that serve the members of society who need us most. The Women’s Commission was actually created two years ago, in 2018, although there had been legislators advocating in excess of 20 years for a women’s commission. I was an appointed commissioner with the inaugural group of commissioners; my term just ended, and I did not apply for renewal because I knew I was applying for this position. The specific words of the mission of the Washington state Women’s Commission are “to improve the life of every woman in the state of Washington by ensuring equitable opportunities and removing systemic barriers through engagement, advocacy, and public policy, while being inclusive of our diverse populations.” Our vision is for “every woman to be healthy, safe, prosperous, and empowered to achieve their full potential.” That’s my life’s work.

Currently, the primary work of the commission is around policy, but there are many women’s commissions across the country that do any number of things. There’s a lot for us to consider in terms of what we might be able to do in the future. And that’s exciting to me as well. 

Any time you are in something that’s kind of like a startup, it gives you a lot of opportunity for determining the many ways to have impact. It’s exciting from the standpoint that it’s kind of the job I envisioned for myself when I was in my 20s and that I’m going into it with the life and professional experience to really be able to inform the work and the policies in a way that is probably unique to someone who has the background that I do.

Does the commission directorship mean you’ll be leaving Spokane? 

It does. I went house hunting in Olympia last weekend — I thought I’d be moving right away, but reality sank in when I got there. I knew that most people in state government were working from home, but I think I didn’t realize that almost all people in state government are working from home. I will go periodically for some key in-person meetings, but I’ve determined that I probably will remain in Spokane until the Olympia campus really re-opens. Right now, that’s not projected before winter, and probably not before spring. It wasn’t until I got there that I realized I don’t need to move right away. 

I have a lovely little home that I rent on the South Hill, and it was going to be hard to give up my house, because I just adore it so much, so this gives me more time with that. I have an extraordinary group of friends here. I think I’ll hang out in Spokane for a little bit longer. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Virginia Thomas
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Reporter Virginia Thomas has worked at the Journal since 2017 and covers the health care industry. As a reporter, she loves learning about Spokane's many growing industries. She enjoys traveling with her husband, snuggling with her cats, and cross stitching.

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