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Gonville to lead new era of YWCA Delaware

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WILMINGTON – When the YWCA Delaware learned last summer that Stephanie Staats, its leader for the past 17 years, had decided to take a job with the federal government, it quickly had to identify an interim leader.

Melissa Gonville YWCA Delaware CEO


Luckily, the Wilmington-based statewide nonprofit tasked with empowering women and eliminating racism didn’t have to turn far. Leaders turned to longtime supporter and former board president Melissa Gonville, and in March they removed the interim tag following a national leadership search.

A 26-year veteran of JPMorgan Chase, covering roles in technology, finance, marketing and tax compliance, Gonville first encountered the YWCA while she was looking to partner a women’s mentor group she started at Chase with a like-minded outside organization. Through that introduction, she helped organize the YWCA’s Evening of Style auction fundraiser for many years and was invited to join the board of directors.

“I just love the organization. Their mission aligns very much with my own passions,” Gonville said.

Founded in 1895, the YWCA Delaware today has about 45 employees and scores of volunteers around the state who run a handful of different programs ranging from sexual assault and domestic violence support to racial justice discussions, housing counseling and financial coaching to workforce training.

“I don’t think we could be successful as an organization if we didn’t have all of those programs because they work together,” Gonville said. “You can’t solve the problem of racial and social justice without providing those social services.”

Through its Sexual Assault Response Center (SARC) and the Home-Life Management Center, which provides transitional and residential housing for the homeless, the YWCA can connect some of the most vulnerable residents to needed services through its network, she added.

The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be a catalyst for both sexual assault support and housing assistance, Gonville said.

“At SARC, we had a huge bump in call volume and the need for medical and legal accompaniment and counseling during the pandemic,” she noted.

Widespread job losses at the outset of the pandemic also led the YWCA to respond to those seeking housing, and they responded by expanding its community housing program, which aims to keep people in their homes or in a new home outside of the shelter system. The nonprofit is also exploring a permanent supportive housing program, where clients could be placed for longer than a year.

“With a long-term placement, they can better take advantage of things like case management and counseling,” Gonville explained.

With an annual revenue stream typically between $3 million and $4 million over the last five years, and more than half coming from government grants, Gonville recognizes that she will have to boost the YWCA’s fundraising, especially for harder to quantify programs like its racial and social justice initiatives.

“We get corporate funding and individual funding, which is great, but we need to continue to increase that,” she said. “On the policy side, we can talk about what we will be advocating for, but when you’re talking about changing hearts and minds, it’s a little harder to quantify. One part of our new strategic plan is improving those metrics.”

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