There are family reunions.
And then there are events that feel like family reunions, filled with laughter. With joyful embraces. With people congregating at the entrance because after only a few steps through the door, they’ve already spotted someone they know and cherish. 
That’s how Cedric Johnson described the atmosphere of YWCA Madison's 20th Annual Circle Luncheon, held earlier in 2023. The event brought together people and nonprofits from around the city — as well as dozens of new donors — to raise funds that will power YWCA priorities. 
Johnson, manager of inclusion and community partnerships at Exact Sciences, attended the event with several other Exact employees as part of our company’s sponsorship of the event. He left feeling inspired.
YWCA Madison assists the community in a number of ways, focusing on race and gender equity; job training and transportation; and housing and shelter.
The organization provides housing solutions around the city for people in different family makeups. Van service breaks down barriers by transporting people to work, to programming, to shelters, or whatever is needed. And its YWeb Career Academy offers women and people of color the training needed to land tech jobs. 
Luncheon attendees heard from people who had benefitted from these programs and others. Thoughtful event planners ensured that focus stayed on the storytellers — boxed lunches that people selected before finding their tables minimized disruption that table service can sometimes create. 
Johnson recalled one striking moment in particular: YWCA Madison CEO Vanessa McDowell announced that the organization had been able to purchase its Empowerment Center building on South Park Street. The property includes a long-standing Mexican market and restaurant, and the purchase agreement makes room for that family-owned operation, a neighborhood mainstay, to remain.
“It’s sharing the wealth,” Johnson said of the agreement. “It’s creating generational wealth and upholding equity in practice. It’s putting your money where your mouth is.
“That says a lot about that organization and its leadership,” he said.
When named CEO in 2017, McDowell became the first Black woman CEO in YWCA Madison’s 108-year history. She is a Madison native.
The Circle luncheon raised around $75,000 to fund future initiatives — ones that attendees at next year’s event will no doubt reunite to celebrate.

Related Content