What wisdom do you offer to young women as they seek to find their own strength, power and confidence in the world?
I am incredibly proud to be receiving an achievement award from the YWCA. I was a young woman of 20 when I started my career as an intern at the YWCA of New York City. I mark that decision as the point in which I began my journey as a woman. I met three of the smartest women I had ever met at the YW. Not only did they teach me how to be a social worker, they taught me that I can do and be whatever I put my mind to. They gave me confidence when I had none, they pushed me beyond my comfort level and they showed me that there was nothing I couldn’t learn. I went from an undergraduate intern to the director of services for adolescents and families in the span of my ten year stay. I was given more opportunities than I could have ever imagined and I know that part of the reason was my willingness to work tirelessly.
I grew up with four older sisters in a family where we didn’t have much but we learned that whatever we did with our lives, we had to work for it. I watched my Mom, born and raised in Ireland with an 8th grade education sit at the dinner table each night pecking away at a typewriter so that she could get a job. She was terrified to go out into the world. She believed that she wasn’t smart enough or pretty enough, or talented enough, but she had no choice but to find a job to support her 7 children.
I have two daughters and two sons. I want my daughters to know that they are better than good enough; that they do not need to be defined by what they look like or by what others say about them. I want them to know that they can and should have friends from many different walks of life and that the most important quality in any woman is her ability to be honest with herself and others. I want my daughters to be proud of their accomplishments while at the same time remaining humble and open to being wrong. I want them to know that it is in their mistakes and challenges that they will stretch beyond their wildest dreams.
I am soon to be a grandmother of a baby girl. My granddaughter will be a child of color and as with my daughters, I want her to know that she can be anything she sets her mind and her heart to be. I pray that when my granddaughter is a young woman she will not be defined by the color of her skin and that her generation comes even closer than my own children in breaking the barriers that come with race and ethnicity. I am excited for all of our children, especially our girls as they have the most to gain in the world we are becoming. I wish that all of us continue to believe in something greater than ourselves. Finally, I wish all of our daughters the gift of faith.
Eileen Hayes, president and CEO of Amos House, received her master’s degree from NYU School of Social Work in 1984, and throughout her career has held a variety of positions including the director of services for adolescents and young families at the YWCA of New York. Under Hayes’ leadership, Amos House has grown into a comprehensive social service agency that includes 13 buildings, culinary arts and carpentry training programs, a literacy program, Mother-Child Reunification Center and businesses including the Friendship Café and More Than a Meal Catering. She lives in Providence with her four children.
photo by Agapao Productions