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ASPiRE Alumna Tackles Homelessness in Position with YWCA

Elaine Williams“Being able to engage with the community by helping to bring hope in a hopeless situation is a privilege I have in my position,” said Elaine Williams, ’17. “I now have a greater understanding of the structural challenges that surround the issue of homelessness, and I see the importance advocacy plays and how connecting with other organization and agencies in the community helps my clients.”

A participant in the ASPiRE program, Williams graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a minor in psychology. She now works as a diversion specialist at the YWCA of Richmond, which empowers women, children and families in the Richmond region to live their best lives through a variety of programs and leadership opportunities.

The issue of homelessness is one that hits close to home for Williams. Growing up, she experienced unstable housing. As a student at VCU, she was able to explore the issue through another lens by conducting research through Advocates for Richmond Youth. Her work was highlighted in an April 2017 VCU News story.

Today, Williams works with clients who are at an immediate risk of losing their housing, as well as individuals who are experiencing homelessness. She helps them access resources to save their tenancy or shelter alternative (staying with family, friend and other safe places).

In November, Williams testified to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee as it evaluated ways to simplify the application for federal student aid for undergraduate and graduate students. Williams was able to share her experiences of the challenges she faced trying to access higher education through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).  

“VCU and ASPiRE gave me an opportunity to work with the community, and that helped prepared me for what I’m doing today,” she said. “I understand what it means to commit to making change in the community through collaboration with others. The support from staff and faculty made it possible for me to pursue my passion for social justice.”