(WOMENSENEWS)--The economy may be bearish, but the Younger Women's Task Force is having a bullish year.
"In the last year we have expanded from seven chapters to 11, and our membership has grown from 5,000 to 7,000," said Shannon Lynberg, the group's 24-year-old president. The organization, also known as YWTF, was launched in 2005 by the National Council of Women's Organizations.
The group's mission: to encourage young women's leadership and foster collaborations.
Since its launch, the group has led campaigns and started programs in mentoring, civic engagement, financial literacy and how to raise awareness of sexual assault. The organization's Voting Vixen Campaign, for instance, encourages young women across the nation to learn more about civic issues and become involved in the political debate and voting.
The four new chapters this year are in Atlanta, San Francisco, Southern California and the Canadian city of Ottawa.
They join chapters in New York, New Jersey and northeastern Pennsylvania, as well as those in the cities of Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Cedar Falls, Iowa.
The chapters operate and function independently; they are funded entirely by family foundations, individuals and public-private partnerships donations.
Screening Movies, Reading Books
A month ago, while the New York City chapter's book club was reading "The Red Tent" by Anita Diamant, a 1997 novel about gender, family and history, members of the Cedar Falls, Iowa, chapter were watching a screening of the 2002 movie "The Magdalene Sisters." This film is about young women whose alleged sexual transgressions result in being exiled to the Magdalene Sisters Asylum.
Ten guidelines to consider before starting a local
Around the same time, the Chicago chapter hosted a lecture that combined nutritional advice with financial literacy called "Eating Well on a Budget: From Nutrition Labels to the Checkout Line!"
Kimberly Irish, the 30-year-old founder of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter, is part of this year's growth spurt.
Right now Irish is planning the chapter's official launch for later this summer, which means reaching out to young women in the area, talking with other leaders in the organization and making the most of the connections available through the National Council of Women's Organizations.
"There is a need for a group that focuses on public policy initiatives in California affecting younger women," said Irish.
She hopes to focus the chapter on violence against women, reproductive rights, economic equality and environmental concerns.
"Education campaigns and leadership training and empowerment are also very important to me," she said.
Survey Sets Focus
The Atlanta chapter, another 2009 addition, held its first meeting in March. Founder Terica Scott, 29, says she has recruited board members, held meetings and surveyed women in the area about issues of importance to them. The survey findings--respondents said they are interested in career help, health, education and the environment--will set the general focus for the chapter, says Scott.
At the April meeting, members proposed mounting education campaigns about sexual and domestic violence. Now the proposal will be the basis of the chapter's first long-term project. Scott says there is no other group in Atlanta that focuses on younger women.
"I am always amazed by how much effort and time these young women put into their work," said Lynberg, the organization's only paid staff member. She previously worked for a public relations firm that specializes in nonprofits, including the Women's Health Task Force and the National Committee on Pay Equity.
All of the chapters receive a monthly online newsletter from national headquarters.
The May newsletter had an environmental theme, providing how-to tips such as buying water bottles instead of using plastic ones and deleting one's name from junk mail lists. It also paid tribute to zoologist Rachel Carson, the author of the 1962 classic environmental siren, "Silent Spring," and highlighted a December 2007 report by the World Conservation Union about women's increasingly difficult job managing 90 percent of the world's stable crop production.
"Some of our chapters have participated in community gardening and held events on being more green," said Lynberg. "We have definitely been talking about doing more and realize what an important need there is to merge the women's movement and the environmental movement."
Starting a Local Chapter
Lynberg says it's easy to form a chapter. Young women who are interested should contact her for a "starter packet," which contains 10 guidelines that the organization asks a person to consider before starting a local chapter. These guidelines must be documented, signed and returned to the national office before a chapter can be launched.
Besides the guidelines, Lynberg says it's up to the founder to get the chapter going.
"It is not uncommon for us to hear stories from the young women involved with YWTF about how their involvement has changed their lives through networking, leadership development and skills building," said Lynberg.
Kayla Hutzler, a journalism major at Manhattan College, is an editorial intern with Women's eNews.