New YWCA Evanston/North Shore CEO Cherese Ledet plans to tackle community outreach, equity in the workplace


Photo courtesy of Cherese Ledet

Cherese Ledet. Ledet became the new CEO of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore on March 6.

Aviva Bechky, City Editor

As a child, Cherese Ledet said her mom sent her to a YMCA center on the West Side of Chicago after school. 

Ledet studied accounting in college and then went into project management. She started looking into jobs in the nonprofit sector. The very first position she found, she said, was the role of regional business manager at the same YMCA she’d spent time at all those years ago.

“Coming back into that space, I really think that’s where I found my purpose,” Ledet said. 

Now, after 19 years at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, Ledet is transitioning into her new role as CEO of YWCA Evanston/North Shore, a multicultural organization aiming to eliminate racism and empower women. She succeeded Karen Singer on March 6. 

Among her priorities is YWCA’s Equity Institute, which works on economic and workplace development initiatives. Ledet said she’d like to build it out into a community hub for anyone who needs information about equity in the workplace.

“There’s so much potential there to do more work around racial justice but also incorporate some leadership workshops,” Ledet said. “Think about just the whole person and everything that it takes to build that foundation for success for a person to thrive.”

Dorri McWhorter, the president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, has worked with Ledet since 2021. 

She said Ledet coordinated a local lunchbox service — among many other programs — to provide meals to more than 20,000 students in summer camps, all sourced from vendors of color.

“She’s always been very welcoming and very open, and just very thoughtful,” McWhorter said.

McWhorter said she expects Ledet to bring “operational excellence” to YWCA, along with experience running diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

Ledet said her experience working in housing with YMCA in particular will impact how she approaches the shelter operations at YWCA. 

She also hopes to prioritize efforts to support those facing food insecurity. 

“It can be through our culinary program at YWCA,” Ledet said. “It could be working with food providers, pantries and things like that to really expand … the awareness of those programs.” 

It will be critical to consistently assess the needs of the local community, she added.

Khalilah Lyons, a diversity and inclusion strategist who partnered with Ledet at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, called her a “disrupter with positive intent.”

“She’s a visionary, which is incredible, and she’s always thinking about everybody in the ecosystem and what they need,” Lyons said. “She’s also going to bring just this, again, very genuine way to connect with people.”

As Ledet gets started, she said she is focusing on meeting with internal YWCA employees — the people who already have their boots on the ground.

She also wants to reach out to other community groups already doing the equity-focused work she’s excited to dive into, Ledet said.

“We’re here to complement, not take over,” she said. “So how do we partner to do that, to really build a stronger community in the future?”

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Twitter: @avivabechky

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