Magdalena Verdugo

Magdalena Verdugo was named Hispanic Businesswoman of the Year. (Submitted)

Magdalena Verdugo has achieved much. 

Most recently the YWCA of Southern Arizona chief executive officer was named Hispanic Businesswoman of the Year by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber.

Verdugo began working for YWCA-Main Campus on Bonita as CEO in January 2020, just before the pandemic. The YWCA has a second facility in South Tucson known as the House of Neighborly Service (HNS). 

However, even with the pandemic, business picked up for the YWCA by the end of 2021. 

“We grew significantly,” Verdugo said. “We went from seven staff members to 22 staff members by 2022.”

Successes came in other ways, too. She also said as a result of the women’s business center, they partnered with the city of Tucson.

It administered $9 million in grants in Somos Uno as part of the CARES act, now called ARPA, she said. 

“We were the pass-through, per se, for the city of Tucson, in getting grants or resources into the hands of small businesses,” she said.

The YWCA was one of three organizations initially selected to do this work. Community Foundation for Non-Profit, and the Women’s Foundations for the State of Arizona for Working Families were the other two. The YWCA was appointed to work in the small business venue.

“We had to set up a process for being able to manage those resources,” she said.

“At that time, in 2020, the faster you could get these resources to small businesses, or individuals or nonprofits…was critical. We worked really quickly to develop a process that would be equitable…what the city charged us with was to ensure those resources went to small businesses that were the most vulnerable.”

For example, she said those businesses were minority-, veteran-, disabled- and women-owned businesses.

“We deployed all those resources,” she said. “I gather, because it is about business, the (Hispanic Businesswoman of the Year) award is noting on our (YWCA) growth, not only in revenue but staffing and growing the YWCA in the past two years.”

Verdugo said the experience she gained gave YWCA the leverage to step in and directly administer federal dollars.

“Recently, we administered the state CDBG-CV, (Community Development Block Grant-Coronavirus),” she said. “In addition, we were able to leverage more resources through the city ARPA funding to continue our work with small businesses.

“When I stepped in (as CEO for YWCA) on Jan. 2, (2020), I had dedicated the first three months to what I call the ‘road trip’ and going out there in the community and listening,” she said about the first three months.

“It was the listening tour, just to learn from the board, the community and the staff. I wanted to go out and connect with the community, I had one on one discussions with staff, to get a pulse on what is going on in the organization, on what was their (the staff’s) vision, as well as, with board members and select community members, who knew the YWCA before I was there and then while I was there, who I would sit down with. I was in the middle of my listening tour when we were shut down because of the coronavirus.”

The organization had to pivot quickly. Servicing about 4,000 women a year, the YWCA became information gatherers and distributors. 

Verdugo said larger businesses and corporations were no different. Unfortunately, Tucson’s smaller businesses were at a disadvantage.

“These small businesses were created to create jobs for the family,” Verdugo said. 

“Small businesses, such as Mexican restaurants and small Chinese restaurants didn’t have that capacity to do that (update their websites or create websites). For the small family businesses, the cottage businesses, they did not have the tools or the resources to get there.”

She said the YWCA was headed there to help the small businesses get the tools and resources they needed to survive the pandemic, but they were too slow, she said. 

“It happened quickly. They realized they didn’t have the tools that the larger businesses did,” Verdugo said. 

“Small businesses were not prepared for this. The big corporate businesses already had the technology to deal with this, like to take online orders, to change their marketing and websites.”

She said for the small businesses, the pandemic just went too fast. Small businesses were not prepared, “so we focused our efforts in building their websites for them to take online orders and set up the paying mechanisms, so they could take payments online, but we weren’t fast enough.

“A lot of our women-owned businesses are service businesses. They are our hair stylist, our nail technicians, they’re like our personal spa services, and they couldn’t do it anymore, because of the epidemic.”

Now she said some of those businesses are reopening and it is important what the YWCA learned.

“These resources we made available didn’t deploy to them until June and July 2020,” she said. “We went into this technology world, and our small businesses couldn’t get there as fast as the more advanced, larger companies, who pivoted earlier, and just changed their websites and marketing.”

She said it is most important to acknowledge what the pandemic did.

“We learned this has allowed us to shift or redesign programming to meet the needs of these small businesses,” Verdugo said. 

“We launched the food entrepreneurship training program. We relaunched our programming to meet the needs of the business. So, we separated the new businesses from the existing business and by separating them, the information we share with them (the particular small business) is going to look different.”

She said the YWCA not only learned from the small businesses, but they also learned from its clients.

“As women, we carried a lot during the pandemic. Learning and quickly pivoting, to teach them how to manage federal dollars,” Verdugo said, “to help small businesses stay in business…a lot of our small businesses didn’t leverage the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) loan because they didn’t have relationships with their financial institutions.”

If those relationships were in place, the small businesses may have been able to weather the pandemic. 

“They (small businesses) missed out on those resources,” Verdugo explained. “For small businesses to be carried for three months, we are talking about anywhere from $1,500 to $10,000.” 

She said YWCA rolled out and provided grants to support operations or rental fees and utilities. Verdugo said they launched a number of grants — the Small Business Continuity grants, the Small Business Utilities and Rental grants, and Survivors grants, for survivors of domestic violence.

“The survivors grant is a small grant to support survivors of domestic violence to help them address their needs, like moving and rent…a kind of emergency support,” she said.

“One thing we want to learn is how many businesses we helped, for each grant, what ZIP codes.”

Also, she said, the YWCA wants to know how many businesses survived the pandemic, how many employees or jobs were retained.

“Are you back? Did you bring the employees back? To tell their stories,” Verdugo said. “It’s part of our annual report for 2020 and 2021.”

Verdugo has more ideas for the YWCA.

“The climate justice piece of it,” she said. “Mayor Romero on Sept. 9 (2020), issued an emergency climate declaration. We (YWCA) issued a publication in 2021 written by Karen Peterson… it is one of the things we saw, as well as how our community is being impacted (by the pandemic). 

“So, we issued a publication in 2021 where we talked about the work we have done in environmental justice and how we are being impacted by the climate change.

“So here, at the YWCA, we talk about what we are about…eliminating racism, empowering women and doing justice…for me it was very personal, my focus,” Verdugo said. 

“I am a daughter of migrant farm workers,” she said. She is aware of issues of agriculture, conservation of water and use of  water and the lack of green spaces in local communities. “When we looked at the way we pivoted through the CDBG, at what ZIP codes are impacted, (that’s when we noticed) predominantly impacted businesses that didn’t get the resources that they needed, as well as our dry deserts,” Verdugo added.

She said they focused on five ZIP codes.

“It’s not surprising South Tucson is one of those ZIP codes. And we have a facility there (HNS),” Verdugo said. “We took it upon ourselves and two years later, we continue on this climate justice. We literally transformed HNS, we have a little park next to the HNS owned by the YWCA but we share it with the community.”

She said they keep it environmental sustainable and safe. Environmental justice, reduces emissions and keeps up on water conservation, she explained. 

“It’s not urgent yet, but it is mildly urgent. We have to see how to get our resources to our communities and with limited resources, because the stuff we are doing isn’t cheap,” she explained.

The YWCA took its small businesses into the Greens Champion Program, which is through Local First Arizona.

“It showed them how they can do small steps,” she said. “They are paying the mortgage or rent and paying the utilities, but by doing these little things, they will lower their energy cost.”

To help with the education on climate change impacts, the YWCA puts out a YClimate Action publication. 

“We were piggy-backing on Mayor Romero’s emergency declaration on climate change,” Verdugo explained. “So we started auditing our buildings to see what we have to start for energy and water. We focused on HSN first, because it is in a community that is most vulnerable. Low income, the elderly, We are surrounded by long-time residents, and the elderly. Our elderly have become the most vulnerable (since COVID).

“On Sept. 9 last year and Sept. 9 this year, which coincides with the launched anniversary of the declaration we got in the Tucson 2030 district,” she said. “It talks about Tucson 2030 district as part of their geographic district, including Bonita  Drive YWCA and HSN. It (Tucson 2030 districts) is about educating and tapping into resources, and about pulling a network together to do this work.” 

She knows she is biased.

“For me, my climate justice world has to be led and done by women,” Verdugo said. “As women we see the importance of it. Our hope is at the YWCA, to work in collaboration with the Tucson 2030 district.”

She said it is really about reducing the percentage of emissions and our carbon footprint on the world. 

“I am looking forward to these opportunities to share our stories,” she said. “And to also share our work. So, I am very grateful for the platform.”

Verdugo explained how privileged she feels about her position as CEO at the YWCA. 

“To be able to relay what that platform is going to be,” Verdugo said, “whether for myself or other women, it is time to share our stories. Sometimes we are not in a place where we are empowered to be able to share. That’s what I want to be. I want to be that for women and to be able to share my voice.”