Interview with Yvette Richards
The Newly Elected President of United Methodist Women
Congratulations on your election as President of United Methodist Women! How does it feel?
Exciting and ready for the journey!
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m an army brat—my dad was in the military, I was born in North Carolina while my dad was in service. We moved to Alaska, Massachusetts and Germany. We moved back to the US to Savannah, Georgia, for school and then I went to college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University majoring in Mass Communications. Then after college I happened to be in Missouri visiting family for a funeral and ended up staying here!
My parents are still living and have been married for 50 years. David and Swannie Richards have been role models for me, in giving, volunteering and giving back. There were 3 of us growing up together: My older brother Rev. David Richards, III, and a sister, Bonnye Anthony, DDS. We were raised with parents who taught us to participate, volunteer and give back. I try to live by that. We are heavily involved in our churches and I’m eternally grateful to them who are such dynamic role models.
I started working at State Farm in July ‘87 and have been there ever since. Just had my 25th anniversary. I’m a Catastrophe Adjuster, Catastrophe Claim Representative.
Did you have any role in the Joplin tornado for your job?
Not for my job but for United Methodist Women. I contacted my mentor and we made a plan for using the UMCOR [United Methodist Committee on Relief] kits. We activated a hands-on mission event where women contributed personal hygiene kits and mailed them to Joplin. We received an abundance—an over abundance—still to this day, to provide help for the community in Joplin. With the extra kits, we were able to provide the Central Conference women who came to General Conference with the 125 extra. We utilize websites for Missouri Conference; the Missouri conference communications team did an article and we put it on UMWOnline. The word just spread. Our United Methodist Women sisters across the US were magnificent at giving.
What do you want to accomplish in your four years as President? What do you want to see happen?
I want to see our membership grow. That is vital to our organization. Our vision has been set, and in order for it to mean anything or make a difference, we need to increase our membership. I think our new vision plan will aid in that. We will need women to lead the charge. With the new structure, it will be very easy for women to organize and fulfill the PURPOSE, which is at the forefront of the organization.
United Methodist Women is entering a new phase. How do you see yourself guiding the organization into that phase?
I see myself as someone who will inspire, encourage and motivate. Inspire, meaning showing the passion and commitment to the organization to uplift those individuals who might be unsure where they fit in.
Motivate, meaning keeping staff, units, groups and the whole organization focused on the PURPOSE so we can turn faith, hope and love into action for women, children youth around the world in a godly way so that those who see us will want to be a part of us.
What are you looking forward to?
I’m looking forward to how our Program Advisory Group will help shape the structure. Every conference has a representative to see that the conference will live out our PURPOSE.
Are you looking forward to Assembly 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky?
Oh, so much. That is such an uplifting time to come together, to see all the women around the world dedicated to our mission. To worship together and give women that extra push to step out on faith. To worship God, to see how this organization is so electrifying.
We just had the event called Limitless for young women, and I’ve been passionate for young women. I’m so happy to see young women at that event are now part of the Program Advisory Group; that will keep us fresh and going in the right direction. Having seasoned women showing the firm foundation of the organization [is important], and they are excited to see [young women] too.
[At the recent orientation for the new Program Advisory Group,] the Program Advisory Group was led by new young women. We had drums, trumpets, guitar; women were engaged and that was so awesome! Everyone had to respond by breaking out of the norm of just singing, and we had the variety of young women using different musical instruments. Including women that are involved at a different level shows young women that they are vital to the organization.
How do you want to reach out to more young women?
We’ve taken a great step in providing Limitless, because these women go back to their conferences and are part of their leadership team in seeking out and making programs available and being hands-on with their groups to bring out their journey. With the concept of a new structure, it could be any woman in the district who seeks out other women to participate [in the organization]. It’s not so structured that it has to be a local or district officer to lead the organization. Anyone can come together and organize an event or participate in United Methodist Women.
Also, it feels so good to be able to say United Methodist Women is its own organization!
One of the things that everyone [at the orientation] was excited about is that the word “leadership team” has replaced “executive committee.” That gives us an opportunity to feel everyone is a part. If you are a part of a conference leadership team you can feel more inspired to bring your passions into the organization. The new structure will allow everyone to feel a part of the leadership team without making you feel like you need to be on an officer committee. If you have a lone passion or project, you can make it happen for women, children and youth.
What’s one of your passions?
My passion is involving young women, and others are social action around injustice of women like human trafficking, domestic violence and poverty. That all comes together. If we’re able to address one issue, that will help alleviate the other issues to help women stand on their own.
We need to really surround ourselves on ideas and examples from the School of Christian Mission, now Mission u, study on poverty. If we can help a woman get out of poverty, it will help her get into a controlled environment and removes her from an abusive situation or household.
I’m excited working on the deplorable issue of human trafficking, which is so devastating for young women and their families—how they have lost their young children [in the process of being trafficked]. I’m looking forward to working on that for the Super Bowl and move it one step forward to our churches and our pastors to show how this act of human trafficking is taking the lives of women and children—and boys—which is truly devastating.
I believe that with the [organizational] restructuring, this will allow others to participate [in actions such as this] so we can get back to that one million plus and get the word out on what we do as an organization, to be difference-makers. I really want to push how we can make a difference for the lives of women, children and youth!
What are you going to do next?
I’m getting ready to meet with our General Secretary Harriett Jane Olson as we plan the meeting with directors. With the new structures we have 25 directors; we will be leaving in October to take a transformational look at how we work to have a plan of action for working together. I’m looking forward to making the content inspiring and motivational for conferences to be willing to engage in helping us facilitate these changes. And we’ll be able to do this, we have an awesome leadership team.
I’m looking forward to working with Tupou [Kelemeni, newly elected Vice President]. She brings her passion into the mix, on the west coast in Hawaii. We can tap into west coast people who work with people in remote areas. There’s such a distance to travel in the Western Jurisdiction so how do we make them feel engaged and bring them in?
We have Nichea [Ver Veer Guy] on finance. I’ve sat with her on [United Methodist Women’s] property committee, and I’m looking forward to working with her and her skills to make sure our funds are used wisely and properly.
Becky Thompson, as secretary, is in charge of worship. We look forward to the worship [services at board meetings] to include all different people and cultures.
Judith [Pierre-Okerson] will lead us in governance and policy procedures and will make sure we stay in alignment with our PURPOSE. I look at our PURPOSE as our guide to make sure policies and procedures are accountable and we stay on task.
Our leadership team is excited, ready, eager to get started! We can see the groundwork being made, ladies asking questions to allow every conference to be represented so all women have equal voice to advise, which shows everyone is valued.
That’s the one word that comes to mind when speaking about the new Program Advisory Group: every woman is respected and everyone represented on the conference is respected. Deaconesses will also have an opportunity to bring expertise and have opinions on our plans so we can be sure we’re dealing with the right information from their experience.
I also want to encourage other United Methodist mission agencies to host more hands-on mission events at National Mission Institutions.
Any other thoughts?
United Methodist Women is a difference maker, a leader for women children and youth in making an impact. We need to know how to tell our story - often and everywhere. You can take anyone in United Methodist Women and they would qualify as a “Top 10 CNN Hero.” Deaconesses, regional missionaries, national mission institutions, we are “sheroes” because we are making a difference in the lives of women, children and youth every day.