Dr. Cheryl Watkins, MBA is a remarkable visionary, entrepreneur and leader whose professional track record speaks for itself – but we want to introduce you to Cheryl and the life-changing work she is doing in the St. Louis region and beyond with YWCA Metro St. Louis.

Tell us about your background.
If you said this is where I would be ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you! I went to Fisk University, a HBCU in Tennessee for my undergraduate degree in Biology, received my medical degree from Illinois College of Podiatric Medicine with my residency in surgery, and went on to earn my MBA from the Kellogg School at Northwestern University.

I started my career with Baxter Health Care in a select leadership development program that led to directing marketing efforts for a Swedish start-up that was acquired after taking it from $60,000 to $60 million in five years! I transitioned to St. Louis and started my own consulting business working with several start-ups (locally and nationally) to develop executive strategies and support new business growth. By that time, I was married and had a baby, and I was able to work from the office and home – I had the best of both worlds!

Then, I made what I lovingly call my “corporate hop” from Sigma Aldrich (leading a corporate strategy team) to leading a $100 million division of Merck. After that, I joined BioSTL as an entrepreneur-in-residence and mentor to start-ups in the region while leading the regions efforts to encourage women and minorities to develop STEM-focused businesses.

I went on to found several companies and spent the majority of my most recent professional career with BioSTL, working as Executive on Loan to Harris Stowe State University to help senior leadership develop/design HSSU as an Entrepreneurial Center of Excellence, focused on supporting, educating, developing and scaling minority entrepreneurs in our region.

That brings me to where I am today. I knew the work of YWCA Metro St. Louis as a board member, and I have always loved the mission to eliminate racism and empower women while promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. When I was approached for the role of President & CEO, I was curious what about me interested them. And then it hit me – as an entrepreneur at heart, I am always envisioning something different and bigger. I enthusiastically accepted the role to rebuild, rebrand and reimagine what we at YWCA can do for the St. Louis region and how we can impact the lives of those we serve.

Tell us about YWCA’s efforts and vision for the future.
You may not know that we are one of the top 25 non-profits in our region, with 400 team members when we are fully staffed. Our agency is meeting women where they are most vulnerable and providing a continuum of care to place them on a path to self-sufficiency. We are focused on creating innovative solutions to the problems they most often face – homelessness, domestic and/or sexual violence, lack of quality childcare, under or unemployment.

Our program for victims of domestic and sexual violence is the largest program in the region, and the first line of contact with hospitals in the area for women in crisis situations who need safety and healing. We also support women who are fleeing abuse or battling chronic homelessness – this because we maintain the largest HUD contract in the city and county.

YWCA is the largest provider of direct services for Head Start (early childhood education) in Missouri. Our team member, Stacy Johnson, recently was recognized as Head Start’s Administrator of the Year. And, we have just been named an accredited Program of Excellence by the National Head Start Association – this is a huge honor and a testament to Stacy’s team’s industry expertise and administrative excellence.

Our Women’s Economic Stability Partnership (WESP) trains our clients for better jobs or entrepreneurial opportunities that will put their family on a path to prosperity. And, we support provide crucial services while they are in our programs – rent and utility support, mental health care, childcare, groceries and transportation. We do everything we can to help them succeed.

We recently announced an exciting new partnership with the 39 North Innovation District. The lack of quality, affordable childcare is a key contributing factor to the post-pandemic workforce shortage, so we are building an Early Childhood Excellence Center in the 39 North District to serve that community. This is a collaboration with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the city of Olivette, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership and Miriam Foundation.

This much-needed asset will serve both the innovation district’s workforce and the community. We’re thrilled that we’ll be able to enhance our STREAM (Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Arts, Math) curriculum at all our early childhood centers with ag-tech, thanks to this partnership. We’re supporting families today and preparing the workforce of tomorrow! The center is scheduled to open in Fall 2023 and will initially serve 170 children with plans to expand to serve up to 200 children. Learn more about the project here.

YWCA CFO Kimberly Stemley recently participated on a panel that discussed attracting and retaining women on the workforce, and she shared some great information about the work YWCA is doing at the state and national level. Watch here.

How can employers and individuals get involved to support the work of YWCA?

I believe every woman should be aligned with our agency. The history of YWCA is the history of progress in America. YWCA Metro St. Louis formed in 1904 to provide safe housing for rural women coming to find work at the World’s Fair. Almost 120 years later, we are still providing housing for women in St. Louis and so much more! If you can financially support us, please take advantage of a donation match from your organization if offered.

Learn about the work we do and share our story or invite us to tell our story where you gather or work. Other volunteer opportunities are listed on our website.

Where can we learn more about Cheryl and the work of YWCA Metro St. Louis?

Meet Cheryl
Meet the Team
What We Are Doing