Our mission is to empower and inspire young women who have been involved with the juvenile justice system and/or underground street economy to create positive change in their lives and communities.

CYWD is one of the first non-profits in the United States run and led entirely by young women.READ MORE

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A Letter from The Center for Young Women's Development


March 6, 2014



Dear Friends:


The Center for Young Women’s Development (CYWD) has important and exciting news about our evolution. For 20 years, the Center has been an international model for youth led youth development, by and for formerly incarcerated young women and young women working in the street economies. At this milestone juncture, we have decided to take time to reflect and re-examine; to fine-tune aspects of our work in order to better support and serve young women of color in San Francisco and globally.  


The Center is an institution in San Francisco for young women of color activists and leaders, who find meaning and purpose in improving the lives of their peers. Collectively, young women have:


  • Organized successful campaigns to improve the public education system
  • Presented at international conferences and panels
  • Initiated National Coalitions to galvanize against discriminatory practices towards formerly incarcerated young women and adults
  • Dispelled the school to prison pipeline
  • Addressed life threatening health inequities for young women of color
  • Led public policy changes to improve the conditions for LGBTQI youth in detention
  • Created a new law to address human rights violations facing mothers giving birth in jail; today they are no longer shackled as part of the birthing experience
  • Provided STI/HIV prevention services in partnership with the State of California Mobile Health Van in disenfranchised communities hardest hit by HIV
  • Connected with thousands of young women on the streets of San Francisco to provide education, survival resources, and referrals to youth sensitive services all while building unity in our community.


There are so many successes to point to, not least of which is reducing recidivism among young women of color and increasing economic security and educational opportunities. The leadership of young women of color is the result of the Center’s investment in our empowerment.


At the same time, Marlene Sanchez, Executive Director who was recently blessed by the Dali Lama as one of the Un-Sung Heroes of Compassion and who has worked at the Center since she was 15 years old, is ready to leave. Marlene will pursue her passions, educational growth and reflect upon her achievements at the Center as she begins to map out her next leadership position. Marlene’s departure elevates the need to reflect before bringing on our next Executive Director.


To help in this effort, we are drawing on our past, present and future: all three executive directors have joined together: Rachel Pfeffer PhD, Founder, and Lateefah Simon, a MacArthur “Genius” awardee, and Marlene Sanchez, exiting Director. We will continue to expand our Board of Directors to include young women who came-up through the Center, young women who were recently released from incarceration, and community leaders.


We are extremely grateful for your support and love. During this period of re-examination and renewal it has also meant reducing staff and operations. We will be fully open in Summer 2014 when we will launch a search for the Executive Director. We look forward to continuing our relationship with you as we embark in the next phase of our herstory. Please contact Rachel Pfeffer, rachelp@cywd.org for more information.



In Sisterhood,


The Transition Committee












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"I wanted to thank you for sending me the Know Justice Handbook. As a mother who knew little about the juvenile justice system it has helped me understand the meaning of the legal words and the court process. It is very easy to read and understand. I recommend this handbook to everyone."
A Mother for Justice
Violette Mejia

From the beginning, we have organized young women who were the most marginalized in San Francisco — those in the street economies and the juvenile justice system — to design and deliver peer-to-peer education and support. READ MORE ABOUT OUR APPROACH

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The Center for Young Women's Development, 832 Folsom Street, Suite #700, San Francisco, CA 94107

Phone 415.703.8800 | Fax 415.703.8818

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