Jessica Nowlan, longtime leader of the San Francisco-based Young Women’s Freedom Center, is stepping down from her role at the end of the month. Starting Thursday, Abigail Richards and Julia Arroyo will serve as the organization’s co-executive directors.
After leading the Young Women’s Freedom Center for the past six years, Nowlan will turn to working on housing and economic development initiatives for the organization, which works to support young women and trans youth who have experienced poverty, trauma or the juvenile justice and foster care systems in California.
“I am so excited and grateful that Abigail and Julia are stepping into their power and bringing their unique voices and lived experiences to these positions,” said Nowlan in a press release.
Arroyo, who first joined the group in 2014, most recently served as the organization’s managing director. She will focus on leading the group’s San Francisco and Oakland sites and direct its research, communications and policy departments.
“I am deeply honored to co-lead the Young Women’s Freedom Center during this critical time for our movements and our communities,” Arroyo said in the press release. “Working and advocating for young people whose stories mirror my own is a gift.”
Richards has been part of the Young Women’s Freedom Center’s executive leadership for the last two years, expanding its operations, human resources and finance departments. As co-executive director, she will lead the organization’s operations and administration departments and help build its long-term sustainability.
“I am determined to make sustainable and transformational changes to address issues of systemic oppression,” Richards said. “I am excited to co-lead this important institution with Julia and continue our mission to build the power and leadership of directly impacted young people.”
Since its founding in 1993, the Young Women’s Freedom Center has worked to provide mentorship, training, employment and advocacy for systems-involved youth, those who have lived on the streets and survivors of violence. It has worked to end the criminalization and incarceration of young people, especially girls, young women and trans youth of all genders.
In recent years, the group helped lead a successful effort to close down San Francisco’s juvenile hall and institute an emergency housing project during the COVID-19 pandemic. During Nowlan’s time as leader, she increased the Young Women’s Freedom Center budget to $8.5 million and boosted the organization’s statewide presence by opening offices in Santa Clara County and Los Angeles.