It takes courage to overcome adversity. It takes a great heart to use that experience to help others. Sandra Braham possesses both. As the CEO of the YWCA Paso del Norte Region – the largest YWCA in the nation – Braham oversees the daily operation of an organization that each year serves the needs of more than 100,000 El Pasoans, from providing housing for homeless families to sponsoring racial justice and leadership programs for teens.
“I never planned to have a career in the public sector, but I’m confident that I’m in the right place at the right time,” Braham said. “I believe that my experience and education led me here.”
Braham describes her childhood as challenging. “My mother and I lived on public assistance, so we had very little,” Braham said. “I threw myself into school because I knew that only a good education could help me break the cycle of poverty.”
Braham’s academic journey was complicated by her mother’s schizophrenia.
“The first time that I spoke publicly about my mother’s illness was in 1998, when I received the YWCAREACH award,” Braham said. “It brought me out of the shadows that surround mental illness. Now I’m writing a book about my family and our experiences.”
A first-generation college graduate, Braham earned both a bachelor’s degree in biology and completed coursework towards a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Missouri. She earned her doctorate in education from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).
Braham has a special empathy for today’s first-generation college students. As UTEP’s associate vice president for outreach programs and as associate vice provost for undergraduate studies, she generated more than $18 million in new state and federal grant funding for low-income and at-risk students.
“Knowing that I built a program that helps thousands of El Paso students to graduate from high school and go on to college gives me great satisfaction,” Braham said. “This program has made a real impact in our community.”
Braham, the mother of three, donates her time and expertise to numerous civic organizations. “I have time to do this because I’m blessed with a complicated brain that allows me to multitask even when I’m walking from one meeting to another,” Braham said. “I don’t waste a single minute of my day.
“Leadership requires a strong sense of perspective,” she continued. “When I mentor young women, I tell them about my 48-hour rule. When someone challenges you professionally and it triggers an emotional reaction, don’t respond in the heat of the moment. Step back from the incident and sleep on it. Then sleep on it again. After 48 hours, you can address the problem, if it still exists, with a cool head.
“All my life I’ve walked a purposeful path, and I know that I’m at the YWCA for a reason. We have exciting plans for the future. We’re strengthening our infrastructure and expanding our programs and services to meet the needs of generations to come.”