After 40 years, Midge Wilson, our founder and the executive director of Bay Area Women’s and Children’s Center (BAWCC) since its inception in 1981, has retired. She has been the shining light and the guiding force of the Center, bringing critical services to women and families in the Tenderloin. Prior to the creation of BAWCC, there were few services for the thousands of women and children who live in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. Midge created a safe space where women could take a break from their daily lives, rest on a comfortable couch, find community with other women from the neighborhood, receive food, clothing and other necessary supplies, and get referrals to jobs and other important resources.
Midge’s work always started from a place of deep listening to what the community had to say. She and her team of staff and volunteers conducted regular surveys and door to door inquiries to fully understand the issues, and then she thoughtfully went about addressing the needs. These practices have always been a hallmark of the approach Midge instilled in BAWCC.
One early revelation from these surveys was the sheer number of kids living within the Tenderloin neighborhood. Most people assumed there were little to no children in this neighborhood known for its plentiful SROs (single residency occupancy) units until BAWCC’s surveys dispelled this prevailing myth.
When Midge realized that there were no safe playgrounds in the Tenderloin where children could play, she worked with the community to create four children’s playgrounds as well as the Tenderloin Children’s Playground and Recreation Center, which continues to offer outstanding programs for youth and children.
Prior to 1998, there were 75 elementary schools throughout San Francisco, but none were located in the Tenderloin. Neighborhood children were forced to wait on street corners to be bussed to schools that were often located far from the Tenderloin, and parents were unable to attend parent-teacher conferences due to the distance and language barriers. Midge was the driving force behind the creation of the Tenderloin Community School – the first public elementary school to be located in the Tenderloin neighborhood. Her relentless advocating paid off and the community has a jewel in this amazing neighborhood school.
In collaboration with the San Francisco Unified School District, she developed many innovative programs including a rooftop garden, a range of choice-based after-school clubs (like chess and cooking), and a robust technology program that serves all students from kindergarten through 5th grade.
In collaboration with UCSF and the San Francisco Unified School District, Midge developed a successful dental clinic located within the school that serves the dental needs of all the school’s students for free!
Until the COVID-19 Pandemic, the school had a unique physical education program, designed to help students achieve academic success by ensuring healthy food, outdoor facilitated play activities that fostered social skills as well as vigorous exercise.
Midge recognized the need to provide a more robust and relevant reading experience for students at the school and spearheaded the early adoption of Readers and Writers workshop. BAWCC raised funds to send teachers to Columbia’s University’s renowned Teachers’ college for training and built the Tenderloin School’s libraries with new, relevant, high-interest books that reflected the lives of the students in the school’s classrooms.
BAWCC continues to support the school and the community of families it serves, funding a community liaison staff person, a community outreach worker, a technology teacher, and staffing for outdoor recess/recreation, as well as the dental clinic.
Midge learned about John Wooden, renowned UCLA basketball coach, and became aware of his Pyramid of Success. She wanted to know more, so she went and visited him herself to better understand his philosophy and how it might support the children in the neighborhood. Soon, the Youth Sports Initiative was born, offering ice-skating, basketball, tennis and many more sports. One neighborhood athlete, Dinh Tran continues to skate and train for elite level ice skating and hopefully the Olympics. We are all rooting for him!
Over the years, Midge has received many awards for her leadership, advocacy and results. She has never enjoyed the attention such awards brought and was always quick to redirect the attention to those she served. Her humility was matched by her dedication. In 2012 she received one of the highest honors, the prestigious national Jefferson Award for her lifetime of multiplying good and inspiring others along the way.
Midge’s efforts have improved the lives of thousands of children and families in the Tenderloin, giving children, whose families were often limited by money, access to activities that middle-class students elsewhere do: afterschool enrichment clubs, technology devices and learning, dental care, quality instruction by trained teachers, and so much more.
Throughout this lifetime of hard work, Midge’s kindness, intelligence, and guiding spirit has touched thousands of lives. She has been a role model, a mentor and an advocate, inspiring so many in the Tenderloin and beyond to achieve more than they ever could have imagined. Thank you, Midge, for leaving such an impactful legacy!