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Helen Archontou ’91

The CEO of YWCA Bergen County has always made it her mission to help the people around her, and through her history of advocacy and community service, she is continuing to pave the way for future generations.

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Ever since Helen Archontou ’91 was young, it was always in her nature to lend a helping hand to those who were in need of one. Her dedication to social justice continued all the way through her college years at Montclair State and to her current position as the CEO of YWCA Bergen County, a non-profit dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, helping families, and strengthening communities.

As YWCA Bergen County marks the beginning of its 100th year, the organization will be expanding its service area under Archontou’s leadership to additional northern NJ counties including Essex, Hudson, Morris, and Passaic and changing its name to YWCA Northern NJ.

After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Montclair State, Archontou went on to pursue a Masters of Social Work from Rutgers University and a Certificate of Public Management from Farleigh Dickinson University.

Archontou is also a state-appointed member of the New Jersey Task Force on Campus Sexual Assault, co-chairperson of the New Jersey Coalition against Human Trafficking’s Legislative Committee, and a member of AAUW’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Prior to joining YWCA Bergen County, Archontou spent 20 years in the not-for-profit sector including heading up Saint Clare’s Hospital Center for the Protection of Children serving Morris and Sussex counties, founding and leading Wynona’s House, directing the Bergen County Literacy Volunteers of America chapter and working as the Multidisciplinary Team Coordinator for the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office of Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit.

“My experience as an undergraduate at Montclair State absolutely cemented my commitment to community organizing and social change,” she says.

Two initiatives stand out from her time as a student at Montclair State. The first was a large-scale petition that she initiated to get rid of Styrofoam in the cafeteria. Then, during the end of her sophomore year, she was elected in a tight race to be secretary of the Student Government.

“That was a life-changing year. The experience helped me prepare, right after college, for my work in government on a congressman’s campaign and serving as a legislative aid for an assembly-person and senator,” she says.

While serving on the Student Government, Archontou and her fellow officers organized an initiative to address the increasing cost of college – which went statewide. “I slept in College Hall and wore the same clothes for five days. It was truly defining to be part of that movement and helping organize students around a common cause,” she notes.

For Archontou, the Group Dynamic classes that she took as an undergraduate were central to her personal development and professional direction. As she puts it, “the classes took me on a journey of introspection that had me asking myself a lot of questions, challenging the beliefs that I was raised with and ultimately giving me a sense of myself.”

In 2005, Archontou returned to her alma mater. No longer as a student, but as an adjunct professor in the department of Social Work and Child Advocacy at Montclair State. It all began when she reached out to Dr. Robert McCormick, the late leader and visionary behind today’s Robert D. McCormick Center for Child Advocacy and Policy, and offered to get involved. “Dr. McCormick welcomed me to the planning team and I was honored to work with my esteemed colleagues to develop classes for the curriculum that helped turn the certificate program into a degree program,” Archontou says.

Her connection to Montclair State does not end there. In 2016, she enrolled her then 3-year old twins in the Ben Samuels Children’s Center. “I loved watching my children experience facets of the campus that I, too, experienced as an undergrad, like viewing the constellations at astronomy nights and burgers at the Red Hawk Diner,” she says.

For Archontou, making a career out of helping people is her greatest professional accomplishment. Knowing that each day someone is touched by the work of the YWCA Bergen County, makes her very proud and inspires her to do more. Since joining the organization, she has made it her goal to expand and deepen their mission-based programming by providing a continuum of programs and services to support women in every stage of life. Her work is proof that she is living that mission.