Women EmPOWERed Recap!

Posted by: Sam Valentin on Thursday, June 29, 2017
The Women of Neuro Challenge

Let's take a moment to talk about how awesome the women in our community are. In case you weren't paying attention, Goodwill Manasota just wrapped up an eight week lecture series call Women Empowered. The purpose of the series was to inspire and empower women to overcome whatever obstacles they might be facing. The lecturers included some of our community's most influential, inspiring, and innovative women, and after attending each of the presentations I can wholeheartedly say they lived up to those adjectives.

Each speaker came from a different field, has a different background, and has faced different challenges throughout their lifetime. The series kicked off in the beginning of May with Goodwill's own Veronica Brandon Miller. Veronica is the VP of Foundation here at Goodwill which basically means she oversees the Foundation and Marketing departments of our organization. Her lecture focused on balancing work, play, and philanthropy in everyday life. She shared her experiences in the non-profit world and how when you find something you love to do, it's easy to find balance. The key takeaway was that at the end of each day you should take a moment to reflect on what you've learned and who you've helped that day.

The week after Veronica our speaker was former Mayor and City Commissioner of Sarasota, Carolyn Mason. Carolyn is currently working as the Director of Donor Engagement at the Harvest House. She shared her experiences of growing up in a racially segregated Sarasota. She discussed how even in the early 2000s she was faced with racism as Mayor. The main point she drove home was that if you want to truly make a change in the world you have to start at the local level. No matter how big or small your goal is, the place to start is in your neighborhood, in your community, in your town.

Following Carolyn was the Proprietor of State Street Eating House, Chris Voelker. Chris shared the story of her unusual and difficult upbringing and the many struggles she faced along the way. She spoke on how as a young woman she never felt she would be the "perfect" woman glamourized on TV and in magazines, but over time she changed her way of thinking and transformed into the successful business owner and entrepreneur she is today. In the end her key message was that you should never judge a book by its cover and that without getting to know someone you will never be able to know what they have been through and who they are on the inside.

Our fourth empowered woman was Senior Scientist and Director of Mote Marine's Aquaculture Research Park, Dr. Kevan Main. In addition to sharing some of the super cool research she has been working on, Dr. Main shared her experiences as a woman in the mostly male dominated field of science. She served as the first director of the USDA regional aquaculture center in Hawaii, and was also the President of the World Aquaculture Society in 2012-2013. In 2016 Dr. Main was inducted as a Fellow of the World Aquaculture Society and in my mind the biggest takeaway from her lecture was that women who break through the glass ceiling need to always be sure to extend a helping hand to the younger generation of women who come behind them.

Another female breaking boundaries and shattering glass ceilings, retired US Army Colonel Linda Gould, spoke the following week. Linda served as the first female Army Commander of a US Military Group in Latin America and discussed how as she rose through the ranks during her service she was constantly told her goals were out of reach. Instead of listening to naysayers she did everything in her power to make her dreams come true and was absolutely successful in doing so. She also spoke on how getting actively involved in her community was one of the biggest factors in smoothly integrating back into civilian life. The main message in her lecture was to find something you love to do and don't let anyone hold you back from being who you want to be and achieving what you want to achieve.

We had a bit of a set back with the following week's lecture as it was the first time our area got hit with a big storm this season. Unfortunately this caused major weather and traffic delays and as a result our sixth speaker was rescheduled to the end of the series. Kathryn Shea, the President and CEO of the Florida Center for Early Childhood ending up speaking on a different night than planned, but her lecture was phenomenal. She spoke on her journey in becoming a leader and how sometimes you have to make a choice between taking the path that's expected of you and the path you truly desire. She also discussed the importance of social justice and how if you really want to make a change in the world you have to be willing to take on a leadership role to make it happen. The key takeaway of her lecture was to stay true to who you are and stand firm in your beliefs.

Lee-En Chung, P.E., Construction Consulting Engineer and Founder of Ivy Ventures was originally seventh in our speaker line-up but ended up being sixth due to our week six weather issues. Lee-En was the first female in Florida to be licensed as both a certified general contractor and a registered professional engineer and is clearly passionate about what she does. Although she has an impressive list of credentials, Lee-En shared that her road to success was not an easy one and it took a lot of perseverance to get to where she is today. The key message of Lee-En's lecture was to not let failure stand in your way and that in the end hard work and determination will always get you to where you want to be.

Our closing lecture was a little different from the first seven in that we decided to mix it up and do a panel discussion. What better way to round out the series than to hear from a team of women who embody the spirit of collaboration, teamwork, and female awesomeness? For this lecture, I moderated a discussion with the women of the Neuro Challenge Foundation for Parkinson's, including Robyn Faucy - Executive Director, Sara Weinberg - Operations Manager, Carisa Campanella - Program Manager, and Karla Brody - Care Advisor. Jennifer Williams - Care Advisor, was also supposed to join us but she had a family emergency and was unable to make it. The other ladies did not slack in talking about how great she is though. And honestly her absence was the perfect example of how this team works together to make sure everyone has the support they need no matter what the situation. The discussion focused on how despite their different backgrounds - both personal and professional - the Neuro Challenge team has come together to create a collaborative environment in which they complement one another's strengths in a way that allows each individual to truly shine. The main takeaway from this discussion was that when women work as a team and support one another, rather than competing with one another, the possibilities of what can be achieved are endless.

SO, this post ended up being a lot longer than I anticipated but I really wanted to recap how fantastic each of the women who spoke as part of this lecture series was. If you weren't able to attend, you missed out on some awesome wisdom from these ladies but rest assured we will definitely get another series on the books again in the future! Stay tuned!

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