One in six Americans are going hungry. Of those 50 million people without enough to eat, 17 million are children.
What can you do? Join California First Lady Maria Shriver and The Women’s Conference as we make a donation to the California Association of Food Banks to provide one million meals to California families in need.
Today, Maria Shriver will launch the Million Meals Initiative in San Diego with a lunchtime visit to Father Joe’s Villages, an organization that serves more than 5,000 people a day through its soup kitchen. Shriver will then visit the San Diego Armed Services YMCA to join partners and volunteers to help distribute packages of healthy food to more than 1,000 families. The day’s events will culminate with a visit by Shriver to Qualcomm Stadium for the Million Meals Food Drive, which is being organized in partnership with the San Diego Food Bank and San Diego Chargers.
The Million Meals Food Drive was kicked off on November 20th, when the general public was invited to donate non-perishable food items. San Diego Chargers players joined the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department and other volunteers in the food collection efforts. The goal of the Million Meals Food Drives is to collect enough food to provide an additional one million meals to California’s families.
The San Francisco 49ers organization is also participating in the Million Meals Initiative. At their November 14 home game, the 49ers collaborated with the San Francisco Food Bank to collect 2,100 pounds of food and $2,100 in cash donations from fans as they were arriving at the game. Yesterday, the 49ers partnered with Sacred Heart Community Service to facilitate another Million Meals Food Drive, where they collected 1,400 pounds of food and $5,100 in cash donations.
“The Women’s Conference organization has worked on the frontlines to feed women’s minds, bodies and spirits, and during this time of need, we are committed to helping California women feed their families,” said Maria Shriver. “I am so pleased that individual Californians and thousands of organizations all across the state are joining together to support struggling families… I hope the Million Meals Initiative inspires even more Californians to join us by donating to Million Meals food bank partners across the state—so we can keep this spirit of giving alive throughout the year.”
The food donated through the Million Meals Initiative will be delivered to Californians through the California Association of Food Banks’ 43 member organizations and more than 5,000 organizations across the state. In addition to the food banks, five organizations have also been selected to receive grants including Father Joe’s Villages, Sacred Heart Community Service, and three organizations led by the conference’s Minerva Award winners: Betty Chin’s Betty’s Blue Angels, Christy Porter’s Hidden Harvest and Janice Mirikitani’s Glide Memorial Church.
Californians can donate food, dollars or time to a Million Meals partner in their neighborhood by visiting www.cafoodbanks.org.
For more ways to contribute to your community, read 10 Ways to Give Back This Season
For more about The Women's Conference We Connect program, which is driving this initiative, visit www.weconnect.net
From the time I was a little girl I was driven to help others. My three never-married aunts, who lived together their whole lives, guided and influenced me. They were women who traveled the planet, built great friendships and had successful careers. My aunts came out of the Great Depression with the attitude that you pull together as family, and with this united strength, you have love and resources to share with others. They taught me that one person can make a difference—and that person could be me.
In the beginning, my community was my elementary school and my role was defending the child being bullied at school or helping the kid who couldn’t read. As I got older, my world expanded, and I became involved in advocating for universal health care and fund-raising for environmental causes. As a young woman, I dropped out of college and traveled to South America to live; I came back to the States a year later, driven to finish my education, so I could help people poorer and less fortunate than myself. By the time I was an adult, I seemed to be unable to take a vacation, or make a painting without immediately projecting forward how I could use this initially self-motivated activity to help others.
Now, I live between three countries (India, Mexico and Tibet), working as a consultant to nonprofit organizations worldwide, helping them make their dream into a solid plan of action; documenting the rare and endangered flora of the Tibetan Plateau as a scientific botanical illustrator; writing a novel, and leading tours to Tibet as part of an ecotourism partnership with Tibetan villagers and nomads that sends 100 poor children to school, supports political prisoners, and provides health care for frail, elderly Tibetans.
Every one of these aspects of my life is rooted in the same values my aunts passed on to me when I was five—help others and have great adventures while doing it. I start and end every day with a statement of intention that reminds and refocuses me on what is truly important: “May everything that I think, do and say today help me end suffering in others.” Every evening, I sift through my day to see if I have stayed true to my values and that intention.
My Life Strategies:
Dianne Aigaki is a writer, social activist, artist and philanthropist. Besides being a consultant for nonprofit organizations and training over 4,000 people worldwide, she has been an artist for 35 years, working in acrylics, watercolor, stained glass, print making, and cyanotypes, a technique used in the 1700s to document rare plants. As a woman explorer, she is a member of both Wings World Quest and the Society of Women Geographers, the two premier women’s exploration organizations in the world. Her blog is www.dianneaigaki.wordpress.com; her website is www.dianneaigaki.com
Astrid Sheil blogged for us live from The Women's Conference 2010.
Whether you attended in person or watched the The Women’s Conference 2010 streaming live on your computer, there was a smorgasbord of wisdom, a veritable supermarket of information and motivation from which to choose.
Everywhere you turned, there was something brilliant being discussed on one of several jumbotrons in the convention center, and in the breakout sessions, and on the radio, and standing in line at one of the many book signings. At times, it was simply overwhelming. After the big morning and lunch sessions in the Arena, I had to take a break. I just could not process all I had just seen, heard, and felt. I was in total and complete sensory overload.
The whole thing was like being on a cruise ship on your first night at sea. If you’ve ever taken a cruise, you know they lay out a buffet at midnight that is as long as a football field. Ice sculptures, mountains of fruit, skyscrapers of cheese…you can gorge yourself before you get halfway through the food line. For me, this Women’s Conference was like the midnight buffet on a cruise ship. I stuffed myself on information, insights, inspiration, laughter, motivation, new friendships, ah-has, and poignant moments. I can’t remember another conference where I have participated in so many standing ovations. My intellectual and emotional waistline definitely expanded this week.
There was a satiated euphoria at the end of the Minerva Awards as the lights came up in the arena and people started to disembark from this amazing two day experience. A quick exit poll with attendees produced this top ten “Things I will take away from this conference” list:
So many gems, so many pearls of wisdom! This year’s Women’s Conference was definitely the midnight buffet on a cruise ship—a feast for the mind, the heart, and the soul. Now that you have enjoyed this Bacchanal of love, encouragement, and possibility, how will you share what you have learned with others?
Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is the Associate Chair of the Communication Studies Dept. at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University.
Kristy Campbell blogged for us live from The Women's Conference 2010.
My trip back to my life in Northern California started off without much fanfare. The hotel lobby was quiet as I checked out and caught a cab to the airport. As I took my seat on the plane, the women next to me recognized my shiny silver bag and asked if I had been to The Women’s Conference. When I told her that I had attended, she said she had been there as well and remarked what an amazing experience it had been.
The flight attendant came on to make the general announcements and asked how many on board had been to The Women’s Conference. The plane immediately filled with raised hands and cheers. Much like at the breakout sessions where we were encourage to talk with the women around us, the plane had became of buzz of chatter and laughter. But the best surprise of all was that Minerva Award recipient, Oral Lee Brown, was also on the flight. My section was calling the trip home the “Flight of Empowerment.”
On the short flight back, I rehashed the Conference with the woman next to me. Turns out, Marjorie Auyong Gonzalez is a Minerva contender in her own right. She told me about a program she started with her company to give temporary employment to veterans. She has even come out of retirement to help with the program. As she explained, her company gives veterans salaried positions, housing, and medical benefits in order to give them current work experience and training. They can then update their resumes with current work experience in order to get jobs in the civilian market.
I asked her how the Conference influenced her and she said, “It’s such a great experience to be with so many women who inspire and empower each other. I loved all the speakers but I also really enjoyed all the women I met.”
When we all met up at baggage claim, we chatted with Oral Lee. She told us a cute story about how she didn’t have time to go back to her hotel and change for the awards so she had just worn what she had been in all day. As we laughed together, I introduced myself to a woman next to me who turned out to be Lorrie Sullenberger, the wife of airline pilot Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who landed his plane in the Hudson River saving all of the passengers on board. She said she has been coming to The Women’s Conference for years and said how important it is to come home and keep “the message moving forward.” She also told me that she really felt the “Maria Magic” this year and is looking forward to seeing what Maria does next.
I agree. The “Maria Magic” that I experienced at the Conference has empowered me to step out of my comfort zone and to take action. Her message has inspired me to continue to believe in my voice and to keep doing the work that I do. If she can effect this much positive action in women over the course of one weekend, it is incredible to think what she could continue to do. Her own series of Women’s Conferences? Her own empowerment show on Oprah’s new network? President in 2014? Whatever she does, though, I guarantee she will have quite a following of empowered, inspired women.
Kristy Campbell is a writer and actress. Her column, “Saving The World One Teen At A Time,” is at Mommytracked.com, and her thoughts on modern mid-life are offered in her blog, “My Cape Is At The Cleaners: Secrets of an ExSupermom.” You can find her work at www.kristycampbellcreative.com.
THANK YOU, MARIA
This is the last Women’s Conference that Maria Shriver will organize as First Lady of California, and she saved the best for last. While the morning line-up was extraordinary and included First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Nike CEO Phil Knight, Starbuck’s CEO Howard Schultz, NBC Anchor Brian Williams, and New York Times journalist and Pulitzer prize author, Nicholas Kristof, the moment truly belonged to Maria Shriver, the architect and driving force of the largest women’s conference in the world.
In her farewell address, Maria shared her journey from reluctant candidate spouse to empowered organizer. She recognized the family and friends who helped her along the way, and paid tribute to her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a larger than life woman who inspired her and her siblings to take up the good fight and do good in the world. Maria recounted how one of her proudest moments in her life was when she had the privilege of presenting her mother with the Minerva Award in 2008; and one of her most poignant moments was sitting in the garden by her mother’s grave and waiting, waiting, and waiting for her mother to speak to her.
When her mother did speak to her, it was not from above, but from deep inside her. Maria shared her fear of the unknown—what comes next? And what she heard and felt inside came in a moment of divine clarity. Her inner voice said, “It’s okay to not know what to do next.” For the thousands of people watching and listening, Maria gave all of us an unexpected gift of emancipation. For those of us who can feel overwhelmed and overscheduled on a daily basis—she gave us permission to, “Let go” and just be okay with ambiguity and a messy life.
Out in the Village after the presentations, several women commented on how inspirational and moving Maria’s speech was, and how special the First Lady of California has made this event for all of the viewers and participants.
Sandy Hoffman, an HR specialist with Cisco said, “Maria brings such a human dimension to her insights—she touched everyone with her speech. I’m not sure how anyone can follow up on this next year.”
Tricia Baker, an engineer with Cisco, agreed. “This is my first time to come to this conference and I have found it amazing. Maria is inspiring on so many levels—this speech alone was worth the trip down from San Francisco.”
Nikki Corbett, who works for Intel in Sacramento, echoed a sentiment that many women share: “I really liked her message that it’s okay to not have a plan…and it’s okay to be scared. So often, we feel like we have to have it all figured out. It’s nice to know that a woman as accomplished as Maria Shriver doesn’t have it figured it all the time.”
Amanda Balint, a public affairs officer for BP in Alberta, Canada said she was blown away by Maria’s speech. “It was inspirational, sad, funny, empowering, and quite memorable.”
First time attendee Alyssa DeSantis summed it up for all of us when she said, “Maria needs to start her own conference. This is the best thing I’ve ever attended.”
From all of us who have had the distinct privilege to attend, volunteer, or present, thank you, Maria, for seven years of expansive thinking and empowerment. Thank you for the great speakers and the wonderful opportunities.
Most of all, thank you for your humanity, humor, and honesty.
Heck of Day…Wish You Were Here
There is something about The Women’s Conference that is different from any other conference I have ever experienced. First of all, there’s energy throughout the convention center that is simply electrifying. You can see it in the participants’ faces—joy, anticipation, hope, and openness. You pass a woman and exchange a look that asks, “Do I know you?” Everybody feels so familiar here…like we are already friends; we just haven’t been formally introduced yet.
This is the only place I have ever been where strangers want to make eye contact with you—and engage you in conversation! I got on the elevator after lunch and in the short ride from the exhibit hall floor to the balcony floor, five of us discussed 1) how inspiring the opening session with Deepak Chopra and her Holiness Shinso Ito was; 2) how the boxed lunches were really good, but would have been better if they had included chocolate for dessert, and 3) and how excited we all were to hear Dr. Martha Beck speak. In a 45 second ride-up, the group went from being total strangers to sorority sisters. The elevator doors opened, we smiled at each other and scattered like marbles on a tile floor to find seats in the large auditorium.
Once seated I turned to the woman next to me and asked her to complete the phrase, “It’s time...” (since that is the theme of this conference.) She thought for a moment and replied, “It’s time for me to take what I’ve learned and experienced and put it to use helping women.”
I followed up quickly, “So what does that look like?” Surprised that I was interested in knowing her thoughts, she said, “Well, when I was in Africa last February…”
“Wait a minute,” I said, “you were in Africa last February?”
“Yes, I was there to help the women of Mali…and then I spent 8 days in Haiti in April.”
Now, I was really impressed. “What did you do in Africa and Haiti?” I asked.
She said, “I listened. I empathized. I offered my knowledge and experience to the women in Mali, and I offered my labor and my heart to the people of Haiti.”
I was speechless. She continued, “I’ve been a therapist for years. I help teen girls with self-esteem and I’ve worked with kids for a long time.” I nodded, spellbound.
“I feel like I’m living out my name—Phyllis—which means the bough of a tree or tenderhearted.”
Still amazed at the responsibility that Phyllis from Chino Hills, California had assumed for the women of Africa and the families of Haiti, I headed to the last session of the afternoon, featuring the amazing Tony Robbins, life coach extraordinaire. It would be impossible to describe this man’s personal wattage and charisma, but he had 3,500 women jumping, hugging, dancing, and hooting.
I think I have the best job at this conference. I get to walk around with notepad and pen and ask people basic questions, like, “Why are you here?” and “What do you do?” This year’s theme: “It’s Time” is resonating with everyone. What is it time for you to do?
Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is the Associate Chair of the Communication Studies Dept. at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University.
Coming to you live from The Women's Conference 2010, where an unprecedented 30,000 are gathering for three days of inspiration and transformation.
The Governor, Meg Whitman & Jerry Brown
The Main Event - The Working Lunch
I was very excited to settle in and get ready for what I thought would be one of the highlights of my Conference experience: the interviews with Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor, Laura Bush’s speech, and the “discussion” with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Meg Whitman, and Jerry Brown.
Diane Sawyer took the stage with The Honorable Supreme Court Justices. Seeing these women on the same stage and realizing the barriers they had broken was one of powerful moments of the Conference. Sandra Day O’Connor said it took 190 years for a woman to be named to the Supreme Court, and that was just far too long. Ruth Bader Ginsburg added that she thought 9 female Justices would be the perfect number on the Bench. The audience broke into applause. As they talked about their lives, they both became less of the Honorable Supreme Court Justices that they are and more and more like us every-day women sitting in the audience…dealing with kids and marriage and careers and illness and the death of their husbands.
Laura Bush then took the stage. She was honest and real as well. She told us how George isn’t doing such a great job of picking up his wet towels. She also pulled out a Laura Bush bobble-head doll and told us a friend found it on the clearance shelf. She admitted that she isn’t sure what returning to normal means. She and George are still working it out.
And then the moment for which so many of us had been waiting, Matt Lauer introduced Arnold Schwarzenegger and the real party started. Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown came on stage and started with some polite conversation. Fairly quickly the polite conversation turned political. As Heather from Riverside, California, said, “they’re running for office. What did you expect?” Matt Lauer bumped up the tone when he asked the candidates to consider pulling their negative ads to which the audience stood up and cheered and clapped and yelled. It soon became a bit of a rally with both candidates being put in the spotlight asked to change their campaigns. As the crowd fervor intensified with booing and cheering, the woman next to me got up and left. “I hate this kind of stuff. We asked for no negativity, yet we’re booing. I’m outta here.”
Matt kept announcing that they only had one minute left and finally, The Governor got things back in control. He said, “Matt, it’s Maria and my conference, quit schwitzing about the 1 minute. I’ll give you 3!” With that, the audience broke into laughter and the tone of the Conference was restored.
Conversations continued on the way to the next session ranging from support of Meg to support of Jerry to disinterest in the whole political game. Susan P. from Riverside summed up the attitude, “we managed to spend the past day and a half having discussions united as women and I’m disappointed the conversation divided us by our political views. I’m excited for the next session.”
"You don't have to fill anyone's shoes but your own."
The Main Event
The real fun started this morning when Brian Williams, who was hilarious by the way, came on stage to lead the panel of “Men Who Get It.” It was entertaining and interesting to hear a few male perspectives. Carol from New York was standing next to me. “I’m kind of impressed that these men would go out there and be so…honest,” she whispered. We both laughed since she was right. Very seldom do you see a group of 4 men admit that women have enormous power! (Panel was Phil Knight of Nike, Howard Schultz of Starbucks, and Nick Kristof of the New York Times.)
Brigadier General Charlotte L. Miller introduced Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden, who spoke in support of military families.
Finally, it was time. Maria Shriver took the stage, and a standing ovation and grateful clapping came from the 14,000 attendees. Maria spoke from her heart. She told a story of her journey of being First Lady. She was honest, vulnerable, and real. As she spoke of her mother’s death and the pain and grief she still feels every day, most of the audience was in tears. Maria, however, spoke with unwavering emotion. Her strength is remarkable…and you can feel it, even in a room full of 14,000. She told us she wants a life that is authentic and meaningful, and she finally realized that she doesn’t have to fill anyone else’s shoes, filling her own is enough. She also encouraged us to realize that being outside of your comfort zone doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means you are uncomfortable. After she left the stage, a lot of us commented on how sad we are to see her go, but that we will all follow her wherever she goes.
The First Lady, Michelle Obama, made a great speech about her support of military families and her commitment to making sure these families have a voice. She talked about how women know how to make things work. “We show up,” she said, and we know what to do to offer support to each other. We bring food, chocolate, or even wine... which was met with a big laugh.
After her speech, we prepared for the breakout sessions. “I can’t believe I just saw Michelle Obama,” said Carol who had been standing next to me. “I can’t believe I’m even here,” said a woman walking by who had overheard. I walked down the stairs with a group of friends from Sacramento. The number one comment from all of them was how remarkable it is that Maria Shriver is such an inspirational leader and yet she still seems so humble and real. “She has taught me so much, just hearing her talk this morning,” said one woman. “If I take one thing away from today…it’s her saying that I don’t have to fill anyone else’s shoes, mine are enough.”
"The Woman's Conference is a manual on how to be a woman today"
The Main Event - Early Morning
Watching the sunrise as I walked to the Arena, I saw long lines of women already lined up for today’s event. The mood was festive and the buzz was all about Michelle Obama.
In the coffee line, I talked to a few women. When I asked Sarah from Santa Monica what brought her today, she said without pause, “Maria Shriver!!” Stephanie from Madera Ranch, California, said it is “the combination of speakers, lots of leaders from all around the country" that brought her to the Conference. Eileen from Pasadena said this is her 1st time at the Conference and she is just taking it all in, but she really is hoping that she can take one thing away from today that she can put to use in her life.
The Conference is scheduled to start in an hour and already the Arena is close to full. The pre-show is fantastic with lots of entertainment from bands to singers to a choir, and everyone is in a great mood. Evelyn from Los Angeles sat with a big silver bag on her lap. She had just been to the Village and had done some shopping. “I haven’t had this much fun before 7:30am in my life! I really am having a great time,” she said as she showed me her books and Women’s Conference sweatshirt.
Alexis Jones and Emily Greener of I Am That Girl.com are here to cover the event for their website. Alexis is in her late 20s and really wants to bring the message of The Women’s Conference to women her age. “I feel like women my age are having an ‘Oh *~#&’ moment with what we are supposed to be doing. We can have a career? We can be moms? We can take time for ourselves? We are struggling to figure it out. The Women’s Conference is really a manual on how to be a woman today, and I want to take that manual to my peers.” She continued to say “we need to bridge the gap between women my age and women her age in order to have more discussions about how to be a strong leader and woman today.” As I have a daughter who is a freshman in college, I couldn’t agree more.
Monday ended with what felt like a party -- Night At The Village. The Village is an entire exhibition hall set up with rows and rows of vendors featuring everything from handbags to yoga mats to vitamins to videos on how to have a strong marriage. A Sanctuary section offers a little peace of mind with yoga and meditation classes. There is also a main stage and 2 smaller areas for presentations and entertainment. At the Village, It's Time... to Experience the Best.
The night I walked in, I stood surveying the vast hall trying to take it in. Two costumed girls on stilts interrupted my gaze. What a party! I headed to the main stage to see Maria with Paula Deen, Giada de Laurentiis, and Ali Wentworth. The buzz in the crowd….PAULA DEEN, PAULA DEEN, PAULA DEEN.
I wandered over to what seemed like one of the popular stops on the circuit: the iVillage booth. iVillage is an online community of women filled with blogs and boards and information by women. Most recently, iVillage launched iVoices that features correspondents from around the country weighing in what their communities are discussing. “Very cool idea,” said Angie from San Bernadino. Kelly Wallace, Executive Producer of iVillage, told me that one of the most popular boards on iVillage is the military board. She said it has connected lots of military families from across the country. The iVillage booth featured tons of comments and thoughts picked up from the boards, and Kelly showed me this one:
Without iVillage, I would never have met my best friend. We have been each other’s support system through our pregnancies, and our husbands deploying.
Needing a little pick-me-up after my long day, I headed to the Eco Island, a section of vendors all providing natural beauty products. I wanted to find the Juice Beauty booth since I had heard their Green Apples scrub was put in Michelle Obama’s green room. On the way, I talked to Karen W. from San Francisco. She said, “This entire Conference astounds me. The idea that women can stand together and celebrate being a woman is so powerful.”
A Day of Health, Wellness & Transformation
October 25, 2010
I made my way to the main entrance early this morning where I was greeted by a friendly welcome from Jamba Juice with a 5 Fruit Smoothie. “What a fun surprise,” said the woman next to me. Jamba Juice was also handing cards that benefit the California PTA. “Just swipe the card when you buy a Jamba Juice and a portion of your purchase goes to the California PTA,” said the friendly Jamba Juice guy. My line buddy, Lori from Seattle, whispered to me, “I never knew there was a state PTA.” Neither did I.
Inside, groups of women were gathering and the buzz was starting. Countdown to Transformation! A bookstore was set up next to the table selling some Women’s Conference items. I listened as two women debated about the orange or black Maria Shriver watches that say “It’s Time” (the theme of this year’s Conference). The women ended up buying both and told me that it’s for a good cause, so it makes shopping even more fun.
I talked to a group of women who told me they were a moms group from Los Angeles and they were looking forward to a day “without kids” in order to recharge and “try to find some inspiration.” We high-fived over the “no kids” part.
It was fun to go from huddle to huddle of women and ask what brought them to the Conference:
Spiritual/inspirational music was playing in the auditorium. Walking in, I saw quite a few women with hands extended or heads bowed in prayer. I seated myself next to Jenny from Sonoma. She told me this was her first time coming to the Conference and was just here “to check it out” and didn’t really have any expectations. She said she is looking forward to hearing from the Supreme Court Justices and Michelle Obama tomorrow. She mirrored what a lot of women had said to me…they came to check it out. Tracy R. from Los Angeles told me that this was her 3rd year and said I was in for an amazing experience. “The energy and inspiration is quite a high and I guarantee you, it’ll be hard to sleep tonight,” she laughed. Oh perfect. I’ve already spent a few restless nights anticipating the Conference.
Dr. Harumitsu Inouye, the CEO of the Shinnyo-en Foundation, introduced Maria Shriver and said the reason we all love Maria is because she is not a superhero or wonderwoman…”she is real.” (The group of women around me applauded at the comment.) He said she is a force of nature who has found her passion, and she combines kindness and courage in one heart. A standing ovation greeted her as she came on stage, but she immediately told us all to sit down. Her message was simple: we women have something unique inside of all of us and it’s time to find our unique voice and change the world. “It’s Time” is the theme of this year’s Conference and she challenged us to figure out what it is time for us to do. Don’t wait for something to happen; go out and make it happen.
Deepak Chopra followed her and his presentation made us laugh, made us think, and gave us inspiration. Tracy R. told me she had never read a single word of Deepak before but was going to head to the bookstore “to buy all his books..
Her Holiness Shinso Ito was next to take the stage. A video rolled to talk about her life and her mission. The audience was still. As the video finished, you could hear a pin drop and when she walked out on stage, my eyes started to tear up and I noticed a couple of women in my row wiping tears as well. This woman was power, pure spiritual power. She spoke humbly and in Japanese to a quiet audience. She gave perhaps one of the strongest messages of the day: constructive solutions never come from hatred or resentment.
A Day of Health, Wellness & Transformation
I walked out of the morning session with Karen from Manhattan Beach. She said she was thrilled to have started the day with “such a powerful presentation..." She said she was looking forward to the rest of the day.
During the break, I talked to a lot of women in the line for coffee. Everyone was processing the morning. When I asked a few about the “It’s Time” theme and what it meant to them, no one could answer it. Lori from Phoenix told me she was really inspired by Deepak Chopra and Shinso Ito. “It was unbelievable to be in a room with two of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time,” and she said she needed time to take in that experience before she could think of the “It’s Time” theme.
Suzanne Hogan from Washington, DC, told me she is visiting the Conference for the first time. Her mother has Alzheimer’s and requires 24-hour care. Suzanne came last year but as soon as she landed she received a message about her mother and had to return to DC on the next flight, so she missed last year’s Conference. This year is very important to her. She also told me that she thinks the one message that we can retool to empower the generation of younger girls is that “we can have it all, but not alone." We need to teach each other to reach out and collaborate and not be afraid to ask for help. We all need to work harder at creating our villages.
THE MARCH ON ALZHEIMERS
October 24, 2010
I walked to the Pavilion early to make sure I could take in any pre-March madness. There really wasn’t any. Booths were being set up. Lines for registration and t-shirts were without issue. As I picked up my t-shirt, I noticed two younger girls in line. I asked them what brought them to the March. Allie C. and Susan R. both from Long Beach told me that they would do anything to help raise awareness for Alzheimer’s, and the March seemed like a fun and easy thing to do. Both girls told me their grandmothers suffer from the disease.
As the Pavilion began to fill with the purple-clad marchers sampling Jamba Juice, Pinkberry yogurt, and Luna bars, the mood continued to stay calm. I asked Autumn, a lyricist from Long Beach, why she was here. She told me that she believes every person makes a difference, and she wanted to be part of the event in order to help. One of the booths had a giant art canvas set up to paint tributes and thoughts about Alzheimer’s. It was moving to see adults and children painting side-by-side. Maria signed the canvas as did her children.
I walked around asking people why they were marching, and it became a resounding theme for me:
a mother/father/grandmother/grandfather/aunt/uncle/friend has been affected.
Over 20 people told me the same story. I saw families with young children, families with teens, groups of young adults, corporate teams, groups of girlfriends, and even an elderly couple arm-in-arm. I was moved by how all these people were united for a single cause: to find a cure for this disease.
I was milling about when the most amazing thing happen…Maria Shriver came walking across the grass. I had to do a double take since there was no big fanfare, no entourage, or no helicopter with tinted windows. Just Maria with a big smile and her running shoes saying hi to everyone.
As I watched her being interviewed, snap pictures with fans, and skillfully move through the crowd, it hit me. The March on Alzheimer’s had just turned into a family event, kind of like a big family picnic. Maria managed to make everyone feel welcome and she thanked as many people as she could for being there in support. The Governor seemed to stride in as well, without great fanfare, and joined his wife in welcoming people. It was amazing to catch the buzz from those around me as I followed The Governor and First Lady to the stage. Everyone was impressed with the approachability of the couple.
Grace from Fresno told me that she felt like the celebrity. “Maria shook my hand and thanked ME for being here. It was strange since I really wanted to thank her!”
I could really sense that those people who were part of The March on Alzheimer’s today were united regardless of background, education, wealth, or political stance. Jackie T. from Santa Barbara summed it up best, “Alzheimer’s robs us all, and we all should stand together.”
Leeza Gibbons, whose mother suffered from Alzheimer’s, hosted the Main Stage event and announced that the March has raised $250K for the Alzheimer’s Association. She also announced that Team Dano won a trip to New York as they raised $12,000! She surprised us all with a warm-up led by no other than the iconic Jane Fonda and Glee gym teacher, Jane Lynch. After warming up, it was off to the starting line with Long Beach’s Jordan High School marching band leading the way. As people crossed the starting line, we heard many stories over the loud speaker:
The March itself was fun and upbeat, but there were many tears and hugs as people crossed the finish line. A fine misty rain had started to fall but no one seemed to care. Brett Eldridge performed “Raymond,” his tribute song to his grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. As we prepared to light candles for a vigil, I stood next to a remarkable woman. Lorraine from Long Beach is a Physician’s Assistant and a teacher. We talked about how she had just finished a unit on geriatrics with her students and how so many of them were sad about elderly care. Lorraine told me that she loves her job as a caregiver to the elderly and that she is filled with hope with events like the March and that is why she came to participate.
As Amber Riley from Glee sang “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” we turned on our battery-powered candles in the rain. It was a bittersweet moment: joy for what we collectively had just accomplished, sadness for those loved ones who continue to suffer without a cure.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
I woke up this morning a little bit nervous about today. The kickoff for the Conference was hours away and I wasn’t sure what to expect. At breakfast, a table of women sat next to me. As I eavesdropped on their conversation (rude, I know), I heard them talking about the Alzheimer’s March later today. I introduced myself and asked if they were all here for the Conference. They all said yes and started giving me tips on how to get through it all and not be overwhelmed. One of the women, Linda B. from Los Angeles, told me to focus on what is important to me and do not worry if I can’t absorb all the rest. She said this is her 4th year and she likened it to Disney World. Go and see what you can and enjoy it and don’t stress about what you didn’t see. I thanked her for the advice.
After breakfast, I walked around the vast Long Beach Conference Center. It was busy with construction teams and event planners. Definitely a pre-wedding kind of buzz. I saw the giant welcome sign being adjusted by the crane. To see the words “WELCOME California Governor and First Lady’s Conference on Women” gave me pause. What other State in this Nation has its Governor and First Lady so incredibly vocal and supportive of women’s issues?
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Arriving in Long Beach
As I sat at the airport ready to board my flight to Long Beach, I received an email alerting me that outlined the heightened security procedures for Tuesday’s Main Event. Michelle Obama is speaking and it’s added a level of intensity to the Event. As I reread my email, it hit me that what I was about to experience these next few days at the Women’s Conference is nothing that I’ve ever experienced before. I knew I’d come back to my family changed, but I wasn’t exactly sure how.
Maria Shriver has always been an inspiration to me. She intrigues me as she has made it clear that her priorities are to be a daughter, a mother, a wife, and a contributor to the world…and in that order. I have found it remarkable that someone who comes from such political lineage would consider being a good daughter and mother as her highest goals. I would have thought she mostly aspired to be Governor.
What Maria has modeled for me is that being a strong daughter and mother is a noble goal. And, within achieving this goal, there is also room to make a difference in the world. The Women’s Conference reflects her vision in asking women to find their highest selves and to find a way to become an Architect of Change. I’ve read the biographies of women speaking at the Conference. Many of them are women who have had to juggle kids, career, marriage, and self like I have had to do and yet have found their voice for change. I look forward to meeting these women and listening to them speak. I can’t wait to talk to women like me and ask them what they think. This Conference is so much more than being a working mom or a stay at home mom or a work from home mom. It is about being a woman. And I believe that if we can all bond at that level, we can achieve great things. I can’t wait to connect with so many wonderful women.
Kristy Campbell is a writer and actress. Her column, “Saving The World One Teen At A Time,” is at Mommytracked.com, and her thoughts on modern mid-life are offered in her blog, “My Cape Is At The Cleaners: Secrets of an ExSupermom.” You can find her work at www.kristycampbellcreative.com.
I had the privilege of volunteering at Maria Shriver’s The Modern House Call for Women on Saturday and Sunday. It was truly a pleasure working with all the other volunteers who shared my passion for helping women withtheir health care needs. The majority of the women I saw in the health care clinic hadn’t seen a doctor for years and were completely removed from any health care system. Most of them had no insurance and told me that they didn’t know where to go to see a physician.
I took care of a woman who was in her early 50s who had a very strong family history of breast cancer. Her maternal aunt and sister both had breast cancer. She had not had a mammogram in over ten years! Being a plastic and reconstructive surgeon and taking care of many breast cancer patients, I am especially passionate about early breast cancer detection. To have participated in the emotional and physical struggle of women undergoing surgery and treatment for this disease, I continually stress to women the importance of getting an annual mammogram and physical exam, as well as performing self breast exams. The fact that there was an on-site mammography station at The Modern House Call was truly a blessing for these patients. The women who attended The Modern House Call were able to get screening mammography immediately.
Similarly, women were able to get cervical cancer screening with the on-site Ob-Gyn physicians and nurses who performed pap-smears. In developing nations, cervical cancer is the leading cause of death in women – it is early detection that has improved the survival of women in the United States. Most of the women I saw at The Modern House Call had not had a pap smear for several years. I spent time educating them on the importance of an annual physical exam and annual pap-smear – something that no one had talked to many of them about before. The women were also able to get their blood sugar and blood pressure checked. However, one of the most valuable resources at The Modern House Call was the clinic referral program. Women were able to find local free clinics and make primary care appointments through the resources at The Modern House call so that they would be able to receive long term health care follow-up.
I truly believe that myself and the other volunteers were able to make a difference in the lives of many women who had no access to even the most basic health care. I was glad to be able to assist in providing basic health care screening that most of us take for granted. I feel blessed to have participated in this event and thank all the people who donated resources and time to help women who are truly in need.
Dr. Catherine Huang Begovic is a Plastic & Reconstructive surgeon in Beverly Hills CA and CEO of her cosmetic and plastic surgery practice Make You Perfect, Inc. She is also a board certified Head & Neck cancer and reconstructive surgeon. She is on the board of BeautyTV.
Claudia V. is a seventeen-year-old interned with the County of Los Angeles juvenile justice system; she participated in the Minerva Arts Project while at Camp Scott, an all-girls "camp" run by the LA County Probation Department.
The Minerva Arts Project began as a collaboration between the The Women's Conference, the California Arts Council and the Alameda County Arts Commission to support the development and education of all young people, particularly those at risk. The Minerva Project Quilts -- one of its ongoing projects -- gives girls in the juvenile system the chance to connect with their own inner creativity, courage, strength and wisdom -- through creating quilts that depict the Roman Goddess Minerva.
Claudia V. talks about how this project changed her outlook on life:
When I was first told I’d make a quilt while here at Camp Scott, I didn’t think much of it. My mom had taught us kids how to sew our clothes together, so I thought it would be like that. But it was a lot more than sewing.
I worked on the quilt every Saturday for 6 weeks. I wanted to discipline myself. I’ve been trying to work on my patience – so I worked to get the stitches the right size and the right order.
The quilt has a blue background with roses; it has a red border with red letters that spell “Warrior” over a picture of Minerva. Each element symbolizes something. Blue is the color of water; water is life. Red represents royalty. I see Minerva as a warrior more than as someone of peace, and I see the warrior in myself. I’m a Gemini – I have a bad side and a good side. Minerva, to me, was a fighter and a lover. Within the fighter was love; someone has to take passion and time to do what they want to do – if fighting is something they like to do – it takes passion. To me, Minerva was a good fighter and a good lover – she had a lot to give.
It was important to express myself within the quilt – to take my time with this piece of art. Even so, I thought it wasn’t going to be noticed. I thought my life wasn’t important. But after doing it, I could tell my life in this piece. And the colors – the way I used the letters – it started to mean a lot to me.
Like all the people there helping us, teaching us how to sew and put things together – I realized I could be someone successful who can take their time and do something important. The project really motivated me to keep going with my education. I plan on going on to college and then getting a Masters in Architecture.
I could see beyond the art. Making the quilt – working like that - is like a meditation.
Claudia V. is not alone in thinking this project has been a success -- or that art has the power to heal.
In the words of Anita Vigil, Probation Director, County of Los Angeles Probation Department:
I've never seen such transformation in the girls - in all my years working in the LA Probation Department -- as I did through the Minerva Arts Project. The girls who started the project were aimless; after the program, they had new direction, new confidence. I will never forget these girls or their transformation. How can you forget when a young woman tells you “I found belief in myself”? Behind each quilt is a touching story of personal achievement.
And as Donald H. Blevins, Chief Probation Officer, County of Los Angeles Probation Department, puts it,
The process of creating a piece of art creates an environment for self-reflection and expression. By definition this experience strengthens critical thinking skills and enhances a young person’s ability to problem solve. Simply said when you feel good about yourself you are more likely to make good choices. Arts and sports programs balance out the Departments evidence-based treatment services.
To learn more about the Minerva Arts Project, and specifically the quilts, visit The California Museum website.
More than a third of my body was FAT. No joke. That’s what did it. That was the straw that broke this out-of-shape camel’s back.
I’ve been pregnant or nursing for six of the past ten years. I hit my forties. I got a new job last December.
As the new news anchor at Good Morning America, I went to Haiti after the devastating earthquakes. I interviewed a 14-year-old girl named Frangina who’d been trapped in the rubble for 5 days. She’d had a nail puncture her thigh, but it was healing nicely. I met her a week after she’d been pulled from the rubble, and she had yet to receive any medical attention. She complained of a headache. I gave her my ibuprophen.
Hers and the hundreds of other faces of the people I encountered in Haiti stayed with me for months. Mothers nursing in the open air camps; children dragging cars fashioned out of milk bottles….
As news of the earthquake was crowded out by the Gulf oil spill, I was assigned a story about normal weight obesity. The doctor measured my body fat and told me that despite my relatively “NORMAL” weight… my body fat percentage put me at risk for obesity related diseases.
So I embarked on a mission: train for a triathlon, raise money for Haiti and do it by the end of summer. I enlisted the help of Tom Holland, author of the The 12-Week Tri-athlete and Lucy Danziger, editor-in-chief of Self Magazine. I needed deadline pressure. September 11th in Danbury CT… ¼ mile swim. 12 miles bike. 3 mile run. Not crazy, I could do that. Right?
I signed up dozens of my friends and colleagues. UNICEF signed on to give team members their own homepage to get donations. It was the perfect recipe for success 1. a goal. 2. peer pressure and good company 3. the kids of Haiti.
I started out running 1 mile, huffing and puffing. Then 2 miles. Then THREEE. Biking was more fun. I had my “mommy bike” with my 2-year-old on the back. We looped around NYC’s central park. 6.2 miles. The Harlem hill is HARD with 25 pounds of baby on the back… I biked more and more comfortably. Despite weeks of my protesting, Lucy finally talked me into buying a “road bike”… she was right. I felt as though I’d sprouted wings and learned to fly on my new bike.
The swimming was the hardest to fit into my schedule, but I managed to use the YMCA pool near work.
And finally there it was.. RACE DAY. I tried to hold back my fear. We all did well, but it was my friend Caroline who inspired us all. She overcame her fear of swimming, got LOST on the bike leg… and when she got back to transition, Sean, the race director, who didn’t know that she’s of Haitian decent, but saw the steely determination in her eyes… ran the final leg with her. She raised 5 thousand dollars for Haiti!!!!
All told, we raised approximately 60k for Haiti and we got fit.
Juju Chang is the news anchor for ABC’s “Good Morning America” and an Emmy Award-winning correspondent for “20/20” and “Nightline.” She also hosts “Moms Get Real,” a digital show for ABC News NOW aimed at cracking the façade of perfect mommyhood.
Juju Chang will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2010. Watch the webcast of the Conference on October 25th and 26th here on www.womensconference.org
Our September Great Giveaway, launched with Conference Presenting Sponsor Kodak, invited members of The Women’s Conference community to share a photo and a brief paragraph of their favorite summer moment.
The entries reflect the moments that touch us all – unfettered childhood bliss, adulthood epiphanies -- illnesses weathered, help offered and received. We’ve chosen our winner – Sabeen, the author of “a face of perfection… one moment in time.” Her photo illustrates the joy that can come even in the face of disaster, in this case – the Pakistan floods. It also illustrates our community's commitment to giving back – she will return to Pakistan in December to continue to help rebuild the country. Her photo, and those of our runners up, illustrate our power as women – to help others, and to help ourselves.
a face of perfection...a moment in time
My summer moment came in knee high waters. Labeled a disaster of recent times. It came with hunger, destruction & disease. It came in the face of a little girl. She wore no shoes, but walked on happiness. Had no music but danced to life. She did not care about what life had not given her- she was just happy with what she had, a sash, hope and two little bags of food. Her moment came not wrapped with bows of perfection, as a hand out or even from circumstance-her moment came from choice-and sharing her moment changed my life. My summer moment came with the realization that with the gift of having a voice, and the freedom of writing and speaking my mind, comes the responsibility to stand up, to speak up and to share the stories of those who live a life unheard. So I share with you this moment. And while I know that no lens, no portrait or prose can ever capture it’s essence again- I hope that you too will find a moment of perfection in the face of this little girl.
Ruth, the World Changer I wish I could say that it was courage that made me finally step out of a loveless, dead-end relationship with a man that would never quite commit to marrying me—but it wasn’t that. It was something else entirely…loss of fight. I was fighting for someone that wasn’t fighting for me. In fact, the thing I feared most was to actually let go...to stop being the tenacious one. All my life I’ve fearlessly skydived, marathoned and more. Being alone was the only adventure that I ever ran from. So one day this summer, I set my heart free. Days later, I stepped into a boat with six other strangers to tackle a level 5 rapids on the Chattooga River. Amidst the titillating thrill of the river run, the heavens opened and the rain came pouring down. As we anchored the boats, I jumped into the river and threw up my hands with an internal Hallelujah. I did it! What a ride! Like life, it had been a bit rough at times, but this moment was all mine. A fearless adventurer
I drove my niece to start her freshman year in college - 9 hours from home - and her boyfriend came along. Walking into the dorm room for the first time made both of them reflect on what it was going to be like to be so far apart. It was a bittersweet moment to observe. She was so hopeful. He was encouraging, but cried when we drove off and left her to her new life as an honors science major. He's back home trying to get a job at the steel mill. It was a moment packed with a lot of emotion.
I am a child of Alzheimer’s.
My father, Sargent Shriver, was the smartest person I ever knew. He was sharp and witty, a walking encyclopedia—his mind a beautifully tuned instrument that left people in awe and inspired. That was then. Today he doesn’t know I’m his daughter, and he doesn’t even know my name.
Every minute or so—in fact, before you get to the end of this page—someone in this country will develop Alzheimer’s. It’s an epidemic and a mind-blowing disease—not just for the people who get it, but for everyone around them. No matter who you are, how old you are, what you’ve accomplished, what your financial situation is—when you’re dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s, you feel powerless.
A year ago, The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything explored the transformational moment in our nation’s history when women become the majority of the workforce—and the primary or co-breadwinners in almost two-thirds of American families.
Now, in partnership with the Alzheimer’s Association, the second landmark study -- The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s -- finds that women are at the epicenter of the Alzheimer’s epidemic. We make up 65 percent of the people with Alzheimer’s— and up to three-fifths of all Alzheimer caregivers. That’s 3.3 million American women with Alzheimer’s and another 6.7 million women providing care for a friend or loved one. Consider that by mid-century as many as 8 million women will have the disease. We are in the midst of a national emergency, and we’re woefully unprepared.
What we need is a new kind of national conversation about Alzheimer’s and growing old in America—just like the conversations heard around kitchen tables all over the country. My hope is that this Shriver Report triggers that conversation -- focused on this disease and its ramifications. It’s time. We must face up to some big questions: With Americans living longer and with the incidence of Alzheimer’s growing, what’s going to happen to our women, our families, our workplaces, our attitudes, our society, as the Alzheimer wave hits over the next few decades? We’re talking crisis.
My hope is also that as the veil is lifted, as information and funds and support programs are made available, families will see that they’re not alone. As more people, like the ones you’ll meet in The Shriver Report, speak out and share their personal journeys with Alzheimer’s, more families will see that there’s nothing to be ashamed of—that there’s hope out there because, together, we are finally making Alzheimer’s a national issue.
The truth is that we simply must put Alzheimer’s on the front burner because if we don’t, Alzheimer’s will not just devour our memories, it will also break our women, cripple our families, devastate our healthcare system and decimate the legacy of our generation. But if we do, I’m convinced that this Woman’s Nation will be able to say that, believe it or not, there once was a time when there was no cure for Alzheimer’s.
If you want to help defeat this mind-blowing disease, I invite you to join me and thousands of people on Sunday, October 24 for my March on Alzheimer’s to kick off The Women’s Conference 2010 in Long Beach. If you can’t attend, please consider making a donation. The march will benefit the Alzheimer's Association, the leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research. You can learn more about the event and sign up or donate here.
Please join us. We are the hope.
You can read the full report at The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Takes on Alzheimer’s at http://www.shriverreport.com/.
I think a lot of us assume that “regular” people can’t really make an impact anymore. The idea of “grassroots movements” can sometimes be written off as idealistic, impotent or inconsequential. That’s why I want to shine a light on an incredible effort going on right now – led by some remarkable, passionate parents -- to end a terrible form of discrimination against people with autism. It’s something we can all be a part of, without much effort.
I’ve blogged before about how insanely expensive it is to treat a child with autism – intensive, one-on-one therapies can cost tens of thousands of dollars every year. That’s obviously beyond the means of most families affected by the fastest growing disorder in America, which is why there are a lot of moms and dads out there – as well as siblings – making incredible sacrifices so that their loved ones can get the therapies they desperately need. Families are taking out second mortgages and emptying out savings accounts and college funds. They’re going broke.
Our HollyRod Foundation (www.hollyrod.org) has a mission to help uninsured disenfranchised families with very limited resources access treatment. I speak with these families regularly and feel blessed to be able to help alleviate their financial burden in even the smallest way.
But, what’s really crazy is that a lot of families affected by autism actually have perfectly good health insurance. The problem is, in about half of the states in this country, insurance companies can explicitly exclude coverage of critical, medically-necessary therapies and other medical services for kids with autism. So if you live in California or West Virginia, for example, you may be paying big bucks for what would seem to be good health insurance. But if your child has autism, you’re going to have to pay out-of-pocket for things like ABA therapy, the most common treatment for autism. Most likely, you’re going to cobble together whatever help you can for your child – whatever you can afford, even though it’s probably not as many hours of therapy as your child needs.
My family is among the small minority who can actually manage to pay out of our own pockets for the therapies our son needs -- but with four children, we still feel it, so I share the anger and empathize with the massive frustration our fellow families feel. Because our kids have autism – and not diabetes or cancer – they are out of luck.
Parents across the country have banded together and fought to change state insurance laws to end this injustice. In just four years, they have already won the fight in 23 states, and the battle continues. They’re fighting against some powerful people, including the insurance companies and their lobbyists. They’re also fighting against ignorance. But these parents are smart, they’re organized and they’re truly inspirational. That’s why they’re winning.
Autism Speaks has a wonderful advocacy web site, AutismVotes.org (I serve on the organization’s board) with information about the insurance reform effort. Check the map and see if your state has done the right thing yet. If not, you’ll find out how you can get involved and help make important change happen for people with autism.
Actress, author, activist and philanthropist, Holly Robinson Peete has been touched by the entertainment industry all of her life. Her career as an actress dates back more than two decades and has led her to becoming a voice for her father, her son and her community. In 1996, Robinson Peete and her husband, Rodney Peete, formed the HollyRod Foundation, inspired by her father’s inspiring battle with Parkinson’s disease, with the mission to help improve the quality of life of people plagued with devastating life circumstances. In 2005, inspired by their son, hollyrod4kids was formed to focus on children’s causes and improving the lives of children affected by circumstances beyond their control, specifically autism.
Holly Robinson Peete will be speaking at The Women's Conference 2010. Watch the live webcast of the Conference here on www.womensconference.org on Monday, October 25 and Tuesday, October 26.
I answered my cell phone as I was stepping out of my local post office one swelteringly hot day this past August. Okay, I admit, I didn’t exactly hear the caller introduce herself, I didn’t recognize the out-of-state number, and someone was honking (a lot!) at the group of kids crossing the street to get to the local duckpin bowling alley…so I answered with the generic and distracted pleasantries, “yes, hello,” “uh-huh,” “oh, thank you.”
And then - in between beeps - I thought I heard her say the word “congratulations,” and then say that “Jan Miller” would be in touch with me in the next few days.
“What a minute…who is this?”
“It’s Lacy from Dupree/Miller & Associates - we got connected through The Women’s Conference.”
“The California Women’s Conference?!”
“I’m sorry – did you say Jan Miller?!”
“Yes…Mary Ann – she is looking forward to speaking with you to congratulate you herself!”
“Wait, wait, wait…are you saying I won The Women’s Conference Publishing Contest?!”
“Yes, Mary Ann…”
“WHO is this?!?”
And so, for the third time in less than a single minute, Lacy patiently re-introduced herself and told me that I had won the contest I had entered after attending The Women’s Conference 2009, and that they were excited about working with me to publish my book.
By this time I was sitting in the hot silence of my car and grabbed hold of the handle alongside my seat and put the seat back – alllll the way. I was afraid I might faint, and the sudden throbbing in my right eyeball felt odd, to say the least.
Someone walking by my car looked in at me laying down and through the closed window asked, “Are you okay?” I gave her a thumbs-up and slowly brought my seat back up to a sitting position.
I met literary agent Jan Miller at The Women’s Conference 2009 at a session she spoke at entitled, “Getting Published.”
Attendees at the Conference were invited to participate in a contest in which they could submit a fiction or non-fiction writing sample for consideration for publication. One winner would be chosen, her book would be published, and she would be invited to speak at the Conference the following year.
My submission was slightly unconventional, a patchwork of timelines and stories and speeches and presentations I’ve given over the last six years of “survivorship.” I always feel a little “jazzed” when I write about my big adventure with breast cancer – it’s pretty shocking, actually, and I usually wind up thinking, “Wow, that chick’s been through the ringer!” And then I realize that chick is ME! I have always hoped that my story could be any-woman’s story, and hoped that the judges would feel the same way I did. I crossed my fingers and my toes and clicked “SUBMIT.”
I’m a breast cancer kickin’ survivor with a unique story – my plastic surgeon once said to me, “Mary Ann, you’re worst-case-scenario. Women will take one look at you and say, ‘I don’t have half the battle she’s had – I can do this.’”
You can do it…you can do anything. My story is not a “how-to” book, but an “oh, yes you can!” book.
And so…I’ll be winging my way west from Connecticut to California, where I will join Jan Miller onstage during The Women’s Conference Day of Transformation to talk about the contest, how I won and what happens next. Transformative? Oh, yes! And I am thrilled that you are all joining me on this next big adventure!
Let’s just say if you learn nothing else, at least know that you never really know why that lady next to you in the parking lot in the post office is lying down in her car!
Mary Ann Wasil Nilan will be speaking at The Women’s Conference A Day of Health, Wellness & Transformation on October 25th. Mary Ann is a six-year breast cancer kickin’ survivor and the Executive Director & Founder of the non-profit organization, The Get In Touch Foundation, and is currently at work on her book, “A Diary of Healing – There’s a Pony In Here Somewhere!”
Read Mary Ann Wasil Nilan's earlier posts:
By Latisha Lawson, Champion Mom, Sacramento, CA
Today is Family Day in California, and First Lady Maria Shriver has asked families to celebrate by sitting down and sharing a meal together. She’s a mom, and she gets it. Moms know that many important life lessons are learned at the dinner table.
My family’s dinner table is the centerpiece of our home. Eating together is as much about connecting with my kids as it is about teaching them healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Meal time is my chance to learn about their day and share about mine – all over delicious, nutritious food.
Of course, it isn’t always easy. Sometimes things that are good for kids are things they don’t want to eat. But I’ve learned that when kids help choose and cook food, they are more likely to eat it. Younger ones can tear lettuce for salads or rinse fruits and vegetables, and my older kids help me chop and slice.
My kids are also more likely to eat healthy foods when they see my husband and I eat them. That’s why I make a point of eating all kinds of fruits and vegetables. In my house we’ve learned that what we eat affects our health, so every bite counts.
I know all too well what can happen if you don’t take care of yourself and your family – my father died from diabetes at the age of 33. While it’s hard to get loved ones to make healthy choices, it’s much harder to watch them deal with the consequences.
Nothing is more important than the health of my family, and I am doing everything I can to prevent this disease from impacting my children. Even small steps – like having a healthy family dinner at home – can lead to big health improvements. So I changed the way I prepare and serve my family’s food. I make it easy for my kids to snack on fruits and vegetables and to drink plenty of water. In fact, sugary drinks aren’t allowed.
Working multiple jobs in a tough economy, I know how hard it is to make ends meet, keep my kids active and put healthy food on the table. But I have the power to make healthy choices for my family.
With the rising prices on just about everything these days, I have learned that eating healthy doesn’t have to cost a lot. You just need to be resourceful. I make a shopping list whenever I go to the store so I don’t buy things we don’t need, and I visit my local farmer’s market to buy produce in season when it costs less.
Lots of families like mine are living on a tight budget and facing issues like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer that are linked to the growing obesity epidemic in California. I believe everyone deserves a healthier future, so I am speaking up for healthy changes in my community. I even helped bring a farmer’s market to a neighborhood where there were few places to buy produce, and too many places to buy unhealthy foods. That success inspired me to think about the future. My vision includes communities where sugary drinks aren’t allowed in schools, where schools provide kids with free drinking water and a place where kids have safe places to play.
I see a future filled with healthy communities where it’s easy for kids and moms to make healthy choices, and where eating more fruits and vegetables and being more physically active will help kids concentrate and do better in school, feel good about themselves, grow and develop strong bodies and live longer, healthier lives. I think that’s something every mom wants for her children. But moms need the support and encouragement of other moms who are overcoming challenges, especially when times are tough.
That’s why I’m thankful for the First Lady’s support of Family Day and this opportunity to share my story with you. If I can do it, you can do it.
Please join the First Lady Maria Shriver, me and millions of other moms to celebrate Family Day. Healthy change is a family affair so gather your family together tonight. Sit down with your children and connect. Share a healthy meal. You’ll be glad you did.
Latisha Lawson lives in Sacramento with her husband and three children. As a Champion Mom with the Network for a Healthy California, she empowers other moms to be Champions for Change.
In honor of Eunice Kennedy Shriver Day, September 25th, Maria Shriver is inviting members of The Women’s Conference to follow in the footsteps of her mother by finding small ways in their everyday lives to help others.
Two women – the owners of Cape Cod’s Centerville Pie Company, Oprah, Cape Abilities and Harry & David have teamed up to make honoring Eunice’s memory – and her mission to help people with disabilities – easier for all of us. Together they are helping bring employment, housing and other services to people with disabilities.
A year ago, when Oprah and Gayle King attended Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s funeral on Cape Cod, Laurie and Kristin, the founders of Centerville Pie Company, delivered a chicken pie to Oprah’s hotel room. Despite the heavy security, their pie got through (thanks to Gayle King), and the rest is history.
Oprah calls this pie, “The best I’ve ever tasted!” And even better is the fact that every pie purchased supports people with disabilities. The pie company employs 30 people with disabilities, and a percentage of every pie bought through Harry & David will go to Cape Abilities, a nonprofit that supports and helps employ people with disabilities.
This fall, we can honor Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s memory and help support the developmentally disabled. It’s as easy as pie.
To order a pie, visit Harry & David | Centerville Chicken Pie or order toll-free: 1-877-322-1200.
To learn more about the amazing life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, visit the Special Olympics website.
Ernesta R. Walker participated in our Great July Giveaway – noting that her most valued personal freedom is the right to vote. In light of that, we invited her to write a piece commemorating the 90-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment – which gave women the right to vote. She shares the history of the Amendment – and the honor and responsibility bestowed with that Amendment, here.
"Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” - Susan B. Anthony
August 26th marks the 90th anniversary of women’s right to vote. On Nov. 15, 1917 brave women like Alice Paul and others were tortured and imprisoned and only given spoiled food to eat in what is now known as the “Night of Terror” because they had picketed President Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. But their efforts were not in vain – they attracted sufficient media attention to – almost 70 years after the inception of the women’s suffrage movement – drive President Wilson on January 9, 1918 to voice his support for women’s suffrage.
Over two and a half years later, after the House of Representatives and then the Senate had supported women’s right to vote, Tennessee ratified the amendment – the 36th state to do so. This made it official – and women’s right to vote became the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
Besides the work of these great women, we must remember the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer who, through her tireless advocacy, prepared 1,000 black voters in Winona, Mississippi to register and take the test to vote. She was arrested and beaten and not taken to the hospital. The injuries suffered from that bloody beating left Hamer with permanent damage for the rest of her life.
Today there are more women registered to vote than men -- with a wide berth of nearly 10 million women. But we know that being registered is not enough; our fight is not finished, we must get out and vote – we must raise our voices on issues of importance – and we must run for office.
Here in New York state 51 women state senators and assembly members serve on the Legislative Women’s Caucus, working to improve the participation of women in the political process and to address and draft public policy issues on cervical cancer, the rising tide of obesity, improving heart health and so on - all to benefit women and their families. Across the country, the California Commission on the Status of Women also works to address the needs of women statewide and to encourage women to run for office. We must support these initiatives, as they support us.
I plan to celebrate the 90 year anniversary of women’s right to vote with others at the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester, New York, where she spent most of her life and is buried (SusanBAnthonyHouse.org), and by listening to peace troubadour Cecilia St. King perform a blend of American roots music and songs about the women’s movement. But more importantly, I will confidently make my own decisions on this November 2nd by choosing candidates that speak and fight for issues I feel strongly about. Gratefully honoring our right to vote, I wish to issue the clarion call to women to
Vote together sisters don't ya get weary.
Vote together sisters don’t ya get weary.
For there's a great camp meeting in the promised land.
Ernesta Walker is a community volunteer focusing on but not limited to girl's and women's issues. Presently, she is homeless and living in a women's shelter.
As a woman, what personal freedom do you value most?
For our Great July Giveaway, in honor of Independence Day, we asked you to share the personal freedom you value most. You responded with creativity, humor, wisdom and a great deal of thought.
Responses ranged from the freedom to be feminine, to the freedom to choose – anything and everything that life has to offer, to the freedom to marry, to the freedom to work and raise a family, to the freedom to vote -- and more.
We’ve chosen our winning response (who will receive 2 tickets to the conference, the chance to interview Robert Redford, and a meet-and-greet with Maria Shriver) and three honorable mentions, below.
Estella Owoimaha, 20s:
I value my freedom to defy gravity and create change. I can do so because great women have set great examples. I can be black, female, mother, lesbian, warrior and poet if I wanted to because Audre Lorde has set such a great example. I can hold a public office and run for president because Hillary Clinton has. I can own a television network and build an entire school if I wanted to because Oprah Winfrey already has. Though they have set the bar pretty high, I can surpass Lorde, Clinton and Winfrey. They are just three of the many women that serve as inspiration, guidance and standards for success. However, even if there weren't great female examples to follow, I value my freedom to be the "first" at accomplishing some task.
My name is Estella Owoimaha. I am a Minerva Leader of 2009 and for the rest of my life. I am an African American woman and I am 21 years old. I’m a lot of things. Most importantly, I am capable; capable of greatness. When I became a Minerva Leader, I also accepted the responsibility of “architect of change”. I know limits are all mental. I have the ability to defy gravity, as so eloquently stated by the Elphaba of Wicked. As an African American woman, seems like most of my accomplishments defy the laws of gravity. I am okay with that because I embrace challenge with the intent of success and triumph.
Susie Wittering, 50s:
As American women we literally swim in an endless sea of personal freedoms, our lives limited only by the shorelines we create in our own minds. Trying to pick one freedom to value most seemed like trying to pick a favorite child - until I saw an outrageous photographic image on the newsstand. A young Afghani woman who’s nose had been cut off by the Taliban, leapt from the cover of a magazine, her defiant eyes broadcasting the true state of freedom for women worldwide: What happens to one of us can happen to all of us. The voices of hate and oppression can overrun elected governments, stomp down freedoms, terrorize all people and spread in a nano-second on our planet made small by technology. But so can the voices of logic, tolerance and respect for human rights. With the freedom to seek political change, to assemble with others, to speak out against the government or other groups that violate basic human rights, we can make sure that those who did this to our sister can never hide from our scrutiny. Our voice is our strength and our best tool if we are to be true agents of change.
Erica Marie, 20s:
To be an emotional being, is for me, the personal freedom that I value the most. For many people, this seems like such a basic expression and freedom, something that is instinctual and not controlled or suppressed. As a young woman, 23, I look out to the world and see so many of us filing away our feelings, holding our laughter and burying our grief. I see a mother months after her daughter’s death, tell herself to not cry-that it’s not ok. That she needs to be moving on, pushing forward and suppress her feelings so others view her as strong. I see a man after loosing his job of 35 years, hide his emotions and become distant and closed to his loved ones. So many people restrain their emotions. They fail to be themselves and what they feel at that moment and as a result, become numb to their true self. They become numb to life…to living. I want to be emotional. I want to laugh, cry and love so hard that after I die, the Earth will still feel the vibrations of all of the pains and joys I have experienced-it is this freedom which I value most.
I value the freedom to tweet. Whatever I want to say, I can do it in 140 characters or less and it's broadcast to 1,200+ followers. I can inspire action among those I may never meet face-to-face. I can shape my own personal brand. I am not defined by the family I come from, the degree or job I have, or where I live (though I love and am proud of all those things!). I brand myself with my passions for learning, technology, friendship, and design. These passions are tied together in the mission of the nonprofit campaign I founded, She's the First, which leverages our online and offline networks and our creativity, so we can power sponsorships for a girl's education in a country where she does NOT receive it for free.
My dream as a 24-year-old entrepreneur is to open the channels for young women globally to have the same access to an education and technology, so they not only learn from the books, but also through their peers worldwide. When Twitter asks us, ‘What’s happening?,’ we have the freedom to determine that. Use your tweets wisely to change the world, 140 characters at a time.
Guys We Love: Who do you love & why?
At The Women’s Conference, we focus on women and women’s issues – covering everything from women entrepreneurs to women’s health to women Architects of Change. But we know that – as men need women, we women need men – to make a difference in the world, to inspire us, and to give us moral and emotional support.
Our Great June Giveaway offered The Women’s Conference community the chance to reflect on the great “guys” in their lives – and to share those guys with the rest of us.
We received many thoughtful, heartfelt responses from you. An overwhelming number of women chose husbands, partners, sons & fathers -- those who gave them love, respect, encouragement and affirmation. The winning response and two honorable mentions are below. Visit The XX Effect: Generation to Generation for more Guys We Love.
I love the guy at the auto dealership who talks to me like he would any man who walks through the door. I love the guy who installs or repairs something in my home and initiates a conversation with me as to what he is doing and accepts critique or suggestions. I love the man who defers to a woman in the room when she is an expert. I love my Internal Medicine Doctor whose first words when he met me were "Okay lets start from the beginning, tell me everything that happened", and then he listened. He then followed that up with "I'd like to get a second opinion". I love and admire the respect and will return it always.
The man I love passed away over 20 years ago. That man was my father. He adopted me when I was four years old and was never anything but my "real" Dad. I only discovered that he was my stepfather when I was 12 years old. However, I never once questioned his love for me as his daughter. If someone made a comment about how much I looked like him considering I was not his biological child, he would immediately correct him or her and say, “of course she looks like me, she is my daughter”. He was the gentlest, kind, and loving person I have ever known. I never heard him raise his voice at me when he often had cause. He did not have to... all he had to say was how disappointed he was in my actions. And, then state that he was certain that I was more disappointed in myself.
I made a decision that the only way I could ever repay my Dad for accepting me as his daughter was to do the same for another child. My husband and I are now in our 60's and have three grown children. One child is adopted; I just cannot remember which one.
Who is the man I love?
He‘s a special person who has opened up a whole new life for me. He's explained things that I never had explained before, made me feel safe in my own body, helped me understand many mysteries, and so much more.
He has explained terms I’ve never heard before, has shown me eye-opening things I’ve never seen before, and taught me how to live a long and happy life.
And he does it all with a jolly smile and makes all these mysteries fun.
Who is this man? Of course, it’s Dr. Mehmet Oz himself!
Here’s a man who has shared with us the beauty and strength of our human bodies, showed us the bad effects of poor eating, smoking, and other bad habits, and makes it fun to live a good healthy life.
I’ve watched him ardently on television, even before he had his own show, and have marveled at his knowledge of our bodies, and how clearly he presents every single fact.
And why do I love him so much? Because he has demystified our bodies, and taught us to be proud and happy with the one God gave us.
Just last week we announced the recipients of the 2010 Minerva Award®. This week we want to share with you the many, many more Minervas among us in The Women’s Conference community.
On May 1st we asked you to tell us when you first realized that you could make a difference -- What was your Minerva Moment?
Hundreds of you have had Minerva Moments and recognize the power you wield in your day-to-day lives. Many of you have started foundations and nonprofits to answer a need in your communities and the world; others have used your time and skills to raise money or awareness on behalf of others. Some of you have stood up to abusive partners, and still others of you have taught your children the value of giving back.
Explore The Women’s Conference community’s many Minervas and Minerva Moments here, My Minerva Moment.
Below is The Great May Giveaway winning response, as well as the three honorable mentions. These women found the strength – sometimes in the face of adversity – to help the women in the Congo who had been brutally raped, to remember that giving back is something we can do every day, to reach out to AIDS patients, and to help other women who have been in abusive relationships.
My Minerva Moment occurred when I was a senior in high school. My mother was watching the Oprah Winfrey show as she normally did after work. One night she called me into the room and told me to watch something very important.
As reporter Lisa Ling told the horrific stories of women who had been brutally raped in the Congo I sat there, tears falling from my eyes. I was so moved to do something—anything!
My heart ached to help so I went before my school administration with the idea of a fundraiser. I was denied at first—told the topic was too racy. I fought for these women because their story needed to be told.
Eventually I received enough support. I ordered the transcripts from the Oprah Winfrey show, created a slideshow of images and retold the stories of these women in front of my entire community.
I put faces to stories, which made the topic real for people, who knew nothing of third-world suffering. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
I organized a weeklong bake sale to raise awareness. Donations came pouring in with notes of encouragement. We raised $1,100 and sent it to Women for Women International.
This was my Minerva Moment and it has become my life’s calling. I now work for a women’s magazine in NYC. There is no greater bond than that of one woman to another. It is a bond that knows no boundaries.
How great would it be if we were all capable of not only having "Minerva Moments" to share, but we can share what it means to have a "Minerva Lifestyle". So I challenge you all who are writing about your "moments" to really think about not just having "sprinkles" of kindness, greatness, compassion....but consider living a life full of these "Minerva Moments". So many of us take on causes which we excel at but we fail in our day to day life to be loving to our children, kind to housekepeers, compassionate with our .....you know where I am going with this. It is our interaction and relationships with others that allows us to live a "Minerva Lifestyle". Do you inspire every person you meet to be better in some way? Do you bring sunshine as you enter a room? As trivial as this may sound, it is these little acts that send out energy to others that they also deserve a "minerva lifestyle" and hey...before you know it, we are all "minervaing".....if such a "verb" even exist. And if it does not, well maybe it should since Minerva is a word of action so it should be a verb;-) Best of luck to all of you!
In 1995, my husband and I were active in a local church. Our pastor was very dynamic but vehemently homophobic, a trait I found troubling. After working for years in the fashion industry, I had many gay friends and a great compassion for the gay community. Rather than change churches, we decided to confront the issue by spearheading an outreach to AIDS patients. The church wanted no part of our proposal, so we pursued the ministry on our own, launching a weekly Bible study at a nearby hospice. Many of the men we ministered to were wary – they had never received love and acceptance from Christians before. One evening, a very ill young man learned I was going through fertility treatments and offered to pray for me. His sweet, simple prayer touched me – he’d wanted nothing to do with God just a few months earlier. He passed away right before his prayer was answered – I gave birth to my son eight months later. At his memorial, the young man’s family thanked me for making a difference in his life. In truth, he was the one who made a difference in mine. Today, my husband and I are still called to reach out to those the traditional church rejects and have a passion to touch all people with God’s unconditional love.
Being in an abusive marriage, hiding behind lies and not telling anyone because I felt ashamed; I took this energy to help others. One day at work a supervisor came to me and pleaded with me to help one of the female worker's who had been out "sick" for several days by asking the owner not to terminate her. She was getting out of the hospital after her husband abused her. She did not want to press charges because she had two small children and was afraid. I went to my car and brought a handful of domestic violence brochures in Spanish that I helped create with the Los Angeles DA's office explained that she needed to be safe for her children and her was a list of programs and shelters. The next week the supervisor asked for more brochures. She wanted to hand them out in her neighborhood and she found out there was another lady at work who was also being abused. I gave her a box of the brochures and later learned that the female worker was in one of the shelters and getting help for herself and her children. I decided to start a program "Refuse to Abuse" for high schools along with celebrities, the Los Angeles DA office and people who had been effected by abuse to educate kids and make them accountable to stop the abuse and don't become part of the cycle.
By Sean C. Molloy
“We need a man in this office. If we get one more dose of estrogen in here, I‘m gonna lose my mind.”
Those words – from the well-seasoned professional who runs the influential Women’s Conference -- were music to my ears. She was looking to hire a man at the Conference headquarters. And that was my “in” to snag an interview for a job.
She wasn’t looking to procure a cure-all “Mary Poppins” or Man Friday for an executive’s office. These down-to-earth women just needed an administrative assistant -- someone to change the water cooler in the office or wrap the occasional gift basket, fabulously.
Nervously I prepared for my interview, out of my carpetbag of tricks, I pulled the crispest pink Brooks Brothers shirt (thanks Dad!), the most ill-fitting dark denim jeans I could squeeze into, and asked my numerous hair stylist friends for suggestions on my current coif. (If I could have afforded it, there would have been teeth bleaching, tanning and even liposuction.)
Armed with my resume of network television assistant endeavors and my snappy personality, I ventured into waters untested by such a bird of so many varied feathers as I thought I was. I hadn’t a clue that the job that I needed and wanted, but was never on my “vision board,” would change my life…and add a few more colors to my proud, feathered frock!
Over a year later, one Women’s Conference under my belt and one approaching very quickly, one Best Buddies Ride down, one Alzheimer’s walk finished, countless hours worked and volunteered with the WE Programs and a year of treasured memories and friendships forged in so many ways, I realize…
Well, ladies and gentlemen…right here at the center of The Women’s Conference community. I thank the good Lord everyday for my life: problems aside or behind me, for my mother, my sisters, my aunts, my nieces, my girlfriends, my extraordinary colleagues, and, of course, this hugely life-changing experience.
P.S.- I cannot wait to see the fall collections on every one of you ladies!
Sean C. Molloy was born and raised in LA, he has a BFA in Cinema from Southern Methodist University and worked for years in network television before finding himself at the center of it all as an Administrative Assistant at the Women's Conference. He enjoys long walks on the beach with his puppy Clancy.
In 2003, one of the better places to die of AIDS in Cambodia was in a hospice on the edge of Phnom Penh with an open-air porch and a view of the rice fields. Run by the Maryknoll Missionaries, its 13 beds were always full. It was that year that I approached the photojournalist James Nachtwey to help us inform the world about the suffering exacted by tuberculosis and AIDS and the need for solutions. If people could see with their own eyes the decimated young people, or the infected babies who knew nothing but fever and pain in their short months on earth, perhaps the humanitarian agenda just might be shifted.
In one of the first beds at the hospice, we found a young widow with a shaved head staring at a snapshot of her baby girl, and waiting to die. She was emaciated with very advanced AIDS. Moments before, she had signed the papers to give up her small daughter for adoption—she had no other options.
There were also terrible places to die of AIDS in Cambodia. A priest had taken me to a ward that was a last stop for destitute TB and AIDS patients. With few doctors and nurses and even fewer medical supplies, it was like a dumping ground for the infected poor where mothers and fathers, wives and children had only their touch to lessen the suffering of those they loved.
In one of the rooms of the ward, we found Chia Samouen. From Battambang in the west of the country, he had cleared landmines for a living. At 32, he had survived the minefields but not the visits to prostitutes he made two or three times a month. Samouen was typical of men who leave their village for work in the cities and become infected with HIV and then infect their wives. The husband typically dies first, leaving the wife and a new baby HIV positive. In fact, the majority of new AIDS infections in the world occur in monogamous women and in newborn children whose only crime was to share a heartbeat with their mother.
In addition to HIV infection, Samouen’s lungs were riddled with tuberculosis. And when TB partners with HIV, it becomes the perfect ‘match made in hell’. TB has in fact, been the cause of death in nearly half of the 30 million AIDS deaths that have so far occurred globally, even though TB has been curable with a six to eight month course of therapy since the early 1970s.
Samouen was writhing in pain and holding his belly due to a bleeding ulcer. The pinks of his eyes were stark white indicating that his hemoglobin was extremely low, probably from bleeding. He was unable to drink or eat. His wife had spent all of their money, selling even their small plot of land, to bring him to the hospital, and there was no money left to buy morphine or intravenous fluids.
With a seven-year-old daughter playing quietly in the corner of the room, his wife said she had decided not to abandon him. She would care for him until the end. We brought drugs and went to donate blood but he was too far down one road and the end came a few days later after massive internal bleeding.
Shortly after that visit, the Cambodian Health Committee, the local Cambodian non-governmental organization I co-founded, set out to transform that ward to a place of life and hope. And in the seven years since, over a thousand patients have received AIDS medications and many more have been cured of their TB. It is the major site for an international clinical trial that will determine the optimal approach to treating TB and AIDS and knowledge from this former ‘dying field’ will set global standards.
In the world today there are at least 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS including 2 million children and only 10% of these people have access to drugs. The World Health Organization estimates that there are at least a half million new drug resistant TB cases annually—with less than 50,000 on therapy. Many in fact think the global number of drug resistant TB cases could be in the millions.
That poor people are condemned to die because of a lack of access to life-saving drugs and care for AIDS and TB is the most basic affront to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
Engaging that unique human ability to share the pain of another begins the process of repair. It leads to solutions. As the great Hasidic master Nachman of Bratslav wrote in 1810 before his death from TB at the age of 38, “the whole world is a very narrow bridge…the most important thing is to have no fear at all.”
Anne Goldfeld, a native Californian, is a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston and the co-founder of the Cambodian Health Committee (also known as the Global Health Committee www.globalhealthcommittee.org). Parts of this piece were excerpted from an installation photo/word piece created with James Nachtwey for the photo exhibit ‘Struggle for Life’ presented in Paris, Bangkok, and Berlin.
What’s the biggest risk you ever took, and did it pay off?
Here at The Women’s Conference, we have been incredibly moved and inspired by the responses from our community. We’ve heard from women across generations and around the world who have risked so much and – for the most part - have gained even more. They’ve risked everything -- from walking away from successful careers to pursuing their dreams to leaving relationships and marriages – some abusive; from going into debt to start their own businesses to giving up the comforts of their lives to help others. The courage, resourcefulness and big-heartedness of The Women’s Conference community amaze us.
Below is The Great April Giveaway winning response, as well as the three honorable mentions. These women’s commitment to giving back and to staying true to who they are reminds us that it’s time to believe in ourselves – such that we take those risks that we might otherwise shy away from.
Cherie Davis, 50:
After finally getting my college degree at 36 (the first in my family), I sold everything I could and left a very successful career to backpack around the world at age 36. I went alone, with a one way ticket to Chile, a pack and boots. My purpose would be to help in communities where I could, teach about the environment, work in wildlife sanctuaries and getting to know more about the people that we share this planet with. My focus was especially on the women and I stayed with women in over 33 countries. It meant so much to me for them to share their world with me and to know that I brought something that enriched their lives in one way or another. I often stayed with the poor and helped by providing a little of what money that I had or helping in their fields. I tried to be the best ambassador that I could be for Americans and an example of what women can do. It took 4 years and I returned with my 45 pound pack at the age of 40 years old. I was then sleeping at friends homes, homeless, unemployed and had to start my life over at 40. It was a big risk. My career took more than 6 years to get back on track. It was one of the best thing I had ever done and it served to broaden the horizons of the children that followed me on their maps, friends and family members. My contributions were one family at a time. Women can do anything.....I am proof. Worth it.......I now work in my communities to be a better citizen of our world. I run a green business and know that we all have a bigger role to play outside of ourselves.
In August 05 as I watched Hurricane Katrina decimate New Orleans I hopped on my motorcycle and rode to Louisiana. I had 135 dollars in my pocket, a computer and a full tank of gas. I borrowed a cell phone from a friend. I arrived in New Orleans 4 days later and stayed there for two months rescuing animals, sleeping on top of my motorcycle and helping where ever I was needed. I didn't have a plan but I knew that one American with strong arms and a degree of optimism to spread could lead people who were tired and lost.
It worked, I saved animal lives, I helped heal hearts, I made friends who I will have for a life time and I felt bullet proof after that.
In 2000, I went to Washington, DC to testify before a subcommittee hearing on pediatric cancer research. At age 41, I had never been to Washington before. My 12 year old daughter, Katie, had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer) and she went with me. After telling my story, and shaking the whole time, the entire room stood up and gave all the kids present a standing ovation for the courage they had to fight the disease. It was out of that experience I dedicated my personal and professional goals to making a difference for other families living with cancer. Today I work for a cancer prevention organization in Alexandria, VA and I strive to make a difference each and every day. Katie passed away in 2001 after a valiant fight. To this day, strangers come up to me to tell me how she made a difference in their lives. I probably never would have come to DC if Katie had not gotten cancer. Now I know courage comes at the most unexpected times.
The biggest risk I've ever taken was coming to terms with my sexuality at 28 (I'm now 31), realizing I was gay and asking for a divorce after almost 5 years of marriage to a man. It was the most difficult decision I had ever made in my life. I was incredibly confused and scared, but knew that I wasn't living the life I wanted. Instead, I was living the life I thought I 'should' by my family (being raised Irish Catholic) and society's standards. I was afraid to admit to myself, never mind my husband (at the time), family, friends and colleagues that I was gay. I didn't know if people would accept me, never mind love me. When I came out, it was the most incredible experience. It felt as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, which I bared for years. Not only did I find myself and feel confident in who I was, but I found the love and support of family and friends, which I feared I would lose. My risk to be open and honest with myself, paid off in being a happy and confident woman. Had I not done this, I would never have met my partner and fell in love. And for me, love (of self and others) is the greatest pay-off.
Are you one of the average consumers who replaces her cell phone every nine months?
In a world of constant electronic upgrades, we’re generating more than 3.2 million tons of e-waste in the U.S. each year alone, according to the EPA.
But it doesn’t have to be this way -- your e-waste can be reduced, reused, or recycled. Here’s how:
Choose green electronics
In the market to buy a new electronic gadget? Choose one that will generate less waste:
Reuse or sell your e-waste; Don’t let it gather dust
Locate local recycling options
Recycle on the go. Download Earth911’s iPhone app iRecycle, or visit TIA E-cycling Central to find the nearest recycling center accepting select recyclable items – like compact fluorescent light bulbs, computers, phones -- based on your zip code in the U.S.
Join a recycling incentive program
Need a little incentive to recycle, like earning points that you can redeem for stuff? As a member of RecycleBank, you can earn points by participating in a curbside recycling program. The weight of your cart will determine how many points you earn, redeemable from over 1,500 partners such as Bed, Bath & Beyond, Whole Foods, CVS Pharmacy, etc. To date, the material recycled by the households they service has enabled RecycleBank to save cities tens of millions of dollars annually in landfill disposal fees, save over 1.5 million trees, and save millions of gallons of oil.
Participate in manufacturer and retail recycling
The Electronics Takeback Coalition has an online list of manufacturers that have a voluntary takeback program.
Take it from Kermit, who figured out it isn’t so hard to be green after all, “I am green and it'll do fine, it's beautiful and I think it's what I want to be.”
Reena De Asis is a MarCom professional with experience in the corporate, agency and non-profit sectors. As an enthusiastic, resource-savvy and creative solution leader, she embodies the innovative main character in Amelie. When she's not initiating a corporate volunteer program or organizing a renovation mural project, Reena immerses herself in live music or savoring chocolate nuggets of wisdom. Words to live by: "My life is my message," by Mahatma Gandhi. Her passion is www.laworks.com
More by Reena De Asis: Skip the Staycation: 7 Ways to "Earn" a Real Vacation
More on How to Go Green:
Kim Barnouin on How to Save Your Waistline & the Planet
Debbie Levin's New Tips on How to Clean Green
Save Money (& Your Health) By Going Green by Whitney Lauritsen
Debbie Levin on How to Green Your Holidays
Twenty-year-old Katherine Schwarzenegger, recently returned from a two-week listening and learning tour of Africa with the ONE organization, traveling to Ghana, Senegal, Mozambique and Kenya. In a special series, Katherine will be introducing us to amazing women from around the globe. Her story begins in Africa.
On a very hot day in the beautiful city of Accra, Ghana, I didn’t realize that I was about to have one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
After an hour car ride from the city of Accra, I arrived with members of the ONE organization at Tema Hospital, which is a hospital that ONE's (RED) campaign has helped to finance. The hospital didn’t look much like a hospital at all and the scattered plantation style buildings seemed pretty lifeless. We all piled out of the car and walked over to what turned out to be the pediatric wing. When I walked in, I saw several mothers all sitting down staring at us, their eyes filled with hope and curiosity. I then sat down next to a mother who had her 18 month old daughter on her lap. We began talking to the women, with the help of a translator. One woman that I was particularly intrigued by, told me she had first traveled to Tema Hospital after hearing about it from various people in her village. She heard that people were coming to be tested for HIV/AIDS and getting their babies tested as well. This was not an easy decision for her because of the many rumors about getting tested for AIDS. Women are told that, by getting tested, their husbands will leave them, their babies will be hurt or killed, and they will get AIDS or another deadly disease in the process. When women hear that, why would they want to get tested?
This woman was brave though -- I could tell that the minute I looked her into her eyes. I could feel that she had been through a lot. She told me that she had come to Tema Hospital when she was pregnant with the baby girl who was now patiently sitting on her lap. At that point, she already had three kids and never had the strength to come here and get tested for fear that she would be HIV positive, her world would come to an end and she’d be left hopeless.
But she did come to Tema Hospital as a pregnant woman with her three children. They all got tested. She was thrilled when she found out that her two oldest kids were HIV negative, but saddened when she found out her third child, her son, was HIV positive, as was she. Then she was quickly told that this there was hope for her, her son and her baby on the way. The doctor gave her and her son a pill prescription for six months. And this pill was a life-saver. A few months later, she delivered a healthy and HIV negative baby girl.
Had this woman not been tested and not been given the pill, her son, her baby daughter, and she herself would most likely not have survived. How did this medication become available to her? Through money that the (RED) campaign has raised.
Sitting and talking with this woman and her baby was a surreal experience for me. I felt like I was literally staring at the most amazing success story and the baby, a beautiful miracle.
I’m one of those people who sees a product where the profits go to charity, and immediately buys it as a sort of “feel good purchase.” This is exactly what I had done with all of the (RED) products. Not only was my uncle always harassing me to support his work with (RED), but I knew it was going to a good cause. Little did I know, the $40 sweatshirts and t-shirts I was buying were literally saving lives. Because of everyday people buying (RED) products, these women in Ghana at the Tema Hospital are able to take a pill that keeps them alive so they can live a long and prosperous life as mothers, wives, friends, sisters, and survivors.
So the next time you step into Starbucks, GAP, or the Apple Store, check out the (RED) products and buy one knowing your money changes lives! You can be the person that provides the next woman at the Tema Hospital, with a pill that will keep her and her baby alive.
Katherine Schwarzenegger is a sophomore at the University of Southern California and is majoring in communications with a minor in gender studies. She created VIDA Bags last fall to promote the awareness of maternal mortality and is currently working on a book to be released in the fall on body image. You can follow Katherine Schwarzenegger on Twitter @KSchwarzenegger.
Tax season is about to wrap up, but you can get some savings in just under the wire (lucky procrastinators!) or plan early for next year.
Outside the usual deductions, donations, etc., did you know that becoming eco-friendly will help you save on your taxes? If you did any of the following in 2009 (or plan to this year), you can save yourself some serious dough:
Good luck & have a money-saving tax season!
For more information, visit www.healthyvoyager.com
Carolyn Scott is the executive producer, creator, host and writer of The Healthy Voyager brand. Her web series, radio show, site, blog and social network show you how to live, and travel, healthy & green.
More by Carolyn Scott: Spring Clean Your Kitchen, Your Body Will Thank You
I didn't start long distance cycling, competition rowing, or mountain climbing until after I was diagnosed with brain cancer. Before that I was living a normal life in Prague as a mom, wife and baker, who exercised to keep reasonably fit. My husband and I moved to Prague when our two children were young, figuring if we didn't do it then, we never would. We lived there for fifteen years, and I opened and ran Bakeshop Praha, which remains a popular landmark for locals and tourists.
My name is Anne Feeley and four years ago I was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, the most common and deadly form of brain cancer. In San Francisco this Friday I will kick off a journey cycling with my trainer and friend Gundula and my dog Walter across the USA to raise awareness and funds for brain cancer patient support and research. We are Brains on Bikes.
Last spring while attending the American Brain Tumor Association Path to Progress 5K I realized I had to do something to help. With four years under my belt I am now a longterm survivor, but at events like this I didn't meet anyone alive as long as me. We survivors are too few. The grim survival rate of the most common brain cancer hasn’t changed in over 100 years, and only three new drugs have been approved for brain cancer in 35 years.
I started excercising after I got out of hospital following my brain surgery. I was weak but determined. I am lucky to be able to do this because many brain cancer sufferers have balance and coordination problems. I didn’t. People have said that exercising daily through cancer treatment is remarkable, but I think it is what many mothers would do. I didn’t want my daughters' final memories of me to be of their mother giving up. Besides love, our example is all we really have to give.
Training began for the Brains on Bikes effort last fall when I asked Gundy to join me to cycle across the USA. Happily she said yes, as I thought she would. This event is right up her alley. She has taught me that preparation is key in anything you try to achieve. For the journey we have focused on developing my stamina and staying power (she already has it!). We worked up to 90-minute intense cardio bike sessions, training side by side, which really helped us egg each other on. I trained at least once a week in a hypoxic chamber that mimics the air in higher altitudes. I also learned to use clip on bike shoes.
We are now in San Francisco as I write this, doing the final checks and double checks with Gundy, my husband and our mothers. Training here has been wonderful. Cycling in Sausalito is inspiring because it brings home the amazing beauty of natural America we’ll see. We are so excited to see more of California and our country in the coming weeks.
It’s determination and luck that will get Gundy and me to the finish on July 15 in Washington DC. Please join us online - we'll be providing updates on our blog, Facebook and Twitter. We also have an iPhone app and Flash game available at brainsonbikes.org -- check it all out and help us outsmart brain cancer!
Yesterday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Baja California, Mexico rattled homes all the way north in Los Angeles. It was the third earthquake in Baja California in 24 hours.
In light of the recent earthquake activity – from Haiti to Chile to China to Chicago to Mexico -- it's important to know how to prepare for an earthquake, as well as what to do during and after one hits.
Here are a few resources to help keep you and your family prepared and safe:
Be prepared! It could make all the difference.
1. VOLUNTEER – Is it something you think about, but rarely get around to doing? Many organizations need special help over the holidays – from soup kitchens and domestic violence hotlines to senior citizen homes & children’s hospitals. Find out what’s available in your own community. You can do it alone or recruit friends & family to share the experience.
2. DONATE – The holidays are a great time to purge your home & clean out your closets, drawers & kitchen cabinets. What do you own but never use? Bring these items to a local shelter, Goodwill or Salvation Army, particularly winter clothes & coats. And if you happen to have a box of old presents that you were planning to re-gift, consider giving them to someone who really needs them.
3. THE GIFT OF GIVING – Instead of buying yet another gift that a friend or family member doesn’t really need, make a donation in his or her name to a favorite charity or cause.
4. SHOP WITH A PURPOSE – Take a moment & give some thought to where & how you shop. Patronize stores and retail websites that sell handmade gifts, support small businesses & women entrepreneurs or donate a portion of their profits to charities. You’ll be helping other people while supporting businesses that do the right thing.
5. FEED THE HUNGRY – Donate canned goods to your local food banks and pantries. And if you’re organizing or attending office parties or holiday gatherings, anticipate whether you might have leftovers. If so, arrange ahead of time to deliver the excess food to local shelters.
6. MAKE A CHILD SMILE – Buy, collect & deliver toys to local charities or firehouses. There are collections every holiday season in every city & town.
7. CHANGE A LIFE - Join The Women’s Conference “Team Maria” & make a loan to support a women entrepreneur.
8. CREATE YOUR OWN GIFTS - The most thoughtful & cherished gifts can be those that you make yourself. Even if you’re not an artist, you can buy a frame & fill it with a montage of family photos or create a scrapbook of mementos.
9. GREEN YOUR HOLIDAY – Reduce, reuse and recycle, and discover new ways to become more environmentally responsible in your gift giving, entertaining, dining, travel, recreation & decorating.
10. REACH BEYOND THE HOLIDAY SEASON – Commit to giving back in the New Year. Make it more than a resolution. Make it a reality. WWW.WOMENSCONFERENCE.ORG will be bringing you tips & tools on how to be an architect of change and pass it on throughout 2010. Be sure to check in daily for our latest blogs, features, interviews and videos.
Do you know additional ways to give back over the holidays & beyond? Share them with us in the comments!
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon writes about how women are helping women in Afghanistan: Midwives are reducing infant and maternal mortalities in a country strapped for cash and medical services.
Afghanistan is home to the world’s second-highest maternal mortality rate. And Badakshan, a stunningly beautiful province in the country’s north, has the worst maternal mortality figures ever reported anywhere in the globe. But with the help of international donors and a growing legion of committed midwives which grows larger each year, better health care is reaching expectant mothers in provinces all across the country. Once a maternal health basket case, Afghanistan is now a role model for other poor nations struggling to quickly scale up their efforts to save pregnant women’s lives.
Midwives are at the center of this progress. Each morning women in nearly every province in Afghanistan go door to door in teams of two visiting homes and spreading their message about the importance of protecting an expectant mother’s health. Using a picture book and a sterile birthing kit to illustrate the importance of hand washing, proper nutrition, and post-natal care, the women take their teachings to the nation’s most impoverished households. Often their visit is the only professional healthcare the women they see each day will receive.
The challenge of providing better maternal care in Afghanistan are formidable and deep-rooted. As I wrote in a recent story for The Christian Science Monitor:
In 2002, 60 percent of Afghans had no access to basic health services, according to a study led by Linda Bartlett, then of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Furthermore, two-thirds of the country's districts had neither maternal nor child health services, with only 10 percent of Afghanistan's hospitals equipped for caesarean deliveries. Nearly 80 percent of the maternal deaths examined in Dr. Bartlett's study were judged preventable.
But today, these numbers are beginning to turn around. From fewer than 500 midwives with no standard training, Afghanistan now has more than 2,400 nationally accredited midwives who have graduated from the country’s standardized, two-year midwifery education program. Skilled birth attendants can now be found nationwide, with Johns Hopkins University research showing that even in the country’s hard-to-reach rural regions, midwife use jumped from 6 percent in 2003 to 19 percent in 2006. In fact, so much progress appears to have been made that the nation’s Ministry of Public Health is now launching a follow-up survey to assess the impact of recent maternal health efforts, just seven years after the last round of research began. And it is not just in Afghanistan that the impact of their work is being felt: In December, Afghan midwives will join colleagues from Pakistan and India in offering to help the nations of Bhutan and Nepal to establish their own midwifery associations and accreditation programs. International health professionals say that they are evaluating Afghanistan's success in rapidly scaling up emergency interventions to help them develop health strategies for women in other least-developed nations.
While Afghanistan’s grave maternal mortality problems will take time and investment to fully reverse, it is clear the country is on its way to addressing some of the most pressing issues facing women’s health. With the help of midwives, the word is spreading that small measures can save women’s lives -- and help them bring healthier babies into the world.
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a former ABC News producer who began writing about women's entrepreneurship during her second year of MBA study at Harvard. She currently is working on a book to be published by HarperCollins in 2010 about a young entrepreneur who supported her family and her community during the Taliban years.
We're all looking for that mysterious, elusive thing – more time. And it turns out, we just may have it – if we're savvy about how we schedule it.
Time is especially precious for women (like me) in their twenties. We're the first into the office in the morning, and the last to leave at night. Not a career woman? You may be swamped with grad school classes, or you may be the friend constantly saddled with planning engagement parties and bridal showers. But where to find time, and how can we use it to start giving back to our communities? Time -- or the lack thereof -- is keeping many women from becoming Architects of Change.
To find the answer, I decided to pull together a list of "personal time" activities I regularly take part in. Surprisingly, I discovered that there are at least 10 hours in my week devoted to mindless activities, which could be used for bettering my community. I don't suggest completely giving up your downtime, but by eliminating the time (and money) spent on unnecessary activities, you can create a little wiggle room in your schedule to create time for change.
Here's how you might start incorporating time for change into your schedule:
Go to dinner with your friends
Recruit friends to serve dinner with
Spend the afternoon shoe shopping
Put on old sneakers and deliver meals
Watch yet another episode of "Real
Use your brain to tutor students at a
Perfect the art of your Wii Tennis serve
Lead an arts & crafts session at your
Talk trash about your ex boyfriend (4 hours)
Pick up trash in your neighborhood park
Hit the bars to flirt
Get your nails painted (1 hour)
Help repaint your community center
Go to a rock concert
Read every single gossip tabloid (2 hours)
Read books to children in your area hospital
How to get started:
Time is not as elusive as we make it out to be – it’s just a matter of looking for it in the right places.
Corynne Steindler is a senior reporter at HollywoodLife.com. Previously, she worked as a reporter for the Page Six column of the New York Post, and was the editor of media and celebrity gossip blog Jossip.com. Corynne is a native of the Chicago suburbs, and she moved to New York in 2001 to study Journalism and Gender Studies, and spent time traveling to Spain and Russia during her college years. When not covering the party circuit, Corynne can be found glued to reality TV programs on E! and Bravo, or preferably, spinning at SoulCycle. She lives in Manhattan.
As a young girl in Colombia, I promised myself that, someday, I would help change the lives of the barefoot, desperate children living in the parks around my home. I had the audacity of youth: I remember thinking that every child deserved the opportunity to learn. I also had the clarity of youth: I knew that all children deserved an equal chance.
When I was eighteen, I took the first steps toward keeping my promise. I started the Pies Descalzos ("Bare Feet") Foundation in honor of the barefoot children who inspired me. The Foundation’s mission is to ensure that all children can exercise their right to a quality education and a chance to fulfill their true potential. We provide nutritious meals, quality education and psychological support to more than five thousand students and their families across Colombia.
Education is a right, not a privilege, and we need to treat it that way. Far too often, children who are born poor die poor, trapping too many children in a cycle of despair. Education is the most powerful way to break the cycle. Education affects every aspect of development. Research has shown that access to education increases wages, lowers the risk of disease and decreases the likelihood a child will turn to a destructive violent life. A single year of primary education can increase a girl’s wages by 10 to 20 percent later in life. We cannot possibly hope to thrive as a global community if we continue to turn our backs on the potential and talents of millions of children.
It’s difficult to believe that, in today’s world, 72 million kids don’t have access to any kind of education, and 226 million adolescents don’t attend secondary school. Hundreds of millions who do attend school can’t learn because of inadequate teachers, lack of supplies or empty stomachs.
Our schools in Colombia are proving each and every day that no matter where a child is from, no matter how poor they are, they can thrive if given the chance. The best part of my work is watching students blossom and make something of their lives. Last year, a student from a Pies Descalzos school placed 14th out of the whole country in Colombia’s national exams. He came from extreme poverty and suffered from malnutrition as a child. Today, he’s in college and working to use his education to give back to his community. We have seen that every child has a contribution to share.
Now, we are bringing our model to the U.S. and the rest of the world. Education for every child is within our reach. Let’s make a commitment to the children of the world. Let us tell them -- today -- that we see their value, no matter where they happen to have been born or how difficult their circumstances. Let’s make clear that we believe in them and that through hard work they can improve their lives. Let’s commit to giving them the tools they need to build our future.
Shakira with the students of the Barefoot Foundation
Internationally acclaimed recording artist Shakira is a leading advocate for universal education. Her Pies Descalzos foundation has helped over 28,000 of Colombia’s children access education. Her US-based Barefoot Foundation is expanding her work internationally. Shakira is a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and honorary chair of the Global Campaign for Education. She is the 6th highest selling artist of all time and the winner of two Grammys, eight Latin Grammys and countless awards worldwide.
After a two day journey to the center of the new women’s movement, packaged and delivered with style by Maria Shriver, First Lady, activist, global everywoman, I have returned to my life, stimulated, motivated, changed.
I left Long Beach, California, with 25,000 women (and a few token men) feeling the need for a cup of tea, a good, long nap and time to process what I had experienced -- speakers from around the globe sharing stories so personal they felt familiar. Brand name stars shed the cloaks of their celebrity and made us feel like they had come for an intimate chat, right there, with us. Platforms shared by power women -- one with the ability to shift the world’s economic freefall; the other a survivor of a childhood sold to the sex trade of Cambodia -- both having a lot to say about the state of women in this world and leading the kind of exemplary lives that will make a difference to so many more beyond themselves.
The deep well of loss, grief, healing and resilience was another topic illuminated on the Arena stage, as Maria poignantly shared her own difficult journey through grief in the days following the death of her mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver. Her words resonated powerfully with so many women who have experienced loss in its many forms.
I am one of those women, a daughter of a parent whose mind has been lost to Alzheimer’s disease. I am bound together with millions of other daughters around the globe. Our shared responsibility, as Architects of Change, is to advocate and motivate our national legislators to fund the research path that will lead to Alzheimer’s survivorship. We have role models: other great women standing in front of devastating diseases (breast cancer, AIDS, heart disease) and getting the job done.
Come be a part of this change we are creating in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. For those of you who live in or near Los Angeles, we invite you to join ‘Maria’s A-team’ at the LA Memory Walk on Sunday morning, November 1 in downtown Los Angeles. For additional information, please go to www.alz.org/mariasateam
Change is in each of us, every day.
As Chair of The Judy Fund, Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns works to ignite public awareness and involvement in the battle against Alzheimer’s disease. To date, The Judy Fund, created in memory of Elizabeth’s mother Judy Gelfand, has raised and granted close to $4 million dollars to support Alzheimer’s research and advocacy in conjunction with the Alzheimer’s Association. A former Sr. Vice President of Strategic Marketing at Universal Pictures, Elizabeth Gelfand left her post in April, 2004 to manage The Judy Fund.
Join Maria’s A-Team at the LA Memory Walk in downtown Los Angeles this Sunday, November 1, 2009. Sign up or make a donation at www.alz.org/mariasateam
Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns was a speaker at A Day of Transformation.
Coming to you live from The Women's Conference 2009 where an unprecedented 25,000 are gathering for two days of inspiration and transformation.
Money. Jobs. The Economy. These are the words that had women buzzing throughout the conference these last two days. Whether it was networking at The Night at The Village for jobs or attending sessions on how to manage money, women are sharing similar stories.
These stories are about themselves, their husbands, boyfriends or friends who have lost their jobs and are facing financial challenges.
Many of them say they have been hit hard by the global recession and are facing the fact pointed out by USA Today earlier this year: that men are losing their jobs at a faster rate than women.
This buzz was also generated a week ago with The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything, which explored the reality that, for the first time in our history, half of all U.S. workers are women and that women are the primary or co-breadwinners in nearly two-thirds of American families.
“Women are at a point where they need to step up to plate right now,” said Carol Saucillo who attended the How To Manage Your Money in Uncertain Times session this afternoon.
Saucillo said although she has not been directly affected by the recession, her best friend and sister like thousands of women in the country right now are rapidly become the sole breadwinners. Both her friend and sister’s husbands are out of a job.
Saucillo said she is planning on taking the information and tips on how to stay optimistic and manage money better during this financial turmoil back to both of them.
For Renee Janosch of San Jose, California, the conference is a great way to interact with other women and learn strategies for saving.
The goal is also to stay upbeat in order to take the optimism back home.
“I have been trying to get my husband motivated. I have a lot of friends in the same situation,” said Janosch.
The conference offers opportunities for women to think about ways to reinvent themselves, build strength during trying times and become smarter about their finances.
It also offers a place for women to share their feelings and frustrations and learn from one another. Pauline Morgan of Rowland Heights, California, who has been unemployed since 2007, says she will use the conference to touch base with numerous nonprofit organizations to find volunteer opportunities. “When I am here, I am on high. It’s definitely been an emotional boost for me,” said Morgan.
First-time attendee Diana Rodriguez, 24, a recent college graduate who has not been able to find a job, says the conference gives her the motivation to see past her present hurdle and plan for the future.
Rodriguez says it is a relief to hear about others who are facing the same struggle and know there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
“It is really refreshing to be in a place where you can escape all the negative news about the economy and hear how to overcome problems and be a success,” said Rodriguez.
It is courage many women at the conference walked away with to face their shared reality.
When Jacqui Viale flew her mother Gayle Joseph from Philadelphia to Long Beach for The Women’s Conference 2009, she had one goal in mind: to show her first-hand the progress her own generation had made when it comes to women empowerment.
“Her generation was pushed down, there were not the same opportunities available for women back then,” said Viale, 44 of Long Beach. “I wanted her to hear all of these inspiring stories and have the same enthusiasm I have for the conference.”
The two are amongst the many faces of mothers and daughters here today sharing a special bond as they experience the conference together. Dozens of mothers and daughters are turning the extraordinary two-day event into quality time. They can be seen excitedly roaming the booths at The Night at The Village and during rousing standing ovations at many of the sessions.
Inside of the massive bookstore at the Village, Jacqui and Gayle browsed books together and were planning on their next session. The two admitted they were both blown away by playwright Eve Ensler and were embracing the energy and spirit in the Arena.
Gayle Joseph, 67, said she and her daughter have shared the same political and philosophical ideas for years. She knew the conference was the ideal place for them to reconnect and spark up new dialogue about each of their generations.
“I always tell her how my generation backed down a lot because we were intimidated, “said Gayle. “We started pushing out and now here we are. It has been great to see so many strong women gathered together.”
Today, Gayle and Jackie, two generations of Architects of Change, used the conference to link the past to the present. Like so many mothers and daughters here today, it’s an experience of a lifetime.
Dora Medrano came to The Women’s Conference 2009 with a mission – to complete the circle that began earlier this year when she was going through what she calls one of the “most horrific ordeals” of her life – getting diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer.
She attended a seminar in April one month after being diagnosed led by today’s Day of Transformation speaker Dr. Martha Beck, life coach and author of “Steering by Starlight: The Science and Magic of Finding Your Destiny.”
“At the time, she helped me to plug into my own power and energy when I needed it the most,” said Medrano, a commercial producer from Malibu.
Medrano said it was the need for more connections with other women along with Beck’s name on the line-up of speakers that moved her to buy her first Women’s Conference ticket.
“There seems to be a resurgence of the female consciousness in our country right now, so I needed to be here,” Medrano said.
Today, Medrano’s cancer experience came full circle when she took in Beck’s advice during “So You Want to be an Architect of Change? What You’ll Need to Know About Your Journey Along the Way.”
Sitting in the packed Grand Ballroom, Medrano said she learned she had moved on from what Beck calls the “death and rebirth” square and was now six months later in square two of the personal transformation stage “dreaming and scheming” about the next step in life following the dramatic “meltdown” of her old self.
“Cancer can lead to social isolation and for a long time I wanted to write my own story so I did it and now I want to go on and help people get to a lot of the resources not readily available that I found out about,” said Medrano who started up a blog a few months ago.
Being in the presence of thousands of women today, helped Medrano make a number of connections with other women and gave her the ultimate reassurance she needed to carry on with her mission of taking her blog further and begin research on how to build a fundraiser for cancer.
“I found out today, I am alright. I am on the right path,” she said.
Medrano said the she believes she will get through the cancer not only because her doctor told her she has “astronomically high percentage” of no reoccurrence but because she was reminded today how to stay in tune with herself and her needs by interacting with thousands of others.
At her first Women’s Conference Medrano saw the bigger picture.
A year ago, I set foot at The Women’s Conference as a reporter in search of a good story. In my quest, what I found was not just one, but hundreds of inspirational stories flourishing beyond the podium of riveting high-profile speakers. They were from women from all walks of life who trickled into the Long Beach Convention Center looking to make meaningful connections.
These women were both hungry for words of wisdom from the gamut of special guests ranging from visionaries and business leaders to authors, artists and pop culture icons. And these women were eager to build bridges with others by finding common ground. The conference offered them this and much, much more.
I watched the instant camaraderie; the hope and positive energy flow throughout the conference. There was laughter; there were also tears. Within every corner the opportunity to become a true “Architect of Change” was within everyone’s reach - at the book signings, at the panels and the breakout sessions and online. There were countless ways to indulge in tips for self-improvement, health, money and life balance.
At the end of every session women said they were refreshed with a clear vision that enabled them to walk a bit taller and smile with a bit more confidence. Women seemed to be more self-aware of the next big step they would be taking in their life and this time around they were going for it after being given the tools needed to get there. The best part was hearing women talk about how they were going to take what they gathered and put it into action in their communities, in their family life and within their own long-term goals.
This year, the conference will continue to be the catalyst for change and create new inspirational stories that will continue to thrive throughout the year within this online community where information, dialogue and inspiration are abundant. For the first year ever, the conference will be a full two-day event that will welcome 24,000 attendees.
The live webcast on October 27th ( 8 am – 7pm PDT) will make the highly anticipated lineup of speakers available to millions of women who cannot be present in Long Beach. It is the perfect opportunity to capture the true spirit of the conference with friends, family and colleagues at home or in your office. Today, you’ll be able to check out the latest conference highlights -- videos, photos, interviews and blogs accessible -- from Day One of the conference: A Day of Transformation, and Night at The Village.
I’ll be blogging from the conference for the next two amazing days about the women here and their transformative experiences. Expect lots of moving anecdotes.
These conversations and more will continue 365 days a year – right here online. So join us. Tell us your story. You will feel a sense of renewal in the air, just as I did a year ago.
Brenda Duran is an award-winning writer who has reported on education, immigration and health. She has written for The El Paso Times, The Denver Post, The North County Times and The Long Beach Press-Telegram. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
In the 13 years I spent starting and leading the Gates Foundation, I saw hundreds of enormous problems – some right here at home in Seattle and Los Angeles, and some far away in Bangalore, in Botswana, and in countless communities around the world.
The pain and devastation left by AIDS, poverty, poor education, unequal rights, tyrannical or unrepresentative government and other maladies was easy to identify. But harder to put a finger on was…”Why?” Why did these big problems still exist? Why wasn’t more being done to solve them?
In thousands of hours of listening and learning I came to believe that the biggest problem wasn’t severe poverty or disease. No, the biggest problem was our failure, individually—you, me, our neighbors—to take seriously our shared responsibility to act, today, to change the problems we see.
You can’t change everything. I can’t change everything. Even Bill Gates can’t change everything. But that is no reason to allow ourselves the luxury of inaction.
We do care. So why don’t we act? I think the answer is simple: We either don’t know where to start, or we don’t believe that what we can do – as one person or even as a small group – can really make a difference.
The truth is, each of us can make a huge difference. Probably one of the best parts of working in philanthropy was the opportunity to see how one person could make a lasting impact on the world from the ground up.
Paul Farmer, an American doctor and anthropologist, co-founded Partners in Health, an organization that delivers life saving medicines to the poor in Haiti. Paul combined his heart for the poor with his medical training to create a new avenue of hope. His work has now grown to include programs in Peru, Russia, and parts of Africa.
Paul’s work has translated into millions of lives saved. But no less heroic is the commitment of the individual grandmother who walks miles in India with her grandchildren to make sure they are vaccinated to help stop the cycle of disease in her family.
Here’s another example from the Northwest: Back in the mid-90s Trish Millines Dziko and Jill Hull Dziko were walking their dogs around Lake Washington when they realized they both shared an interest in helping kids of color in their neighborhood. Jill focused her energy on education, and Trish was passionate about introducing more kids to technology. Their shared interests eventually led them to create Technology Access Foundation, which today provides a mix of afterschool and middle through high school programs for thousands of minority students around Seattle.
These individuals have little in common except one important shared trait: Each understood that they had to start – somewhere – with what they had to make a difference.
So I want to share some of the things I learned from them with you. Because when I first wanted to make my own contribution, I didn’t know where to start, either. But they and thousands like them showed me the way. I often encourage my friends with the words of one of the greatest teachers of all, Mahatma Gandhi: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”
If we want to change the world, we have to start with ourselves.
Starting with ourselves means doing some self inventory. Here’s a way to begin – analyze and answer three questions:
Next, think carefully about how you can use your money, time and voice to make an impact on this issue.
The biggest problem in the world is that we – you, me, our neighbors, our coworkers – don’t make full use of what we have to help others. We have what we need to build the world we want. But we’re wasting it. That's the biggest problem in the world. How do we solve it?
We solve it by beginning.
Now start doing it.
“I slept and dreamt that life was joy
I woke and saw that life was duty
I acted – and behold – duty was joy.”
Patty Stonesifer is the former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. She now serves as a senior advisor to the foundation and is the chair of the Board of Regents for the Smithsonian Institution.
As of this year, September 11th will be recognized as National Day of Service and Remembrance. In this post, Astrid Sheil examines what motivates her -- and women in general -- to volunteer and "pass it on."
“You’re doing what? Are you crazy?” That was the response I got last week when I mentioned to a colleague of mine at Cal State University that I had volunteered for The Women’s Conference in October. She looked at me incredulously and said with a less than subtle hint of sarcasm in her voice, “You?? You -- who are writing a textbook and complaining about how far behind you are in producing chapters?? You -- who have consulting projects stacked to the ceiling? You -- a single mother of two kids?”
The truth is, I could not not volunteer. This got me thinking -- why do women volunteer? (I was going to say why do busy women volunteer, but then I realized, that’s redundant -- all women are busy!)
I had a few unformed ideas, but I decided to use a lifeline first and call my psychologist friend, Dr. Val Hannemann, in Flagstaff, Arizona.
“Val!” I caught her out of breath, as usual. She was hauling hay to feed her four horses. “Hey, I have a serious question for you -- why do women volunteer?” She took a few gulps of air, leaned against her fence, and replied, “Oh, there are as many reasons as there are horse flies on a salt lick.” There’s a charming analogy, I thought.
Val continued. “Women volunteer to make social contacts and expand their sense of community.” I liked that concept -- expanding their sense of community.
Val rambled on. “Women like to hang with other women who have similar interests. So for example, if you have a passion for scrapbooking and you can volunteer at a scrapbooking convention, you’re going to feel like a pig in --” “Mud?” I replied quickly and then asked, “What are some other reasons?”
I could hear Val reaching into the recesses of her Jungian-trained brain. She said, “Women are hard-wired to be engaged in their communities. Volunteering connects women. They share, they compare, and they adopt new strategies to make a difference in the world -- their world.” This certainly explains why The Women’s Conference is growing exponentially. Women from all strata and walks of life are coming to this year’s conference to share, compare, and adopt new strategies on how to be -- as First Lady, Maria Shriver describes it -- “Architects of Change” in their own lives and in the lives of others.
Thanking her profusely and wishing her the best with her hay bales and salt licks, I then called my 80-year-old Puerto Rican mother in Miami. “Mom!” I said, “I’m writing a blog for The Women’s Conference and I want your perspective of why women volunteer.” There was a long pause and then she said, “Hija, why are you riding a frog?”
“No, mom, not a frog—a blog…and I’m not riding it, I’m writing it!!” I shouted into the cell phone. Carrumba!
Once I got mom past the blog part (which took way longer than I care to disclose), her answer to why women volunteer was simple and sweet: “We volunteer because we get back more than we give.” And then she added the kicker: “You feel better about everything because you are part of something bigger than yourself.”
Last year, I watched the streaming video online from my office in San Bernardino. (The Women’s Conference provides a webcast of the events for women who aren’t able to be there in-person.) I saw thousands of women listening to Governor Schwarzenegger and Chris Matthews wax rhapsodic about their wives. Even through my 13-inch monitor, I could feel the energy of the crowd, and I was mesmerized. There was no doubt that I would attend this year, but then something came over me when I visited the website -- and without hesitation, I signed up to be a volunteer. I have never felt better about any decision I have ever made.
The momentum is already starting to build and I can’t wait for the conference to begin. Look for me down on the floor of the main hall. I’ll be the 6 foot tall blonde Puerto Rican helping to turn up the wattage of possibilities for all women, who like my mother and myself, want to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
If you want to volunteer in your community, visit www.serve.gov to find out about opportunities.
For those of you who can’t attend The Women's Conference this year, join us online by visiting our homepage on October 26th and 27th.
Astrid Sheil, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications studies at Cal State University San Bernardino. Originally from Washington, DC, she graduated from Georgetown University. She will be covering the The Women's Conference in October.
When I began writing about women entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries with a trip to Rwanda in 2005, no one thought there was a story. I tried to mine government workers and international agency officials on the ground for interview ideas, only to be told that there were not enough small businesswomen in the country to make my trip worthwhile.
They were wrong.
What I found in Rwanda, and later in Bosnia and Afghanistan, was a small but growing group of female entrepreneurs building the kinds of businesses that stimulate economies and put people to work. I met a group of women weavers in Rwanda selling their baskets to Macy’s, and I visited a textile company near the former front lines of Sarajevo employing more than two dozen women. With little fanfare and even less support, these women were marshaling resources to run the enterprises so critical to supporting families and to lifting their countries out of poverty.
In speaking with these businesswomen about the opportunities and the challenges presented by their work, I realized the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs in post-conflict countries.
Why is it so important to support them?
There are many reasons to support women’s economic empowerment, but it is easier to envision than to implement. And while many organizations try to support women’s initiatives, few succeed. This comes in part from an aid system focused on short-term results rather than long-term investment.
What women entrepreneurs need most is
What is certain is that women entrepreneurs are playing a vital role in rebuilding their countries and are poised to contribute even more. Already, with little assistance and often limited resources, women entrepreneurs from Rwanda to Bosnia to Afghanistan are doing their part for their nation’s economic reconstruction. Their work creates jobs and spurs growth, and it is part of helping their nations reap the benefits of the talent and potential of all -- not just half -- of their citizens.
Recent news coverage of women entrepreneurs in underdeveloped countries:
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is a former ABC News producer who began writing about women's entrepreneurship during her second year of MBA study at Harvard. She currently is working on a book to be published by HarperCollins in 2010 about a young entrepreneur who supported her family and her community during the Taliban years.
Statement from The Kennedy Family:
"Edward M. Kennedy – the husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle we loved so deeply – died late Tuesday night at home in Hyannis Port. We’ve lost the irreplaceable center of our family and joyous light in our lives, but the inspiration of his faith, optimism, and perseverance will live on in our hearts forever. We thank everyone who gave him care and support over this last year, and everyone who stood with him for so many years in his tireless march for progress toward justice, fairness and opportunity for all. He loved this country and devoted his life to serving it. He always believed that our best days were still ahead, but it’s hard to imagine any of them without him."
Statement from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:
"Maria and I are immensely saddened by the passing of Uncle Teddy. He was known to the world as the Lion of the Senate, a champion of social justice, and a political icon. Most importantly, he was the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle. He was a man of great faith and character. Teddy inspired our country through his dedication to health care reform, his commitment to social justice, and his devotion to a life of public service.I have personally benefitted and grown from his experience and advice, and I know countless others have as well. Teddy taught us all that public service isn't a hobby or even an occupation, but a way of life and his legacy will live on."
To read more about the life and work of Senator Edward Kennedy, a true Architect of Change, visit www.tedkennedy.org
Generation Islam originally aired on August 13th. It is now available to watch on CNN.com.
I was inspired to investigate the possibility of a post 9/11 mend between the U.S. and the Muslim world when President Barack Obama addressed the issue at his inauguration in January. He called for a new beginning and warned that the U.S. cannot afford to have another generation of Muslims who see it as the enemy.
I decided to explore the possibility of a mend by meeting with young Muslims in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza and the West Bank. These were conflict areas Obama has targeted with special envoys.
What I found was surprising: There was an overwhelmingly large population of youth that wanted to be on good terms with the United States and that was invested in creating progress, prosperity and a representative political structure in their own countries. In each place I visited, I found dedicated, unsung Americans who were doing their best to win the hearts and minds of the next generation.
Who were some of these Americans?
There was Marne Gustavson, who had grown up in Afghanistan in the 1970s and had then returned to launch her own organization, PARSA, which gives children education and shelter. She works with one poverty-stricken family at a time. It is hard and grueling work, and yet her dedication pays off. She has gotten children like Nassim, whom we profile in “Generation Islam,” into school, off the streets and out of the hands of militants who seek to recruit the poor and the desperate.
We also profile the incredible work of Greg Mortenson, the former American mountaineer and the author of the bestselling book, Three Cups of Tea. He showed us just how possible it is to build schools and to enroll and empower the next generation of Muslim kids, the future leaders of their countries.
Mr. Mortenson ventures to places most Westerners dare not, and over the past decade or so he has built dozens of schools for boys and girls. He does it by getting each community invested in the project, getting villagers to provide the land and the labor, while he raises the money for the buildings. It is not expensive by our standards, but it is an invaluable investment in the future of these kids, their countries, AND our security. Education offers opportunity and reduces the chances that these kids will fall into the hands of extremists.
Mr. Mortenson is helping U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan fight the battle his way: with books not bombs. Incredibly, this summer, Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, opened one of Mr. Mortenson’s schools in Afghanistan.
The great news is that extremism is decreasing: In Afghanistan less than 9% support the Taliban (which is where the U.S. military is fighting now). In Pakistan the population is turning away from extremism as well.
The challenge for the U.S. now is to keep its promises to the people of the area, to take these people’s goodwill and repay them with sensible, smart and strategic nation-building. For some reason, Americans and their political leaders are allergic to that term, but without it there will be no real and secure progress. Think of nation-building not as creating a model America-on-the-Khyber, but as a cheaper, quicker, more effective investment in their and your future than the current policy of spending good money after bad.
In Gaza, where the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict drains the bulk of the goodwill for America across the Muslim world, I found much the same: Its overwhelmingly youthful population wants a good education, a good job when they graduate, hope and ambition for their future. The problem is the political situation has turned Gaza into a big prison, and these people have little hope now of achieving any of their dreams. With no way to entertain themselves -- without access to even a movie theater, many are online and chatting with “friends” in America. They know the opportunity that exists in the world, and they want to be part of it.
This summer there are competing “summer camps” in Gaza. But there’s room for only a quarter of Gaza’s 700,000 kids to take part. Most parents want their kids to attend the UN’s sports camps, but those who cannot go to Hamas-run martial arts and self-defense sessions or to Koran camp run by the mosques.
I hope that “Generation Islam” will give Americans a glimpse of what it’s like to be a child growing up in these places. I hope the program will inspire Americans to better understand what I discovered: Children and young adults are pretty much the same everywhere. They want a better future than their parents had, and they want to be part of the world community. But they desperately need help getting there. If they do get that help, it will ensure a win-win investment in a positive and peaceful future for all.
Christiane Amanpour is CNN's chief international correspondent and the host of “Amanpour,” which will begin airing in September.
Please visit www.eunicekennedyshriver.org for a look back at Eunice Kennedy Shriver's lifelong dedication to the Special Olympics.
Statement from The Shriver Family:
It's hard for us to believe: the amazing Eunice Kennedy Shriver went home to God this morning at 2 a.m.
She was the light of our lives, a mother, wife, grandmother, sister and aunt who taught us by example and with passion what it means to live a faith-driven life of love and service to others. For each of us, she often seemed to stop time itself -- to run another Special Olympics games, to visit us in our homes, to attend to her own mother, her sisters and brothers, and to sail, tell stories, and laugh and serve her friends. How did she do it all?
Inspired by her love of God, her devotion to her family, and her relentless belief in the dignity and worth of every human life, she worked without ceasing -- searching, pushing, demanding, hoping for change. She was a living prayer, a living advocate, a living center of power. She set out to change the world and to change us, and she did that and more. She founded the movement that became Special Olympics, the largest movement for acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities in the history of the world. Her work transformed the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the globe, and they in turn are her living legacy.
We have always been honored to share our mother with people of good will the world over who believe, as she did, that there is no limit to the human spirit. At this time of loss, we feel overwhelmed by the gifts of prayer and support poured out to us from so many who loved her. We are together in our belief that she is now in heaven, rejoicing with her family, enjoying the fruits of her faith, and still urging us onward to the challenges ahead. Her love will inspire us to faith and service always.
She was forever devoted to the Blessed Mother. May she be welcomed now by Mary to the joy and love of life everlasting, in the certain truth that her love and spirit will live forever.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver
The 2007 Women’s Conference Minerva Awards
Learn more about why we honored Eunice Kennedy Shriver with a Minerva Award in 2007.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver demonstrated passionate commitment and dedication as the honorary chairperson of Special Olympics International, which she founded in 1968. Through her vision, courage and tireless work, today more than three million athletes are training for the Special Olympics in all 50 states and 181 countries. Learn more about Mrs. Shriver's commitment to the Special Olympics at EuniceKennedyShriver.org.
Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Founder of Special Olympics:
The Women’s Conference changed my life.
When I first attended in 2007, I already thought of myself as an Architect of Change, but The Women’s Conference deepened my understanding of the role. It showed me that you don't have to know all the answers; you just have to have the patience to listen, and the desire to help.
In 2008, as a senior at UCLA, I was chosen by my classmates to be Student Body President. I saw it as a way to be of service to my fellow students. Little did I realize that some of them needed help in ways I did not anticipate. But I found out. And I was shocked.
In the second quarter of my senior year, I was approached by several students asking for help. These were not the usual requests for event funding or guest speakers.
This was different. The students were homeless. They were sleeping in offices and classrooms. They went to the gym to take showers, and they ate food from student groups’ events. Many students asked if I could hire them to the student government because they had nothing to eat.
One student, Sabrina Tinsey, was profiled in the Daily Bruin for her struggles with homelessness. She spent much of her junior year going from friend’s house to friend’s house – but it was a never-ending process of looking for shelter. She explained to the Daily Bruin at the time, “Right now I’m in the process of packing all my stuff again and going. I don’t know where I will go. I don’t know where I will stay.”
Why were these students homeless? Many were homeless because their parents had lost their jobs in the recession. Some students were undocumented immigrants, who weren’t eligible for state loans or scholarships (as was the case for Tinsey). For those students who did receive financial aid, they often had to spend all of the aid just to cover school fees. There was nothing left over to pay for housing or food.
The disturbing fact that some of my fellow students were homeless inspired me to do something. I decided to host an event, inviting university students to camp out for one night on the UCLA campus. We charged each of the 350 students who attended $6, and we called the event BruINTENT. Essentially, we were Bruins in a TENT with the INTENT of helping our community. We signed up attendees to volunteer at soup kitchens; we made bag lunches to distribute on Skid Row; and we invited two homeless students to speak -- to educate the group about the issue of homelessness at UCLA.
We donated the $4000 we raised from the April 16th event to Chrysalis, a homeless shelter off campus, as well as to a private grant set up to help the homeless students. What else came of the event? The school administration vowed to help the homeless students find housing.
With BruINTENT, I wanted to demonstrate to the student body that homelessness is not only a national or urban problem, it is our problem, here on our campus.
Now that I’m leaving UCLA, I look ahead to my next challenges, my next opportunities to effect change, and to pass it on. I’m going to spend next year as a CORO leadership fellow, learning about the public affairs arena and how to translate my ideals into action for improving my community and beyond. And then? A joint degree program in law and public policy. My commitment to architecting change is for life.
No two days are alike when you work at Kiva. We come into the office every day, ready to put our heads down and do the work necessary to help facilitate microloans around the globe, never knowing what the day will bring. However, nothing prepared us for the day in March 2008 when we received an unexpected visitor - California First Lady Maria Shriver! Once it had a chance to sink in that the First Lady of California was getting a tour of our office, everyone sat down around the conference table while Maria told us about how she believed that Kiva could play an important role in empowering entrepreneurs right in our own backyard.
She was right. Poverty exists everywhere – even in the richest countries in the world. There was no reason that we couldn’t apply the model that we had built, helping entrepreneurs in need in the developing world, to entrepreneurs here in the United States.
Since its beginning, Kiva has been about making unlikely connections to help alleviate poverty, and Kiva is really proud that the unlikely connection that we made that day with Maria has blossomed into a great partnership with both the First Lady and the Women’s Conference.
Since that day, we’ve been working together, along with microfinance institutions across the United States to make this idea a reality. As Maria reminded us, we can each have a huge impact in the world for as little as a $25 loan, and we’re happy to work together to add the United States to the long list of countries where Kiva lenders can make that difference. We invite you to help us celebrate the June 10th launch of our domestic microlending program by joining Maria Shriver's Lending Team. Become a microlender. Change a life.
On Tuesday, April 15, 2009, Maria Shriver announced a new project called, "A Woman’s Nation", which will take a new, empirical look at American women, who for the first time in our nation’s history, make up half of all workers and are becoming the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before.
This is a multifaceted project in partnership with the Center for American Progress and the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy. TIME magazine will also be involved in research and reporting, as well as co-presenting discussions and roundtables around the country.
“We will take a hard look at how women are doing in the United States today and consider the central question of the role government, business, and faith organizations, as well as individual women and men should play in supporting women’s role now in the workforce and the U.S. economy,“ said John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress. “We look forward to teaming up with Maria Shriver on this important work.”
A Woman’s Nation will include roundtables, a national poll, and interviews with icons of the women’s movement and other prominent leaders. The preliminary report will be released in the fall, to be followed by a book.
“Examining ways to improve the lives of women in this country is a noble cause, and I congratulate Maria Shriver and CAP on launching this new venture,” said White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett. “As a true leader in this area, Maria brings the perspective of a professional journalist, a working mother, and a caretaking daughter. Maria’s contributions to better understanding American women today are invaluable, and we look forward to the results of this work.”
Read Maria Shriver's blog on The Huffington Post.
View press release.