2016 Summer Leaders: In Their Own Words

Each summer, WE invites a group of committed interns to join our Summer Leadership Program (SLP), which gives them experience in social justice organizing, leadership training, and front-line research, as well as a first-hand awareness of the problems facing low-paid workers. This summer, each of our Summer Leaders took a turn blogging about their experiences, and they created a video about their summer at WE!

Calling All Cat Ladies! - August 7, 2016

Meet Mollyby Molly Byron, an intersectional feminist who might just save your life one day.

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Last fall I created a news blog called The Chicago Cat Lady that focused on reclaiming the term “cat lady” as an independent single woman who strikes her own path. As a feature story, I had the pleasure of interviewing Women Employed’s Senior Policy Associate Sarah Labadie about WE’s advocacy toward women’s educational and workplace success. This experience was a great source of motivation and empowerment, and inspired me to get involved with Women Employed and apply for the Summer Leadership Program.

Equal Pay Makes Change for WomenThrough this program, I have gained a stronger understanding of the barriers facing low-paid working women, and how non-profit advocacy work can change public policies and workplace practices for women. As an intersectional feminist, I am passionate about women’s advocacy, and hope to have a career in the non-profit world working with and for women.

It was such a privilege working with so many professional women committed to Women Employed’s goals of “mobilizing people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women.” I truly appreciate the time I got to spend working with my fellow Summer Leaders as well.

Thank you to all who made this possible, especially The Pattis Family Foundation, Sarah Labadie, Dana Castillo, and all of the Women Employed staff!

Finding a New Female Role Model - July 26, 2016

Laqueandaby Laqueanda Reneau, one of the rare people who thinks laundry is fun!

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As the weeks are coming to the end of the summer leadership program, we had our last career exploration with Tameshia Bridges Mansfield from Polk Bros Foundation. Tameshia was AMAZING!!!!  She gave us direct tips on working in the non-profit sector. She told us not to be a “wounded healer,” meaning we have to make sure we have closures within before we face some of the issues that we aspire to work on. She gave us very specific lessons she learned awhile exploring her career and seeking her passion. Tameshia has been one of my favorite career explorations so far. She was very authentic and personable. She is a new-found woman role model to add to my list.  

Laqeuanda with Tamisha Bridges MansfieldThe summer leadership program has been such an inspirational experience from the start. We have learned networking skills, looked closely into how to work within the non-profit sector, explored others' career paths, and developed friendships. It is sad to have to leave such an inspirational work environment—it seems too soon.   

I have gotten the opportunity to look deeply in the non-profit world, which has led me to new ideas of creating my own non-profit organization one day. All the WE staff members are so happy to help us and to get us all equipped and informed how to find your passion and how they found their own. My internship will be a lifelong memory for me. I plan to continue my ties and work with WE through volunteering.

How Do You Evaluate a Non-Profit? - July 19, 2016

Sabrinaby Sabrina Rivers, who may be writing your future favorite horror story.

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We have but a few weeks left and yet I feel like the internship just started. Being an intern at Women Employed has been a rewarding and fascinating experience. I have met many interesting people here, and the lessons I have learned will stick with me for a lifetime.

Sabrina and Veronika work on a project.Since my start here, I haven’t made it a secret that I am particularly interested in the ins and outs of non-profit accounting. This is due to my wish to be a non-profit accountant sometime in the near future. Last week, I got a brief but fascinating look into this world when Elizabeth Cunneen, the Director of Finance & Administration here at Women Employed, gave us an overview of non-profit finance. During this presentation, Liz gave us an incredible amount of information jam packed into a single hour. Liz covered everything from the various types of 501(c) organizations, what you need to know to be a successful non-profit professional, and the red flags one needs to look for when donating to or looking for work at a non-profit organization.

One particular interesting thing I learned was that  while there are 29 different types of 501(c) organizations, the four most common are 501(c)3s, which tend to be charitable organizations; 501(c)4s, which tend to be social welfare organizations; 501(c)5s, which tend to be unions; and 501(c)6s, which tend to be trade organizations. Besides the financial statement basics, Liza also went over the various tax forms a 501(c)3 organization needed to file as well as how critically important it is to have diverse sources of funding. She also revealed to us the various red flags one needs to be on the look out for if one wishes to either work at a non-profit organization or make a donation. One thing to look out for is whether or not the director of the organization gets to decide their own compensation.  

This week, like the weeks before it, was highly informative and I’m deeply appreciative for all I learned so far. I have made many great connections during my short time here, and I’m going to really miss this program once it ends.

The Importance of Intersectional Social Justice - July 12, 2016

Ellieby Ellie Molise, who believes in the radical power of female friendship.

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The past few weeks at Women Employed have flown by! I have been amazed at how quickly my days at WE have passed. I’m not ready for it to end! This past week was chock full of exciting adventures. On Wednesday we got to take a trip down to the courthouse to meet with Judge Thorne, a judge in the bankruptcy court. We were able to chat with her about her career path and her interest in bankruptcy law and then we got time to visit some other courtrooms and listen to some ongoing cases. The case that stood out to all of us was a sentencing hearing for a federal case of fraud. We were only able to see a snippet of the case but from what we did see, we all agreed that the justice system in our country is flawed in the way that it punishes non-violent crimes. The man on trial was a young black father who had just turned 22. He made a mistake and took ownership of that mistake, telling the judge that he was profoundly sorry for his wrongdoing. We could tell that the judge was sympathetic and was doing her best to come up with a compromise that would satisfy the minimum amount of sentencing she had to give while also acknowledging that this man made a mistake and is doing his best to remedy his actions. 

Standing up for social justiceWhile discussing the case once we had left the courtroom, I was reminded of how important it is to look at social justice issues, like the mass incarceration of black men, as intersectional. This is something I’ve seen time and time again during my time working at Women Employed. All of the issues WE works on, paid sick leave, unstable scheduling, etc. are connected to other social justice issues and should be treated as such. In order to remedy the inequalities that exist in the world, we must view these inequalities as interconnected; we cannot address racism without also addressing poverty and education, we cannot address workplace inequality without also addressing white supremacy and misogyny. In light of the recent events in our country, namely the deaths of two black men at the hands of people who are supposed to serve and protect all of us, the trip to the courthouse was a reminder to always interact with social justice in an intersectional way. I feel so privileged to have these experiences and reminders through the SLP at WE, and to have the support and mentorship of the staff during my continued exploration of my role within social justice. 

From Confusion to Confidence - July 6, 2016

Veronikaby Veronika Salas, who has a lot of heroes, and also a lot of nieces and nephews.

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The Summer Leadership Program has been going great and I cannot wait to see what else Women Employed has in store for us! We’ve been focusing in on our projects, networking with new people, and continuing to build relationships with ourselves and the network.  Last week, Beth and I began to contact summer leader alumni for one of our projects. I was nervous because I’ve dealt with calls in the past and people are not always very pleasant. I was shocked that everyone I spoke to was excited to hear from us and most importantly, supportive of our journey. Many alumni urged me to contact them if we needed any advice on handling our projects. I think that was the moment I realized I will always compare future jobs to Women Employed. The atmosphere is great, the energy is astounding, and the support from the network is beyond appreciative. If alumni are telling me to stay as long as I can, then I know Women Employed is the place to be.

Meeting great new people in the Summer Leadership ProgramI’ve also met some exciting people! Last week, we met with Dena Giacometti who works at Centro Romero and Ambar Mentor-Truppa who works with Shriver and who is a board member and chair of the advocacy council. It was empowering to hear both of these ladies speak about their current positions, but what I found most empowering are their journeys. Both Dena and Ambar have experienced moments where they weren’t sure what they wanted to do in terms of their career. They found it though, and they continue to thrive! For me, it’s always a breath of fresh air when I hear speakers talk about their journeys. They’ve taught me that it is okay to feel confused about my path and that it is okay to switch paths. That’s something I’ve personally struggled with on my journey and after speaking with our speakers, I feel more confident in myself and empowered to get out there and reach my goals.

I’m excited to keep working such a great group of women I now call friends and I hope to continue learning more about the economic inequalities that women face in our society.  

The Best Prize Life Has to Offer - June 27, 2016

Bethby Beth Sousa, an avid tap dancer who wants to make a positive impact in people's lives.

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Ever since my senior year of high school, I have known I wanted to be a social worker. Whenever I tell people that I’m in school to be a social worker, I receive a division of responses. Some people congratulate me on a career path seen as noble and of importance. Others ask why I would choose such an emotionally draining career and remind me of all the money I won’t be making. But to those people, I quote the great American president, Theodore Roosevelt. “Far and away the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I believe that doing everything in my power to make someone’s life better is work worth doing. I have decided to dedicate my life to the service of people through promoting social change, advocating for marginalized populations, and encouraging empowerment strategies. This is how I came to Women Employed.

The Game of Life with an Unpredictable ScheduleIn the last couple weeks, we have been briefed on a number of projects that we will be working on with WE. One of the larger projects is a continuation of the previous Summer Leaders’ work. Unstable scheduling is an unfortunate phenomenon that plagues the lives of workers in the retail and food industry. From not knowing how much their paycheck will be from week to week to efficiency targeted computer programs telling when to cut an employee’s shift in order to cut costs for the company, unstable scheduling affects these workers’ lives on all fronts. This includes their emotional well-being, families, health, livelihood, and overall quality of life. For this project we will be conducting a series of interviews to gain an in-depth look and develop an understanding for the trials these workers have to face in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. With enough of these workers’ stories, I am hoping we will be able to make a change to our current policies and make these people’s lives better.

New Friends, New Mentors, New Skills - June 20, 2016

Graceby Grace Cooper, whose friendships have inspired her to follow her true passions.

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My first week with the Women Employed Summer Leadership Program (SLP) was really energizing. I came into the program with few expectations and was prepared to jump in and learn as much as possible. Last summer I interned with Fight for $15, so I have a bit of labor organizing experience under my belt, however this summer I am excited to approach labor issues from a non profit advocacy perspective. I already feel like I've gained so much from only two days of being at the Women Employed office. I learned about the specific issues WE works on, for example unstable scheduling, education and training for adults, and paid sick days. Through Executive Director Anne Ladky’s presentation on the history of Women Employed I learned about what it took to establish WE. I learned about the SLP, our expectations, and projects myself and the other leaders will spend the summer working on as a team. And most importantly, I learned that the WE staff member have a coffee club and are very serious about keeping their kitchen spotless.

Two parts of the first week that really stood out to me were the part of Anne’s presentation where she discussed how the trajectory of WE’s focus has shifted as the organization grew, and how they had to really look within and choose which specific women’s labor issues they wanted to focus on. Another part of the first week I really enjoyed was our first career exploration presentation, given by Krys Shaw, the Deputy District Director for Congressman Quigley. As someone with unclear clear career goals, it was really inspiring to hear a successful woman speak about her unusual path to her current career.

Overall, the first week was a really great introduction to the Summer Leadership Program and Women Employed in general. I’m really excited to get to know the other summer leaders and the talented and hard working staff in the WE office. I am confident that by the end of the summer I will have gained new friends, mentors, skills, and knowledge that will build me into a strong leader.

GraceMeet Grace

Why are you excited about the Summer Leadership Program?

I'm excited to make an impact on the issues WE works on and to meet and make friends with some amazing strong women in the process.

Who is a woman that inspires you?

My best friend Kami who is studying music production at Brown inspires me to follow my true passion and to validate and love myself.

How does this internship fit into your plans for the future?

I'm considering a career working in the non-profit world, so this internship will give me my first professional experience working at a non-profit.

BethMeet Beth

What makes you passionate about women's issues?

Women are over half the population and a large part of the workforce. What benefits women benefits everyone. Like Hillary Clinton said, "Women's rights are human rights."

Why are you excited about this internship?

I'm gaining more experience in a professional work environment and I know the work I'm doing here will make a positive impact in people's lives.

What's your secret talent?

I'm an avid tap dancer! I've been tapping on and off for 17 years.

VeronicaMeet Veronika

What makes you passionate about working women's issues?

Seeing how much women have overcome and how much we still need to overcome gives me the passion to advocate for the women who feel they don't have a voice in our society. I want to help them find their voice.

Who is a woman that inspires you and why?

Sandra Cisneros: writing. Warsan Shire: writing. Rosalind Franklin: woman who first discovered the DNA double helix, although men took the credit! Hester Prynne: fictional, but stood her ground!

What is a fun fact about you?

I have 9 nieces and nephews! My house is always filled with loud noise and laughter. I love it!

EllieMeet Ellie

What makes you passionate about working women's issues?

I believe that female friendship and solidarity is powerful and radical, and working on "women's issues" gives me the space to create and maintain relationships with women while working to create a more just and equal world.

Who is a woman that inspires you and why?

Frieda Kahlo. She was always authentically herself and celebrated her vulnerability instead of shying away from the uncomfortable parts of her life. Additionally, as a queer woman of Latina descent, it's inspiring to see a woman have public relationships with other women in a time when queer was still a slur.

What's your secret talent?

I love doing ceramics. And I'm good at it!

SabrinaMeet Sabrina

Who is a woman that inspires you and why?

I'm really inspired by Valerie Jarrett. I admire her position as President Obama's senior advisor and I respect her recent commitment to curtail gun violence, her position as the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and co-chairing the White House task force to protect students from sexual assault. I find it inspiring that a woman of color who supports women's issues has the president's ear.

What makes you passionate about working women's issues?

From an early age, I heard countless stories about my grandmother's struggle as a working woman of color. These stories drove my desire to advocate for working women.

What's a fun fact about you?

I have been working on a horror book for the past 17 years.

LaqueandaMeet Laqueanda

Why are you excited about the Summer Leadership Program?

I am excited about learning about new perspectives from my fellow interns and getting exposure to the non-profit world.

What's the worst job you've ever had and why?

Working at a movie theater with a manager who disobeyed all of the labor laws, such as scheduling us seven days consecutively or not paying any time and a half for overtime.

What is a fun fact about you?

I enjoy doing laundry. Primarily the folding and putting away part.

MollyMeet Molly

What makes you passionate about working women's issues?

As an intersectional feminist, I've always wanted to change the world and build the movement for women's economic advancement.

Who is a woman that inspires you and why?

Lupita Nyong'o—Academy Award-winning Best Supporting Actress and advocate for women. "What is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you."

What is a fun fact about you?

I am an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).


*The opinions expressed are those of the individual summer leaders, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Women Employed.