By Joanna Tebbs Young
Circles of Community
Last Monday evening I walked into a theatre lobby packed with smiling, chatting, well-dressed, hors d’oeuvre-nibbling, wine-sipping Rutlanders. Inside the theatre proper, more small groups of men and women were gathered around the food tables — provided by Roots the Restaurant — while others had already chosen their seats and sat waiting for the formalities to begin. On the giant screen on the stage, scrolled the names of approximately 200 local female “Guests of Honor,” while the Beatles’ “Here comes the Sun” and other popular songs played in the background.
This was the first annual Evolve Rutland Celebration of the Women of Rutland County held at the Paramount, sponsored by Davis & Dobson Associates, Rutland Herald, Center for Women & Enterprise, Heritage Family Credit Union, GE, Paramount Theatre and Rutland Regional Medical Center.
Evolve Rutland, formally known as Women’s Professional Development Center of Rutland, which organized the evening’s festivities, holds monthly networking events and professional development workshops. This event, the first of its kind organized by the group, was intended to “commemorate and celebrate the influence of Rutland County women in creating a strong and vibrant community for all to enjoy.” These 200 women are, according to the event program, “leaders whose vision, efforts and commitment have contributed to the building of a local economy and society that supports women leaders.”
Founded by Kiki McShane and Chris Fucci four years ago and directed by Anne Gallivan, Evolve Rutland was created as part of an effort initiated by Vermont Commission on Women called “Change the Story,” which focuses on closing the wage gap, improving the sustainability rate of Vermont start-ups, providing access to training and networking, and increasing professional advancement for women. Evolve has coined their Rutland region-specific endeavors as “ACT”: Advocate for, Connect and Train women leaders.
This inaugural event, named “Start Making History,” opened with words from McShane, who after acknowledging there are many equally deserving women left off the honoree list, quoted Marian Wright Edelman, activist and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund: “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
According to McShane, we are still living in a time when women are objectified by some men in the political process, do not have equal representation on professional boards, experience pay inequity and are usually not rewarded for their potential. “The time has come to change this,” she said.
In order to do this, as Edelman said, we have to see examples of what is possible. According to McShane, that is achieved by sharing stories. “There is magic in sharing stories … There is power in hearing what others have done.” To make her case, McShane introduced the audience to one of our local heroes, who would tell the story of how she herself made history: Bethany Bosch, the Wallingford native who swam the English Channel in 2014.
Bosch then took the stage and told briefly of her intense training and drive to accomplish this feat, only achieved by 500 other women, and how it changed her life and convinced her she can do anything she puts her mind to. She then turned our attention to the screen, where a 12-minute video captured the highlights of her 17-hour crossing (mostly done in the dark), while watched over by her team, including mascot, “Creepy Penguin Bell,” found on a dive to the bottom of Lake Bomoseen. The video elicited laughs, awe-stricken gasps, and finally cheers from the Paramount audience.
Mary Moran, superintendent of the Rutland City Schools, herself evoked some laughter when she took the stage to present the first recipients of the Trailblazer Award. In one “out of the mouths of babes” anecdote from a visit to one of the primary schools, Moran, a former basketball player with the height to match, told of a small student who after looking Moran over, told her, “those are very tall pants.”
Moran then spoke of the two women who were, both posthumously, receiving the Trailblazer Award: mother and daughter, Mary Costello Wing and Joan Loring Wing, two local political leaders. Members of the Wing family, including Mark Foley, Jr., accepted the awards on their behalf.
As an audience member and honoree myself, it was an inspiring event; to be surrounded by women and their loved ones, who believe in this city, this area, and themselves and other women as leaders, creatives and volunteers. As McShane said, “We owe it to each other and our community, especially those who will follow us, to be what they can see and to leave things better than we found them.”
“Tonight we honor each and every one of you,” McShane continued. “We are proud to have you here and you should be proud to be here… Tonight, we start making history.”
Joanna Tebbs Young is a writing workshop facilitator and “Re-INK Your Life!” coach living in Rutland. Contact her at email@example.com, wisdomwithinink.com, facebook.com/TheWritersRoomatAllenHouse or on Twitter at @jtebbsyoung.