I’m sifting through the business cards, notes, and notations from the 3rd Vision2020/Drexel University Congress in Portland, Oregon. I got home late yesterday after a long day of flying broken up by a wonderful lunch date with our daughter in Seattle.
Vision2020 is an ambitious program to achieve equality for women in five areas by the year 2020:
* Increase the number of women in senior leadership positions in American life to reflect the workforce talent pool and demographics;
* Achieve pay equity, so that equal pay for equal work will be the norm in America;
* Educate employers about the value of policies and practices that enable women and men to share fairly their family responsibilities;
* Educate new generations of girls and boys to respect their differences and to act on the belief that America is at its best when leadership is shared and opportunities are open to all;
* Mobilize women in America to vote, with particular emphasis on a record-setting turnout in 2010, the centennial of the 19th Amendment.
There were over 100 women at the Congress, including Andrea Doll, the former Juneau legislator and Vision2020 delegate from Alaska. Andrea was there as an Honored Guest. I took her place when Andrea and Bob Doll moved to Anacortes. Teri Tibbett and I are the two delegates from Alaska.
Every woman is working on a project that fits into the five goals. Mine project is pay equity, with an emphasis on teaching women how to negotiate. Last year, the Vision2020 Alaska video produced in Juneau, “Be Cool. Negotiate.”, went up on YouTube. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWJkMlVW2nM)
Teri Tibbett is working on “Girls on the Run” through AWARE. The website describes the program: “The goal of Girls on the Run is to empower girls early in their lives to find strength, courage and self-respect from within and draw upon it as they face the challenges of adolescence and adulthood. We all know being a girl is a big job, and to be the healthiest and happiest girl possible we need to come together with other girls to learn, live, dream and RUN!”
Every Vision2020 delegate has a great project, but one woman's mission moved me so much that I want to highlight it here., and I hope that you will be persuaded to contribute to her foundation that helps women Veterans. (Kimberly capitalized the word Veterans in all her materials, so I will, too.)
Kimberly Olson, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, is the founder and CEO of Grace After Fire. Kimberly lives in Weatherford, Texas, 20 minutes west of Fort Worth, and is an Iraq War veteran. Kimberly has to be one of the most educated veterans, male or female. She graduated from Ohio State University with a Bachelor's degree in education. She earned three Masters' degrees, a fellowship at Seminar XXI Center for International Studies, MIT, and completed the Superintendents Academy with the Broad Center for the Management of School System.
I met Kimberly during the opening evening’s get-together Wednesday night. Everyone was enjoying lively conversations, but I gravitated to Kimberly and the circle of women around her. She’s a tall slender woman and she was deep in conversation when I joined the group. Kimberly speaks with a bit of a southern accent, and I noticed her nametag said TEXAS. After we introduced ourselves, I asked her about her project, and she handed me a card for Grace After Fire. Her own name wasn’t on the front – it was on the back.
The card says, “Discover Their Grace: The Power of Women Veterans. Grace After F I R E”. Protect. Connect. Renew”. I was immediately intrigued. For the past ten years, I’ve followed the news about American military women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Far too many (estimates are one in three) are victims of sexual assault by their superiors or fellow Americans. Many women suffer from PTSD related to war, as well as their own personal battles as a result of war.
Grace After Fire provides support to women Veterans of the military who are returning from active duty to civilian life. They have a safe, albeit virtual, haven to transition from war so that they can more easily readjust to being mothers, wives, daughters, and citizens in civilian life. The organization was founded in 2008 and almost immediately began attracting hundreds of women in need of crisis support. Grace After Fire serves women Veterans from all eras and branches of the military. There are about 1.8 million American female Veterans. The board of directors is made up of 80% women Veterans, and is managed by women Veterans and family members.
Grace After Fire is a website featuring programs like "Table Talk, Color Me Camo". It's a peer support system for women Veterans that utilizes trained facilitators and peers. The program "provides educational materials and activities that promote self-knowledge, self-understanding, self-development, and self-renewal for the woman Veteran." You can read more about the program, watch a short video, and donate on the website at http://www.graceafterfire.org.
After I went back to my hotel room, I looked Kimberly up on Google. In addition to founding her unique organization, she is the author of "Iraq and Back, Inside the War to Win the Peace", which “explores her journey through the sound and gender barriers of military aviation and the mission to rebuild Iraq.” It’s for sale on Amazon as well as through the U.S. Navy Institute. (http://www.usni.org/store/books/biography-memoirs/iraq-and-back-0)
Here are just two of the reviews on Amazon:
"Colonel Olson is a modern day Joan of Arc--born to inspire, to lead and to command. A top flight jet pilot in the Air Force, she entered Baghdad with General Jay Garner to begin the overwhelming job of rebuilding Iraq. Her story will inspire all who open it and can't put it down."--William Sessions, Former Director of the FBI and U.S. District Judge
"This is one of the most provocative and compelling books on Iraq published to date. It encompasses that rare blend of insight and storytelling from someone on the inside in the early days of the Iraqi reconstruction phase. This book makes me proud and mad simultaneously. That is told by a senior Air Force officer and pilot is all the more remarkable, because it gives tone, texture and human emotion to the devastation and destruction that defines war."--Ron Tammen
There was so much crammed into the day that I'm going to write more about it, especially the warm reception we got from the women of Portland.
In 2013, Vision2020 will have regional gatherings. While I’ll miss seeing the women from all over the country, including Kimberly, a smaller conference will allow us more time to learn about each other’s programs and get to know each other better. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to explore ways to narrow that stubborn pay gap.