A "Mentor of Distinction" Award received by the Wake County Commission for Women (WCCW) from the Women's Business and Professions Advisory Council is a testament to the concerns and accomplishments of the WCCW. The WCCW owes it beginnings to Wake County Commissioner Merrie Hedrick, who while working to get the County to establish a Historical Preservation Committee, discovered that the state had in place legislation allowing each county to organize a Commission for Women. Realizing that Wake County had not organized such a group, she contacted the NC Council for Women and with the assistance of Juanita Bryant, Director of the NC Council, and other council members, she proceeded to outline plans for the organization and operation of a Wake County Commission for Women. On August 29, 1994 the commission was created by the Wake County Board of Commissioners in a resolution signed by Vernon Malone, Chairman of the Board.
The resolution directed that whereas more than 50% of the population and more than 40% of the workforce of Wake County are women, that a group of Wake County citizens be appointed to acknowledge and honor women, educate and advocate on their behalf and celebrate what they have done and what they will do.
The first fifteen women appointed to serve were: Linda Bamford, Martha Glass, Connie Grant, Esther Hall, Merrie Hedrick Yvonne Lewis-Holley, Jeanene Martin, Nancy Perry, Adora Ragsdale, Mary Rollins, Kathy Schneiderman, Carol Spruill, Lucille Webb, Deborah Williams and Margaret Wohgenant. Mary Rollins was elected chair. Under her leadership that first year, the group developed a structure and a logo, elected officers, identified its mission and began partnering with other organizations for the causes of women. Members joined the Wake County League of Women Voters in a celebration of the 75th anniversary of a woman's right to vote and encouraged the city of Raleigh and the County Board to proclaim August 26th as Women's Equality Day. In addition, they raised over $1,000 to support the North Carolina Council for Women's celebration of women's right to vote, and purchased a banner to hang in front of the North Carolina Museum of History. In May 1994, they encouraged the Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution concerning domestic violence. Their final work of the year was to prepare a long-range written plan of activities for the Commission.
Margaret Webb led the Commission its second and third years. It continued to celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment by cosponsoring with the
League of Women Voters an event saluting Wake County women elected to public office in the County. Likewise, seeing the growing need for a list of organizations comprised of women and/or dedicated to women's special needs and interests, the group, through research and contacts, put together a directory of these organizations. In October 1996, a reception honoring these organizations and their leaders was held at Oak View. Copies of the directories were presented to the leaders on this occasion and copies were also put in libraries, churches, and places where they would be accessible to women. In 1997, the directory was revised and distributed in a like manner at a reception held at Meredith College. At this time, the Commission honored Dorothy Allen Freeman, who had retired from Wake Opportunities after 17 years of service impacting the lives of Wake County women. Additional activities included WCCW preparing and distributing three times during the year a calendar of women's events held in the County, presenting to the County Board a resolution requesting observance of women's history month, and members attending the North Carolina Council of Women's Awards Banquet. During the year, so as to better address the problems of domestic violence, a WCCW member participated in meetings with the Council on Domestic Violence at Triangle Family Services. Funds were donated to help publicize the YWCA's "Week Without Violence," and members coordinated four radio talk shows on domestic violence, which featured police and sheriff initiatives, a judge and a District Attorney.
In April 1997 the group held its first planning retreat at Meredith. Following this, Treasurer Cleo Perry presented the first budget requests to the County and Wake County Human Services Department volunteered support staff assistance. Prior to this time, members had been asked to contribute and to secure corporate gifts to fund the Commission's work. The County included in its budget $12,500 for WCCW's work.
Debra Nesbit was elected chair in 1998. The year began with a planning meeting in February. WCCW activities during the year included the issuing of a proclamation in observance of Women's History Month and cosponsoring with the League of Women Voters an event on Women's Equality Day. Also, the members started planning their first summit, which was held in 1999. In February 1999, the WCCW leadership role was passed to Eula Turner.
On March 2, 1999 over 100 people attended the first WCCW summit, held at Meredith College. "Opening Doors - A Better 2000" was conducted in the afternoon and Mary Anne Fox, Chancellor of North Carolina State University and a chemist and member of the National Science Academy, gave the keynote address. Breakout sessions provided opportunities to discuss the topics: aging, domestic violence, education, health care, single parenting, and workplace issues. Presenters were local experts in these areas. A wrap-up session provided a time for attendees to ask questions as well as a for suggestions. The success of this first summit prompted members to begin planning a second for March 2000. "Zero Tolerance for Violence" was to be the topic considered at this meeting. It soon became apparent that there was likewise a need for the leaders of local women's organizations to have opportunities for networking so as to be united and more effective in their work. Thus, WCCW scheduled its first luncheon to be held on September 14, 1999, at Meredith College for the leaders of these groups to gather, discuss and share.
To aid in planning the second summit, a luncheon for persons and groups concerned with or involved in domestic violence was held at Peace College on February 22, 2000. Also in February, Vicky Goudie was elected chair of the Commission. On March 25, 2000, the summit, "Zero Tolerance for Violence", was held at Hillyer Memorial Church. Marty Langelan, a nationally recognized expert on a number of violence issues, was the keynote speaker. Of particular interest was the report of Whitney Vanderwerff, Executive Director of the National Alliance for Non-Violence programming, on the desensitizing effect on young people by media violence. Topics discussed by local police and County sheriffs were Family and Domestic Violence, Youth Violence and Community Programs, Media Influence, Victims Rights, and how women can make good decisions.
During 2000, work was also begun on a website for WCCW and the possibility of working with a Duke intern to secure updated information on the status of women in the County was considered and accepted. In addition, the participation in a Tri-County Commission was investigated but did not prove feasible. On May 23, twenty women leaders attended a luncheon at Shaw University and discussed women's issues and needs. In November, a similar meeting was held on St. Augustine's College campus. WCCW agreed to cosponsor an Anti-Violence Group which was an outgrowth of the two luncheons. Louise Coggins began a two-year term as chair or the Commission in February 2001. On March 3, 2001 they cosponsored with SC Equity a second "Zero Tolerance for Violence" which was held at the County Commons Building. The keynote speaker was Dr. Whitney Vanderwerff and guest panelist were Waltye Rasulala, director of grants for the A.J. Fletcher Foundation and Pam Saulsby, a broadcast journalist.
A highlight of this summit was the recognition of one who had through the years been a strong supporter of WCCW. A plaque on which was printed the following words of appreciation was presented to Maria Spaulding, director of Wake County Department of Human Services: "In appreciation for strong support, able assistance, caring concern, inspiring interest by the WCCW, March 3, 2001."
The group continued its focus on violence. Partnering with Interact, it participated in the YWCA's 2001 "Week Without Violence" program and hosted community awareness meetings at Peace College, St. Augustine's and Meredith College. To gain input on how to prevent violence WCCW also sponsored luncheons for community leaders and organizations at Meredith and Peace Colleges. It also began a partnership with the Healing Place, a substance/alcohol abuse treatment center for homeless men of Wake County. Commission members toured the facility and four members went to Louisville, Kentucky to visit a women's treatment center and to gain insight into starting such a place in Wake County. Other activities that year included updating the directory, developing a brochure portraying WCCW's mission and activities, cosponsoring A Women's Right to Vote Celebration with the League of Women Voters, and having two members trained for television shows on Community TV so as to aide in providing greater publicity for WCCW programs and projects.
The first activity of 2002 was a retreat in February, led by Karen Morant of Wake County Human Services Community Initiatives Department. This involved analysis of WCCW's programs and projects and establishing long-range plans for the group. On March 22, the Commission conducted the summit, "Get on Board for Public Service" at the Wake County Commons Building. The meeting was opened with a presentation by the Color Guard of Cary High School. The areas studied were: County Boards and Commissions, State Boards and Commissions, Ethics for Board Members, and the Council of Women. Speakers were Barbara Goodmon, chair of Wake County Human Services Board; Sondra Davis, Director of Boards and Commissions- Office of the Governor; Paul Ridgeway, attorney; Paige Johnson, member of the Orange County Commission; and Elaine Monaghen, member of NC Council of Women.
In October WCCW cosponsored with Wake County Human Services the summit, "Step by Step Perinatal Substance Abuse Program - Celebrating 10 Years Presents ...Evolution of Substance Abuse Treatment for Women," which was held at the County Commons Building. Program participants included renowned author, journalist, and motivational speaker, Patricia Gaines and assistant professor, School of Social Work, UNC at Chapel Hill, Dr. Amelia Roberts. Following this meeting, the Commission agreed to work to establish a Wake County Healing Place for Women. To gain a better understanding of substance abuse effects on women, members visited the Glory to Glory House of Refuge, Mission House for Women, and Southlight Pathways. A highlight of the year was meeting with the International Business Women's Council whose members were from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria. Turkey and Ukraine. The group discussed issues affecting women in public service.
In 2003, the Commission continued to broaden its contacts, promotions, and assistance as it worked on the issues affecting Wake County women. Lindy Brown served as its chair. Under her leadership, the group participated in the ninth annual Women's Empowerment Expo which supported and promoted African American women; partnered with the Healing Place; set up and ran a booth at the Southern Women's Show; advocated the passage of House Bill 79 to expand the DNA database in the state; and took part in the Rex Health Fair. WCCW honored Lou Mitchell at the YWCA Academy for Women Banquet for her strong support of homeless women and plans were made to conduct a summit at the Healing Place for Men of Wake County.
Because of their strong interest in the mission of WCCW, 12 former members met on August 14, 2003, and organized the WCCW Alumnae Group. Their mission is to assist and to serve the Commission with its programs and activities.
The highlight of 2004 was the celebration of WCCW's tenth anniversary. In February, Cleo Perry was selected as Commission Chair. Three new members were oriented.
The first activity was to set up and staff a booth at the Duke Health Fair. In March, more than 60 people attended the summit, "The Female Perspective: Faces of Substance Abuse," held at the Healing Place for Men. Speakers included Jennifer Hobgood, Social Worker; Doug Scott, educator and former law enforcement officer; Barbara Gomez, counselor; and Nancy Finn, counselor and past drug abuser. This intensified the group's concern that a Healing Place for Women be constructed and a member was appointed to serve on the Healing Place Campaign Committee. Members agreed that in preparing for a tenth anniversary celebration, they should take inventory and evaluate the Commission's programs and activities as well as plan special events and a birthday celebration. Thus at the April planning retreat, committees were named to study the effectiveness and efficiency of the present Commission structure to analyze its operational procedures, and to plan programs and projects which would enable the Commission to fulfill its mission. This study initiated revision of the bylaws so as to incorporate the County's attendance policy and to reorganize the committee structure so that it would comply with current practices. In addition, the website was updated to include the County's Service Index link. A recommendation to reduce the Commission's size to ten members was not accepted by the group. WCCW again sponsored the League of Women Voters celebration of Women's Equality Day. Members attended the YWCA "Academy of Women" dinner and volunteered to partner with NC Women United in focusing on passage of legislation related to women's issues. A member was appointed to serve as a liaison with this group.
A steering committee comprised of representatives from the Commission: Meredith; A. G. Edwards & Sons; YWCA: and Financial Planning Services, Inc., planned a major conference and Tenth Anniversary Celebration, which was held on October 16, 2004 at Meredith College. "What Wise Women Need to Know," provided opportunities for advocating, educating, and celebrating on behalf of the women of Wake County. Sponsors of the conference were: A. G. Edwards & Sons. Inc. Meredith College, Progress Energy, Rich Commercial Realty, and The Hartford. Those partnering with WCCW included Distinctive Human Resources, Inc.; Financial Planning Services, Inc.; First Citizens Bank; Harris Flanagan & Hilton; Passage Home; SAS; and YWCA of the Greater Triangle. Holly Nicholson, a Triangle Top Women in Business Award recipient and author of "MONEY & YOU: A Woman's Financial Guide," was the keynote speaker. Among the topics explored by the attendees were: insurance, investing, job searching, legal matters, purchasing power, stress management, and women's health. Those conducting the various workshops were: Ajuba Joy, Alesandra Price, Anne McLaurin, Anthony Flanagan, Brian Ivey, Burr White, Dennis Taylor, Eloise Best, Erika Small, Lu Ann Wooters and Stuart Levine. Special recognition was given to the Charter Members, former members, and WCCW Chairs. The conference was declared a great success with more than 85 persons attending.
At the November 2004 meeting the group evaluated the anniversary celebration and oriented six new members. In December, WCCW's special guest was Maria Spaulding, who was recognized and thanked for her and her Department of Human Services continued support of the Commission. She suggested that WCCW may want to compile a history of the outstanding women of Wake County. The group will consider its role in such a venture.
Through its programs and projects, WCCW will continue to acknowledge and honor women and their roles as vital contributors to Wake County and to educate and advocate on their behalf as it celebrates their accomplishments.
Wake County Commission for Women
10 Sunnybrook Road
PO Box 14049
Raleigh, NC 27620-4049