News Archive 2019
For the September Luncheon, Women's Policy Forum celebrated three local women who have chosen service to their community in different ways.
Megan Henderson, director of events and communications at Near Southside, said to be a "hero" or leader "you have to have equal parts gumption and selflessness." She also noted WPF member Myrtle McMahan who influenced her as head of the volunteers at JPS Hospital.
Ashley Paz, trustee FWISD board of education, said "as women, we take on a lot of roles, and can use that resourcefulness in business as well." She mentioned that although Fort Worth has made strides with women in elected leadership positions, there is still a need for women of color to be in leadership roles. She also recounted her process to run for the school board. "I went into it blind," she said, but was driven by a desire to make things better for her daughter.
Ann Zadeh, District 9 Fort Worth city councilwoman, talked about the sexism she experienced 25 years ago. "We've come a long way, but not far enough," she said. Now, she said she is much more likely to be vocal and call people out when she runs into any sexism.
Prior to the program, Karen Myers presented the new 2020 slate of officers and directors for approval and the slate was unanimously approved.
Vanessa Barker of The Wellman Project came to thank the members who donated school supplies in August & September. Barker gave an update on The Wellman Project's work this summer, where they have donated $210,000 worth of materials to classrooms and nonprofit organizations in 280 locations.
Cortney Gumbleton facilitated an interesting discussion on the different faces of public service at the September luncheon.
L-R: Cortney Gumbleton (facilitator), and panelists Megan Henderson, Ann Zadeh, and Ashley Paz with Linda Garcia (program chair).
2019 Texas Legislative Session Review
The "Education Session"
Texas Senator Beverly Powell gave an overview of the 86th Texas Legislative Session at the August luncheon meeting. She dubbed the session the "education session" due to passage of the school finance and education bill which commits $11.6 billion into schools to pay for prekindergarten, higher teacher salaries, and increases the investment in low-income areas. She said both parties worked together to develop this legislation, which represents the first time in 20 years the state has invested that much in public education. In the coming months, she said analysts will be evaluating HB3 to see how it is working in school districts in order to "clean up any unintended consequences" that could result from the 300-page bill.
In addition, Powell spoke of other priorities including higher education, veterans and military issues. She applauded the record number of women elected to the Texas senate, saying they now represent a third of the Senate. "We will elect more," she said, in all areas including sending women to Washington. "At some point, we will elect a woman president," she said to rousing applause.
She concluded with a call for information. "Your role is to tell us what's important to you," she said. She said elections do matter and what leadership from around the state heard from citizens led to the education reform bill. She urged Women's Policy Forum members to continue to make their voices heard. "We need your input," she said. She invited members to stop by her office in Fort Worth or to contact her office with any concerns.
Texas Senator Beverly Powell
At member Myrtle McMahan's request, we re-instated the WPF school supply drive, with the donations benefitting The Welman Project, whom we learned about during the April Luncheon. We began collecting supplies in August and will continue in the September Luncheon.
Race and Culture Revisit: Creating an inclusive Fort Worth for all residents
Rosa Navejar, co-chair of the Task Force on Race & Culture, led an educational discussion on the findings of the task force and the City's efforts to incorporate suggestions from the task force into actionable steps toward a richer cultural and inclusive community. As Navejar detailed, the task force's scope of work included community outreach and conversations, assessment of disparities, and leadership training. On December 11, 2018, the City Council accepted the final report from the task force. Costa and Chapa detailed the City's efforts to include task force recommendations into a broad array of areas, including redistricting, staff support of human relations commission and creation of an independent oversight program. Tucker concluded the program with a plea for meaningful change, engagement and intersectionality. He said we are still sometimes stuck in silos: racism vs. sexism vs. those who are differently abled. He said we need to tackle problems with a "both/and" mentality rather than "either/or".
At July's luncheon, the Women's Policy Forum received an update on the outcomes of the "One Fort Worth" Task Force on Race and Culture. In 2017, the Fort Worth City Council appointed the 23-member task force to advise the council on ways to improve relations among residents from all parts of the city. Since that time the task force members have done extensive work resulting in a presentation of their findings to the Mayor and Council.
Speakers, from left: Jay Chapa, assistant city manager; Rosa Navejar, co-chair of Task Force on Race and Culture, Estrus Tucker, independent consultant; Fernando Costa, assistant city manager.
United Way of Tarrant County: 2018-2019 Community Assessment
At the June Luncheon on Wednesday, June 12, we learned about the needs of our growing community from United Way of Tarrant County. Leah King, Chief Operating Officer for United Way of Tarrant County, presented the United Way's 2018-2019 Community Assessment. In the assessment, 5 core needs were assessed: housing & homelessness; health, mental health & wellness; transportation; education, early childhood & youth; basic needs, emergency assistance & financial stability.
When it comes to affordable housing, "we have a problem," King said. Families need to work more hours to meet living expenses, and as King put it, "people are stuck because there is some barrier or multiple barriers to overcome."
In many ways, King reminded that "it all boils down to education." She was cautiously optimistic about state legislative efforts to reform education funding, but said, " we cannot let up off the gas," and encouraged the WPF membership to stay informed and persistent involving educational reform.
(L-R): Stephanie Byrd, Paul Harral, Vanessa Bouche, and Melissa Ice.
Sex Trafficking Victims:
Reality and Solutions for our Community
May's Luncheon raised awareness of a critical issue facing our community: human trafficking. Moderated by Paul Harral, associate editor of the Fort Worth Business Press and Fort Worth Business CEO magazine editor, the panel discussion centered on the issue of sex trafficking in our community and abroad. As founder and executive director of The Net, Melissa Ice often works with women who are have been caught in the cycle of trafficking. "Most trafficked women don't think of themselves as a victim," she said, adding that the behavior has been happening since childhood in many cases. Ice, whose jail outreach works with 600 local women annually, has founded a social enterprise called Worthy Co that employs women survivors of trafficking. "When you see women do the hard work of recovery and not be able to find employment, you have to do something," she said. Similarly, TCU Professor Vanessa Bouche founded Savhera, a company employing sex trafficking victims in Delhi, India.
As executive director of UnBound Fort Worth, Stephanie Byrd works in awareness and prevention, mobilizing communities to fight human trafficking. UnBound's survivor advocacy program serves minors rescued from sex trafficking in Tarrant County. They also operate programs in public schools which Stephanie sees as "the last place before they fall off the grid" and into trafficking.
However, the panel agreed that women don't decide that they want to be a part of this issue. They typically don't feel they have a choice and are often being trafficked even by family members. Many see the "low risk - high rewards" of trafficking as alluring. And the buyers are often people in power or privilege.
As Harral said in summary, " systemic cultural change" is needed to combat this issue.
MaryAnn Means-Dufrene led an interesting discussion on entrepreneurship and innovation in business from two women at the April luncheon. Debbie Cooley, who founded M-Pak, is celebrating the 20th year of her business. On the other end is Vanessa Barker, whose non-profit, The Welman Project, is in its 3rd year.
"I was told I couldn't. I didn't have female role models and my industry didn't want to pay me equally. If you complained, you got fired," Debbie said of her experience that inspired her to create her own company. "I had no desire to be an entrepreneur," she said, "I was just trying to put my daughter through college at first." By the time her daughter graduated, the company had taken off.
Vanessa started her non-profit when she saw corporate waste that she didn't want going to a landfill and knew from teaching experience that schools could use it. The motto of her organization is "fill a classroom, not a landfill." She said 2/3 of waste in Fort Worth comes from businesses, and since 77% of material for classrooms is provided from teacher's own pockets, she saw a way to solve two issues with one non-profit organization.
Both of the female entrepreneurs emphasized the need to just keep going. "Just put your foot on the gas," Vanessa said. Whether you have the resources and encouragement or not, "You are your best resource."
Carolyn Phillips, Chief Alchemist of Alchemy Pops, was unable to attend but sent a brief message about balancing priorities as a "#mompreneur."
Entrepreneurship and Innovation
(L-R): MaryAnn Means-Dufrene, Debbie Cooley, Vanessa Barker and Cathy Neece Brown.
Leaders Shaping Fort Worth's Future
As moderator for the luncheon presentation, Harriet Harral began with an overview of leadership skills and related those of Leadership Fort Worth, now in its 47th year. The organization, now made up of five different programs, has leadership development and leadership succession planning at its core. To make her message relevant for today, Harral invited three WPF members who are actively helping our community to share their stories.
Left to Right: Flora Brewer, Karmen Rubin, Kim Dignum, and Harriet Harral.
Flora Brewer, Kim Dignum and Karmen Rubin spoke of their passions to help the homeless, under-resourced families, teens and youth in our area. Flora Brewer, through Paulos Properties where she is president, helped establish affordable housing at Palm Tree Apartments on Race Street. Kim Dignum founded a non-profit, called Fairway to Heaven, which raises money through an annual golf tournament for local charities. Karmen Rubin, Executive Director of LVTRise, is working to improve public safety and establish community within the Las Vegas Trail community. Rubin said communication, collaboration and increasing access are keys to success for her organization.
86th Legislative Session Discussing Legislative Priorities in Texas
An informative discussion of the 86th Legislative Session was held at the February Luncheon. Dr. Jeanne Gerlach, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at UTA introduced the panel. Shannon Kidd, District Director for Representative Tony Tinderholt, Miles Wilson, District Director for Representative Chris Turner and Scott Stier, District Director for Representative Matt Krause shared some of the house bills before the Texas House of Representatives this session.
Left to Right: Miles Wilson, Shannon Kidd, Scott Stier, Cathy Neece Brown and Dr. Jeanne Gerlach.
Shaping the Future: Women's Policy Forum in 2019 and Beyond
On Wednesday, January 9, the Women's Policy Forum luncheon featured a discussion led by our own member Cindy Johnson, retreat leader, facilitator and consultant. Due to the government shutdown, our previously scheduled program featuring a representative from the National Endowment for the Arts, was changed.
The program began with a summary of the achievements and shared lessons of 2018, including struggles with speaker management, ensuring programs are women-centered, and defining what it means to be "influential" for our members today. Creating an annual calendar of programs planned helped with new member engagement. News and Networking developed a new format, while still informal, that incorporated local subject matter experts as speakers.
MaryAnn Means-Dufrene, 2019 membership chair, spoke about plans to "blow up" the membership process, but "only in the most respectful and honorable way." Goals are to open access and increase membership by reaching out to younger women, newer leaders and corporate leaders. She would also like to create a committee of individuals to be greeters at meetings and who could guide new members through the process of joining.
Linda Garcia, Chair Elect and Programs Chair, spoke to the group about plans for upcoming luncheon presentations and the 2019 Emerging Issues Symposium. Goals of program planning include providing a clear link to policy implications and establishing a local impact as well as call to action for members where possible. The program committee will also evaluate meeting formats, venues and times.
Cindy Johnson then led the members present through a tabletop discussion of policy issues that are important to the individual members. Some topics discussed included women's health and overall equity in work, care and policies. Members also provided resources for future luncheon topics as well.
Cathy Neece Brown closed the meeting by talking about plans to work with City of Fort Worth officials on a new task force regarding the status of women as well as other opportunities.