Working for the working woman

September 23, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

Donna M. Smith cultivates business opportunities for women.

Smith, of Hagerstown, facilitates business-related workshops for working women and women hoping to start small businesses through her work with Business and Professional Woman, a nationwide organization that promotes equality in the workplace through advocacy, education and information.

Leading by example, Smith also encourages retired women to stay involved in their communities. She started a home-based business and increased her participation in numerous civic and business groups after retiring from a 38-year career at Allegheny Power, she said.

"I feel I can plant the seeds for women to know they can have a second career and stay active in their community after they retire," Smith said.


The U.S. Small Business Administration in May honored Smith as Maryland's Women in Business Advocate of the Year.

She was recognized for her work to support female business professionals and women looking to start their own small businesses.

As state president of Business and Professional Women in 2001, Smith formed a partnership with the Small Business Administration to sponsor business-related workshops for women throughout the state, she said. The workshops provided participants with such information as how to write business plans, market their businesses and invest for retirement, Smith said.

She is spearheading an effort to organize a women's business exposition in Hagerstown in October 2003. The exposition would feature workshops for small business owners or individuals who want to start their own businesses and exhibits by such business and service agencies in the community as Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, the League of Women Voters and American Business Women, Smith said.

"We'll try to cover all the groups and services that are available in the community and bring them under one roof," she said.

A founding member of the Washington County Commission for Women, Smith helped launch that organization's first Women's Fair in 1989. She chaired the fair committee several times after the commission stopped organizing the annual event, which was last held in 1997.

Smith recently approached members of the county Commission for Women about resuming "a good event that brings women together," she said. The first organizational meeting to plan the exposition was held Sept. 17.

Smith plans to join forces with members of the commission and such local business organizations as SCORE, Counselors To America's Small Business, and the Small Business Development Center at Hagerstown Community College, to organize the exposition, she said.

"It will be a large networking effort," Smith said.

In addition to her exposition planning work and her duties with Business and Professional Women - the organization 24-year member Smith calls her "stepping-stone into the community" - she runs a business out of her home. Smith became a part-time independent fashion coordinator for Weekenders USA in 1996.

"I worked for someone else for 38 years," she said. "I like being able to set my own hours and build my business the way I want."

Weekenders is a direct sales clothing business in which women host home fashion shows, partner with clubs and civic organizations for fund-raisers and recruit other women as Weekenders fashion coordinators.

Smith hosts 15 to 20 fashion shows throughout Maryland each year, she said. She recently partnered with Y-Me of Cumberland Valley for a fashion show to raise money to fight breast cancer, giving 10 percent of the show's sale proceeds to Y-Me, she said.

Smith is always ready to support and share her knowledge with other women thinking about starting a home-based Weekenders fashion business, said Weekenders Executive Sales Manager Jackie Martin of Chambersburg, Pa., who recruited Smith.

"Donna loves being involved and she's very knowledgeable," Martin said. "I think she's very organized and good with follow-through."

To further support women in business, Smith is considering launching a local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, she said.

"That might be my next project - after I get the women's business expo organized," Smith said.

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