NOW Club encourages women to become more involved in local government

November 05, 2011|By MARIE GILBERT |
  • The Honorable Patricia Cushwa was the key note speaker at the NOW CLUB workshop held on Saturday.
By Yvette May/Staff Photographer

America has never had a Cleopatra or a Catherine, great or otherwise.

Men have been its leaders.

But making a difference in the world around you doesn't necessarily mean holding a position of power, said a panel of Washington County residents with a history of public service.

It's about women having a seat at the table.

First, however, you have to "Get Your Foot in the Door," they said, which was the topic of a forum held Saturday morning at Hagerstown Community College.

The event, hosted by the National Organization for Women (NOW) Club at HCC, was geared toward encouraging women to become more involved in local government by serving on boards and commissions.

The idea was developed in cooperation with Women at the Table, a Washington County bipartisan political action committee.

"We wanted to hold a workshop that could empower women to get involved at all levels of government," said Maria Edmonds, vice president of NOW. "Many people think of government participation as political. They hear the word politics and say 'no.' But there are other opportunities within the community where your leadership abilities can help effect positive change."

Sharon Leatherman, a member of Women at the Table, said the group's mission is to "recruit and support women to run and serve in Washington County in both elected and appointed positions."

"We've been doing a series of forums over the past several years," Leatherman said. "Most have been about how to run a campaign and get elected. This is about how to get involved."

Panel participants included keynote speaker Patricia Cushwa, who has served at every level of government — municipal, county, state and national.

Cushwa said many people believe it's who you know that gets you places in this world. "But it's who knows you. And they can't know you unless you're there. It's on us to get active."

She cited the creation more than 30 years ago of CASA Inc. (Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused) in Washington County as an example of women working outside of politics to make a positive change in their community.

That agency later was named "Model Spouse Agency" for the U.S. by the Department of Labor, she noted.

Cushwa challenged women to "not only be mentors, but be willing to try different things. You have so much to offer."

For those who want to get that foot in the door, "we're here to help you with that today," she said.

Other panelists included Paula Lampton, Washington County Planning and Zoning Commission; Janice Kelsh, Hagerstown Board of Zoning Appeals; Suzanne Hayes, Economic Development Commission; and Justin Hartings of the Washington County Board of Education.

Judy Lyons Wolf of Women at the Table said there has been a decrease of women serving in public office "since the big wave in the 1990s."

"Politics has become more cut throat," she said. "That could be a reason. But I do know that you've got to keep pressing."

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