Women’s Leadership Connection members volunteer at Edgewood Children’s Ranch.
For more than a decade, the Women’s Leadership Connection has helped local women develop enriching relationships, as well as make a meaningful difference in their community. With about 40 members, the organization hosts a variety of community outreach programs and fundraisers year-round, while offering its members fellowship and valuable communication tools.
The organization was co-founded in 2001 as the Women’s Leadership Network by President Joan Hutton of North Bay, Cher Levine of Dr. Phillips, Jana Love of Bay Hill, and Mary Recchia of South Bay, among others. In 2007, the organization changed its name to Women’s Leadership Connection to echo its progression from networking to connecting.“In the years from our launch in 2001 to 2007, the word networking evolved from a general ‘connecting with others’ meaning to a more standard business definition of business events with a business card exchange,” said Joan, who has an extensive background in corporate and small business strategy and financial management. “The Women’s Leadership Connection is about women connecting with other women from all walks of life — so our name needed to change to reflect our true purpose. The synergy of connecting with other women is very significant.”A great deal of WLC’s continued success has been its diverse membership of women of varying ages, lifestyles and professions, as well as its uniquely combined focus on community service, and social and business networking.“We would not want to be just one, but a blend of all these things,” Joan said. “The blend of our members is really interesting, and that’s something we learned from one another. We have entrepreneurial and corporate women who wanted something outside of the business world. And we have women who aren’t working at the time but wanted to stay connected. We have women from all walks of life looking to fulfill their purpose of cultivating significance, both individually and collectively.”“I believe the work WLC does greatly benefits the community,” said Dr. Phillips resident Lesa Dolan. “When my kids were in school, I was very involved. When they went off to college, I wanted to continue to volunteer in my community and make social connections. WLC was the answer to that. They are wonderful women, who are fun, smart and compassionate, and who wanted to make a difference in the community we live in.”Among its many community projects, WLC is proud to have worked with the Women’s Residential Program, run by the Center for Drug-Free Living Inc., since 2005. WLC donated yoga mats and dressers for all the rooms and is currently working to augment the center’s library, which will allow residents to further enrich themselves.“WLC has been making invaluable contributions to the center for a number of years,” said Sharon Joustra, a Dr. Phillips resident and liaison for the Women’s Residential Program. “Right now we are having an ongoing book drive. We are always undertaking many new projects. This group of women is an awe-inspiring group, and I am just so proud to be affiliated with them.”Each year, WLC works for weeks to give Women’s Residential Program’s residents and their families a special holiday season. WLC members help decorate and host a Christmas party at the center, hold a toy drive, and wrap and deliver a gift for each resident and their children.“WLC’s involvement at the Center for Drug-Free Living impacts those women directly and helps them achieve their goal of a drug-free life,” Lesa said. “The Christmas party WLC provides for the women and their children at the women’s center is very rewarding. The women get to spend time with their families and give them gifts that we have collected. Most would have nothing to give their kids if it were not for the generosity of the community donating gifts and WLC women providing the party. The kids are so excited to get their gifts, and the look on their moms’ faces is priceless.”
“It truly is amazing each year,” Joan said. “People help donate toys and come to wrap. Everything they need is provided. We wanted to reach out to women who don’t have the fortune we have and help turn their life around. For some of the women, bringing their family together again inspired them to stay clean. Our work at the women’s center is a perfect fit for what we are all about.”
For the past year, WLC has also reached out to the children at Edgewood Children’s Ranch, including hosting parties and outfitting three young women who were selected to participate in a local leadership conference. “It brings tears to our eyes that we could give this huge gift to them and help this way,” Joan said. “To get them at that age and reach them, it’s great.”
Edgewood Children’s Ranch residents attend a Valentine’s Day event hosted by Women’s Leadership Connection.
“It has a great impact on them,” said Stacey DeCarlo, a Bay Hill resident and liaison for Edgewood Children’s Ranch. “It’s like giving a million dollars to them. We get thank-you notes that just bring tears to our eyes. Just to be a part of their day is so fulfilling. They are full of such thankfulness and joy. “The women that are part of [WLC] are just special ladies. They are so giving and generous. Just being around these women is so fulfilling. And the connection with Edgewood Children’s Ranch — just being around women who want to be a part of this and making a difference in these children’s lives. It means a lot to me.”
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