Mutual Support Through Shared Experiences

Back in 2015, a couple of female leaders asked me a very simple question, “why don’t you have an event just for women?” My first reaction was, “why would the West Orange Chamber, made up of businesses of all types, sizes, and of men and women, devote an event to just women?” My second reaction was “why not!”  No offense to men, I did marry one and birthed three, yet women have our own set of experiences in life and the business world. Those experiences, when shared, can be of tremendous help to others. So rather than looking at it as a women’s only event, I thought of it as an opportunity to build relationships through shared experiences of women. Men are welcome to attend, even encouraged, if they want to understand women in business even better. 

The first “women’s event” was held the very next year and it was called, “Kicks & Conversation.”  The name was perfect considering our featured speakers were Kay Rawlins of Orlando City Soccer and Pride and a player from the Pride. That event received rave reviews and supported our understanding that women share some commonalities that bond us to one another. That knowledge forged the way to continue these events and evolve into a series which lives on today, “Celebrating Extraordinary Women.”

Over the years, we have been able to listen and learn from women in a wide range of careers. Our list of extraordinary women includes Dr. Antonia Novello US Surgeon General, US House Member Val Demings, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Judge Gisela Laurent, Florida House Member Kamia Brown, small business owners Pam Thomas of Pammie’s Sammies, Royetta Ginther of Twistee Treat, and Rilla Tomyn of Betty J’s Florist. 

Big business too has been represented by Marva Johnson of Charter Communications, Sandy Hosteter of Truist Bank and Julie Kleffel of Seacoast Bank.  In addition, we have had representatives from our educational institutions including Maritz Martinez of UCF, Dr. Falecia Williams of Valencia College and OCPS Superintendent Dr. Barbara Jenkins.

Each of their stories, although different, still had similar tones of challenges having to do with the simple fact that they are women in the business world.  However, the resounding message delivered at each event has been one of mutual support rather than of division. They remind us that together, we can create better workplaces for women with opportunities for one another.  

This year’s event held on Thursday, June 9th from 4-6 pm at the meeting space of the Foundation for a Healthier West Orange will be no different. The extraordinary panel will include the city of Ocoee’s Chief of Police, Saima Plasencia, small business owner of Trophies Unlimited, Ann Whittle, Leticia Adams of Walt Disney World and Shelly Wilkes of the Orlando Magic. To be inspired by these extraordinary women, to laugh and to cry, join me by visiting


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Written by Stina D'Uva

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