Several years ago, after women business leaders in the West Orange Chamber of Commerce (WOCC) asked me to consider an event just for women, “Celebrating Extraordinary Women” was created. The concept was simple, bring accomplished women to an event to share their stories with other women, and the connecting will happen naturally. Three years into this program, we have showcased several extraordinary women, yet we have years to go and many more connections to make.
Women connect differently than men and, because of that, it can be viewed as less professional. It’s rare that a man will approach another and comment on his shoes or suit, yet a woman has no issue complimenting another on a fabulous outfit. It’s our way of making an instant connection. From that point, our conversations flow fast and naturally with commonalities found and fostered. When that happens, the true relationship building begins – professional or personal. Many have often said, “People do business with people they know, like and trust.” Friendships develop as well.
Common Experiences Open Up Career Paths
With that in mind, I went down memory lane and recalled how some of my closest friends and business colleagues became my friends. I call them extraordinary women, a phrase they would never use to describe themselves. As I recollected, common traits became apparent.
Their traits are compassion, tenacity, fearlessness and assertiveness. Most of all, they have determination and a commitment to make our community, piece by piece, a better place. These women didn’t embark on community issues with any aspiration for themselves to be recognized or seek prestigious titles. These women all said yes to solving problems rather than assuming someone else would handle them.
I am pleased to surround myself with women leaders, my friends. Women like Karen Ardaman, a former Orange County Public Schools board member, who led the Rails to Trail initiative, which was an impetus for the West Orange Trail, prior to her political career. Another friend, Teresa Jacobs, started on her path of community involvement because a road was slated to go through her backyard and split her subdivision in half. Even though she lost that fight, we all benefitted because it set her on her esteemed, political path.
Even though we met at different times, the three of us became friends because of our children and issues with our overcrowded schools. The commonalities forged a lasting friendship, though not by intention, yet circumstances started each of us down our new career paths. After years of community involvement, Karen was elected to the school board, Teresa was elected to the county commission and I was selected to manage and lead the WOCC.
New Opportunities Bring New Friends
It turns out that our new roles brought new opportunities and women into our lives. Pam Gould is one whom I was fortunate to meet through the chamber’s Leadership West Orange program in 2000. I and many others saw her talent, experience and leadership, and we knew that she was the perfect candidate to run and be elected to the OCPS board. Just last month, Pam was hired to manage and lead Shepherd’s Hope, the perfect role for a woman with experience in the health care and philanthropic world.
Another woman who has given service to our community for years, and has helped me over the years on many issues, is Betsy VanderLey. She now serves as county commissioner, chairwoman of MetroPlan, and board member on the Central Florida Expressway Authority. She is truly a champion of West Orange County.
I could go on and on naming extraordinary women, yet I would do a disservice to those I omit. Eileen Neumayer, owner of Classic Care of America and volunteer extraordinaire, who I also met because of our children and their schools, is one I must single out. Our interaction led my husband and I into joining the WOCC. That sole decision changed my world.
That world, running the WOCC, allows me to meet wonderful people and work with a team of fabulous women. Again, I hate to single out, yet our Vice President, Krista Carter, has been at my side for 18 years. She is a woman I call extraordinary as well. She is the Florida Association of Chamber Professional’s 2015 Professional of the Year, former President of the Rotary Club of Winter Garden, two- time Paul Harris fellow and board member of the Oakland Nature Preserve.
I named just a few of the women that have impacted my life and guided me on my path. Take the time to go down your memory lane and recall the women who have helped you on your journey. We should always consider ways to connect with one another and foster each other’s goals. Join me in September for the next Celebrating Extraordinary Women event.