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May 7, 2016

Center for Women and Community celebrates 40th anniversary

Chelsey Powell/Collegian

Students, faculty and community members gathered Friday night to mark the 40th anniversary of the Center for Women and Community, an organization that provides support and counseling services to members of the community.

Formerly known as the Everywoman’s Center, the organization changed its name this past September.

Special guests speaking at the 40th anniversary gala included State Rep. Ellen Story and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Jean Kim.

“I think that we are really fortunate as a campus community … to have had the benefit of outstanding services that have been provided by the Everywoman’s Center for the last 40 years,” Kim said.

“For 40 years, there are so many people that have benefited from the services you have offered, that you have made life changing differences to, by being there and by listening and by not judging and by knowing where to refer people, and just being this comforting, strong presence,” Story, an Amherst Democrat, added.

Story said that in 2013 progress is being made concerning the representation of women in government – especially now, she said, since one-fourth of the 200-person state Legislature is made up of women. She stressed the importance of getting more people, especially young women, to run for office.

“It’s important, and there are lots of people who want to do it for the wrong reasons, and we need to have good people who want to do it for the right reasons,” Story said.

Valerie Young, author of the book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women:  Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It,” also spoke at the gala.

“Despite all the progress, there is still this perception that women are less competent,” Young said. “It’s times like these that I think we need to remember the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt, who said ‘No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.’”

Young said that the final chapter of her book, which was published in 2011, is titled “Playing Big,” because “everyone loses when you play small.”

“The CWC has been helping women to play big for 40 years,” she added.

Six women were also honored at Friday night’s event with Leadership and Advocacy Awards.

The Arts Award went to Janet Aalfs, who, according the center’s website, is the founding member and current artistic director of the Valley Women’s Martial Arts Institute for Healing and Violence Prevention Strategies.  As a seventh degree black belt and published poet, she accepted her award by performing a poem movement piece called “Full Open” in honor the CWC as well as the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies program, which, she said, “really gave me my entrance into the life of being an artist and somebody who felt that she had a voice and a place in the world.”

Mary Kociela, who has been director of domestic violence projects for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office since 1997, received the Politics Award, which recognizes political leaders who have been worked for social change for the greater good.

Arlene Voski Avakian received the Pioneer in the Field Award, which recognizes those that “(pave) the way for others,” according to the center’s website. Avakian was one of the founders of the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies program.

“We would not have known where to turn if these programs didn’t exist,” she said of the amenities provided to women by the CWC.

The Social Justice Advocacy Award was given to three women at the gala for their dedication to improving diversity, awareness, understanding and overall positive social change.

“Seven or eight years ago, I don’t know if I would have been able to accept this award,” said Lisa Andrews, who received the award for her work as the co-founder of the Prison Birth Project, and for helping create support programs for incarcerated mothers at the Chicopee women’s jail, according to the UMass website. “But today I’m surrounded by people I love, in a community I love, and being honored for the work I do, and it feels really good.”

Vira Douangmany Cage, who also received the award,  spoke of her battle to free her nephew after she said he was wrongly convicted of murder. She credited the students and programs at the University for helping to set her nephew, Charles Wilhite, free.

Linda Scott, the final recipient of the award, acknowledged her father at Friday’s gala, who, she said, was a major advocate for social justice.

“I just hope that I can continue to follow in his footsteps,” added Scott, who is a clinical psychologist and assistant director for consultation and education at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health at UMass.

The Center for Women and Community provides a number of services to community members, including rape crisis counseling, medical and legal services, and workshops. Its services are offered to all members of the community.

“I know that with that with the continuing support of the University, the Five College community, and each and every one of you, that certainly the Center will continue to thrive for the next 40 years and maybe beyond as well,” Kim said.

Jaclyn Bryson can be reached at jbryson@student.umass.edu.

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