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Giving Energy to a Formidable Force

Kaki Hockersmith, owner, Kaki Hockersmith Interiors; Cinde Drilling, president, Landscape Architecture Incorporated; and Ellen Yeary, partner, Yeary Lindsey Architects

photography by Chach Bursey shot on location at Villa Marre

The Women’s Foundation of Arkansas (WFA) was founded in 1998 with the purpose of investing in Arkansas girls and women. One hundred women — leaders in the community — harnessed their collective energy and ingenuity to form the organization to “promote philanthropy among women and help women and girls achieve their full potential.” Armed with a $100,000 endowment, the result of the 100 women giving $1,000 each, they set about “improving the economic viability of the women of Arkansas.”

designing women houseThe founders list reads like a “who’s who” among leaders and many have been recognized as one of AY’s Powerful Women: Sandy Alstadt; Olivia Farrell; Sue Frueauff; Barbara Graves; Johnelle Hunt; Sissy Jones; Pat Lile; Dorothy Morris; Lisenne Rockefeller; Lottie Shackelford; Millie Ward … to name just a few.

In its nearly 15 years, WFA has benefitted many organizations and school programs through its grant program and mentored many girls through the Girls of Promise Program.

The Girls of Promise Program (GPP) was founded in 2000. It is a day-long conference held on various Saturdays from February to May at five colleges — Arkansas State University; Arkansas Tech University; Harding University; Northwest Arkansas Community College; and University of Arkansas at Little Rock — with breakout sessions led by professional women who have successful careers in economics, science, technology, engineering and math (ESTEM). The girls, all eighth graders are encouraged to pursue academic excellence in high school and college and to visualize themselves in rewarding careers.

Summer Hall attended a GPP conference in summer 2003. She will graduate this month with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. “Attending the Girls of Promise seminar definitely influenced my interest in computer science. There was a workshop in HTML that grabbed my attention,” Hall said.

Summer HallShe’s graduating from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the site of the conference she attended eight years ago. During her course of study, she’s encountered several other women in her math and physics classes, but she is often one of only two or three women in her computer science classes. “Seeing women working in the field of computer science, finding out they are out there was inspirational. It was a good confidence booster.”

Of course, WFA’s outreach programs must be funded; while donations help meet some of the organization’s financial needs, much of its work is supported by two events, The Power of the Purse and Designing Women. The Power of the Purse is a luncheon held each October, and it is attended by more than 1,000 professionals, community leaders and philanthropists. Each year, the WFA honors a “Woman of Year in Philanthropy” and in 2010, they awarded the inaugural Brownie Ledbetter Civic Engagement Award. The 2011 Power of the Purse will be held Oct. 21 at the Statehouse Convention Center; tickets are $100 per person.

Designing Women is the WFA’s second signature event. This is the fourth year for the showcase, which highlights three women working in design fields.

“The first three years, we held the event as a fashion show and auction. It was a wonderful event with pink martinis and delicious food; however, we didn’t feel we connected with the audience, showing the relevance of the work we do with our programs,” said Lynnette Watts, executive director, WFA. “So this year, Designing Women has been reworked. Our goal is to highlight actual ‘designing women.’”
In doing so, WFA will make a direct connection between the Girls of Promise’s emphasis on ESTEM and the various fields in which these skills are used. Other areas of design that will be highlighted include theatre, writing, photography, visual arts, graphic design … thus far, the committee has identified 25 areas, Watts said.

The 2011 Designing Women event was held at the Junior League of Little Rock building and this year’s honorees are: Cinde Drilling, president, Landscape Architecture Incorporated; Kaki Hockersmith, owner, Kaki Hockersmith Interiors; and Ellen Yeary, partner, Yeary Lindsey Architects.

“These three women were ideal honorees as this is our first year to kickoff the new format and honor women in design professions. This allows us to make a direct correlation to the Girls of Promise program, where young women are encouraged to explore careers in the ESTEM fields. Kaki, Ellen and Cinde not only excel in their chosen fields locally, but they also have a national following … they are good role models for all our Girls of Promise,” Watts said.

The WFA also honored three Girls of Promise Alumnae, selected based on essays the girls wrote about the impact their attendance at the seminar had on their high school and college studies.

The evening included awards presentations and a bazaar with wares, such as pottery, jewelry, clothing and services, such as financial planning and photography, all provided by women-owned businesses.

For more information about the Girls of Promise program; Designing Women; Power of the Purse; and the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, call (501) 244-9740 or log onto womensfoundationarkansas.org.

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