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Stereotypical behavior

click to enlarge SEAN CAYTON

She's enrolled in a leadership program. Picture her. A woman in a business suit, gunning for promotions at work, leading a volunteer organization at night, labeled a " standout" by her supervisors in the corporate world.

That's not what the Women's Community Leadership Initiative is about. This program, organized by Leadership Pikes Peak, reaches out to the rest of the us: women who aren't power players, women who have pulled themselves out of rough times and who show some zest for helping others do the same.

The group meets in settings like the highbrow Julie Penrose mansion behind The Broadmoor (run by the prestigious El Pomar Foundation) and the 1901 Carnegie library, pictured above. In just four months, this year's group of 22 women will have field-tripped it to nine locally significant places, met some of our city's honchos and completed a project that helps people in need.

Program organizer Donnis Martin says the idea is to help women realize their potential and to empower them along the way. Last year, for example, the group -- which was composed entirely of women who were previously homeless -- attended a public meeting to talk about a transitional housing plan that was designed to help homeless people become self-sufficient. During the meeting, several opponents of the project voiced concerns and offered up uninformed stereotypes of homeless people.

One of the WCLI participants decided to set them straight. She stood up and told the group that she was not a drug addict or a felon, just a single mother who used to be homeless. She was close to tears when later sharing the experience; she told Martin that she never would have spoken if she hadn't gained confidence through the WCLI program. Martin said, "That's what is so powerful about the program -- it gives women the confidence to stand up and help make a difference in the lives of others."

-- Gina Schaarschmidt photo by Sean Cayton

The Women's Community Leadership Initiative is a recipient of a grant from the Independence Community Fund, a charitable arm of the Independent. This is the fourth of a series profiling this year's seven recipient organizations.

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