Future female leaders highlighted

Michelle Obama – a mother, a first lady with her own voice, a public servant and an advocate for change.

And if that weren’t enough, she’s got a pretty big following at Cherry Hill East.

As the four girls sat down at East’s library, each discussed what it is they like so much about Mrs. Obama.

“A woman in office inspires me in a way,” said sophomore Drym Oh. “She possesses a power to be able to influence society.”

Oh, along with sophomores Theresa Johnson and Sarah Evenosky and junior Priscilla Anglade were four of about 50 or so girls selected to participate in the Running and Winning Workshop, which was hosted at East by the League of Women Voters of Camden County.

The event, in its 13th year, has made stops at high schools across Camden County over the years, introducing the next generation of female leaders to seasoned local mayors, councilwomen and board of education members.

And this year was no different, as the teenagers were treated to wise words from dozens of local dignitaries, including Cherry Hill councilwomen Susan Shin Angulo and Sara Lipsett, as well as Cherry Hill Board of Education members Sherrie Cohen and Kathy Judge.

Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt and Washington Township Mayor Barbara Wallace also spoke to the students, as well as council and BOE members from other local municipalities.

Students also had the opportunity to ask elected officials questions about how and why they serve their communities in this way.

“They seem to enjoy asking what it’s like – gender issues and balancing life,” said Phyllis Black, of the League of Women Voters of Camden County. “The purpose is to develop leadership, to see the challenges and rewards in running for office. They begin to see politics isn’t dirty.”

This year, the students were charged with creating a campaign to run for a seat on the local board of education. The students formed groups and took on one of four roles: the candidate, the campaign manager, the speechwriter and the publicist. The goal was to craft a campaign that would address the need to stop bullying at schools and implement a way to do so.

In previous years, students have campaigned for property-tax reform, the environmental impact of oil drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge, the Patriot Act and climate change.

The league reports women still comprise less than 20 percent of the U.S. Congress and state Legislature, but that didn’t stop these girls.

The foursome got down to business on the bullying campaign, brainstorming clever speech intros and flashy campaign signs, with slogans such as “Stop the H8 or experience the fate” in neon bubble letters.

And even though a few of the girls from the group admitted they likely won’t seek roles in the public sector, they said they’re still impressed and honored to get to know women who serve the public every day.

“It’s a good idea to promote women stepping up,” said Evenosky, who said she could see herself possibly serving in a PTA school group someday in the future.

Johnson said she dreams of becoming an athletic trainer one day to work with Olympic swimmers, so she may not even have time to be mayor of Cherry Hill.

But during the workshop, her friends nominated her to be the candidate to run for the board of education seat.

The issue, she said, hit close to home for her.

She said she herself had skin issues during middle school and experienced bullying first-hand. She and her colleagues agreed bullying was quite the worthy platform to take when running for office.

“I’m totally against bullying. And when you’re a teenager, image is everything,” Johnson said.

Speechwriter Oh, too, noted the importance of taking a stance against bullying.

“The Rutgers incident … it hits home in society. It’s a great way to bring awareness to the issue,” she said.

Students agreed the day was a success and gave them good insight into the world of politics from sources they could relate to. But they weren’t the only ones who were impressed.

“I see the glimmer in their eyes. They asked great questions and were really working well together,” Judge said. “There is potential in all of them.”

Harriet Snyder said the day’s activities gave the young students a real voice in today’s society. In a culture where women wait to be asked to do something, Snyder said, the group focuses on empowering women to have their voices heard.

“It’s amazing. They do such a wonderful job,” Snyder said.

About Melissa DiPento

If it happens in Cherry Hill, I want to know about it. I'm a South Philly resident/South Jersey suburbanite and will see the story first-hand, even if that means riding my single-speed bike along Route 70. I especially enjoy writing about politics and sustainability.View all posts by Melissa DiPento