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Making Chicago the City Where Women and Girls Thrive

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As we approach the end of Women's History Month, I wanted to make sure I mentioned the impact that Chicago women have had on Chicago Foundation for Women and our society. We live in a city where we are privileged to have a long legacy of female pioneers and champions who dedicated their lives and careers to women and girls. These women have influenced everything from politics to science to education and beyond. In my job, I meet Chicago women everyday who share the same philosophy as these pioneers. All of these women share a common viewpoint: that women simply have to stand up for other women if we want to truly move the needle when it comes to women's equality and empowerment.They have used their voices, personal networks and passions to build a new agenda for women and girls, providing a hopeful course for generations to come.

Perhaps I'm biased, but Chicago is a special place for women. The women who hail from this city are more than historic; they are change agents. When I think of why we have a Women's History Month, I think of Jane Addams, a renowned social worker and activist. Jane Addams' settlement house became a model of social reform. She was a voice behind some of the largest issues of that time including the rights of immigrants, women and children. And later when the Unites States entered World War I, Jane Addams again used her voice to assist Herbert Hoover in relief work of food to women and children of the enemy nations. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931, the second woman to ever receive the coveted honor.

But, history is also being made everyday by new, emerging leaders. Recently, Chicago Foundation for Women honored five remarkable women at the 2013 Impact Awards, "Investing in Girls, Securing the Future." The women were being recognized for their commitment to providing life-changing programs and services that help girls grow and become the next generation of leaders. I like to think of this annual awards event like the Peace Prize for women in Chicago. The event started in 2005 and since then, over 50 visionary leaders who are advancing the well-being of women and girls in Chicago have been recognized. This year's honorees were a diverse set of women who are using art therapy, peace centers, spoken word, mentoring, and advocacy to help young girls throughout Chicago with the many challenges they face.

The honorees chose to step up and change the status quo for girls. They did not let their age, education, background or any preconceived notions of perceived power, discourage them from living out a their life mission to help girls thrive.

Felipa Mena, one of the 2013 Impact Honorees, is a wonderful example of a Chicago woman making history today. Felipa's life changed drastically on July 15, 2009. On that night her 20-year-old son, Angel, was shot and killed just steps away from Felipa's West Town home in Chicago. Despite this personal tragedy, Felipa has courageously dedicated her life to ending the systemic violence plaguing our community and helping to uplift children in Chicago's poorest neighborhoods. She created the Wells High "Peace Center." For the past three years, twice each week, she has worked with young women in peace circles, providing a safe place to talk about what's happening in their lives, receive mentorship from women leaders, increase their self-esteem, and learn peacemaking-skills. Participants credit Felipa's efforts with keeping them in school and helping them navigate relationships, including unhealthy power dynamics. Felipa is truly an example for us all to step up.

Leaders like Felipa and other Chicagoans like her ensure that girls are empowered, confident, and strong. Chicago's women and girls have a chance at a brighter future because of the work of women like Jane Addams, Dawn Clark Netsch, and the countless other women who are perhaps not as famous, but have dedicated their lives to giving women and girls a life full of opportunities.

This month, in honor of Women's History Month, let's all come together as women to support solutions to help other women. Let's work with women like Felipa to make Chicago, "The City Where Women and Girls Thrive."