Keynote speaker Arlene Samen, left, with Women of Inspiration honorees Geri Ann Carty, Natalie Orfalea and Patsy Hicks and Girls Inc. of Carpinteria Executive Director Victoria Juarez at the Women of Inspiration Luncheon and fundraiser benefiting Girls Inc. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo))

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The recent “Women of Inspiration” luncheon and fundraiser at the Girls Inc. of Carpinteria headquarters was a gathering for empowering girls to be smart, strong and bold, and honored three local women as mentors and leaders within the community.

The luncheon began with welcoming messages from two Girls Inc. members, National Scholar Ana Delgado and Noelia Romero, who are both continuing a tradition of excellence in the organization that has produced 19 national scholars since 1995.

“Joining the Girls Inc. Eureka! Program is probably the best decision I made,” Delgado said. “Eureka! is a five-year program that mentors girls in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) while advocating the importance of obtaining a higher level in education.”

Carpinteria High School’s Delgado is a member of Junior State of America, the largest student-run organization in the United States that engages youths in today’s government and current events. She is president of her school’s chapter and serves on Southern California’s cabinet as the Channel Islands region director of development. She said it is through this involvement that she has found her passion, and is now interested in studying political science and sociology at Brown University or Tufts University.

“Through weekly debates and seasonal conventions, JSA has given me more than the opportunity to meet other students interested in government. I have learned to think critically about current events, how to advocate my own opinion, and how to lead democratically,” Delgado said. “As I got more involved in JSA, I realized that this interest is actually my passion.”

Romero is a senior at Carpinteria High School who found Girls Inc. to be a safe place for her when her home life was not ideal. She said she has not only made lifetime friends with Delgado and others like Arianna Lopez, but she is now encouraged to explore college prospects with a goal to earn a degree in nursing to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.

“The idea of going to college was nonexistent at one point because I did not have an example from my older sister to reference back to,” Romero said. “My older sister was not invested in going to college, so by being at Girls Inc. I have been influenced by the people here.”

She has spent the past two summers volunteering at Girls Inc., and also has discovered a love for working with kids.

“Stepping into the role of a mentor gives me power to become a role model and to demonstrate to girls that they can succeed in what they puts their minds to,” Romero said. “I am truly honored that I was put in a position where I can positively influence girls to be leaders, doctors or whomever they want to be.”

Romero is involved with the Interact Club at her school, of which she has been a member for two years. The club is a partnership with the Rotary Club focused on community service in Carpinteria.

Girls Inc

The luncheon began with welcoming messages from two Girls Inc. members, National Scholar Ana Delgado and Noelia Romero. (Melissa Walker / Noozhawk photo)

Money raised at the event will be used to support Girls Inc. programs, including a newly launched literacy initiative that targets K-3.

“Literacy is not a sexy topic and does not feed or house the homeless or cure cancer, but the reality is one in five kids leave school illiterate in the United States. The impact is devastating on our nation, economy and the lives of girls and women. At Girls Inc., we are working every day to address this through the literacy initiative,” Executive Director Victoria Juarez said. “Girls performing below the proficiency benchmark are placed in small groups based on skill level and given 30 minutes of support four days a week. We know children who read at grade level by the end of third grade are shown to be more likely to experience academic success and graduate high school on time.”

Both girls confidently strode to the podium to share their experiences with Girls Inc. and their excitement for the future.

Introductions to the 2016 Women of Inspiration led to presentations on the impact of Geri Ann Carty, Patsy Hicks of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and Natalie Orfalea of the Orfalea Foundation.

Carty has lived in Carpinteria for 34 years, having spent time working as a nurse, and is a former Girls Inc. of Carpinteria executive board member.

“I was so honored and humbled to be recognized as a Woman of Inspiration for Girls Inc and to stand beside the other honorees, Natalie Orfalea and Patsy Hicks, and guest speaker Arlene Samen, who embody the spirit, courage and tenacity of the Girls Inc motto, to be ‘Strong, Smart and Bold,’” Carty told Noozhawk. “I was so impressed with the co-emcees, who radiate confidence, joy, wisdom and enthusiasm — a true testament to the power of the love, support, programs and opportunities at Girls Inc. I have been so blessed in my life to be surrounded by extraordinary women who give so much of themselves and inspire me every day. I am also very fortunate to have a family that believes in volunteerism and philanthropy.”

Hicks has worked at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art for the past 20 years, serving as Teen Programs coordinator, and has served on the board of trustees at Cate and Crane schools.

Orfalea is co-founder and chair of the Orfalea Foundation, and an executive coach, businesswoman and philanthropist. She is a member of UC Santa Barbara’s Council for Arts & Lectures, and is a board member of Impact Partners, which finances documentary films addressing critical social issues.

Following these inspiring young women, guests were introduced to keynote inspirational speaker Arlene Samen of One Heart World-Wide, who has been a nurse practitioner in maternal fetal medicine for 30-plus years, and in 2004 left behind her clinical practice to dedicate her life to serving pregnant women living in the most vulnerable conditions.

“What I really want to inspire in these young women is never, ever let someone define failure for them, because it’s just not a reality,” Samen told Noozhawk. “One person’s failure could be another person’s greatest win. We should never allow anyone to define what failure looks like, because no matter how many times you fall down you can just get back up. And that each time that you do, you actually become stronger and more courageous. It’s important to have fierce compassion in your life, and as women we are the giver of life.”

Samen’s life changed when His Holiness the Dalai Lama enlisted her aid to help the women of Tibet, where she spent more than 10 years working side by side with the local government to bring a safe motherhood project to women who were poor, uneducated and living in remote mountainous areas.  

“He (Dalai Lama) has said to me over and over, never give up,” Samen said. “Never give up no matter what’s in front of you. And that was sometimes hard because I was faced with being held at gunpoint, earthquakes, SARS epidemic — so many challenges.”

Having had that unique opportunity to spend close time with him, she would have his picture by her bed for future difficult moments, allowing herself an opportunity to deal with challenges she faced on a daily basis. 

“It became kind of my mantra, and I would just have his picture next to my bed,” she said, “and I would just say that I want you to know that I am just going to give up for right now. Just for today. And then I will revisit what tomorrow looks like.

Juarez then shared remarks about the group of inspirational women with updates on Girls Inc. Closing remarks from board president Clyde Freeman summed up the annual event that always leaves guests with a jolt of inspiration.

Girls Inc. of Carpinteria provides cultural arts programs that expand young minds to explore performance, music and writing for teen and middle school-age girls. Healthy lifestyles and relationships are fostered in a setting that encourages engagement in business, athletics, arts and self-reliance in varied skills, including computers, science and history. Each of these unique programs provides a path for future leaders and enhances self-esteem to make responsible decisions.

All proceeds from the event will support the organization’s programs serving 700 girls, ages 5 to 18.

Founded in 1971, the summer camp for 33 girls has grown into a modern 16,000-square-foot facility that provides a computer lab, a full-service kitchen, a gymnasium, a theater and a SMART room for the study of science, math and technology.

Click here for more information about Girls Inc. of Carpinteria, or call 805.684.6364. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

Noozhawk iSociety columnist Melissa Walker can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.