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WE Series Launch

WE Series Launch

by Jason Farrell, Director of the Academic Skills Center and Writing Studio Coordinator, Keiser University—Fort Myers

The Women Empowerment (WE) Series launched on June 13, 2018 with the first group of girls arriving at Keiser University’s Fort Myers campus.  The series, funded by the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, is aimed at preparing girls for the unique challenges they may face as women in the workplace.  The event was organized and run by Keiser staff and faculty with guest speakers from the Southwest Florida community.

Lisa Barnes, Assistant Chief of the Cape Coral Police Department, spoke in the morning.  She shared her experiences at the academy—like passing the rigorous physical exams and enduring being pepper sprayed.  She told stories about the profession and what it is like to be a woman in a male-dominated field. “We [women] bring something different to the table,” she said, explaining how research and her own personal experience has shown that women are more effective at de-escalating tense situations.

“You get to experience different things,” said Leanora, 15.  “It’s cool, them taking time out of their day, to teach us the things they learned in case we are interested.”

In the afternoon, Rachel Rothenberger and Gervaris Leaphart, students in Keiser’s Sports Medicine program, spoke about physical health—the need to eat heathy foods and exercise—but also mental health.  Rothenberger shared how, once she graduated from high school, she felt limited by her own perception of herself.  “Be open to the things you love and believe in yourself,” Rothenberger said.  “You’re all made for really great things.” After the talk, the girls took part in a number of physical contests.   “You want to be an effective, powerful individual,” Rothenberger said as the girls passed around a medicine ball while performing wall sits in a hallway.

“Girls working out,” said Princess, 14.  “You don’t see that.  They taught us to stay healthy.  Being skinny doesn’t mean you’re healthy.”

After lunch, Heather Mazkewicz, Public Information Officer for the North Collier Fire Department, closed the event by speaking about starting her current career at 44 years old.  “I could have given birth to everyone else in my class,” she said because they were so much younger.  She then detailed the fire department’s own grueling physical exams, like climbing five flights of stairs wearing 100 pounds of equipment, pulling a 60 pound tire up three stories with a rope, and dragging a 160 pound dummy to safety.

Each task elicited collective groans from the girls.  A few insisted that this would be impossible.

“You could do it,” said Heather.  “You could if you want it.”

The next WE series event will be on June 27, 2018.  Barbra Melvin, Vice President of Banking at First Florida Integrity Bank, and Marlene Messam, Transportation Engineer of Collier County, will be the guest speakers.


This summer, Florida Weekly has graciously allowed us, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, to spotlight the nonprofit organizations funded through the Foundation’s 2018 competitive grant cycle.  We have asked these grantees to share their stories. We are pleased to partner with these change-makers.


About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
The Southwest Florida Community Foundation, founded in 1976, cultivates regional change for the common good through collective leadership, social innovation and philanthropy to address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation partners with individuals, families and corporations who have created more than 400 philanthropic funds. Thanks to them, the Foundation invested $5.4 million in grants and programs to the community. With assets of $115 million, it has provided more than $71 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves since inception. The Foundation is the backbone organization for the regional FutureMakers Coalition and Lee County’s Sustainability Plan. Currently, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation’s regional headquarters are located off College Parkway in South Fort Myers, with satellite offices located on Sanibel Island, in LaBelle (Hendry County) and downtown Fort Myers. For more information, call 239-274-5900 or visit



Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!