Cool Girls with Tag: featured

Tasha Marie Gillum

Name: Tasha Marie Gillum
Age: 39
Location: Lynchburg, Va
Occupation: Bonner Leader Program Coordinator

Tasha Marie Gillum grew up being active and enjoying the terrain of Northern Virginia, but it took trying on – and selling – some different shoes to get her to the career in community enrichment and experiential education that she enjoys today.

After graduating from Sweet Briar College, Tasha had six months before she had to start paying back her student loans.

“I hiked the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia and then returned to my mother’s house and sold shoes at a large outdoor retailer for a few months,” she recalls.

After years of being involved with outdoor education at her alma-mater, and having had life-altering experiences in nature as a result, Tasha knew that selling shoes wasn’t where she wanted to wind up.

“Being stuck indoors all day talking about getting outside was not beneficial to my soul,” she says. “I knew I wanted to run a college outdoor program and provide transformative experiences for other women, just as I had experienced.”

She went to work for outdoor schools in Central Virginia and Colorado before she went for her graduate degree in experiential education. She ran outdoor programs at University of Las Vegas, worked as faculty at the Teton Science Schools in Wyoming, and finally returned to Lynchburg.

“It was almost a decade after I graduated that I returned to give back to the program that meant so much to me as a young woman,” Tasha says.

As a Bonner Leader Coordinator, Tasha works within the University of Lynchburg to recruit, train, supervise and assist Bonner Leaders within the curriculum and the community.

“The Bonner Foundation’s motto is “Access to Education, Opportunity to Serve,”’ Tasha explains. “The Bonner Leader Program at the University of Lynchburg provides an “opportunity to serve” by leveraging work-study funding to enable students to earn money for college through their community work with local non-profits.”

Nearly 65 colleges and universities across the country are a part of the Bonner Program, which serves to provide financial access to college while simultaneously forwarding civic engagement.

Schools with Bonner Leaders are required to have a minimum of 75% of the participating students qualifying for Federal Work Study. These schools have the option to award students with “College Work-Study” or some other private source for the student stipends.

These leaders dedicate their undergraduate careers to making an impact through service, may it be as a part of social justice community projects, local nonprofits, or other affiliated agencies. Over their four years of education, they become engaged in community service that dovetails with their academic and co-curricular learning. They do this throughout the academic and social rigamarole of the college experience, all while helping to meet the needs of the greater Lynchburg community. Their experiences culminate in a capstone project that they create with and for the community partner they have worked with throughout their education. Tasha works with these students helping them along the way as a mentor and supervisor.

“I enjoy watching a student lean into the opportunity to identify who they are, who they want to be, and what impact they want to create with their lives,” she says. “Bonners are enthusiastic about learning and leading meaningful community work, they’re open to having conversations and becoming agents of change.”

In the current COVID world, Tasha is connecting the new class of Bonner Leaders to the Lynchburg community through virtual community engagement experiences while maintaining the requisite social distancing.

“It’s wonky as all get out!” Tasha admits. “Our community vibe is not lost, but we’re finding creative ways to cultivate and sustain it in a different way this semester.”

What message does this mountain biking, trail running, student mentoring leader coordinator have for young women growing up in this disconnected and reconnected world?

Creating practices to listen to ourselves is the best direction we can receive. We are connected and intuitive beings. When you know, love and trust yourself, you’ve got all the answers you need to find direction.”

For her community engagement and connection to the Lynchburg Bonner Leader program, we think Tasha Marie Gillum is a very Cool Girl!

Learn more about the Bonner program at the links below!

Bonner Foundation

University of Lynchburg Bonner Program

Erica Wiley

Name: Erica Wiley
Age: 39
Location: San Jose, CA
Occupation: Prevention Education & Community Engagement Coordinator at YWCA Silicon Valley, Mother, Survivor

Erica Wiley is a survivor who uses her previous hardships to prevent harm to others. This mother and San Jose native works to educate young people about what healthy boundaries in relationships look like. Sometimes it’s as simple as letting them know that what they see in the movies isn’t real life.

“When I was a little girl I dreamt of being a famous dancer. Growing up in the 80’s I watched movies like Dirty Dancing, Grease, and anything with Molly Ringwald,” Erica remembers. “I also dreamt of the day I would be swept off my feet by “prince charming,” I thought at a young age that my end goal was to be married and have children, that by the age of 25 I should be happily married, living out the ‘American Dream.’”

Erica found her desire for a partner was deeply influenced by what she saw on TV. She yearned for a perfect partner while, in reality, like many other young people, she didn’t know what a healthy relationship actually looked like.

In 2017, Erica was 36 and a single mother of two. She had just extracted herself from a 4 year relationship that was plagued by abuse. She was hoping to heal and move on.

“The relationship was toxic from almost the very beginning, but I was so in love with the idea of being in love that I missed the warning signs,” she explains.

After leaving him, she discovered that the most dangerous part of leaving an abusive relationship sometimes occurs after the breakup. Things for Erica suddenly got worse.

“It began with non-stop harassing phone calls, texts, and emails. This went on for months, with no response from me in hopes the harassment would stop.”

But ignoring the onslaught only seemed to further inflame him. After distributing private photos and videos of Erica on social media, local law enforcement got involved. Her ex violated the restraining order within three days and he was arrested. After countless scheduled and rescheduled court appearances, Erica finally was able to get justice. A year and a half after his arrest date, her ex was found guilty.

“I tell my story because it was the most difficult time in my life, having to advocate for myself, feeling like there was a barrier around almost every corner. It’s not easy for a survivor of domestic violence to get the help or support they need. I had to advocate for myself every step of the way, with little to no help from the justice system,” she remembers.

With the support of her friends and family, she was able to get her life back. But she was dogged by the knowledge that there were other survivors out there who didn’t know where to turn. It was then that she began to volunteer at the YWCA Silicon Valley.

“YWCA is a nonprofit organization that supports survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking,” Erica explains. “My first experience with YWCA was volunteering at their 2017 Inspired Luncheon. Listening to the stories of other survivors of gender-based violence was truly inspiring. I registered for YWCA’s 65-hour sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking counselor training in spring 2018.”

From there, Erica’s activism took off. She was introduced to the Education and Outreach Team and began to teach young people about consent, healthy boundaries, body ownership, and how to safely intervene in harmful situations. By 2018 Erica had been hired as a Prevention Specialist in school-based programming for that same YWCA. She now oversees the domestic violence and sexual assault prevention for grades K-12 throughout Santa Clara County.

Today, Erica helps to support and empower survivors of gender-based violence, while also educating young people to stop violence before it starts.

“Though this job can be hard sometimes, if I can help one person not become a victim of gender-based violence, then I feel I’m doing something right,” she says.

And what advice does Erica have to young girls who are struggling to find their place in this world?

“You are important, you are worth it, and you are special. The secret to happiness is self-love, once you truly love yourself the possibilities are endless and happiness will find you.”

For her courage, strength, and compassion in action, we think Erica Wiley is a very Cool Girl!

Check out YWCA of Silicon Valley at https://ywca-sv.org/

Shalonda Menefee

Name: Shalonda Menefee
Age: 45
Location: Portland, OR
Occupation: Homebuying Specialist and Entrepreneur

Artist, coach, and entrepreneur Shalonda Menefee cannot be easily confined to a single label. This community leader makes sure to channel her energy into many productive and inspiring avenues any chance she gets.

“I consider myself a creative “healing artist,”’ she explains. “I’m a certified Sacred Woman Practitioner, energy worker, empowerment coach, clothing designer, mystic and artist. I’m trying to find a name that encapsulates all of who I am as there really is no label for what I do,” she laughs.

It was through years of life experiences and struggles that sparked Shalonda to start SISTAS: SISTAS Initiating Strategies to Achieve Success. Working with her community, she hosts empowerment workshops and events that help other women grow and maximize their full potential.

“Shortly after high school, I became a young mother and a wife. I did not continue the path I had hoped for myself, and retreated to taking care of my family. I also carried  a little shame of having to drop out of college and losing my full scholarship all after being a Rose Festival Princess,” she explains.

It was only after she returned to college at 24, a divorced single mother of three, that she felt compelled to look for encouragement from those around her.

“I began to reach out to the community to find support in helping me regain my confidence and self-esteem as a black woman in Oregon, let alone a single black mother,” she says.

She found that, at that time, a sisterhood movement wasn’t available, so she created SISTAS as a place women of color could come and feel connected. This fostered a community that allowed women to lean on each other for resources, support, and encouragement.

Beginning in 2005, Shalonda began to hold SISTAS monthly gatherings where her friends would have dinner and share ideas. Over the years, it has expanded and shifted, with SISTAS holdingvarious workshops and events, providing business consulting and empowerment coaching, as well as crafting clothing and accessories. There is even a Back 2 Basics Youth program as well as the SISTAS Doll Workshops, and Shalonda is now working to achieve nonprofit status for SISTAS Empowerment Corp.

“SISTAS’s mission is creating an atmosphere of empowerment,” Shalonda explains. “It’s a movement that encourages and honors healing, individual expression, empowerment, and unapologetically embracing and honoring who we are inside and out, no matter our past and current circumstances.”

After several losses that weighed heavy on Shalonda’s emotionally, she decided to use her sewing machine to get her out of a depression. She took to creating and sewing cloth dolls and headwraps and accessories as a method of healing, and it was from that experience that the SISTAS doll workshops were born.

“I made my very first cloth doll in 2012, and that was so therapeutic I developed SISTAS Dolled Up workshops. This led into headwraps and accessories, which led me into making my first skirt. It was shortly after making the skirt my mother reminded me that I used to talk about being a clothing designer, and I’d sketch different types of clothes in high school. Life took me a different route, but now I’m back.”

Currently, Shalonda is working on an associated clothing line, called SHAMEN, which includes a New Normal 4 Now line of protective masks and accessories.

“As I began  to learn tools to heal and grow, I learned to tap into my inner power,” Shalonda recalls. “I wanted to make sure I created the things that I needed so that others could have resources and support. In Oregon, there is a small population of black people, and it is hard to feel safe and encouraged with so much institutionalized racism and prejudices. With so many barriers, it’s hard to really feel confident that you could be successful. But it’s also challenging to pursue something if you feel like you are alone.”

Today her sewing is being used to create masks and protective gear in light of the current pandemic, further proving that – like the community – the SISTAS enterprise is vast and adaptable.

What advice does this inspiring and passionate community leader have for young girls out there, growing up in these chaotic times?

“No matter what you have been through, know that you have survived, and you are stronger than the day before. Even the hardest experience we survive is a testimony of victory, and overcoming that will help someone else.”

“Always choose you first! Have a lot of fun learning about yourself,” she adds. “Always stay safe.”

Incredible advice! For her tireless work lifting up her community and helping others to heal and grow, we think Shalonda Menefee is an exceptional Cool Girl!

Follow along with Shalonda at any one of the links below!

Websites:
www.empoweredsistas.com
www.NewNormal4now.com
Coming Soon: www.shalondamenefee.com and www.tribeofshamen.com

FB:
@SISTASLLC
@SISTASVisiblyInvisible
@Newnormal4now

Instagram:
@tribeofShamen
#newnormal4now
@SISTASLLC
@queendomwear
@SISTASvisiblyinvisible

Angie Ringler

Name: Angie Ringler
Age: 50
Location: Eustis, Florida
Occupation: Eco-Warrior

Free-spirit Angie Ringler has always been a self-propelled sustainable business machine! This Dead Head and eco-warrior has made her own brand of green company that provides ethically sourced and vegan household products, all with the mission to reduce waste.

This evolution began for her as a child in the 80s, when nearly every product was praised for its ability to be easily replaced.

“I grew up with fast food and disposable everything, although I learned about reusing stuff early on,” Angie recalls. “My Dad worked in procurement for the phone company, his job was to find places to send used parts to be reused or recycled. My favorite phone was a corded push button princess style phone that my Dad brought home from work. I loved that phone and I feel it was my first memory of trash being turned into treasure.”

As a student, Angie went to college to become a lawyer, and it was her exposure to the reams of paper produced by those offices that ignited her spark.

“I never made it to law school, but my years in the legal field made me crazy with the tremendous amount of paper waste. I didn’t know about the term ‘eco’ in those days so I guess the green girl in me has always been there, she just wasn’t as vocal as she is today.”

With her entrepreneurial spirit, she began her own business, Tangie LLC, initially striving to produce plastic-free laundry soap alternatives. Although she began with a goal of using natural ingredients, and thereby helping both the environment and her customers, the packaging itself became a means of forwarding her agenda.

“As I began to build my business, I realized that if I was selling products in plastic bottles or plastic packaging, I was still part of the problem,” she recalls. “I later made the commitment to not sell products in plastic packaging and to focus on waste free products.”

It was this waste-free push that shaped her professional achievements, with Tangie now providing reduced waste options for dish washing, laundry, pets, and personal care. Her day-to-day endeavors include all of the details of running a wholesale and retail business, along with developing innovative ways to further expand on the zero-waste goal. And she no longer has to attempt to manage as a one-woman-show.

“I’m fortunate to have built a quality team around me in the last two years and that has made a huge difference in my growth,” Angie says. “I could not be where I am today doing it alone. I equally share my success with my team.”

Part of Angie’s mission is to stop and smell the roses, something that she’s acutely aware of as her waste-free company grows and thrives. Her hope is that Tangie and Waste Free Products can continue to develop long after her working days are done.

“My business has taken center stage for several years now and I agreed to that. But my I want to make sure I don’t let the business overwhelm my personal life, and my husband and I can do things together while we are still young and healthy. From the start I knew this business was something I wanted to build and grow, not build and die with.”

When she’s not growing her own food in tower gardens in her Florida backyard, running Tangie, listening to an audiobook, or spending some time in nature, she’s putting pen to paper and finishing her own how-to book.

So what advice does this earth-saving, waste-slaying maven have for young girls out there looking to save the world?

“Be authentic! When I was young, I never believed it when ‘old people’ would say things like ‘don’t worry what others think’ or ‘do things you enjoy not what others expect.’ It’s taken me decades to realize what they were telling me is true. Being true to yourself is the best you can do and should do. The best I can hope for is that a lucky young girl reads this and gets the chance to enjoy decades of herself, being herself.”

Really good advice! For her work providing waste-free alternatives to common household products, we think Angie Ringler is a very Cool Girl!

Follow along with Angie on Instagram and Facebook!

Nancy Marchant

Name: Nancy Marchant
Age: 37
Location: Raleigh, NC
Occupation: Subject Matter Expert, Math/Statistics

Statistician and mathematician Nancy Marchant designs ways for students to understand the intricacies of subjects that most people find challenging. As an educational technology maven, Nancy creates step-by-step textbook problem tutorials that can be found online so that students can hone their skills in areas that they are struggling with.

“Originally, I wrote code for math and stats textbooks so that students could do their homework online and get graded instantly. This involved solving the original problem given in the textbook and then adding code so that numbers could be changed around, but the problem-solving process would remain the same and not be harder if a different set of numbers were used in that same question.”

Now this “Graph Queen” codes and creates new ways for students to relate to math and statistics through educational technology, which is a pleasant off-shoot of her former job as a high-school math teacher.

“After a few months of being a math coder, I wished I had been able to use something similar while I was teaching. Grading takes a lot of time, and anything I can do to help free up time for teachers so they can do research, create new materials, or spend extra time with their students is worth me not being in the classroom. I miss being in the classroom, but enjoy being able to still be in the field of education,” Nancy explains.

When she was growing up, Nancy always loved computer lab games like Number Munchers, and was fascinated by geometry and trigonometry. It was her high school band teacher who motivated her to explore teaching as a career choice, but she found that the part of education that she loved – explaining how to do something – was nearly overwhelmed by the other aspects of the job.

“The non-teaching aspects that come along with this profession took more effort than I anticipated. It wasn’t enough that I had lesson plans and a rough idea for specific units, I had to have organization practices set in place for each class period I had, and then for each student within that class. There was definitely an “Oh…” moment upon realizing that not everyone loves math and that teaching was more than standing in front of a classroom full of students spouting off how to do math,” Nancy recalls. “It was a lot of work to create engaging and meaningful lesson plans so that students would want to put in the effort.”

But following budget cuts in the public school system, Nancy found herself looking for a job, and it was then that she applied for a temp position as a “math coder” to create those step-by-step accompaniments to textbook questions. There she discovered how to combine tech and math in a novel way.

“For some questions this meant coding graphs, which I developed a deep love for. It became a challenge to mimic the exact appearance of a graph or geometric figure in a textbook – not just the functions that were used (that’s easy), but using the exact same colors, down to the specific RGB color code,” she explains. “This has morphed into taking a mathematical approach of breaking down images into geometric shapes; think back to books on how to draw anything from elementary schools – everything is comprised of circles, ovals, and maybe a couple of lines here and there. A strawberry frosted doughnut with sprinkles is nothing more than a beige circle with a white circle in the center, a filled in pink polar curve, and a bunch of multicolored points.”’

Yum! Math!

These days, Nancy is learning that her profession is more necessary than ever, as the world adapts with the migration of in-class academics to learning remotely.

“I very much enjoy working in educational technology where I can help take some of the more tedious tasks off instructors’ desks, like grading and extra tutorials, and I would like to continue finding new ways to do this, especially now that teaching and learning online are becoming increasingly necessary,” Nancy says.

So what does this donut making mathematician have to say for girls who might be struggling with the subject?

“Don’t be afraid of math! Math is more than just playing with numbers and solving for x, it’s about learning to apply logical steps to solve a problem. It may take some extra time and practice to understand, but so does reading a long book. Math is a beautiful language that builds on itself.”

For her work creating online learning opportunities, and for injecting creativity into math and statistics, we think Nancy Marchant is a very Cool Girl!