Fourteen of New York State’s 62 counties — including Chautauqua County — are situated within Appalachia.
The Appalachia Regional Commission determined in June 2019 that within Chautauqua County there are seven economically “distressed areas” — one more since June 2018, and since July 2016, when Jane Cleaver Becker last spoke at the Chautauqua Women’s Club.
The poverty rate within each distressed area is at least 150% of the U.S. average.
At 9:15 a.m. Thursday, July 18 at the CWC, Becker and Hope Zielinski will give a presentation titled “Chautauqua Women2Women Caring and Coaching.”
Becker is an executive coach and consultant in Lakewood. Since 2014, she has been the leading impetus behind the all-volunteer Coalition of Chautauqua County Women and Girls, which “provides opportunities for women and girls to thrive … and build a better future.”
Zielinski is a rising senior at the State University of New York at Fredonia, majoring in business administration; a certified BNY Mellon Enactus student fellow; and the incoming COO of Enactus at SUNY Fredonia. In May 2017, she earned her associate degree in science business at Jamestown Community College and won the A.S. Outstanding Student Award.
Zielinski is currently the executive associate at the Women’s Club. This is the fourth season during which she’s been providing support to the CWC president, board of directors and all committees.
This year during her spring semester, which began in January, Zielinksi served as an intern with the coalition, focusing on marketing and public relations.
Initially, the work of the coalition has concentrated on two programs — Women2Women and Women & Finance — undertaken collaboratively with United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, of which Becker is a former board member and planning council chair.
The W&F initiative hosts interactive educational workshops specifically created for women to help them manage their personal finances throughout their lifetime.
W2W — the primary topic of Thursday’s talk — is an adult mentoring program designed to help women achieve their personal goals through one-on-one coaching relationships.
Although the overall approach has been the same, Becker said that at the southern end of Chautauqua County, the coalition’s focus has been on “women in poverty with their children” and “helping them become more stable financially.”
At the northern end — which is where SUNY Fredonia is located — the focus has been on traditional and non-traditional students.
“The coaches offer unbiased mentorship to women my age who are in or leaving college,” Zielinski said. “Having relationships with inspirational women is very useful because some people may not have that in their family. Having someone to talk through your plans with is useful. Should I go to graduate school, or should I work?”
According to Becker, the coalition’s first goal for students is for them to stay in school and then work through the challenges they’re facing.
W2W coaching “is about setting goals and helping people think about intentional change,” she said.
“We ask that the women not be in crisis,” Becker said. “… We spend time identifying the symptoms. … We have a referral process that gets (each) coach the support she needs for the woman she’s coaching or the woman’s family.”
Several years ago, Becker studied 2010 census data to determine the status of women and girls in Chautauqua County, and realized they were no better off than they had been 30 years earlier.
“Even with all the people working on this and all the resources spent, we’re not moving the dial,” Becker told the Daily in 2016, referring to what had concerned her after she dove into that census data.
Now, Becker considers the five years that have passed since she first gathered about 80 women together for a half-day meeting to discuss that data, and issues a call to action: “What are we, in this room, going to do with our resources?”
“I think one of our major accomplishments (of W2W) is that we’ve been able to print all of our training manuals,” she said. “We’ve had four to five rounds of training coaches. … There are 40 pairs at any time. We’ve pulled it all together. Now we’re in a position to share this with other organizations. When I spoke (at the CWC) before, we were still piloting; now we’re in full flow.”
Becker said her message to other groups and volunteers is that “we’re here to support you and to train you,” because “training other organizations is the only way to scale up.”
She said her first goal is to scale up in Chautauqua County and engage other groups.
“But I feel it’s good to engage with other communities, so that’s why I’m glad we’re coming to the Women’s Club,” Becker added. “I know a lot of women who do good works in their communities.”
She said she would like women from other places to collect basic demographic data about the women and girls in their communities, and to do so without taking down names and other identifying information.
Even though another area in northern Chautauqua County was added to ARC’s “distressed” list just last month, thanks to Becker, Zielinski and the coalition, progress is being made for women living there, too.
“We really feel like we’re ready to go to scale,” Becker said. “Chautauqua County’s greatest asset is these amazingly talented women. (Zielinkski) is an example. … We had a gathering of nearly 200 people in April. She got the message out, including through social media. … We’re at a different stage than we were a couple years ago.”