The Macon community was recently invited to participate in a community service project designed and executed by Wesleyan College students through Wesleyan’s Lane Center for Service and Leadership.
The Women With Purpose Festival was held Oct. 21. It highlighted women in the Macon-Bibb area who are trailblazing in music, art, dancing and entrepreneurship.
“We want to empower women,” Assistant Director of the Lane Center Julie Rogers said. “I think it’s important for the community both locally and [throughout] the world to make sure that women are given the right to do these kinds of things and have a fun time doing it.”
Rogers said that musician and current Wesleyan senior SaVana Cameron single-handedly organized the first Women With Purpose event last year. Cameron’s goal was to feature other female musicians in town, whom Rogers said Cameron felt did not receive enough support.
The Lane Center recognized Cameron’s work and helped her implement a larger-scale version of the festival this year.
Alongside female artists, the event featured cultural and educational speakers, women-owned businesses and a variety of local nonprofit organizations that benefit women and children.
The non-profit organizations included Safe Alone Inc, which provides free “Rape Escape & Female Empowerment” self-defense classes to women and girls in the Macon-Bibb area, as well as The Fuller Center.
All proceeds from the event benefitted the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia.
Many of the students involved in the Women With Purpose project were Servant Leaders, members of a select group who work with the Lane Center to develop leadership skills by giving back to the community.
International student and Wesleyan Servant Leader Eiei Neing volunteered for the table that showcased the Fuller Center, which she is involved with.
“The mission of the Fuller Center is to help low-income families to build their houses or to repair their houses,” she said.
She explained that the nonprofit was founded by the same people who created Habitat for Humanity and that the Macon branch is under the jurisdiction of one of her personal mentors, Dianne Fuller.
Dottie Stafford, who works for The Crisis Line & Safe House, worked a table with the goal of “raising awareness” about domestic violence and sexual assault as well as educating attendees about resources available for victims.
She said that the organization’s mission is “to empower people, people who feel like they don’t have a voice. We’re trying to be there and be a voice for them.”
The facility shelters those who have escaped from or been disenfranchised by domestic violence and facilitates a hotline for victims of abuse.
Stafford said that the Macon-Bibb community has been very supportive of the mission, but she believes there is still work to do.
“Every time we get a chance to get out in the community and talk about domestic violence and sexual assault, we take a little bit of that stigma and a little bit of that silence away from this powerful issue,” she said.
Stafford added that the Crisis Line & Safe House also has a presence on Mercer’s campus and will host an event in early November for students to anonymously reveal baggage they may be carrying regarding sexual assault or domestic violence.
Students from the different college campuses in Macon were also a part of the Women With Purpose Festival.
Reylene Kates, a first-year student at Mercer University, helped represent The Mentors Project of Bibb County with the goal of “recruiting new mentors” to match with children in the community.
A former mentee, Kates said that the purpose of the project is to connect K-12 students with an adult who serves as a role model and offers guidance on anything from navigating healthy relationships to applying for college.
She also said that mentors “create events” that help their mentees succeed.
“Last summer, I went to this summer project that helped me write essays for applications and internships,” she said. “It actually helped me create my resume.”
Now, Kates plans to major in biology at Mercer.
Kates’ friend and another previous mentee, Jaylon Williams, said that mentors “talk to girls about anything under the sun that you can think of [regarding] being a female.”
She said that “they feel so much better about themselves” as a result of having their mentors’ assistance and encouragement.
Williams is now a freshman at Middle Georgia State University.
“I made the right decisions, and it’s because of this program,” Williams said.
Both students felt that the initiative’s mission aligned with that of the Women With Purpose Festival because the program helps young people, especially girls, make the best choices about college, careers and relationships.
While community turnout was somewhat low, those who did attend the festival said they found it to be enjoyable.
Scarlett Sheikholeslam-Handel said she attended Women With Purpose to support her daughter, Azurée Sheikholeslam, a local artist and Wesleyan graduate who advertised her art studio.
Azurée Studios “specializ[es] in surrealistic painting and illustration as a means of artistic expression and social communication,” according to the artist’s Facebook page.
Sheikholeslam-Handel said that she “was really impressed with how Wesleyan put [the event] on” and how organizers supported the community’s women.
Rogers and the other volunteers said they hope to encourage more community members to attend future festivals, especially students from colleges other than Wesleyan.
“Women With Purpose is meant for anybody to come and to learn about all sorts of different things that they can do in the community,” Rogers said. “We have a lot of things to offer and we really think that it should be for everyone, not just for Wesleyan.”
My name is Emily Rose, I'm from Athens, Georgia, and I'm excited to be the Mogul President here at Mercer University. I'm a writer, musician, and pre-law student hoping to double major in Journalism and Law & Public Policy and minor in Women's & Gender Studies.