The Olympia Snowe Leadership Institute kicked off its eighth year with a donors reception on August 2 at the Woodlands Club in Falmouth featuring a panel discussion with alumni and advisors.
“We now have 596 graduates from our program, girls who have completed the Values, Voice and Vision program,” said program founder Olympia Snowe, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1995. and in the United States Senate from 1995 to 2013. “We are on track to have 160 girls graduating from the program each year, thanks to all of you. We are growing by leaps and bounds, and expanding the universe of women leaders for Maine and beyond.
Individual tickets cost $500 each and the event sold out with just over 200 attendees.
The 10 alumni at the reception included keynote speaker Amara Ifeji, a 20-year-old Bangor High School graduate and rising junior at Northeastern University. “Being part of this institute has been central to my leadership journey,” said Ifeji, linking the Values, Voice and Vision program to his accomplishments. For her work in environmental science and activism, National Geographic last year chose her as one of 24 Young World Explorers. Ifeji is studying politics, philosophy, and economics at Northeastern and works full-time as the youth director of engagement and policy with the Maine Environmental Education Association.
“I’m surrounded by so much inspiration,” said Lillian Ranco, a 2022 graduate of Westbrook High School, who headed to Colby College to study government with an emphasis on economics. “Olympia has blazed its own trail and created this platform to share with all of us.”
Another 2022 Colby College graduate, Lora LaRochelle from Bath, said: “I wasn’t confident when I started the program and I didn’t talk about things that were close to my heart. But if I want to see change, maybe I should be. Interested in the applications of biostatistics, she plans to study mathematics and statistics.
Olympia’s inaugural class of leaders in Androscoggin County – where Snowe grew up – graduated from high school in 2018 and are now graduating from four-year colleges, and 32 of those 45 women chose to stay in Maine for their education. Today, girls from 36 partner schools in all 16 Maine counties are invited to the institute, which offers a curriculum equivalent to a college business leadership course spread over three years. The institute is supported by more than 20 advisors, all women, and a national network of business and community leaders.
Theresa McCarthy, who interned for Olympia Snowe in the 1980s, retired from the federal government in 2018 and is Olympia’s chief adviser in Bangor. “I appreciate the young people coming in,” she said. “And mentorships are the gateway to success.”
Being an Olympian Lead Counselor is a three-year commitment, following the same cohort of girls from sophomore through 12th grade. “We watch these young women develop and grow before our eyes,” said Kathleen Welter, vice president of human resources at Woodard & Curran. “These young women learn what is important to them very early in their lives.
“This program has given the girls the chance to use their voices and make connections,” said Kolleen Dougherty, an anesthesiologist at Spectrum Healthcare Partners and lead advisor at Olympia. “It’s so inspiring to meet young women with big aspirations.”
Participants say that the confidence gained by these young women is having an impact on their schools. “We all need strong leaders,” said Nicole Drew, a resource person at Leavitt Area High School in Turner. “And they don’t have to be the ones with the biggest voices.”
Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]