HAMMOND — With a record-setting 170 women and several men in attendance Thursday, the Women’s Leadership Breakfast “Power of Women & Volunteerism” showcased the many ways women of all ages are transforming the Region through volunteerism.

Part of the Lake Area United Way’s Real.Strong.Girls. movement, the event at the Indiana Welcome Center emphasized how “a dynamic community of women from all walks of life recognizes girls’ strengths…and works to improve their confidence, self-esteem and self-resiliency,” said Lisa Daugherty, LAUW president/CEO.

“We use the power of our time, talent and resources to change the lives of girls in our community,” Daugherty said.

An eight-member panel shared their own personal and professional experiences with mentoring, advocating and volunteering to make live better for others. They also addressed what challenges in the Region make volunteerism so critical, how women can leverage their time and talents to volunteer and what is missing in the marketplace that would foster more volunteerism.

Those panelists included the following:

• Aaliyah Stewart, a senior at Merrillville High School, started her ASW foundation at 14 to provide college scholarships for students after losing her two brothers to violence. “I look at things with a spiritual eye. I’m rich because I’m rich in the spirit,” Stewart said. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. I love volunteering.”

• Colleen Bergen, principal of Scott Middle School in Hammond, said there is a great need inside and outside of school for donations including equipment so students can play sports.

• Jill Schuleter-Kim, executive director of Girls on the Run, said “Giving just a small amount of time is so important. Never underestimate the gifts you can give.”

• Judge Inga Lewis Shannon, Gary City Court, talked about Project Rebuild, a truancy program that helps children learn various skills and to give back to others.

• Julie Bieszcat, president of Barney Enterprises, said there needs to be “a general awareness of need. … As parents we need to understand how to help others.”

• Norma Serrano Williams, president of Excellence by Design, said, “There is an incredible shortage of affordable housing for single mothers. … It is a shame that we don’t support our sisters.”

• Indiana state Sen. Eddie Melton, said, “It’s difficult for people with full-time jobs and families to find time to volunteer. We need to find where we can help.”

• Violet G. Sistovaris, NIPSCO executive vice president and president, said “We need to instill this lesson of giving back and teach that to our children, our nieces and nephews.”

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