By LISA CAPOBIANCO
When Latasha Turnquist graduated from the Women in Transition program at Charter Oak State College in July 2009, her opportunities exploded.
The mother of three children, Turnquist attended graduate school at the University of Hartford where she received her master’s degree in education. Within just three months of graduating, the Board of Education in Manchester offered her a job.
“My opportunities soared—I went from being a part-time parent educator to a full-time coordinator to now the director of the Family Resource Center for the Manchester Board of Education,” said Turnquist. “I oversee eight programs and five staff.”
Raised by her grandparents, who had a fifth grade education, Turnquist never thought she would be sharing her story of success before a crowd at the Main Street Community Foundation’s 14th Annual Wonder of Women event, which was held at the Aqua Turf last Tuesday.
The Wonder of Women is a fund raiser whose proceeds fund the annual grant cycle of the Women & Girls’ Fund. Sponsors included Barnes Group Foundation, MassMutual, KPMG LLP, and several other businesses and organizations.
Last year, proceeds from the WOW event supported over $36,000 in grants to 12 local organizations serving women and girls in Bristol, Plainville, Southington, Burlington, Plymouth, and Wolcott. In addition, $4,000 was provided for the Women and Girls’ Immediate Response Fund.
Charter Oak was one of these 12 organizations that benefited from the grant cycle last year, receiving $3,600 for its Women in Transition program. Established in 1999, the Women in Transition program helps under-served and low-income single mothers enrich their lives by completing their college degree through Charter Oak.
From July 2004 to July 2009, Turnquist attended the Women in Transition program at Charter Oak, where she received both her associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree. Since working for the Manchester Board of Education, Turnquist said she has seen her income increase over the years. She now owns a vacation home and a rental property.
Turnquist said she wanted to share her success story to show the “powerful impact of the Women in Transition program.”
Over the past 14 years, the program has supported more than 190 women, and continues to have a graduation rate of 72 percent, said Angela Chapman, who works at Charter Oak and serves on the advisory board for the Women & Girls’ Fund. The initiative offers not only laptop computers and Internet access, but also textbooks, scholarships and academic/career counseling.
“Latasha is a true testament to the success of the Women in Transition program, a program that changes the lives of…single mothers every day with the help of the Women and Girls’ Fund,” said Chapman before a crowd of over 400 guests.
Created in 2001, the Women & Girls’ Fund is a community-based endowment at Main Street Community Foundation. The fund serves females of all ages in Bristol, Plainville, Southington, Burlington, Plymouth/Terryville and Wolcott. Over the past 13 years, the fund has awarded more than $290,000 in grants and immediate response funds to over 80 organizations that support women and girls in those communities. The funds for these grants come from three sources: proceeds of the annual WOW event, the endowment, and two named funds whose distributions support the initiatives identified by the Women and Girls’ Fund. To date, the Women and Girls’ Fund endowment is valued at over $400,000, which represents 80 percent of its goal.
“We are here…to celebrate the female spirit and raise funds to support grant-making efforts that we, at the Women and Girls’ Fund so cherish,’ said Jeanine Audette, chair of the Women and Girls’ Fund Advisory Board. “We need to keep in the forefront the importance of something as simple as a smile, an encouraging word, a gesture of kindness, [and] a piece of advice.”
This year, the event featured WFSB Channel 3 television personalities Scot Haney and Irene O’Connor as guest speakers. During her speech, O’Connor shared the story of her mother, who worked several jobs while raising her children alone.
“We all know women who keep the wheels on every single day—they are the glue,” said O’Connor, when reflecting on the meaning of the ‘wonder of women’. “Many women work several jobs like my mom did.”
During its annual meeting held earlier this year, the foundation distributed a total of $39,650 to local organizations, including $3,500 for the Bristol Family Resource Centers and $2,500 for Bristol Youth Services.
During the WOW event, the crowd learned of the impact the fund has made on other individuals supported by these local organizations, including Bristol students Neci Kalisz and Cristal Carabello, who both participated in Bristol Youth Services’s Skills to Pay the Bills Program last summer. An eight-week program that provides social/family life education and develops independent living skills for teenage girls, Skills to Pay the Bills has helped girls bond and learn from one another. From college planning and career planning to budgeting and apartment-hunting to nutrition, Kalisz and Carabello said the skills they learned through the program were invaluable.
“I knew Skills to Pay the Bills could benefit me on gaining more knowledge about topics that could give me a better understanding of my future needs,” said Kalisz, who attends West Woods Academy, adding how her resume skills improved. “From day one, the program impacted me in a positive way. We did and learned a lot more than I expected.”
“Without this group I wouldn’t know important life skills that I do now,” said Carabello, adding how she learned to change a tire through the program.
The Women and Girls’ Fund also supported the Providers Responsive Early Care and Education Program at Bristol Family Resource Center. The program offers training and education for women who are licensed home daycare providers.
Linda Rich, director of Bristol Family Resource Center, recognized how the Women and Girls’ Fund also is about the experience. Whether helping grandparents who are raising their grandchildren or seniors citizens who need heating assistance. During the event, Rich read aloud the thank you letter from a single mother and her daughter, who was able to learn more and have fun through her experience in Girl Scouts.
“The experience was that someone cared and believed in them,” said Rich.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@BristolObserver.com.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN