Woodland women’s group aids tomorrow’s leaders

Kyle Brennan From left, Woodland for Women advisor Deb Flaherty, Olivia Zlamany, winner of the WWW Volunteer Abroad Scholarship, Sara Hughes, winner of the WWW Leadership Scholarship, and Woodland for Women advisor Lisa Olivere. - Photo by KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS – Two Prospect teens earned unique opportunities in leadership and volunteering thanks to the first ever scholarships awarded by the Woodland for Women Worldwide organization.

Sara Hughes, a Woodland senior, was awarded the Woodland for Women Leadership Scholarship.

Olivia Zlamany, a Woodland alumnus of the class of 2010, was granted the Woodland for Women Alumni Volunteer Abroad Scholarship.

Woodland for Women Worldwide was started last year by a group of Woodland students along with teachers Lisa Olivere and Deb Flaherty with the goal of helping women around the world go from situations of oppression to opportunity by fundraising and volunteering.

Hughes’ scholarship, worth about $2,300, provided her with full tuition to attend the National Young Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., last summer. The conference was a 10-day trip in which attendees learned about the functions of the government while touring the capital to see how national politics work.

“I’m hoping to study politics and international relations so it opened my eyes to what D.C. has to offer,” Hughes said. “We looked at the monuments dedicated to people in Washington and how they influenced our government today.”

Woodland for Women advisors Olivere and Flaherty praised the leadership abilities of Hughes, who is also the president of the Woodland Regional Student Council.

“Sara Hughes is the quintessential leader,” Olivere said. “She’s a standout as far as leadership. She’s the type of kid that, as an advisor you’ll be thinking of an idea to do, and Sara has already been on the phone making contacts before you even bring it up to her.”

Flaherty echoed Olivere’s sentiments.

“What makes her more remarkable is that we don’t have set leadership roles in Woodland for Women,” Flaherty said. “She took it to levels we never expected. People like her have become our foundation for this year.”

Hughes says she embraces her leadership roles.

“I really like being a leader,” Hughes said. “I like people looking up to me. I feel like being in that position you need to know what you’re doing or know who to go to. By going to this conference, I want to pass on this knowledge. It’s not going to be that Sara left—it’s that she left three Saras behind.”

Zlamany’s scholarship, worth about $2,100, will pay about half the cost to go on a six-month humanitarian trip to Ecuador. She will leave Jan. 10 and will be back in early June after working in Ecuador’s capital Quito at Camp Hope, which is a combination of an orphanage and a school.

Zlamany decided against attending college this fall after she wasn’t happy with her available opportunities. She said the time off has been valuable as she prepares for the first of what she hopes will be numerous trips for humanitarian aid.

“Even just taking the last four or five months off has been one of the most enlightening times of my life,” Zlamany said. “But it’s been difficult. You go from a very structured life in high school to not so structured.”

She said she would be lying if there weren’t some nerves in the final weeks before her trip.

“I’m incredibly excited, nervous, scared to go. I’ve never had to be so dedicated to a specific cause as this. I’m really thrusting myself into an adventurous lifestyle.”

Zlamany’s efforts will center on Camp Hope where about a quarter of the children have mental disabilities. She said the work group will be helping to reintegrate them into education since care for them is not as good as it is in the United States.

Olivere says Zlamany’s upcoming trip is just an extension of the goodwill and positive personality she’s shown in the past.

“Each and every time you mention her name, faculty members have nothing but good things to say about her,” Olivere said. “She loves to learn. She has a very curious mind. She’s fascinated by people, culture, and things she doesn’t know.”

“On an academic level she’s exceptional, but on an emotional level she is, too,” Flaherty added.

Both scholarships were funded entirely by the fundraising efforts by Woodland for Women Worldwide last year. The group raised about $16,000 through small fundraisers and the group’s main event, the Run for a Revolution road race.

“Most road races don’t take in much money,” Olivere said. “We had 400 participants and earned money from personal donations, small businesses, and student and faculty fundraising.”

The organization donated $7,000 to Somaly Mam and $3,000 to Camfed, both groups that help oppressed women in third-world countries. The rest of the money went to the two scholarships and functional costs.

Woodland for Women has already scheduled its second Run for a Revolution on May 21. The group encourages anyone interested in sponsoring, participating, or donating to visit its website, woodlandforwomenworldwide.org.