WRHS women’s group helps students become leaders

From left, Woodland for Women Worldwide advisor Deb Flaherty, WWW Volunteer Abroad Scholarship recipient Theresa Gillette, and WWW advisor Lisa Olivere. Not pictured, WWW Leadership Scholarship recipient Caitlyn Sousa. –KYLE BRENNAN

BEACON FALLS — In continuing its three-year-old mission to reinvest in the student population, the Woodland for Women Worldwide group recently awarded its two scholarships to a pair of Prospect teens.

Senior Caitlyn Sousa earned the Woodland for Women Leadership Scholarship while alumna Theresa Gillette, of the class of 2010, was granted the Woodland for Women Alumni Volunteer Abroad Scholarship.

The scholarships, which were both worth more than $2,000, were designed last year by WWW co-founders Lisa Olivere and Deb Flaherty to encourage growth in leadership and volunteerism by organization members.

“We have kids with huge hearts that understand their roles in the global community, and if you look at many volunteer organizations, they charge to be a part of it,” Olivere said. “Because it costs money to volunteer, it eliminates a lot of people trying to do it. So it’s part of our mission to help kids be able to do it.”

Sousa’s scholarship allowed her to attend a 10-day National Student Leadership Conference focusing on forensic science last summer at the University of Maryland and Washington, D.C., where she will also attend college next year at American University.

Sousa said she attended workshops on personality styles, group dynamics, public speaking, and stress management, while also listening to forensic science lectures and participating in a mock crime scene.

“I wanted to get involved with the conference because I saw it as an opportunity to expand upon my interests in leadership, volunteerism, and forensic science,” Sousa said. “I knew that attending this conference would enhance my knowledge on leadership and forensic science, which is not only important for me as an advocate with Woodland for Women Worldwide, but also for my future career.”

Flaherty said Sousa was a great candidate for the scholarship because of her longstanding commitment to WWW and her potential to become more of a leader.

“Caitlyn really put herself out there at the start,” Flaherty said. “We were just starting to know her but we didn’t know that she was a bit shy. She’s always had the leadership potential and always had the drive to fundraise and promote and do all this good work, but she just needed to develop her skills. She really wanted to do one of these conferences to help her grow.”

Olivere said that the group gives students the opportunity to step up in various roles, but sometimes students need more time to develop their leadership.

“One of the things we noticed when we started this group was that we had a lot of girls willing to help out and volunteer, but many of them were missing the leadership skills,” Olivere said. “We knew we needed to offer opportunities to hone those skills outside of Woodland.”

Gillette’s scholarship will help her pay for a month-long visit to Bogota, Colombia, where she will volunteer as a teacher to underprivileged children. She and former classmate Holly Herdman, who will be working at an orphanage, will be in Colombia from the end of May until the end of June.

Gillette, a sophomore at Lynchburg College in Virginia, said a similar experience last summer in St. Lucia made her want to pursue more volunteering.

“One of the things I learned from Woodland is that education is the root of change,” Gillette said. “Last summer I went to St. Lucia and did the same thing for middle and high school levels. I taught whatever they needed for two weeks. It was really difficult to leave because they needed the help so much. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it, but I wish I were still there.”

Olivere said the scholarship is particularly important because of the unique opportunity it provides.

“More than anything, we think traveling offers an education that kids can’t necessarily get in school,” Olivere said. “We wanted to provide our graduates the opportunity not only to travel, but to have the chance to give back to people less fortunate than themselves. People travel for a lot of different reasons. Sometimes it’s for a bucket list, and they no sooner leave than they forget about it. Her trip changed the trajectory of her life.”

“The fact that she went to St. Lucia and is eager to do more for a longer period of time, rather than just check it off her list, who knows what that could lead to for her,” Flaherty added. “She wants to do more, and I think that speaks volumes.”

Woodland for Women Worldwide is in its third year and has already been recognized by a number of prominent international organizations and celebrities for its efforts. Its annual Run for a Revolution is scheduled for May 19 at 10 a.m., and those interested can register and donate at woodlandforwomenworldwide.org.

Most of the proceeds will be going to Ethiopia Reads, a group trying to provide books, libraries, and teacher training in Africa.

“We’re hoping that Woodland for Women Worldwide will be solely responsible for building a library in Africa,” Olivere said. “They plan on building three libraries and three schools, and we’re going to have one of them.”