Women Aware seeking local leaders
By Russ Gifford

(Originally published in the Weekender, 01/02/03)

Photo by Russ Gifford

Katie Colling, Executive Director of Women Aware, sits in front of a wall featuring the famous J. Howard Miller painting titled "We can do it," circa the 1940s.

Women Aware is looking for a few good women.

"The goal, from the beginning, was 'How can we put the spotlight on women? Specifically, the women that are giving voice to the issues that cross our minds, and facing the realities of our lives in today's world?' " said Katie Colling, Executive Director of Women Aware, speaking of the annual Women of Excellence banquet. While the banquet isn't until March, the nomination window opens now.

"The essential mission and format has remained the same since it started in March of 1985: 'Look at these incredible nominees. Look at what they are doing every day.' " Almost 20 years later, the Women of Excellence nominations and awards have become a recognized symbol of the truly exceptional leaders and role models in Siouxland. "I am struck, as I always am, when I am around the past nominees and recipients of these awards. They are all incredibly accomplished women," said Colling.

The banquet is the major fundraiser for Women Aware, the non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the emotional and economic future of women in transition, through advocacy, education, information, and referral. "Women Aware helps by removing the barriers that stand between women and their goals, in the short term, and the long term," Colling said.

Nominate someone you know
It is likely you know many of these 'Women of Excellence.' It is also more than likely that you know one that others do not know. To nominate someone you know, call Women Aware at 712-258-4174 or e-mail wmaware@willinet.net and request a nomination packet.

Every March, appropriately scheduled during women's history month, six women are recognized by the Women Aware awards banquet. The women are nominated by individuals or organizations in one of six categories: Women Pursuing Truth, Women Striving to Improve the Quality of Life, Women Taking Risks, Women Working Creatively, Women Helping Women, and a Young Woman of Excellence. While only one woman in each category is chosen, the banquet honors all the nominees in a fantastic celebration of spirit and determination.

As an example, the 'Women Taking Risks' category recognizes women that have or are facing difficulties. Their efforts and successes show others the way to overcome their own difficulties. "These are our role models," said Colling.

The Women of Excellence Awards Banquet is a labor of love, pushed forward by many hands. Twenty or more members are part of the planning committee, which begins its work in September and October each year. Various sub-committees are formed to handle the details of the banquet, including the judging, promotion and all other parts of the event. Still, the important point is that the focus remains on women.

This year, the committee organized a commercial featuring many past recipients, and the production was a fascinating experience as past honorees gathered. They were from many different walks of life, and shared only one common theme, but that common theme of effort leading to achievement produced electricity at the gathering, Colling said.. "I get the same feeling whenever I am around these women. 'Look at these incredible nominees. Look at what they are doing every day.' "

History of Women Aware
"Legend is that during the social upheaval of the '70's, by the time it hit the Midwest, women realized they needed each other's support to meet the changes and challenges of increased divorces and early widowhood," said Katie Colling, Executive Director of Women Aware.

Originally a part of the Woodbury County Community Action Agency, Women Aware began by offering a mix of classes and programs to bolster the skills and self esteem of women. "These gatherings had fantastic speakers, and attendees were considered members," said Colling. "Almost any time I speak at a public gathering, a woman will come forward after the program to tell me they were an early member of Women Aware. That's a powerful bond."

But as the times changed, so too did the type of service offered by Women Aware. While the issues remain the same, time does not. Women Aware now provides one-on-one support, during the day, over the phone, in the office or at other service agencies. "The people we are helping are just too busy. Between work, children or health care issues, today's clients are very busy, and very stressed just maintaining their lives, or the lives of their family in difficult circumstances."

The programs provided by Women Aware include advocacy, education, information, counseling, referral and needs assessment. Clients meet with Barb Wingert, counselor and resource coordinator, for a comprehensive resource assessment. The outcome of this meeting is a to-do list, "Really, it is an action plan," said Colling. Recognition of the barriers and unresolved issues that are disrupting their lives, and development of the action plan to get them past those problems, is the goal of Women Aware.

While there are many parts of the Women Aware group, their key is one of directness. "We are a problem-solving agency," said Colling.

Women Aware is located in Suite 422 of the Davison Building, Sioux City. Call 712-258-4174.

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