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Women empowerment through purses and community

Erin Brockovich was this year’s keynote speaker at annual Women’s Fund luncheon

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October 3, 2023

ASHWAUBENON – Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, the focus of the Women’s Fund of Green Bay has always been to empower women and girls – which the nonprofit accomplishes by supporting organizations and initiatives that do just that.

The group’s annual Power of the Purse event – which was held late last month at the Resch Expo in Ashwaubenon – is one of the largest fundraising events the group hosts.

The annual luncheon helps raise money through silent auctions for purses.

At this year’s event, Stephanie Schultz, vice president of the Women’s Fund, said the keynote speaker – Erin Brockovich – aligned perfectly with the organization’s overall mission.

Brockovich, an environmental activist, consumer advocate and paralegal, rose to fame after “Erin Brockovich” was released in 2000 – a movie that highlights her instrumental part in the court case against Pacific Gas & Electric in 1993.

Though Brockovich said she’s passionate about her environmental work, she has just as much passion for – if not more – sharing in the excitement and energy of the Women’s Fund.

“I’m learning through my life, the power of finding ourselves, and that the collective of our community is contagious,” she said. “The minute I got (to the event), I felt that way – just the energy (of) everyone coming together for a good cause. I think that’s what it’s all about.”

Stephanie Schultz, vice president of the Women’s Fund of Green Bay, said Erin Brockovich’s work and values align well with the organization, making Brockovich a great keynote speaker for the event. Photo Courtesy of Shayna Marie Wild & Free

Schultz said Brockovich nailed the purpose of the Women’s Fund of Green Bay right on the head.

“Our mission is… to build up women and girls in Northeast Wisconsin, and ultimately to raise money so we can continue to give out grants to the amazing programs many people are running,” she said. 

Why Wisconsin?
When Brockovich reflected on the “Erin Brockovich” movie, she said it “yes, it was about the environment, but there is a lot of subtext in that film,” such as gender role issues.

“Many women often feel like they’re not fitting a role that somebody else says you should or shouldn’t do, and oftentimes second guess themselves…” she said. “I have learned more about myself working in these communities (and with) other women across the globe, we share something in common. And that is a voice that often, because of noise, tells us ‘you can’t. You’re not the right person. You shouldn’t. You’re not wearing the right clothes. You don’t have the right education.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Recognizing that other women struggle with these same hurdles, and having the opportunity to band together for a common purpose, Brockovich said, is why she chose to come to Wisconsin and speak at the Power of the Purse event.

“I have learned in every single community, 100% of the time, it will be a mom who finds that courage and rises up to say, ‘no, I don’t believe that, this isn’t right… I’m getting involved,’” she said. “That exists right here with the Women’s Fund. It is my total honor, and with great excitement, I get to even share with them… where we’re going to begin to own that person. And that is a game changer.”

Working with women, for women
Brockovich said when she looks back on the last few decades of her life, she said it can feel “really overwhelming” to think about the impact she’s had on other women, the environment and beyond.

“It means a lot to me, honesty – transparency, working with people, helping and supporting,” she said.

Brockovich said she loves being able to take what she’s learned throughout her life and share those experiences with others.

“There’s a message I’ve learned, and it took me a long time in my own life to get it, and I want to share (that) with others and the younger generation,” she said. “If I can pass on any tricks or tools of the trade that can help them find that inner person, then I’m happy to do so.”

And, Schultz said, it’s “absolutely amazing” to have Brockovich speak on empowerment at the Power of the Purse event.

Erika Ritchie with the Greater Green Bay Foundation said this year’s luncheon is estimated to have raised more than $215,000. Photo Courtesy of Shayna Marie Wild & Free

“She is truly about empowering and inspiring others,” she said. “And having that presence in this community, and knowing she’s here to help us raise funds for such a great cause (is) wonderful.”

Much like the Women’s Fund made sure Brockovich aligned with the organization’s mission and values, Brockovich said she felt the same.

“I think (the Women’s Fund is) fabulous,” she said. “They all come together for a good cause to help uplift others, making this so important… I’m proud of the Women’s Fund. I’m thrilled and honored to be here. (A) huge congratulations to them for stepping up and making a difference.”

The Power of the Purse is the Women’s Fund’s largest fundraising event of the year, however, Schultz said the organization continues to raise money year-round through other programs and initiatives in Brown, Kewaunee and Oconto counties.

“And we continue to thank our sponsors who support us year-round because… (it) wouldn’t be possible without our sponsors that we’re able to help so many women throughout Northeast Wisconsin,” she said. “It is an honor and a privilege to be part of this organization, especially from the leadership side of the board.”

This year, the Women’s Fund has funded organizations such as the National Railroad Museum (Girl’s STEM Leadership camp), Oconto County Economic Development Corporation (All In-Girl’s Leadership Conference) and the Einstein Project (STEM Sisters).

According to the preliminary fundraising numbers, Erika Ritchie, public relations and communications manager of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, said the event is estimated to have raised more than $215,000.

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