In just a few short years, the Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute Luncheon has become one of the most inspiring events of the season. That’s not only because it is hosted by former U.S. Sen. Snowe and supports young women coming into their own by helping to develop their values, voices and vision, but because it’s an afternoon of sisterhood, support and connection.

“This is women supporting other women, and I am all in for that,” Melissa Smith, president and chief executive officer of Wex Inc., said at the fourth annual Leadership Luncheon, held at Holiday Inn By The Bay in Portland on Dec. 6. “I love that Olympia Snowe is creating a legacy.”

Founded by Snowe and supported by countless community and corporate leaders, Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute currently serves 465 young women who are supported by 200 trained advisors at 36 public high schools in all 16 counties.

“I’ve always admired Olympia Snowe,” said Amy Volk, a former state senator who attended the luncheon with her husband, Derek. “She’s been a major role model in my life. It’s been so good to talk with some of the young ladies attending this program. They are so impressive.”

Nearly 700 guests enjoyed a gluten-free lunch and listened attentively to program members Portland High School junior Casarra Abeasi and Biddeford High school senior Olivia Whittaker, as well as program alumna Sadie Pinard, before hearing from the founder herself.

“Together, we a part of a rising tide across Maine that is lifting and supporting our next generation of leaders, as we build the confidence and aspirations of one of our state’s most precious resources, our young women,” said Snowe, welcoming the crowd warmly. “That is what it’s all about, and the reason for this institute, helping others to become the promise they possess.”

Snowe then introduced keynote speaker Carla Harris, vice chairman and managing director of Morgan Stanley, who gave a powerful address that clearly affected the audience.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” explained Tessa Wadsworth, an Olympia’s Leader from Leavitt Area High School in Turner. “It’s built my confidence and allowed me to communicate with people with confidence. I am so thankful for the program.”

“Going into the program, I didn’t know what to expect,” said Jenna Boucher, another Olympia’s Leader from Leavitt Area High School. “I didn’t know how to use my voice to convey my beliefs and ideas. This program helped me realize my values and find my voice in the world.”

“Our main focus with our charitable giving is education,” explained Cary Olson-Cartwright, assistant vice president of corporate social responsibility at Unum, who is an Olympia’s Leaders advisor and a board member of the institute. “To have our senior leaders involved as mentors is transformative for both the girls and the women who serve.”

“The leadership and women’s movement here in Maine is so amazing,” said Maili Lafayette of Scarborough, who is a stylist and runs Beachology in Old Orchard Beach. “I come to this because it’s a way for me to be inspired.”

Margaret Logan is a freelance writer who lives in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]

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