The Olympia Snowe Leadership Institute kicked off its eighth year with a donor reception Aug. 2 at The Woodlands Club in Falmouth featuring a panel discussion with alumnae and advisors.

“We now have 596 graduates of our program, girls who have completed the Values, Voice and Vision curriculum,” said program founder Olympia Snowe, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 to 1995 and U.S. Senate from 1995 to 2013. “We’re on track to graduate 160 girls every year from the program, thanks to all of you. We’re growing by leaps and bounds, and we’re growing the universe of women leaders for Maine and beyond.”

Individual tickets were $500 each, and the event sold out with just over 200 attendees.

The 10 alumnae attending the reception included keynote speaker Amara Ifeji, a 20-year-old Bangor High School graduate and rising junior at Northeastern University. “Being part of this Institute has played a pivotal role in my leadership journey,” Ifeji said, linking the Values, Voice and Vision curriculum to her accomplishments. For her environmental science and activism work, National Geographic chose her last year as one of 24 Young Explorers worldwide. Ifeji studies politics, philosophy and economics at Northeastern and works full time as youth director of engagement and policy with the Maine Environmental Education Association.

“I’m surrounded by so much inspiration,” said Lillian Ranco, a 2022 graduate from Westbrook High School headed to Colby College to study government with a focus on economics. “Olympia paved her own way and created this platform to share with all of us.”

Another 2022 graduate off to Colby College, Lora LaRochelle of Bath, said, “I wasn’t confident when I started the program and didn’t speak out about things I cared about. But if I want to see change, I might have to be it.” With an interest in the applications of biostatistics, she plans to study mathematics and statistics.

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The inaugural class of Olympia’s Leaders in Androscoggin County – where Snowe grew up – graduated from high school in 2018 and have now graduated from four-year colleges, and 32 out of 45 of those women chose to remain in Maine for their education. Today, girls at 36 partner schools across all 16 Maine counties are invited to the institute, which offers a program equivalent to a college business leadership course spread over three years. The institute is supported by more than 20 advisors, all women, and a statewide network of business and community leaders.

Theresa McCarthy, who interned for Olympia Snowe in the 1980s, retired from federal government work in 2018 and serves as an Olympia’s Leader Advisor in Bangor. “I value the young people coming up,” she said. “And mentorships are the gateway to success.”

Being an Olympia’s Leader Advisor is a three-year commitment, following the same cohort of girls from their sophomore through senior years. “We watch these young women develop and grow in front of our eyes,” said Kathleen Welter, vice president of human resources at Woodard & Curran. “These young women learn what’s important to them early on in their lives.”

“This program has given girls the chance to use their voice and make connections,” said Kolleen Dougherty, an anesthesiologist with Spectrum Healthcare Partners and an Olympia’s Leader Advisor. “It’s so inspiring to meet young women with big aspirations.”

Participants say that the confidence these young women gain has an impact on their schools. “We all need strong leaders,” said Nicole Drew, a school contact at Leavitt Area High School in Turner. “And they don’t have to be the ones with the biggest voices.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at [email protected]


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