Institute graduates latest class of 34 women leaders

Last modified: Tuesday, July 02, 2013

HOLYOKE — When Florence resident Kristen Elechko shifted her career focus from business to social change, she looked to the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts to prepare her to make that leap.

Johanna Andreoli, 31, of Easthampton, decided she might like to run for political office one day.

Andreoli and Elechko were among the 34 women who graduated this week from the Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact program run by the Women’s Fund.

Andreoli said she enrolled in the program hoping to become more engaged in the local political process and learn more about how it works. She was particularly impressed with a training session conducted by Clare Higgins, Northampton’s former mayor, which examined the nuts and bolts of running for elected office.

“The way she explained it, she made it sound so accessible,” Andreoli said. “She basically made us feel like we could do this.”

Elechko, meanwhile, had decided she wanted to get involved in fundraising and development in organizations that work for change for women and girls on the local, national and global levels. And she’s already made progress in that direction — she began working for organizations such as Imagine Philanthropy and Represent.Us, the latter of which seeks to get money out of politics.

“What this program really helped me do was to build a bridge,” said Elechko, 37, during a graduation ceremony for the program at the Log Cabin in Holyoke Wednesday night.

Participants, from Hampshire, Franklin, Hampden and Berkshire counties, are the third wave of graduates in the leadership training program since its inception in 2010. In all, more than 100 women of various ages and backgrounds have moved through the program, which provides them with training and support to become effective and powerful civic leaders.

“The fundamentals of the program are really setting women up to be strong community and political leaders,” Elechko said.

The $500 program provides nine full-day training sessions at Holyoke Community College over a span of nine months in areas such as public speaking, community organizing, the legislative process, fundraising and campaigning, understanding budgets and running for elected office.

“It is a big sacrifice to take this program for nine months,” said Julie Kumble, director of the institute. “These women came to LIPPI because they wanted to do something more.”

Higgins, who led a session on running for elected office for this year’s class, was presented with the “She Changes the World Award” at the program’s first graduation in 2011.

That honor this year went to Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, keynoter for the graduation and author of the book, “It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office.”

In a humor-filled address at the Log Cabin, Lawless described her own foray into electoral politics, which included an unsuccessful bid for a seat in Congress seven years ago.

She ticked off data to illustrate the gender gap in politics: Women comprise only about 20 percent of the U.S. Congress; 44 of the country’s 50 governors are male; 88 of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. have male mayors.

“Women are substantially less likely than men to run for elected office — it just doesn’t occur to them,” Lawless said. “We need to refute this idea that women are not qualified to run and shouldn’t run for office.”

When women do run for office, they fare just as well as their male counterparts, and get as much news media attention, Lawless noted, citing her own research in the area. She said the paucity of women at the highest levels of elected office “calls into question democratic legitimacy.”

“Until we have more women in politics, more women who don’t look the part, we’re going to make it very difficult for the next generation of women to think they can do this,” Lawless said.

Andreoli said she also learned more about the value of a network of allies through the relationships built in the program.

“I would encourage all women, no matter what their professions, no matter what their career goals, to become involved and join the institute,” Andreoli said. Her husband, Joseph, was on hand for the graduation. “It doesn’t matter where they start. I’m a secretary and was in a class with women who are presidents of foundations.”

Carla Oleska, chief executive officer of the Women’s Fund, said the development of women leaders is a perfect extension of the organization’s larger emphasis on social change.

“We have over 100 women across the four counties who are forming this unbelievable network of leaders,” Oleska said. “We have all of the ingredients right here.”

Dan Crowley can be reached at


Support Local Journalism

Subscribe to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, your leading source for news in the Pioneer Valley.

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy