I had the opportunity to speak to and meet some great people at the 2019 National NENA conference in Orlando, Florida. They are contributing to 9-1-1 in so many ways. It’s for the greater good of the industry and one such person is Sara, Senior Project Consultant with 911 Authority. I had the opportunity to record episode 277 of the Within the Trenches podcast with her. This was one hour prior to her big announcement at a luncheon, which was followed up by a session she moderated and the first Women in 9-1-1 Alliance (WIN) meetup. Both were a success! The following is a guest blog written by Sara herself. This is her story, and it takes place immediately after episode 277.
NENA National Conference Luncheon
I’ve lost someone who is part of my soul. Wendy and my lives were woven together like a basket. She has shaped who I am today so significantly that I often tell people that I am made up of Wendy. Parts of her are me. We referred to each other as soul sisters and when people talked about us it was always one word – SaraandWendy. We talked every single day. We messaged each other constantly. I say all this to set the stage for my greatest heartache, having to say goodbye. Wendy passed away in April from cancer and on what would have been her 37th birthday in the middle of May I felt the greatest calling to do something to honor her. My company had been talking about sponsoring a scholarship in her name so that was the day I put the plan in motion. Fast forward to the National NENA conference where I was asked to officially dedicate the Wendy Day Memorial Scholarship. I was to give a short speech at the Board Luncheon which for some reason I pictured to be in a small conference room with a couple of tables – was I ever wrong. Try a ballroom that seats 2,000 people equipped with a stage, a full production and a teleprompter? Yikes. I am in no way a seasoned or talented public speaker. The words that I am supposed to say about my soul sister are hard to read let alone say out loud. Practicing them was almost impossible. Standing backstage waiting for my name to be called, I looked around. Take in the moment I told myself, this is important. I started talking to her in my mind – where are you? A little help here? I won’t say I felt her lift me to the stage, it was more like I focused on her light, her always telling me that I’m a firework (yes like the Katie Perry song), her constant encouragement that I could do anything. That is what helped me walk onto the stage, up to the podium, and begin speaking. The bright lights on stage made the people in the audience invisible. I spoke only to her.
The rest was a blur, but I know what I said was one step into a future that Wendy strived for every day, a future where women are empowered to reach their full potential. A future where her daughter will never feel like it’s okay to be treated in any sort of way because she is a woman. This is the purpose of the Wendy Day Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship will help women who are building their careers and aspiring to share new ideas in our industry by sponsoring one woman in her first five years in the public safety industry to attend the 9-1-1 Goes to Washington Conference each year. This is the very first scholarship for 911 Goes to Washington and I have to thank my company and best friends, 911 Authority a thousand times for making this happen. It includes conference registration and a travel stipend, but of equal importance it will be administered by the Women in 9-1-1 Alliance (WIN). This means that these scholarship recipients will have the full support, mentorship and friendship of the amazing women that surround us in our industry. What a gift. What a beautiful legacy.
Empowering the Wonder Women of Public Safety
I’m late. I’m running through the conference hall frantically searching for the right room to start my session at the National NENA Conference, Empowering the Wonder Women of Public Safety. As I located my room, I spot a woman sitting just outside. A woman who has unintentionally and perhaps unknowingly influenced me greatly in my career as a young consultant and in my soul as a young woman. I know I’m short on time, but can I really stand in front of a room full of women (and men) and talk about women empowering each other if I don’t take this very opportunity to tell this woman what she’s meant to me? Nope. I frantically unload on her all of my feelings from years ago, how she inspired me, led by example and showed me through actions what it means to be a strong, confident woman. And I was right. She hadn’t been aware of any of this. I walk into the session not only late, but incredibly inspired and reenergized on the goal, on what we were about to do – lift each other up.
My panel of wonder women / amazing friends help me set up and I finally look around the room. It’s not exactly standing room only but I’m so excited that people showed up at a late afternoon session on the last day of the conference to talk about the many challenges of being a woman in our industry. I am not by any means a talented public speaker and am way out of my comfort zone, but something amazing happens. As we get going, the women and men in audience start to engage! The conversation sparks. I have a panel of three women whom I look up to immensely. Women that I want to share with the world. I want people at all levels of their career in public safety to have access to the knowledge and experience these women have earned. I feel such pride as they tell their stories, answer audience questions and share gems from their brilliant minds of how to achieve more. The conversation centers around how we get from where we are to where we want to be? There are many answers to this question but from what I’m hearing in the room on this day – it’s with a little help from our friends. Mentorship is a huge key in our industry that is relatively small but just large enough that it often seems impossible to find the type of mentor we need. Be it a man or a woman, we need help connecting the dots. I am so impressed with all the women who came and how they were willing to be vulnerable, to put themselves out there to start conversations that are so important, that need to be had, that need a spotlight shown on them so bright that they will not be ignored: mentorship, self-confidence, empowerment, community, and who the heck told us we could “have it all”? Though we don’t find answers to all of these questions, my hope is that all of the women and men walked out of that room and told one other person about what they learned, shared one golden nugget of inspiration or advice, helped spread our mission.
The truth is, I almost decided not to do this session. I almost gave up. I was supposed to plan and co-moderate this panel with my soul sister of the past ten years, Wendy Day. We were so pumped. But this past December Wendy discovered a tumor and by April she was gone. This left me broken in many ways. Ways I will continue to work through – probably forever. But I didn’t think I had the strength to follow-through on this session and I know that everyone would have understood. But then my badass women friends stepped up. They picked me up off the ground and helped me find my voice again. I realize that without these women, I would not be here. I literally would not be standing in front of that conference room, but I would not be where I am in my career, I would not have confidence, I would definitely not have as much joy. THIS is what I want to share with these women. This is what I mean when I say the word empowerment. This is what I mean when I talk about mentorship. We have within us what we need from each other, can help each other more than you can imagine. I want all of us to have access to mentorship – to the type of women we admire and aspire to emulate. I don’t want any of us to have to accept the limitations around us or to settle for what’s only right in front of us. This is the reason for the Empowering the Wonder Women of Public Safety session and for whatever comes after it. This is the reason NENA has started the Women in 9-1-1 Alliance (WIN).
We can do this together.