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Area women encourage their peers
Former Lander councilwoman Linda Burton, left, House District 34 Rep. Rita Campbell and Fremont County commissioner Stephanie Kessler were the featured panelists of the Why Women Matter panel during the Leap into Leadership training May 22 organized by the Wyoming Women's Foundation and the Wyoming Women's Legislative Caucus. Photo by Alejandra Silva

Area women encourage their peers

Jun 12, 2013 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

A blend of women with either political titles or political aspirations listened as speakers gave advice during Leap into Leadership training May 22 at Central Wyoming College.

The workshops were put together by the Wyoming Women's Foundation and the Wyoming Women's Legislative Caucus and involved exercises for attendees so they could become more aware of state and local leadership opportunities, fortify and cultivate their leadership skills and learn about useful ways to get involved in their communities.

"This event was spurred on from a statewide event that has happened during the legislative session every year since 2008," said Wyoming Women's Foundation executive director Richelle Keinath.

The trainings were taken to communities, and Keinath said the attendance and interest has grown since.

"There are aspects of this that are very campaign-oriented if you want to run for an elected office, but we really hope that people are getting skills out of this for any kind of leadership that they want to do in their lives," Keinath said.

Campaigning

Trainer Katie Groke Ellis said representatives could connect with voters by going door to door and having conversations with residents. Other useful tools included making phone calls, mailing postcards, making signs, organizing outreach events, using social media, placing advertisements through different media outlets, and writing letters to editors.

"There are creative ways to make it fun," she said.

She encouraged the women to participate in parades and suggested they approach people and shake hands instead of stand on a float. Ellis called these tools avenues of support and a way of branding individuality.

A few hands were raised when Ellis asked if anyone was interested in running for a political position or have been interested in the past.

Riverton resident Sherry Shelley, who ran for the Wyoming House District 55 seat last year against longtime incumbent David Miller, was in attendance, and although she said she didn't know whether she would run again, she did say she enjoyed the campaign process and met many great people a long the way.

"I was a complete novice, and you learn all that stuff as you go," Shelley said. "I wish I knew in the beginning what I knew at the end."

Shelley said the May meeting was the second training she attended, and she found the workshops to be "really worthwhile and beneficial." She also encouraged young women to take advantage of the opportunities available and said that women are already good at planning things at home and entering the political scene would simply mean taking that skill to a different platform.

"It can be very intimidating but I loved it," she said.

A word of advice

House District 34 Rep. Rita Campbell was part of the Why Women Matter panel that included Fremont County commissioner Stephanie Kessler and former Lander councilwoman Linda Burton.

Campbell, who also served on the Fremont County School District 24 school board, echoed Shelley's advice for women, especially younger women, and said women should get involved early on in leadership roles in their communities.

"You need to learn how to work very closely with other people and gain some experience," Campbell said.

Campbell said the recent election against challenger Lois Herbst was interesting because she thought they were similar, but by joining many organizations, a woman still can learn to be an individual.

"You could actually win," Burton said. "You really have to have a platform to run on and you need to know the issues in the community."

The women who spoke agreed that campaigning is a tremendous learning experience that really involves a person in the community.

"I was moving into areas that I had no idea about before," Burton said. "If that can happen to me it can happen to anyone."

They also described the process as a "balancing act" between, work, family and the political atmosphere. They answered questions from other attendees about having to ask for campaign money and digging deeper into the concerns community members had.

"You have to be ready to be out of your comfort zone," Kessler said. "And realize that that's OK."

Roughly 30 seats in Fremont County will be up for election in 2014, which include positions as house district representatives, county commissioners, assessors, clerks and attorneys and in the city governments of Lander, Riverton, Dubois, Pavillion and Shoshoni. Currently, nine women hold those seats. Twenty-six seats will be up for election in 2014 on the board of trustees for the school districts in Fremont County. There are seven women who currently have seats on the school boards.

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