Past Programs 2012-2013

Thursday, May 9, 2013  

Annual Meeting


Karen Kalish

In a  year marked by unprecedented growth, expanding partnerships and new challenges to the advancement of social justice, Women’s Voices celebrated its eighth annual meeting by drawing inspiration from two remarkable women: Karen Kalish, founder of Cultural Leadership, Home Works!, and the Books and Badges programs; and Jamala Rogers, founder of the Organization for Black Struggle, the Justice for Reggie campaign,and a columnist for the St. Louis American.


Jamala Rogers

Both women have been activists, advocates and change agents – troublemakers of the best kind – for nearly 40 years. Karen’s path began as a “screaming, yelling consumer- advocate reporter,” she says. While working, she started a program for African American and Jewish high school students to build cultural understanding. She’s never looked back, and today her Home Works! program brings teachers, parents and volunteers together to strengthen reading proficiency. The program targets children likely to enter school knowing about 500 words, compared to the 5,000 words children from more privileged backgrounds know, “because research shows that if we don’t reach them early, they never catch up,” she says. The program follows students through primary and secondary school.

Both women have opened doors and minds through their unyielding dedication to supporting social justice. And both say there is so much more to be done. “When I started on this journey, I thought we’d have it all figured out in about 10 years,” said Jamala. “It didn’t happen — and it still hasn’t.” Transforming a culture where injustice exists requires more of us working for social justice, she says. “Right now we seem to be buffering the suffering. Young people are my inspiration, but we all need to get louder.”

Women’s Voices got louder in 2012-2013, with activities and initiatives outlined in President Mary Clemons’ report, available on this website.

Karen and Jamala congratulated Women’s Voices members for their work, both locally and on state and national issues. As a token of appreciation for sharing their stories, Barbara Finch presented Karen and Jamala with a one-of-a-kind necklace designed by member Ruth Ann Cioci, asking both guests to “Wear It Proudly” as they continue their one-of-a-kind presence in our community.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Inside Track: Medicaid Expansion in Missouri

Alan Freeman, director of the Missouri Department of Social Services
Kit Wagar, Affordable Care Act specialist, Office of the Regional Director, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Steve Renne, vice president of children’s health and medicaid advocacy, Missouri Hospital Association
Sidney Watson, professor of law, St. Louis University, Center for Health Law Studies
Two of the panelists, Steve Renne, Vice President of Children's Health and Medicaid Advocacy, Missouri Hospital Association; Alan Freeman, Director, Missouri Department of Social Services; and Moderator, Sidney Watson, Professor, St. Louis University School of Law

Two of the panelists, Steve Renne, Vice President of Children’s Health and Medicaid Advocacy, Missouri Hospital Association; Alan Freeman, Director, Missouri Department of Social Services; and Moderator, Sidney Watson, Professor, St. Louis University School of Law

What are the chances that an additional 260,000 low-income Missourians will get access to health care starting this July 1? That depends on what happens in Jefferson City by May 10 – the deadline for Missouri legislators to vote yea or nay on our state’s option for expanding Medicaid coverage as part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

A panel of experts outlined what Medicaid expansion means to Missourians in terms of access to health care, state finance and business development. Each guest speaker addressed some of the complexities of administering Medicaid under new ACA regulations, of facing extreme financial challenges if the state rejects the option, and of navigating our way through the ideology and partisan rhetoric that followed the 2012 elections.

For details, view each speaker’s slide presentation:
Missouri Department of Social Services (Alan Freeman)
Department of Health and Human Services (Kit Wagar)
Missouri Hospital Association (Steve Renne)

By accepting full Medicaid expansion, all Missouri’s Medicaid costs – for those 260,000 added to the program, plus those currently served by Medicaid – would be covered by the federal government through 2016. That translates to $1.8 billion in the first year alone, and close to $6 billion over the three-year period. After that, participating states will gradually pick up a 10 percent share of the cost.

Medicaid expansion has widespread public support (see Steve Renne’s presentation- slide 8) from healthcare providers, advocacy groups from urban and rural areas, and – because Medicaid expansion will generate an additional 24,000 jobs in 2014 alone – from a broad contingency of business interests, including Chambers of Commerce from West Plains to Cape Girardeau to Lee’s Summit to Hannibal. It also has widespread bipartisan support nationally, with only 35 percent of the population living in states where governors currently oppose the expansion.

“So if all these people are for the expansion, who’s against it,?” asked a WV member during the Q & A period. “Many candidates made opposition to ‘Obamacare’ the focal point of their campaigns,” said Kit Wagar. “But the ACA was upheld by the Supreme Court, and it’s here to stay. It’s difficult for those who opposed the law and President Obama to move forward on this.”

If Missouri does not opt for Medicaid expansion, the tax dollars Missourians have paid will go to other states to cover their Medicaid costs. Missouri’s low-income residents, businesses, medical providers and taxpayers will lose. That’s a heavy price to pay for the sake of maintaining political ideology.

Want your voice to be heard? “I want everyone to do one thing when you get home,” said Sidney Watson. “Call or write your State Representative and Senator and tell them to vote FOR full Medicaid expansion. It’s the right thing for the people of Missouri.”

The following organizations joined WV in sponsoring the April 11 program on Medicaid expansion: National Council of Jewish Women-St. Louis Section, Missouri Association for Social Welfare, Social Justice Program at Eliot Unitarian Chapel, Missouri Health Care for All, Metropolitan Congregations United, and Physicians for a National Health Program-St. Louis.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Refugees Is The Lamp Still Lit?

Speaker: Suzanne LeLaurin, vice president for individuals and families, The International Institute of St. Louis

For descendants of the “huddled masses” who arrived in America generations ago, the rights of citizenship are a lucky byproduct of where we were born. Our March 14 speakers shared an eye-opening perspective on the long, complex road today’s immigrants endure before they are admitted to our country – and the struggles they experience once they arrive.

Suzanne LeLaurin of The International Institute of St. Louis provided a brief overview of how the government categorizes America’s foreign-born residents:

  • Permanent legal residents who are on track for citizenship. Foreign-born spouses of American citizens fall into this category, and in most cases may enter the U.S. without a wait restriction. Other family members – parents, children, siblings -can wait years before they’re granted entry, particularly if they come from countries that already have large immigrant populations in the U.S. – Mexico, the Philippines, China and India, for example. Parents and children of Mexican residents allowed to enter the U.S. this year have been on a waiting list since 1993. That’s 20 years of waiting to come to America. And if a child reaches the age of 18, he or she must reapply for a place in line as an adult applicant.
  • Temporary visa holders – visitors, students and guest workers. Guest worker visas are granted for a variety of persons with expertise, including scientists, artists, athletes and professionals in business and medicine. There are no temporary visas granted for farm workers, laborers or domestic workers.
  • Undocumented residents – individuals who’ve entered the country illegally or overstayed their visa. Immigration reform focuses on this group, but there’s a misconception about why it happens so often in the first place, LeLaurin says. “People think that these ‘illegals’ just don’t want to go through the process and get in line to come in legally. What we need to understand is that, in practical terms, there is no line.”
  • Refugees, who enter the country based on proof of well-founded fear of persecution. Just 58,000 refugees were admitted in 2012, drawn from refugee camps in Africa, South America, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Bahamas and Nigeria. Refugees from these countries are given preference to increase the immigrant diversity of the U.S. population.

The Long Road to St. Louis

Two refugees who have resettled in St. Louis shared their stories of terror, survival and perseverance.

Ranga Nepal’s family was a member of an ethnic group driven out of their native Bhutan in the 1990s by the ruling monarchy. Like thousands of countrymen, Ranga ended up in Nepal, where he survived on a river bank for months, then made it to a refugee camp where he lived for 17 years. During this time, a mentor helped him receive a college education (he has a master’s degree in economics), and he returned to teach at his camp before his 2008 journey to the U.S. He is an International Institute case worker for local refugees, especially those from Bhutan, who face enormous cultural challenges as they adjust to life in this country.

“Language is a big problem,” he says. “Most refugees hardly read their own language. So their children learn English in school, and they have to rely on them. This takes away their traditional role as head of the family. They become isolated in their homes, and they feel meaningless in these new surroundings. There is a big suicide rate among the older generation.” But not in St. Louis, LeLaurin notes. “Ranga has focused on getting St. Louis’ Bhutanese residents out of their homes and acclimated within the community; much of this success is due to his work here.”

Shatha Najaf is a survivor of the civil war in Iraq between Sunni and Shia Muslims. She and her three children suffered the terror of her husband’s kidnapping, and when he was released, the family fled to Egypt. During three years there, her children were not allowed to attend school, an unacceptable situation for the Najaf family. They gained entry to the U.S. in 2009, and today, Najaf works at the International Institute as a case specialist, helping other refugees improve their English and learn to manage American life. “It’s not easy,” she says. “You don’t know how to shop, to make a dental appointment, or what to expect in a job interview. People feel lost.”

But Najaf thinks her family has finally found a safe place. “My kids will find a good life and future here,” she says. Nepal echoes the same sentiment, repeating the fierce desire of generations who’ve come to America to provide a better life for their families. “For us, he says, U.S.A. stands for U Start Again.”

Refugees receive a very limited resettlement grant from the federal government upon their arrival in the U.S. Those funds are likely to be part of upcoming budget cuts. The Tao Family Fund, a charitable arm of the International Institute, helps cover basic housing, food and transportation costs to help St. Louis refugees, especially small families and singles. Generous members of the audience donated more than $700 to the Tao fund at the conclusion of our meeting. To make a donation and get more information, visit

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Making Our Voices Heard: Women’s Rights Today

Speaker: Sandra Fluke, attorney and activist
Sandra Fluke

Sandra Fluke

One year ago, Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke received national attention following her appearance before Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. In the midst of the debate over health care reform, her testimony presented a strong case for requiring nonprofit, religious-affiliated organizations – like Georgetown, other universities and hospitals where religion is not a factor in employment – to cover birth control in their insurance plans.

What followed was a bottle-rocket of vile rhetoric from Missouri’s own hall-of-famer Rush Limbaugh, who characterized Fluke as a college girl gone wild (a “slut” and a “prostitute” were his precise words) who wanted the government to pay her to have sex. The year that followed “was not the 2012 I had planned,” said Fluke during a reception with Women’s Voices members at Washington University on Feb. 12. She’d planned to complete her law degree and focus on passing the bar in California – which she did last summer. “Can you imagine what Fox News would have said if I didn’t pass,?” she laughed.

521852_516071315111695_1176117714_nThe Limbaugh publicity, and more importantly, the issue that women’s reproductive rights are under attack, placed Fluke in a spotlight she feels obligated and honored to use for the issues she values. It’s a role for which she is perfectly prepared. Her undergraduate degree from Cornell University is in Feminist, Gender & Sexuality Studies. In New York, she co-founded the New York Statewide Coalition for Fair Access to Family Court and has also worked to address the issues of domestic violence, human trafficking, LGBT rights and other human rights concerns.

Seeking to find the language and means to push back on things that were not fair led her to law school, she told WV members. And she pushes back with what’s become her signature brand of respectful determination – an approach that’s all too rare in today’s politics. “To be successful, we have to broaden our ability to talk to people who don’t already agree with us,” she says.

What are the top issues that concern her generation? She says it’s a five-item list: government debt, education and employment, immigration, LGBT rights and ending wars abroad – a list that’s important now and for the generations to come.

574578_519326064786220_581921526_nSpending an hour with this articulate new voice for women’s rights and social justice was an uplifting event. As her time with WV members closed, she praised our organization for its mission and for staying focused on a progressive agenda aimed at social justice.

Following the WV reception, Fluke addressed a diverse audience in Simon Hall at Washington University. For more on her talk and comments by Adrienne D. Davis, vice provost and William M. Van Cleve Professor of Law, go to To read coverage of the program by the St. Louis Beacon, go to:!/content/29370/fluke_wustl_021213.

Special thanks to the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and other student groups at Washington University, who provided funding needed to bring Fluke to St. Louis.

Among those attending the reception were 10 new WV members. A warm welcome to Batya Abramson-Goldstein, Joyce Borgmeyer, Mary Bumpus, Susan Clark, Maggie Ellinger-Locke, Marge Jardon, Jean Loemker, Phyllis Markus, Dianne Modrell and Gay Norris.

January 10, 2013

Human Trafficking: Real and Right Here

Speaker: Laura Gardner, Life Skills Director, The Covering House

Our well-attended January program resulted in responses that were eye-opening, jaw-dropping and gut-wrenching. Most members and guests were unaware that human trafficking generates an estimated $9.5 billion in annual revenue in the United States; that there are up to 300,000 child prostitutes in this country; that the average age of these children is 13; and that the average victim may be forced to have sex up to 20 times per day.

According to Laura Gardner, human trafficking can be defined as exploitation of another person for commercial or sexual purposes or for forced labor. The Covering House focuses on the sexual trafficking of children in St. Louis, which the Department of Justice has identified as one of the top 20 human trafficking cities in the country.

“A great deal of sex trafficking of young girls occurs in St. Louis because we have a high number of runaways and children on the street,” Gardner said. “A lot of kids drop out of school here, and we have a flourishing drug trade. We have well-known “strolls” in St. Louis, and East St. Louis, with its strip clubs, generates a lot of activity here.”

The high number of interstate highways that intersect in St. Louis makes it easy for pimps to move girls easily from one location to another, she added.

“Pimps are very smart,” Gardner said. “They know how to provide the things that young girls need, and the girls are groomed to be dependent on the pimps for everything.” For pimps, the payoff can be huge. The average pimp has four to six girls working for him, and can make as much as $200,000 per child each year.

Gardner showed samples of ads from on-line sites and “alternative” newspapers that are used to recruit “johns,” or men who purchase sex from young girls. Much of the illegal activity occurs in motels along interstate highways or near the airport, she said, but high-priced hotels in downtown St. Louis are not immune from the activity.

The Covering House provides individual counseling, group therapy and life skills coaching for girls who have been rescued from the sex trafficking trade. The organization hopes to be able to have a residential facility for the girls in the near future.

For more information, go to:

December 13, 2012

Experience College Bound

Members of Women’s Voices had a rare opportunity to experience College Bound when they gathered at the organization’s new building in midtown St. Louis to learn about the program from the organization’s founder and talk with staff members and current students.


College Bound was founded by Lisa Orden-Zarin in 2006. It provides promising students from low-income backgrounds with academic enrichment, social support and life skills, which they need to succeed in college and careers. The first year the organization served 36 students; in 2011 there were 32 staff members serving 1,500 students in 39 area high schools and 70 colleges throughout the U.S.

The strength of the program, Orden-Zarin says, is based upon the fact that staffers develop a personal, supportive relationship with every student and outcomes are constantly and closely monitored.

“We feel that we are doing important and sacred work here,” she said. All the students enrolled are the first in their families to be able to have any kind of academic higher education. Studies have shown that higher education is the best way to eliminate poverty in future generations.

The program concluded with remarks from some of the College Bound students, both those who are in high school working toward college, and those who were home from college for the Christmas holiday.

“We know that we wouldn’t be where we are now without this program,” said one of the students, home on holiday from his first year at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

November 8, 2012

Election Wrap-up: Fired Up Or Fed Up?

Panelists: David Robertson, professor of political science, University of Missouri-St. Louis
Jim Ross, political operative and candidate consultant
Jo Mannies, political reporter, St. Louis Beacon
Moderator: Denise Lieberman, attorney and Missouri Voter Protection Advocate for the Advancement Project

Panelists, Denise Lieberman, David Robertson, Jo Mannies, political reporter for the Beacon, Jim Ross, Candidate Consultant

A near capacity crowd gathered to hear three prominent political experts parse state and national election results on Nov. 8. Lively moderator Denise Lieberman kicked off the program by announcing that the “right wing strategy to make voting harder backfired.” Attempts to require photo IDs, limit early voting and other tactics have occurred in 43 states, including Missouri and swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. Measures were mainly blocked or tabled prior to Nov. 6 balloting, and the failed efforts likely strengthened voters’ determination to make their voices heard, noted Lieberman. But attempts to roll back voting rights are far from over, she says. Advancement Project’s Voter Protection Program continues to be at the frontlines of protecting every American’s right to vote.

Here’s a summary of how guest panelists recapped the election numbers, the messaging and the strategy that garnered wins for progressives in important areas, and lessons to be learned for conservatives as they regroup for the next election cycle:

President Obama cleared the first hurdle facing any candidate – and especially an incumbent running in the midst of a recession: He faced no challengers to his candidacy for a second term.

In contrast, Romney was attacked by fellow candidates as a wealthy, out of touch elitist throughout the Republican primary debates. It was a label Republicans failed to turn around. And it was a path to a win for Obama, with momentum from blue collar workers from Appalachia to heartland auto industry states providing a strong segment of his votes.

The Republican Party was blindsided on election night: As demonstrated by Karl Rove on Fox News, conservative-funded polls convinced Republican strategists that voters in key swing states like Ohio, Virginia and Colorado would bring them victory – and their polls were wrong.

Although much has been said about Obama’s win among Hispanic voters, it’s also important to note that he won 73% of the Asian American vote and 60% of young voters, a particularly significant statistic, since party affiliations formed early tend to last.

Missouri was a solid win for Republicans in the presidential race, but Democrats held onto state leadership offices, with Governor Jay Nixon defeating newcomer Dave Spence, a well-funded businessman who actually drew 300,000 fewer Missouri votes than Romney. Republicans hold 110 of the 160 state representative seats, and they hold a veto-proof majorities in the state House and Senate. Claire McCaskill’s win over Todd Akin was an early call on election night, as she pulled a commanding lead in rural areas, typically a Republican stronghold.

The biggest losers of 2012? Tea Partiers and “wishful thinking” among Republican strategists. Despite efforts to distance themselves from Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” comment, he became representative of a party that’s increasingly seen as “a party of elderly white people who rant at empty chairs,” a reference to the Clint Eastwood appearance at the Republican convention.

October 11, 2012

The State of Incarceration: Problems and Progress in Missouri’s Prisons

George Lombardi, director of the Missouri Department of Corrections
Gary Fuhr, Missouri state representative (R-97)
Rory Ellinger, Missouri state representative (D-72)
Robert McCulloch, St. Louis County prosecuting attorney


County prosecutor, McCulloch, Rep. Rory Ellinger, director of Corrections, George Lombardi, former Rep Gary Fuhr

An amazing thing happened in the Missouri legislature in 2012. Amid all the division, rancor and partisan politics, legislators were able to come together to pass new sentencing and parole guidelines that will keep many non-violent offenders out of prison by enhancing community supervision alternatives. Guest panelists presented an inside – and refreshing – look at how state legislators worked with correction system leadership to launch a plan, passed in the form of HB 1525, that’s designed to give non-violent offenders a chance to turn their lives around and to reduce the state’s prison expenses. (Currently, Missouri’s prison budget is $1.2 billion a year, compared with our $1 billion budget for higher education.)

Based on research from a Pew Foundation study, the new program’s initial focus is on the fastest growing segment of the prison population: non-violent offenders on parole who enter prison on a relatively minor technicality that leads to a revocation of their parole. Seventy-one percent of new inmates fit that description.

To stem this tide of new, non-violent prisoners, the bill opened the door for a new two-step program with a truly appetizing “carrot” – for every month a parolee meets all the conditions of parole (“clean” drug tests, or going to school, rehab or work, for example) a month is subtracted from their sentence or parole time. The “stick” on the other side of that carrot is a big one, called Swift and Certain Sanctions. If a condition of parole is not met, the offender goes to jail – quickly, with no court date, no hearing. It’s what offenders who qualify for the program agree to when they’re given the option to participate. As Prosecutor McCulloch noted, “Most offenders know they may go to jail eventually, but they don’t want to go now. That’s the deterrent that gives us – and the offender – hope that this program has a chance to work.”

The new program is in its baby-steps phase, in place for just over 30 days, but panelists were positive about its potential and about the seeds sown for intelligently reducing the prison population and accompanying costs over time. “This collaborative effort across the aisle was a blueprint for the future,” said George Lombardi, director of the state’s correctional system.

And the future will depend more and more on community resources that support at-risk families and youth. “Kids with an incarcerated parent are seven times more likely to follow that parent into the correctional system,” noted Lombardi.

During the question and answer session, audience members were introduced to Judge Jim Sullivan of Drug Court, an organization that provides treatment, resources and opportunities to drug-abusing or addicted participants, giving them tools to be drug-free, productive contributors to their families and the community. Drug Court is the first organization of its kind and is recognized throughout the nation for its leadership and success in helping people turn their lives around.

September 13, 2012

Trends in Urban Education; Understanding Charter and Traditional Public Schools

Speakers: Dr. Kelvin Adams, Superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools and
Kelly Garrett, Executive Director of KIPP St. Louis
Kelly Garrett

Kelly Garrett

A near-capacity crowd filled the Ethical Society’s Assembly hall to hear two of the most important educators in St. Louis talk about

Kelvin Adams

Kelvin Adams

the schools they run and their determination to improve education for underserved students in St. Louis.

Dr. Kelvin Adams was candid about the past problems of the St. Louis City schools, which were unaccredited several years ago because of problems with governance, finances and student achievement. Under the direction of a state-appointed administrative board for the past three years, the district has made great strides. It now has a balanced budget and may soon apply for provisional accreditation.

Kelly Garrett directs the KIPP Inspire Academy, a charter school affiliated with Washington University. Opened in 2011, KIPP Inspire now has 350 students in grades 5-8. The goal of a KIPP education is to prepare students for college and for life, Garrett said.

Charter schools differ from traditional public schools in several respects, the speakers pointed out, although both of them are supported by taxpayer dollars. Charter schools have more flexibility, and can schedule students for longer school days, half-days on Saturdays, and summer school. They are not unionized and generally pay teachers slightly higher salaries than traditional public schools.

“But this freedom is balanced by our requirement for accountability,” Garrett said. “If we don’t do a good job, we’re out of business.”

Dr. Adams stressed that he does not consider charter schools to be competitors. “Students and families are better served when they have a variety of choices,” he said. “We need all kinds of options for families, and this includes traditional public schools, magnet schools, charter schools and parochial schools.”

For further details about the meeting, read St. Louis Beacon reporter Dale Singer’s account of the evening here.