Past Programs 2013-2014

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Annual Meeting: Thursday, May 8
“Why Do We Run?”

We all know that former State Representatives Barbara Fraser and Tishaura Jones are smart, dedicated, savvy women. So at the annual meeting we asked them three questions: Whatever possessed them to run for office? How was their experience in Jefferson City? What advice do they have for members of Women’s Voices–either about the possibility of running for office, or about how to deal with our elected officials?

Barbara Fraser

Barbara Fraser

Why did they run? Both Barbara and Tishaura said they were driven by a passion to make a difference. Another important factor: someone asked them to run. Both were urged to run by experienced women who saw their potential to get things done.

How was their experience in Jeff City? Both enjoyed their time in the legislature, despite the pressures of family life. They learned to be resourceful. They had family and friends who supported them when they needed help. They connected with mentors who helped them learn the ropes. Both women pointed to specific legislative accomplishments that made it all worthwhile.

What advice do they offer? “The voices of women are desperately needed in

Tishaura Jones

Tishaura Jones

Jefferson City, Tishaura said. To women seeking office (several of whom were in the audience), she advised, “Just do it.” Barbara echoed that advice: “Take your passion and run with it.” They advised candidates to focus at every campaign event on the issues important to them and the ways in which they can influence those issues. “Find what’s different about you and keep repeating your message. Make it personal,” Tishaura advised.

For those who are working to influence their legislators, rather than to hold office, the two women said it is key to form relationships. “Get to know your state representative personally,” Barbara said. She advised contacting legislators frequently to inform them about issues-“even if you can only call them on the telephone.” Tishaura stressed building trust by campaigning for your legislators and supporting them with your time and donations.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Safe And Sound: Smart Strategies To Protect Children From Gun Violence

This major forum, co-sponsored by Vision for Children at Risk, was held at the JC Penney Conference Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis April 2, 2014, from 8:30 a.m. until noon.

Read a full summary of this event, including a list of all speakers, panelists, and sponsors on our Safe and Sound Forum page.

Keynote speaker was James A. Mercy, PhD, distinguished consultant in the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The forum also included a panel of St. Louis area experts, who provided practical ways to address gun violence against children in our community and a conversation with family members who have lost children to gun violence.

Funding for the forum was provided by The Deaconess Foundation, the Incarnate Word Foundation, and the Des Lee Collaborative Vision Partnership at UMSL.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

From Abuse to Independence

Bridget McDermott Flood, executive director, Incarnate Word Foundation and Michelle Schiller-Baker, executive director, St. Martha's Hall

Bridget McDermott Flood, executive director, Incarnate Word Foundation and Michelle Schiller-Baker, executive director, St. Martha’s Hall

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem rooted in cultural attitudes that devalue women. We all know someone who has been a victim of domestic violence, no matter our economic status, education, religion or culture. But at the March Women’s Voices meeting, speakers brought a fresh perspective to this centuries-old problem, focusing on new approaches. Michelle Schiller-Baker sees the problem as “overwhelming” (one in three women in the United States is abused) that requires multiple efforts. She said St. Martha’s Hall helps women transition out of abusive situations by:

  • Connecting abused women and their children with shelter and social services, including employment and legal assistance, housing, and counseling
  • Providing for immediate physical needs in an emergency
  • Monitoring courtrooms to educate judges about appropriate sentencing, orders of protection, and victims’ complex needs
  • Educating the community and legislators

Stressing the need for education, she said, “People often ask why a woman doesn’t just leave an abuser. They don’t know that a woman is most at risk when she tries to leave; her chance of being killed rises by 75 percent.” Bridget McDermott Flood said that many do not understand what constitutes abuse; for example, a study with teens revealed that many thought it all right for a boy to hit a girl for making him angry.

In an innovative effort to help abused women to reach independence, the Incarnate Word Foundation has spearheaded the formation of microlending projects that give women low-interest loans to pay for personal needs or to establish a business. Flood said the foundation’s grants have enabled women to found four successful banks in the St. Louis area, each with its own loan criteria and payment structure. At the Women’s Helping Hands Bank, for example, the women have written a handbook, started City Greens Farmers Market, and formed a match savings program for youth.

The Healing Hearts Bank, founded with a foundation grant in 2011 by the National Council of Jewish Women, has been especially successful, Flood said. It comprises banks in four locations, with the goals of giving women knowledge of business development and increased self-sufficiency. The program is currently focusing on helping women establish credit ratings.

Flood said small loans can make a big difference in women’s lives. She told how a loan of $500 from the East Side Heart and Home Bank in East St. Louis made it possible for a mother to complete payment of her daughter’s college tuition. Because of that small loan, the daughter was able to get a college degree. “This is the heart of the matter,” she said.

Many thanks to Women’s Voices member Marilyn Ratkin for arranging this program. Marilyn is chair of the Healing Hearts Bank project for the National Council of Jewish Women.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking Middle Class


Robert A. Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Mark Rank, PhD, Herbert S. Hadley professor of social welfare at Washington University

Robert A. Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Mark Rank, PhD, Herbert S. Hadley professor of social welfare at Washington University

Rudy Polido, Mary Ann McGivern, Robert Soutier, Mark Rank

Mark Rank, PhD, Herbert S. Hadley professor of social welfare at Washington University
Robert A. Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Mary Ann McGivern, writer and founder of the Peace Economy Project
Moderator: The Rev. Rudy Pulido

1920493_693236407395184_1307370603_nWe were happy to welcome students studying social justice
at St. Joseph Academy to our February meeting.

An overflow audience, including a social justice class from St. Joseph Academy, came to learn about the income inequality that is reducing the middle class in America. Mark Rank said that in the past 40 years, the top 20 percent of Americans, especially the top 5 percent and the top 1 percent, have increased their wealth while the income of the bottom 80 percent has either remained static or declined. In 1973 the median earnings of a man working full-time were $52,000, compared to $49,000 in 2012. In 1980 the average CEO made 42 times more than the average worker; today the CEO makes 300 times more. Rank emphasized the dangers posed by this income inequality:

  • It distorts America’s democratic system because the wealthy have inordinate influence on the democratic process.
  • It reduces equality of opportunity, making it impossible for many to realize the American dream, which is based on the premise that anyone who works hard can succeed in this country. Rank said economic mobility in the United States has been reduced below that of many other countries.

An important factor threatening the middle class has been the decline of unions, said Robert A. Soutier. Only 11 percent of American workers are represented by unions. “Right to work” states have decimated unions, he said, yet unemployment is no better in those states than in union states, and workers in RTW states make about $4,600 less per year than those in union states. Of the 20 poorest states, 13 are “right to work,” costing taxpayers money to pay for social services.

Mary Ann McGivern said Occupy Wall Street was successful because the movement raised consciousness that grassroots efforts are essential to bring about a society in which most people can answer yes to three questions: Are you happy? Are you financially and physically secure? Do you have agency over your own life? She urged the audience to speak out: “Put your state legislators on speed dial. Stop by your legislator’s office.”

In a lively question-answer session, the panelists and audience members suggested how progressive people can draw attention to the problems of income inequality and create a more just society:

  • Work for an increase in the minimum wage. Research indicates that raising the minimum wage does not hurt profits, Rank said.
  • Support efforts to nullify the Citizens United decision, which has given corporations unprecedented influence in political decisions by allowing candidates to receive huge contributions from special interest groups and corporations. The governor’s race in Missouri will cost each candidate an estimated $20 million, Soutier said.
  • When discussing the issue of income inequality, emphasize that America is moving away from its core values of liberty and justice for all. Focus on the question of whether it is right for our country to be one where someone who works full-time cannot rise out of poverty.
  • History shows that, to effect change, individuals and organizations must participate in grassroots activities. Panelists advised the audience to vote; form coalitions and work with people and organizations that share their values; participate in demonstrations; write letters to the editor, Congressional representatives, and CEOs of corporations.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Justice Gap

Thomas Harvey; Daniel Glazier

Thomas Harvey; Daniel Glazier

Speakers: Daniel K. Glazier, executive director and general counsel, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri, and
Thomas Harvey, co-founder and executive director of Arch City Defenders

Daniel Glazier said that Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LS), one of 150 legal aid organizations in the country, provides free services to clients that have incomes at or below 125 percent of the U.S. poverty level. LS receives 50 percent of its funding from grants and foundations, 20 percent from private donations, and about 30 percent from the federal Legal Services Corporation. The system was put in place about 50 years ago as part of the federal War on Poverty. Glazier said LS handles many types of legal issues, including health care access, domestic violence, children with special needs, immigrant support, and consumer issues. He pointed out that “we’re a long way from winning” the War on Poverty: 22 percent of U.S. children under 18 live in poverty and 30 percent of St. Louis residents are poor.

Thomas Harvey said Arch City Defenders (AC) [which was founded in 2009 by three recent graduates of Saint Louis University Law School], bridges the gap between the public defenders, who handle only criminal cases, and LS, which handles only civil cases, by providing their clients– primarily homeless people– with both types of representation. In addition, AC helps its clients access a broad range of social service support.

Harvey explained that because of “a cascade of events that are stacked against them,” AC’s clients, who are “in no way hardened criminals,” need help to get back into a home and on a path to recovery. For example, he said, most clients have suffered a similar pattern of events: Most have been fined for something (often traffic related) and have failed to appear in court because they don’t have any money. Then they have been arrested and jailed; and, with no money to pay a bond to get out, they miss work and lose their job if they have one. AC not only helps solves their legal issues, but also sets them up with such support as job training, substance abuse programs, and mental health services. “We provide holistic legal assistance so that our clients can get back to a level starting point,” Harvey said.

Much of AC’s funding now comes from the city of St. Louis as part of the Campaign to End Chronic Homelessness; AC is currently working with 178 people identified through this program.

In answer to audience questions, Harvey and Glazier said both their organizations need more resources and can use volunteers. A major problem they face is the lack of coordinated services and funders. Responding to comments that many Americans know little about the lives of the poor, Harvey suggested that people gain insight by visiting a municipal court in session, where all the defendants are poor and lack legal representation.

“We are dedicated to our clients, who have been jerked around in one court after another,” Harvey says. “The fact that we have to work a lot in our law offices is nothing compared to what our clients have to deal with every day.”

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Women’s Night Out For Girls Night Out

Speakers: Darlene Sowell, CEO of Neighborhood Houses, and Mariesha Martin, director of Girls Night Out
Location: The Mercy Center, 2039 N. Geyer Rd., 63131 – 6:00 p.m.

Continuing our tradition, this year’s December “party with a purpose” celebrated Girls Night Out, a program of Neighborhood Houses, an organization that has served families in St. Louis since its founding in 1913 as part of the settlement house movement. Girls Night Out supports mothers age 13 to 22 by helping them acquire child rearing and job skills. Neighborhood Houses also has extensive after school and early childhood education programs, said CEO Darlene Sowell. “If a teen mom’s child goes to the Neighborhood Houses programs, we can help the moms for 13 years,” she noted.

Mariesha Martin, director of Girls Night Out and participant Maurlene

Mariesha Martin, director of Girls Night Out and participant Maurlene

Mariesha Martin, Girls Night Out program director, explained that the group meets one night a week to share a meal and experiences, goals, and feelings. To help mothers participate, childcare and transportation are provided. The group members must work toward obtaining a high school diploma or equivalent or have full-time employment, she said.

Neighborhood Houses works on the premise that “if children can’t see it, they can’t be it,” Sowell said, so Girls Night Out provides the moms and their children with new experiences in the community. Maurlene Lovejoy, a program participant, said a “Mommy and Me” field trip to Circus Flora allowed her to meet new people and see a circus for the first time with her son. A speaker series gives the women the opportunity to hear community leaders, and an annual day of service with other organizations provides valuable experience. Lovejoy said the group not only had fun doing their service project, they also gained skills. They produced a resource packet, a process which required planning, researching, and designing the final product.

In 2014, Martin said, Girls Night Out’s goals include focusing on financial literacy and career preparation, and partnering with St. Louis University in research on mental health services. For more information about Girls Night Out and Neighborhood Houses, see

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Affordable Care Act: Promises, Possibilities and Pitfalls

Doug Neville, Dr. Johnetta Craig; Ryan Barker and Samantha Liss

Doug Neville, Dr. Johnetta Craig; Ryan Barker and Samantha Liss

Panel Discussion -Featuring:

Ryan Barker, Vice President, Health Policy, Missouri Foundation for Health
Doug Neville, Attorney and Manager of the Employee Benefits Practice Group, Greensfelder, Hemker and Gale
Johnetta Craig, MD, MBA, Chief Medical Officer, Family Care Health Centers
Moderator: Samantha Liss, Health Reporter, St. Louis Business Journal

In a wide-ranging discussion, panelists explained the Affordable Care Act’s history and problems, and provided vital information about its future. Mr. Barker said that because of problems with the ACA website, the rollout has been disappointing, especially in the 27 states that opted to use the federal marketplace instead of establishing their own. But in recent days, navigators (counselors who help with the application process) with the Cover Missouri coalition have begun to enroll people in insurance plans.*

In Missouri some low-income people whose incomes are too high for them to qualify for Medicaid will still be without health insurance because they are not be eligible for ACA insurance. The coverage gap was created because Missouri chose not to accept about $8 billion in federal money to expand Medicaid to cover more residents. Dr. Craig said people who fall into the gap can turn to Family Care Health Centers to find affordable care. These centers receive a federal subsidy to provide care on a sliding scale based on income.

The ACA is here to stay, and employers should plan now for 2014 changes in insurance plans, said Mr. Neville. Employers with 50 or more employees must make coverage available to their employees or pay a penalty, he said. Audience members asked insightful questions:

  • Why have people’s existing health plans been canceled? Mr. Barker explained that a majority of the canceled plans did not meet ACA coverage standards. Although President Obama has now approved the option to retain these “tin” plans for another year, it is thought that many insurance companies will not continue them, he said.
  • Why are so many people against the ACA when it offers so many benefits? Panelists blamed social media’s constant coverage of governmental dysfunction, misinformation disseminated by opponents, and the administration’s slowness in getting information out to the people.
  • Why did President Obama not get insurance companies out of the health system? The physician who posed this question said that for-profit insurers siphon off 20 cents of every health care dollar. Panelists replied that in our capitalistic country, a single-payer system would never have been passed.
  • Is there any chance that the Missouri legislature will pass Medicaid expansion in the future? Panelists were pessimistic about it passing, given that 24 of Missouri’s 34 senators are Republicans. They also pointed out that, although Senate Republicans have said they want to reform Medicaid before expanding it, they are unlikely to focus on major politically sensitive problems: (1) huge costs are incurred at the end of life, and (2) 60 percent of Medicaid dollars are spent on nursing home care, not on children and families. Despite these difficulties, panelists urged the audience to contact their legislators and to send personal stories demonstrating the need for Medicaid expansion to the Missouri Foundation for Health. One story has received national attention, Mr. Barker said. Stories also may be sent to Missouri Health Care for All.

*Where to get help to apply for insurance online, order paper application forms, find a navigator, or learn more about the ACA: visit, or call 1-800-318-2596. You may also talk to insurance agents or brokers, or navigators at Family Care Health Centers.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Supremely Disenfranchised?

Rita Heard Days, St. Louis County's Democratic elections director; Judge Judy Draper, Associate Circuit Judge St. Louis County ; Denise Lieberman, Advancement Project,

Rita Heard Days, St. Louis County’s Democratic elections director; Judge Judy Draper, Associate Circuit Judge St. Louis County ; Denise Lieberman, Advancement Project,

Panel Discussion – Featuring:

Rita Heard Days, St. Louis County’s Democratic elections director and former state senator, and
Judge Judy Draper, associate circuit judge in St. Louis County.
Moderator: Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with the Advancement Project’s voter protection program.

When the U.S. Supreme Court gutted Section 4B of the 1965 Voting Rights Act in June of this year, several states passed restrictions on voting rights. In fact, in 2013 three fourths of the states introduced legislation to make it harder to vote, said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with the Advancement Project’s Voter Protection Program. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative organization funded by the Koch Brothers and other right-wing groups, has written much of the legislation introduced by legislators for the sole purpose of keeping people out of the voting process.

“These bills are highjacking our democracy,” Lieberman warned. “Voting is the essence of democracy,” she said, and “we are at a crossroads.” Many people and groups are challenging the new laws, and the outcome will determine if the Voting Rights Act still has teeth, she said. Missouri has introduced legislation requiring voters to present a photo ID, despite the Missouri Supreme Court ruling that the ID requirement would impose a substantial burden on Missourians’ free exercise of the right of suffrage, Lieberman said. She predicted that the legislation will pass.

The court’s decision in Shelby County vs. Holder struck down only one part of the Voting Rights Act– Section 4B requiring certain states with entrenched racism in their voting laws to clear any changes in their voting practices with the federal government before implementing them. Judy Draper, associate circuit judge, St. Louis County, said the rest of the Voting Rights Law remains in force. But, as Lieberman pointed out, lifting the “clearance” rule has resulted in egregious voting laws being passed in states such as Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and especially North Carolina, which passed the most restrictive law.

Speaking specifically about barriers to voting in Missouri, Rita Heard Days, St. Louis County’s Democratic Elections Director and former state senator, listed several problems.

  • Procedures for handling voter registration vary across the state.
  • Voting places can be too small, making for long lines.
  • The average poll worker is age 60, and many are not adept at using new voting technology.
  • Poll workers often do not know the law. She pointed out two voting facts that may be
  • misunderstood: Missouri does not require a voter ID, and felons who have served their
  • probationary time can vote.

Days urged the audience to volunteer to work at the polls and become informed about voting laws.

For more information on becoming a poll worker or other voting questions:
For information on voter protection:

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Enough is Enough Stuff

Speaker: Madalyn Cioci, waste prevention specialist, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency

There are no green products, and we need more fun and less “stuff” in our lives. This was the message of Madalyn Cioci, waste prevention specialist, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, who blew away myths that many of us have accepted–namely that “buying green” and recycling make it all right to buy a lot of stuff, and that owning stuff makes us happy.

Cioci said we are using resources at a rate that far exceeds the earth’s capacity to sustain a healthy environment; in the United States we consume 28 tons of materials per person each year (globally the consumption is 10 tons per person). Recycling helps, but it has a dark side: it makes us think we are not doing anything harmful when we, for example, use 2 million plastic bottles every 15 minutes in the United States. But recycling does not make up for the damage engendered by the process of producing a product. It is the production process (obtaining and preparing materials and manufacturing) that creates water pollution, toxic waste, harmful emissions, and greenhouse gases. Buying green products does not help because it does not reduce the amount of products produced. Buying fewer products is the best way to reduce the environmental impact, Cioci said.

To change our culture of mindless consumption, Cioci advised us to:

  • Ask before buying something: Do I really need this? What is it made of? Do I want to clean and store it? Could I get it second-hand? Will it last a long time? Will it still make me happy in 6 months?
  • Reduce our amount of clothing and unneeded products such as appliances we never use.
  • Borrow, reuse, repair, or rent items, rather than buying new ones.
  • Buy items made of recycled materials.
  • Resist the influence of advertising.

Reducing consumption brings personal rewards as well, according to Cioci. “You’ll live with less guilt and more integrity,” she said. And by spending less time shopping and maintaining possessions, we can reclaim opportunities for fun. Changing consumption trends are hopeful signs, she said. Online reuse and swapping sites are multiplying, and community gardens, resale shops, and “dematerialized options” such as bike sharing and digital music purchasing are increasing.