AMHERST, Mass. – Six area women will be honored for their achievements in the arts, politics and social justice advocacy on Friday, Feb. 22 when the Center for Women & Community (CWC) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst marks its 40th anniversary with a gala from 7-10 p.m. in the Amherst Room of the Campus Center.
Janet Aalfs, former poet laureate of Northampton, is receiving the Arts award in recognition of the enormous positive impact that creative contributions have on the local community. Aalfs is a poet and writer, movement artist, community educator, performer and international peace activist. A seventh degree black belt, she is a founding member and the artistic director of Valley Women’s Martial Arts: Institute for Healing and Violence-Prevention Strategies, now in its 36th year. She has been a featured poet at the Dodge Festival in New Jersey and a teaching artist in Cape Town, South Africa. Her poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies, including A Fierce Brightness: 25 Years of Women’s Poetry(Calyx). Her most recent book of poems is Bird of a Thousand Eyes (Levellers Press).
The Politics award, which honors local, state or national political leaders who have been working for positive social change, is being presented to Mary Kociela, director of domestic violence projects for the Northwestern District Attorney’s Office since 1997. In that role, Kociela has developed and overseen numerous prevention and intervention programs, most recently the High Risk Assessment Team for perpetrators of domestic violence. From 1984-1997, she worked at the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, (NELCWIT) as the sexual assault counselor/community educator and for 12 years as the agency’s co-director.
Arlene Voski Avakian is receiving the Pioneer in the Fieldaward for being one of “the first” who paves the way for others, both on a societal and individual level. Avakian is professor emeritus, former chair and one of the founders of the women, gender, sexuality studies program at UMass Amherst. Until her retirement she was an active member of the UMass community serving on many advisory boards including the UMass Amherst’s Women of Color Leadership Network, social thought and political economy program, University Without Walls, Asian American studies committee, and the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. She lives in Northampton.
Three women will receive Social Justice Advocacy awards for their work to enhance diversity, social justice awareness and understanding, and creates social change.
Lisa Andrews works tirelessly for social justice at the intersection of motherhood and incarceration through the organization she co-founded, the Prison Birth Project (PBP). After learning that the women’s regional jail in Chicopee did not have any services for pregnant women, Andrews and her co-founder Marianne Bullock began meeting with women who were incarcerated. As a result, two support programs for incarcerated mothers were started and have been maintained at the Chicopee Women’s Jail: Mothers Among Us and the Doula Program. Andrews is also raising two children and maintaining a garden that feeds her family.
Vira Douangmany Cage is a 38-year-old Lao-American, mother, wife and Amherst resident. She recognizes what is wrong in America and her solutions always entail organizing on the strengths of its people. Cage believes in the innate desire, sheer will and determination of Americans to come together when there’s a need and take collective action. She has experience with community, campus, labor and youth organizing. Most recently she successfully organized with the community, friends and family members to free her nephew from a wrongful murder conviction.
Linda Scott is a clinical psychologist and the assistant director for consultation and education (outreach) at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health at UMass Amherst. A graduate of UMass, Scott remains committed to giving back to the campus community, especially women and underrepresented populations through efforts such as training interns. She believes that she can help make change by providing support, guidance and hope to those in need. Scott is also a longtime summer volunteer in the kitchen at Camp Takumta, a camp for children with cancer.
Formerly known as the Everywoman’s Center, CWC is one of the oldest continually operating women’s centers in the country. The Everywoman’s Center was officially launched in the fall of 1972 as a project of the university’s Division of Continuing Education with two paid staff and a focus on assisting “mature” women in obtaining their educational and career goals.
Today, the center employs 12 professional staff, has nearly 50 volunteers and interns, and offers a broad range of programming, including events that focus on women of color and the local Spanish-speaking immigrant community. Counseling services are available to men, women and transgender people. More than 50 percent of the operational funding for the center comes from outside the university in the form of grants from the state and federal governments and private foundations.
Speakers at the gala will be state Rep. Ellen Story, who will relate her experiences as a female legislator, and UMass Amherst alumna Valerie Young, who will discuss the imposter syndrome and sign copies of her new book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.” Jean Kim, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life at UMass Amherst, will introduce the speakers.
State Sen. Stan Rosenberg is also slated to present a legislative citation recognizing CWC for its 40 years of service to the community.
The event will feature hors d’oeuvres, a cash bar, raffle and a silent auction. For more information, visit the CWC website, www.umass.edu/ewc, or call 413/545-0883.