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Jericho Women's Org Empowers Young Girls

Close to 150 people mingled amidst towering snowball plants in an enchanted garden lit with tiki torches while eating canapés and drinking wine at an art auction benefit hosted by the Jericho-based Women’s Fund of Long Island (WFLI) in August.

The event, held at the Maidstone Inn, marks the first time the WFLI, an organization that has helped empower women and girls on Long Island for more than 20 years, has had an event out east.

“The organization started in north Nassau in the Gold Coast area with a lot of donors and supporters and they know who we are and continue to support us,” says WFLI Executive Director Stacey Scarpone. “We give out grants to the Hamptons and the East End, North Fork and South Fork, but a lot of people out this way don’t know who we are.”

The Women’s Fund of Long Island focuses on three areas: grantmaking, leadership and education/awareness. The grants go to grassroots organizations working on issues such as human trafficking, domestic abuse, pay equity and education. In 2013, 17 grants averaging $5,000 each were awarded, serving more than 7000 women and girls in our area, according to Scarpone, who is also proud of the organization’s young women’s leadership program.

“We look at our next generation of leaders—Who are they and how do they come up with creative solutions to change what is happening in their communities?” she says. “When I tell people that human trafficking is on Long Island they think I am crazy [although we] really have a huge problem with it.”

Long Islander Donna Karan arrived fashionably late with nothing but praise for the Women’s Fund of Long Island.

“It’s hard to hear about the horrors that are happening to children here today,” says Karan. “We tend to think such problems are in Haiti or the outer boroughs, not here. But as a girl from Long Island, born and raised, [I know] it is right next door. This organization has struck my heart and soul.”

One of the organizations that benefited from a WFLI grant was a small grassroots group called I TRI, founded in 2010 by Teresa Roden, in attendance with her poised and articulate 15-year-old daughter, Abby.

The organization stands for Inspirational Triathlon Racing International, which is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk adolescent girls through triathlons. Roden had a “light bulb” moment when she saw triathlon runners on Block Island a few years ago. The following year, in spite of being sports averse, she trained for it and got 20 other moms to join her.

“Crossing that finish line for me was a huge accomplishment,” Roden said. “I had to change the way I thought and look at things through a totally different angle. As great as crossing that finish line was for me, it was that journey that changed everything.”

One of the triathletes participants was 15-year-old Noely Martinez. Her mom, Noemi Sanchez, spoke about being attacked by her ex-husband and how her daughter saved her life. Noely later spoke with confidence about how she was shutting down and pushing everyone away—until she joined  the triathlon group.

“I discovered I wasn’t alone anymore and other girls were going through difficult times,” she said. “We had a place where we could be together and share our feelings and make us feel more comfortable in our own skin. Crossing that finish line that year was an amazing accomplishment for me but I was really only starting my journey. I realized I gained so much confidence, friendship and self respect for myself. I wanted to be there to help other girls on their own journey just like mine.”

For more information about the Women’s Fund of Long Island, visit www.lifwg.org.