In the not-so-distant past, a blue dress belonging to a young Washington aide became the center of many a joke. Late night television hosts had a field day, and the dress took on a life of its own. Today, that same dress would have its own Twitter account! However, getting past that political stigma, a blue dress recently brought a smile to my face and warmed my heart. Although my wardrobe centers around the color black and an LBD is my typical go-to attire for special events, blue is one of my absolute favorite colors. When I was selected as a 2014 Woman on the Move by Texas Executive Women for my work with Child Advocates, Inc., I was not only honored to be included in a group with such distinguished past honorees, all of whom I admire, but also humbled to be a part of such a prestigious class of women – each of them are absolute trailblazers! Texas Executive Women is an organization of professional female executives from various fields who are actively involved in mentoring young women and providing scholarships to those seeking higher education. TEW began its mentoring programs in 1993, and since then, it has touched the lives of over 2,500 middle and high school girls. The goal behind mentoring is to provide role models to spark the desire for a better life and show them how to make their dreams become realities.
The ten women chosen each year as Women on the Move plus one Rising Star are honored at the annual WOM Luncheon. To say that I was excited to be included is an understatement! However, what to wear to an early November luncheon in Houston can be tricky. One day our temps could reach the mid 80s, and the next day frost appears on our car windows. I chose a gorgeous, and pricey, dress from one of my favorite Houston boutiques. It was perfect, and I was so excited to wear it! In typical fall weather fashion for Houston, we had been experiencing very warm temps, so my newest “professional luncheon” outfit boasted short sleeves. But, as luck would have it, I awoke the morning of the luncheon with temperatures already in the lower 40s and meteorologists telling us to brace for a freeze. As an honoree, I had to be at the event hours before it started with no time to acquire a new dress, so I quickly searched my closet for a replacement and grabbed a recently purchased dress with long sleeves. I switched around some accessories (including my favorite Stella & Dot statement necklace that could tell quite a few stories itself) and grabbed my heels, disappointed about the “dream” dress I left hanging in my closet that would have left me shivering the entire time.
The highlight of the luncheon was not receiving the award, but getting to meet and mingle with the young ladies from the high school that the organization mentors and provides professional opportunities and training. These young women were so excited to be there and be a part of this special day. Little do they know, we mentors get so much more from them than they do from us. Being able to guide these young women and advise them in their pursuit of their dreams is so rewarding. As we were taking photos prior to the start of the luncheon, several of the girls came up to me to tell me my dress was “so pretty!” Still thinking about the perfect dress left at home and hating the weather gods, I heard one of them say “Do you mind if I ask where you bought it?” Several of the girls leaned in, and I informed them that it was from……Gap! She exclaimed she thought the dress looked like it would cost “more than she could ever afford” and she could not believe it was from a store in which she could actually shop. Another said that she didn’t realize you could look so professional and nice in something from Gap. The looks on their faces and the excitement from finding out the dress was actually very affordable and attainable to them was priceless. Looking back, I am so thankful the weather failed to cooperate and I was able to show a group of young ladies (well on their way to being our future leaders) that looking great does not require having the most expensive clothes or shoes. You can still rock a bargain and have the best outfit in the room!
I would be remiss to not discuss what lead me to becoming a WOM and that “blue dress day.” While my professional accomplishments certainly played a role in being chosen for the 2014 WOM class, it was my volunteer work that sealed the deal. Growing up, our parents instilled in us volunteerism. Granted, back then they didn’t call it that, they simply taught us by example that helping others in need should be a part of your everyday life. My sister and I both strive to instill in our children that same philosophy. When I was a first year law student, I missed working with kids (I was a high school English teacher before law school — I was not much older than my students!), so I heard about a group called Child Advocates, Inc., that worked with children in the court system who had been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. I’ll never forget leaving orientation with tears rolling down my face and a heartache I had never before felt, but knowing that I was meant to help these children. Now, nineteen years later, I am still at it! April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and this year is the 40th anniversary of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. As I look back through my years of service with Child Advocates, I think of that day at orientation when I resolved that I would eradicate child abuse. Clearly, that dream has not come to fruition, but I am proud to say I have represented over 40 children through the years and have loved each one of them and hopefully have given them not only a better life, but a chance to help break the cycle of abuse.
Child Advocates, Inc., mobilizes court-appointed volunteers to speak up for abused children who are lost in the system and guides them into safe environments where they can thrive. We work with the courts, caseworkers, attorneys, foster parents, and anyone connected to the child’s life as a guardian ad litem to ascertain the best interests of the child and report to the court our findings and opinions. We meet with all of the aforementioned players and spend as much time with the child (or children) as we can. We assist in finding appropriate placement, work with schools and teachers on educational needs, and meet with therapists and physicians to help in the healing process. Our volunteers go above and beyond the job description of a guardian ad litem and are continuously trained to stay on top of issues that present in these abuse and neglect cases.
The children I have represented have, no question, profoundly changed my life. Yes, I cry. I get mad. I cry some more. But that is a good thing. Child abuse should illicit that reaction. Those emotions are what make me strive to treat each case as carefully as I handled my first one nearly twenty years ago. I am not numb; I am not burned out. I am actually more resolved than ever to educate the public about why volunteering is so very important, why giving back is vital to your well being, and the difference your time can make in a child’s life. People ask me all the time “How do you do it? You run a busy law practice. You have three young children. I just don’t have the time to volunteer and it just would be too sad.” My response never changes: “No one has the time. You make the time.” If I can volunteer, anyone can. One or two hours a month simply means getting off Facebook or foregoing coffee with friends. While those things, in the big picture, are insignificant, those couple of hours can bring light into a child’s dark world. That small amount of time may be the only time that child hears a kind or encouraging word or feels someone’s arms around him in a loving hug. I hear people complain all the time about politics and social issues, the price of gas, the inequality of this or that, but rarely do I hear people complaining about the child abuse crisis in our nation. It is not a pleasant topic to talk about and makes people uncomfortable. My wish is that people would realize that as long as we have a class of citizens who can be beaten and neglected with impunity, nothing else can get better. Children should not be treated as chattel, and only by recognizing the need can we make a difference. A volunteer only has to possess three things: the ability to listen, to feel, and to speak out.
Please consider volunteering on behalf of children. There are so many great organizations, including Child Advocates, that need volunteers on so many levels. Justice for Children (here in Houston) works to change the laws to better protect our children and to provide legal representation. Children’s Assessment Center works with child victims of sexual abuse and is dedicated to providing a multidisciplinary team approach in the prevention, assessment, investigation of these cases. There are so many wonderful organizations all with too few volunteers. While I am grateful the month of April is dedicated to child abuse prevention, the need is 24/7 all year long. I encourage everyone to report suspected child abuse immediately at 1 (800) 252-5400 and to remember that every second counts. It is your business as it is mine and all those around us. Blue has been designated as the color of the ribbon for child abuse prevention. So pull out the blue from your wardrobe and wear it proudly! More importantly, teach your children, by example, to speak out for those whose voice cannot be heard.
An Instagram post crossed my feed just today discussing the mission of Alliance of Moms (a group founded by moms in Los Angeles) who believe that all parents have a responsibility that extends beyond their own kids. Their focus is on supporting children in the LA foster system. I love this! They have recognized that we are all responsible for the children in our communities and beyond. My group of “mom friends” get this as well. These ladies amaze and inspire me daily by making our world a better place with their selfless contributions. To have the support of these women and to know how much they also care about the welfare of children, makes me unbelievably blessed to have them in my life. We know our children go to bed every night and wake up every morning feeling safe and knowing without a doubt that they are loved and cherished. Every child deserves that. My sweet husband has been on this journey with me since day 1. To him, it is unfathomable that children lack the same basic rights to be safe as adults enjoy. Together we hope that our actions do not go unnoticed by our children and that they too will continue the legacy of helping others. Since the beginning of time, society has turned a blind eye on child abuse. Many feel that “it’s not my problem” or “I don’t want to get involved.” But I say to them, if not you, then who?
Chastiti’s Dress: Gap, old (here and here for similar) | Chandra’s Dress: Diane Von Furstenberg, sold out (here for similar) | Chastiti’s Necklace: Stella & Dot, old (here and here for similar | Chandra’s shoes: Christian Louboutin | Chastiti’s shoes: Christian Louboutin | Girl’s dress: Zoe