She was always there. Each night she’d sing “You Are My Sunshine” to me as I drifted to sleep, curled up in my cozy, ocean-themed blankets. My supporter, my hero, my mom.
She’s my inspiration—and on this day, specifically, I want to remind myself of her true impact.
International Women’s Day arrives once a year—an official celebration of social, economic, cultural, and political achievement of women across the globe. It began in the early 1900s and continues as a global celebration that breaks free of any borders. It’s a universal day—serving as a time to reflect, take action, celebrate, and create. We honor the pioneers who blazed trails throughout history and encourage future generations building towards new accomplishments.
There is strength at the foundation of this celebration. A courageous undertone. Of passionate goals, powerful triumphs, and incredible dedication. Women around the world who come from extraordinarily different backgrounds and different experiences find a unity together—facing common challenges and reaching similar goals. It’s a time for mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, and all those that have made an impact at work, at home, in life.
My mother enriches my values, encourages my creativity, and challenges me to push through hardship. I don’t know where I’d be without her. My sisters, grandmother, and friends—they are all women that are an incredible inspiration to me.
Challenges in life have a way of cultivating wisdom. Discover the experiences of six inspiring women who show courage, express love, and push for social progress. Hear from their voices and celebrate International Women’s Day with us.
“Distractions abound in this life, and it is so easy to get lost in social media and technology. Yet, that only hurts those around us and ourselves because we aren’t being fully present and soaking in all that life has to offer. Be fully wherever you are! Life is short and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so don’t waste today.”
At one time, Lesa wanted to pursue politics—setting her eyes on a career as a lobbyist where she could change systems at the policy level. However, her interests shifted and she began other ventures including photography, traveling, and writing. Along the way she met Brennan, and they were married in 2010.
Four years later, something changed their lives forever.
When their newborn daughter Tori was five months old, she regressed in nearly all developmental milestones. Within a week, she was diagnosed with a terminal genetic disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy which affects both the central and peripheral nervous systems.
“Tori is now 18 months old and is doing well. We have a bucket list for her and have completed nearly 50 adventures with her, which has helped us focus on truly living with her and not merely focusing on the reality that she is dying. It has helped us to feel like a ‘typical family’ instead of one fighting an intense battle.”
And Lesa has become sort of a lobbyist after all, advocating for more states to do mandatory early testing for this disease, since early detection and treatment of the disease can prevent the condition from worsening. Only two states, New York and Missouri, currently screen for Krabbe. She also developed a blog and Facebook page focused on Tori’s journey. Now thousands of people follow her story from all over the world.
“This past year has taught us, among other things, that joy is a choice. We have to decide daily that we are going to find joy in our life, despite the grief that coincides, because Tori deserves the best life that we can give her. She deserves to be loved fully and joyfully. There will be time for grieving after she is gone, but right now she is here, she is aware, and she deserves the happiest possible life we can provide.”
“I am all about helping people. Assisting people and their families with taking on whatever comes their way is what I believe I’ve been created for. I feel the most fulfillment when I can assist a person to feel safe, secure, loved, and that they have a purpose.”
Memories are what so many of us hold onto the most, and losing those would be a horrible reality. That’s where Elizabeth comes in.
Elizabeth works as a Licensed Practical Nurse in a Memory Support Household at a retirement community. The aging adults she assists struggle with dementia and other diseases that impact their memory and ability to think logically. Elizabeth sometimes personifies a waitress from back home or a distant friend from school in the minds of her residents. She treats that reality with respect and validation, helping them to cope with certain painful losses.
“As a nurse working amongst the geriatric population, I hear all kinds of confessions from people who felt rejected in a profound way that for some was crippling to them. I help to invoke good memories. It’s an awesome job, for sure.”
Elizabeth enriches memories for aging adults desperately needing a helping hand while encouraging those around her to be themselves.
“Enjoy being human, enjoy being emotional. Just get out there, try whatever it is, and live in that moment. Support each other. Help each other. Stop tearing and comparing. And most importantly, please be kind to yourself.”
“I am passionate about people. Helping people. Encouraging people. Singing for people. Befriending people. Supporting people. Teaching people. And learning from people.”
One audition changed her life.
Education was what she loved first. Dionne taught preschoolers and kindergarteners for 12 years before moving into administrative roles to support curriculum and educational advocacy. But then a simple chat with a friend changed her life.
“A friend, who knew I loved to sing, reached out and told me about an audition in New York City that she had heard about. I went to that audition, got the job and have now been on my professional musical theater and acting career for six years!”
Dionne has been on stage in national productions and international tours, taking her to Northern Europe, South America, Canada, Japan, and the Caribbean. Currently, Dionne is singing on cruise ships and relishing her work.
“I have an endless opportunity to meet the most amazing people from all over the world. Everything is new all the time. From the stories and conversations to the experiences and the memories that are made. It truly gives you a deeper appreciation for all of mankind.”
Through her journey, Dionne conquered a fear of failure and of not living up to a certain expectations.
“I quickly learned that you don’t always bat a thousand, that mistakes are a part of the process and that you’ve got to take everything as it comes and don’t overthink everything.”
“As much of a perfectionist as I am, I have learned, and continue to learn, that growth can only be experienced as a result of pain, challenges, or error. And ultimately, the process of growing is what makes us better.”
Leah is at the beginnings of her career—and wants to inspire through powerful social advocacy.
After graduating from Lafayette College, Leah continued to pursue her interest in social justice, anti-poverty community development, and youth programs. Her path took her from New York where she helped create youth crime prevention practices to India where she interned at a human rights law firm.
Now Leah is pursuing a master’s in social work from Columbia University. Her heart is with inner-city women who have been victims of domestic abuse or other painful struggles. This is a battle she wants to help fight and make sure those she assists go in a new, healthy, and positive direction.
“I love the work and find it incredibly rewarding to advocate for the best interests of my clients and to equip them with the necessary tools and resources to then advocate for themselves.”
Growing up Leah often took the creative route—wanting to innovate and help others create as well. A sense of encouragement is at the forefront of her persona, assisting those around her to discover their real potential.
Though she wants to generate positivity in the world around her, she still faces doubts from within.
“I guess it’s more of a lifelong battle, but I am constantly reminded of my humanness,” Leah explained. “Of possibly not being perfect, or of failing at a certain project.”
“I absolutely love the quote: ‘The key is this, Meet today’s problems with today’s strength. Don’t start tackling tomorrow’s problems until tomorrow. You do not have tomorrow’s strength yet. You simply have enough for today.’ This has helped me so much, since I am a chronic worrier, always anxious about what’s next. This quote reminds me to face today’s challenges. Leave the obstacles of tomorrow for tomorrow.”
“I want to tell everyone not to get tensed or frustrated when you are not achieving your desired success; just put your best efforts in your work. If you are dedicated to your work or whatever you are trying to do, you will definitely get success at one point. Always hope for the best.”
Ishrat Jahan Deepa is passionate about conquering goals—especially in the world of fair trade.
Deepa works as a Unit Manager at Sacred Mark—one of ten Prokritee production units in Bangladesh. Prokritee and its enterprises provide jobs for poor rural women who are in a difficult social status. By providing this work, Prokritee improves women’s standard of living and helps them send their children to school.
“I am very much passionate about my work. I treat Sacred Mark as my one beloved child and try to provide my best efforts to work for it with a vision to change life of the artisans.”
Currently, Deepa has 54 artisans working at Sacred Mark—all of whom come from some of the most challenging backgrounds imaginable. Many women have been victims of human trafficking and exploitation. Deepa sees Sacred Mark as offering a safe haven for these individuals while also teaching them ethical business standards.
“They have entered into a new life which was relieving, peaceful, and social, and started to think positively about their life once again. Now they have become more conscious about their future, about their children’s education, safety and they have also started saving money for their future betterments.”
Pushing to develop fair practices and creating the organization as it is right now wasn’t without its difficulties.
“We decided that we would face all our challenges. We worked together. While working as a team, we were able to identify our drawbacks and work on them. As a result, we were able to overcome all our big challenges and found our right tracks.”
“We are all in this life together. Discover what your gifts are and act on them! I personally love to get involved with others and do something that will encourage them and have a positive effect on their lives.”
To educate is to help others succeed—and that’s exactly what Jenny likes about teaching future generations.
“In the area of children, I want to help them to grow, discover, learn, and enjoy life and all of its surroundings. My desire is to help them to know they are valued and loved and that they have much to offer at whatever age they are. And, as my four-year-olds and I say together as they do some of their harder work, ‘We can do it!’”
Jenny began working with children throughout high school while directing choirs, organizing playground activities, developing after-school care, and planning community events. Eventually she earned a degree in elementary education and taught in Ohio. When her son was young, she decided to homeschool and develop groups to support other families doing so as well. Jenny helped start and run a homeschool group of over 80 families for 10 years, organizing field trips, creating curriculum, and serving on multiple boards to help with educational initiatives.
Jenny wants things to work, and work well—but she also offers advice on how to have a realistic, and healthy, mindset.
“I have a tendency to put lots of pressure on myself to have everything I do go perfectly. That is a true source of anxiety for an overachiever. That mentality also puts too much of the focus on me and off or the others that I want to reach. I had to learn that everything I do does not have to be perfect. I had to learn flexibility within the plan. A good friend taught me that early in my parenting years. Flexibility is better than perfection.”
Currently, she is teaching Pre-K children at a private preschool and loves everything about it—finding joy in helping four-year-olds learn and grow.
“I learn as much from them as they do from me. Just think if we as adults still loved all of those things and saw ourselves as capable people who love a challenge!”
On International Women’s Day we honor heroes, both global and personal, and continue to celebrate their achievements.
Today I celebrate my mom. My Grandma. My sisters. My friends. I wouldn’t know where I’d be without them. Their impact on my life shaped who I am as a person—and I’m so much better for it.