ORLANDO, Fla. – The theme for Women’s History Month this year is “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.”
A local women’s empowerment group is doing this year-round, impacting 1,000 women annually, through its programs and events.
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Sharing wisdom for living with laughter and some tears, the Women on the Rise International (WOTR) Orlando chapter is six years strong with more than 130 members, welcoming all women in their 30s, 40s and 50s to share a safe space for building their best lives.
“I think because of COVID, you see a lot of people dealing with anxiety, depression, failed relationships, so we’re trying to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our members and providing that level of support and really it’s just showing up for one another,” said Arlene Blake, founder and executive director of Women on the Rise.
After losing both parents to cancer and adjusting to life as a single working mother, Blake attended group therapy for extra support. Along that journey, she realized more women needed a similar platform for encouragement. She used her background in business and event planning to found Women on the Rise International, Incorporated.
“You never know how your story can impact someone else because often we think we’re by ourselves in what we’re going through. When you’re able to hear someone else’s testimony, it’s like ‘hey, that’s my story and there’s light at the end of the tunnel.’ It’s really important and lets you know you too can reach that,” Blake explained.
“Women hold so much inside. You have to be strong for the kids, if you’re a single mom, wife, everybody depends on you. We’re so strong for so long that it’s weird, you know? Nobody knows how to help you when you’re weak,” member Kendra Pearson said. “Who’s going to be there for the encourager? Who’s going to be there for the one always giving the good word?”
Members say Women on the Rise is an uplifting village of ladies from a wide variety of career paths and experiences.
The nonprofit hosts motivational and educational events and conferences throughout the year built around four pillars: financial literacy, career development, entrepreneurship, and personal wellness.
“I think the thing that is really weighing on women right now is trying to achieve their own version of balance. I think a lot of people think when they hear balance, they think equal. (As in) I have to be equal over here, equally into my work life, family life, equally into my friends and that’s not really what balance is about. Balance is about creating a lifestyle for yourself that allows you to be your best self,” said Licensed Therapist Valerie Carmel, a WOTR member.
Member Candace Walker says one event, a retreat in 2019 with Women on the Rise, was a big breakthrough moment for her.
“We each had a moment to share with our sisters what we were going through, it wasn’t an opportunity of immediate seeking advice, it was just I’m here for you. I’m listening, I hear you, I can relate, I’m here for you, you can cry on my shoulder, I’m going to hug you, I’m gonna be here to support you,” she explained. “I think when you can do that, you can truly grow and that’s when you can become stronger.”
Now, Walker shares Wellness Wednesday health and fitness tips with the group weekly.
“A group like this is always so encouraging. We’re talking about taking our power, learning not just to pour into others, but also into ourselves. It’s so important to fill ourselves up so we can pour ourselves out, whether it’s our career, families, or sisters,” Walker said.
When it comes to “Providing Healing, Promoting Hope,” group member Dr. Marcelline L. Girlie, a family and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, says Women on the Rise includes several therapists and health care providers who lend their expertise to the group, encouraging others as well benefitting from the supportive network.
“We’re there to educate the everyday woman to understand themselves right where they are and improve where they need to,” Dr. Girlie said.
“When I think about Women’s History Month, and I think about the sisterhood and I think about women, I think about us being true to who we are and looking for support and help when we need it. I think we’re most successful and most healthy when we do that,” Dr. Girlie said.
In addition to Orlando, there’s a growing WOTR chapter in Jacksonville. The organization also mentors high school and college-aged women, including at the Pace Center for Girls, where they’ve donated self-care boxes to the young ladies and even right now a member is leading the plan to host yoga classes at the center.
Find out more about Women On The Rise and upcoming meetings on the group’s website.