To fill that void, Kristen Birtwhistle founded The Eleanor Project in Stockton.
“The whole idea, the intent behind it, is to create avenues for women to come together that have the need for support, networking and advocacy for their specific causes,” said Birtwhistle.
The Eleanor Project is a Stockton-based organization, not part of a larger network, and is named after former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt because the organization’s aims fit with Roosevelt’s ideals.
“The whole notion behind that missing link that the celebration and recognizing the accomplishments all felt like it was part of the mantra of Eleanor Roosevelt,” said Birtwhistle. “We wanted something catchy about this, so we started Eleanor Project on for size and everyone really liked it.”
When Birtwhistle founded The Eleanor Project, she wanted to find a way to support local businesses owned and operated by women. That prompted The Eleanor Project’s WOO (Women Owned and Operated) program, which gives stickers to WOO establishments to display in their windows.
“We realized wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could actually identify women owned and operated businesses before you went into it,” said Birtwhistle. “The response was wonderful. So, we have several businesses that have a WOO sticker on their front door.”
The next step is for organization to create a list of WOO establishments on its website.
The Eleanor Project first started out with Dinners and Discussions, which are groups of eight or fewer women who discuss what’s driving them and what causes are important to them.
Birtwhistle had been involved in other networking groups in the past. She found that unlike those groups, The Eleanor Project’s Dinners and Discussions allowed the participants to make the meaningful connections vital to success.
“One of the things I also found about these women was at networking events you would come together for a short period of time, but you would never really build a relationship with anybody,” said Birtwhistle. “Relationships are really key in advancing our careers and having a broader brushstroke of people that you’re connected with that can help you and you can help them.”
In addition to the Dinners and Discussions, The Eleanor Project hosts a series of educational events, which it refers to as TEP (The Eleanor Project) Talks. The TEP Talks allow women to come together in large groups to speak on specific topics.
So far the TEP Talks have been a success, Birtwhistle said. Like all of The Eleanor Project events, they’re free to attend. The last TEP Talk was hosted at Stockton’s Health Careers Academy in September and was attended by about 100 women.
Erin Guy Castillo is a partner at the law firm Parish Guy Castillo. She’s also one of the original eight members who attended The Eleanor Project’s first Dinner and Discussion after being invited by Birtwhistle’s sister, Stacey Jackson.
Since then, Guy Castillo has been involved in everything from helping to design the website, coming up with The Eleanor Project’s name, hosting a Dinner and Discussion and serving as a panelist in The Eleanor Project’s first panel.
“Basically, wherever they need me, I’ve been engaged,” said Guy Castillo.
Guy Castillo has also recommended The Eleanor Project to friends. She signed up her younger associate from her law firm and invited seven others to join the group at the Dinner and Discussion she hosted.
“It’s very effective because it puts you in a position to connect with other women that maybe you wouldn’t have the opportunity to meet because they’re outside of your professional area,” said Guy Castillo. “But it does it on a very intimate level, so you feel comfortable at these dinners or in these groups that are meeting about a particular topic and get engaged with people.”
The Eleanor Project’s next event is a diversity certification workshop on Nov. 15, held at Vereschagin Alumni House on the campus of the University of the Pacific. The workshop will allow WOO establishments to get certified as diversity vendors.
Birtwhistle is planning to get together with the other strategic planners of The Eleanor Project in the coming months to come up with a host of events for 2017.
The Eleanor Project is a membership-based organization. All its events are free, but it depends on donations, sponsorships and memberships.
Anyone interested in joining The Eleanor Project can sign up on its website, TheEleanorProject.com.