State

Women's group sees needs to fill

The group began in February 2007 as a networking effort for professional women. It recently registered as a charitable organization and will install officers at a celebration later this month and hopes to open a thrift store next summer.

Evone Gonzalez, an account executive at a radio station, said she spearheaded the effort so women could get a leg up in the business world by swapping stories and sharing leads.

A handful of entrepreneurs who joined Gonzalez soon decided they should do more to address the needs of families in Modesto and surrounding communities, particularly women who would be better off if they broke away from abusive relationships.

Now they call themselves a "purpose-driven network."

Gonzalez, a divorced mother of two sons who wishes she had a place to turn when she was 20, said the time for a new nonprofit group has come because the need is great. She explained her reasoning this way: "Why don't we stop complaining and do something about it?"

Peggy Gardiner, who is in charge of support services, said the group has about 15 members, including a financial planner, a hairstylist and a Web designer. Membership also is open to stay-at-home moms and retirees, and the group hopes to grow to about 40 members by the end of the year.

Monthly luncheons have included guest speakers such as Modesto Police Chief Roy Wasden and Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager.

The women are looking for 2,000 square feet of retail space on McHenry Avenue to house a secondhand boutique, where they also would hold workshops on topics such as personal safety, parenting and budgeting.

They are accepting donations and are particularly interested in display racks and wearable clothing. "If it's not good enough to give it to your friend, then it's not good enough for anyone," said Gardiner, who previously ran a thrift store that raised money for people who are developmentally disabled.

Gonzalez and Gardiner said they hope to make a profit so they can make cash contributions to reputable groups such as Haven Women's Center, a Modesto-based nonprofit group that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Belinda Rolicheck, Haven's executive director, said the center receives generous support from many community service groups. She wondered if the region can support another service group but said nonprofit groups that serve needy women and children welcome any support they can get.

"Best of luck to them," Rolicheck said.

The Women's Empowerment Group will install its officers at a ceremony at 7 p.m. May 29 at the DoubleTree Hotel. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $15 and include appetizers and entertainment. For more information, call 573-1710 or go to www.womensempowermenttoday.com.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at sherendeen@modbee.com or 578-2338.

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