(Left to Right: Stephanie Rydell, Intern; Sara Blanco, Operations Manager;
Rep. Connie Morella; Melissa Richmond, Programs and Outreach Manager)
On Wednesday night, September 25th, Running Start held its 3rd official Off the Record dinner, hosted by the fabulous Kiki McLean. As a new intern, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to attend. I was really excited to meet the amazing mentors who had agreed to donate their time to speak with Running Start members about their own experiences in leadership positions.
Susannah Wellford, Running Start’s founder, even gave me the honor of introducing all of the mentors before the dinner and panel discussion commenced. I was a bit nervous to speak in front of such wonderful people, but I received some great public speaking advice from Jessica Grounds, Running Start’s Executive Director. She emphasized confidence in posture and delivery and just as she said it would, it went really well. Giving the introductions actually gave me a fantastic advantage for the rest of the night, as every time I approached a mentor to introduce myself, they were already familiar with me!
The dinner itself was very intimate, with approximately 20 guests and the 6 mentors. Everyone was free to mingle with snacks and drinks until dinner was served, a lovely meal from Lebanese Taverna. Everyone was soon seated comfortably with wine and a plate of baklava and the panel discussion began! All the mentors sat in a row against the fireplace and began introducing themselves.
The first to speak was none other than former Representative Connie Morella (R-MD) who held that office from 1987-2003. Throughout the course of the night, she shared with us amazing personal challenges she has overcome, including adopting her late sister’s 6 children, in addition to her own 3, in the 1970s. She emphasized standing up for what you believe in and not getting caught up in party lines.
Next up was Courtney Johnson, Executive Director of Women LEAD, a PAC that supports Republican women candidates. She, like all the mentors, had a great energy and was a captivating speaker. She shared valuable insight on the idea of “having it all” and was incredibly friendly with everyone who attended. She even offered to meet up with me over lunch to discuss career plans in the upcoming weeks!
Seated next to Courtney was Margie Omero, Managing Director of Purple Strategies’ Research Division. She shared humorous stories of being blunt with clients over polling results and was incredibly personable.
Sitting beside Margie was Jill Bader, Communications Director at Republican State Leadership Committee. I thought Jill’s comments were particularly interesting, as she discussed life on the road and the challenges of frequently relocating.
Representative Donna Edwards was scheduled to speak at our Off the Record dinner, but was unable to attend as Congress went into session. Fortunately, her Chief of Staff, Adrienne Christian, filled in. Adrienne was amazing; she is an incredibly powerful speaker. In response to an attendee’s inquiry, Adrienne shared moving stories about what having courage has meant in her own career. She was also kind enough to share memorable anecdotes from her own campaign experience.
Host and mentor, Kiki McLean, rounded out our panel perfectly. She had incredibly profound advice to share, especially about the importance of allowing oneself to receive help, and her energy lit up the room.
Running Start members took turns asking our panel questions, which were all articulately fielded by our experienced mentors. The time flew by and when the panel discussion concluded, mentors and members stuck around to swap business cards and ask any lingering questions.
This dinner was absolutely amazing. I was a different person walking out of Kiki McLean’s front door at 9pm than I was at 6pm when I entered. Throughout the course of the panel discussion, I could not shake the feeling that the entire exchange should have been recorded, transcribed word for word. I felt like a witness to a legendary moment in history; accomplished women sharing personal examples of leadership that spanned the course of decades to young women, hoping to make equally large impacts in the world. You could feel the hope and excitement in the room grow as each speaker, one after another, told the young women in attendance that their mere presence at the dinner that evening proved that they had the determination to succeed and find their voice. It was an inspiring night with great food that ended far too soon. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of becoming a Running Start member and gaining access to these events. What you get in return is tremendous. Attend one, and you’ll be hooked.
-Stephanie R., Running Start Intern