Mentoring. Leading. Caring.
St. Paul women founded two nonprofits this year, focused on girls and women. Lead(H)er matches young professional women with mentors in the community. The Legacy Project QC pairs girls who have lost their moms with women who experienced the same. Melissa Pepper and Laura Torgerud are the founders. They’ve surrounded their idea with board members and community support. Through all of the paperwork, branding, website building, event planning, training, fundraising, and networking, the Quad Cities is now home to two new 501(c)(3)s.
Lead(H)er: Striking matches
Melissa Pepper loves the Quad Cities. After graduating from Augustana College, she was pretty sure this was the place she wanted her family to take root. Melissa, who has worked at the Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center and Lane & Waterman, is happiest when she is making connections, building relationships.
Then an idea came: why not start a nonprofit to help young women connect with others here, so they stay here and contribute their talents here? And Lead(H)er was born.
The mission? To connect young professional women with experienced leaders to fuel career and community engagement. “Matches” are chosen based on what mentees are seeking – type of experience, career advice, a wider network, or leadership roles in the community.
“This community has been good to me,” Melissa said. “I could go somewhere else, but the community is one important aspect of what keeps me here.”
Melissa started having lots of conversations with Quad City leaders. They poked holes in her idea, gave her great feedback (“I got to drink a lot of coffee,” Melissa said). She recruited a board of talented people, and they went to work. At a recent kick-off party, Royal Neighbors awarded Melissa $10,000 to really get Lead(H)er off the ground – that includes hiring the organization’s first staff member.
Sarah Stevens, also a St. Paul member, was recently named executive director of Lead(H)er. Board member Laura Sivertsen also is a member. “Who leaves a successful career in healthcare with only a spark of hope that there is something else for which you were intended?” Sarah said. “As it turns out, I do. Or did. I leapt at the notion that life was supposed to feel bigger than it felt. Lead(H)er is the net that caught me.”
She is astonished at the amount of energy and momentum the organization has gathered in a short time with minimal resources.
“Imagine what we will be capable of as we work to harness all of this energy and create a network of people who are dedicated to fueling the career and community engagement of young women in this community. The possibilities are, quite literally, endless.”
In the short term, the most important job is to get really good at making strong matches and measuring outcomes. So far, a great mix of women are signing up to be mentors and mentees. They come from a range of backgrounds, including nonprofits, for profits, small organizations, large corporations.
Long term, Melissa’s hope is that Lead(H)er will become a model for anyone in the nation who wants to start a similar initiative.
“Let’s empower women all over to dig into their communities,” she said. And what is she most excited about for the future? “I can hardly wait to hear the stories of matches made.”
To learn more about Lead(H)er, visit leadherqc.org.
The Legacy Project: Guiding through grief
The hardest part of losing her mom came in the quiet.
“After the hustle and bustle of the funeral, the cards and visits dwindled. No one outside of my family talked about mom anymore,” Laura Torgerud says. If she could go back to being an 11-year-old motherless girl, knowing what she knows now, here’s what she would ask for:
Stories: Silly or serious, give me stories about my mom. If you don’t mind, write them down for me. I may not fully appreciate them at this moment, but I will cherish them later. I’ll take mom stories months or years later, too.
Talk: Just because she’s gone, it doesn’t mean she should be forgotten. Please don’t assume that she’s too hard to talk about, and that healing equals ignoring.
Journey: Losing a parent as a child is not a journey often traveled. Who can prepare for something like this? I can’t. But at the end of the day, I just want to be like my friends. I want to take one day at a time. And while this is an important piece of my life story, I don’t want to be defined by my loss. I’d like it if you treat me like Sally next door.
Laura is one of the founders of The Legacy Project QC. St. Paul member Nicole Rathje is the chairperson of the board and Kelly McCollough is the secretary. All are involved with St. Paul’s Motherless Daughters group.
The Legacy Project was born to help protect the legacy of mothers lost by school-aged girls up through young adulthood.
“We see that the life of a mom should never, ever be forgotten, discounted or moved on from. The woman who loved her daughter more than life itself deserves to live on. Forever.”
Trained mentors and companions will walk alongside motherless girls and young women of the Quad Cities. They will assist them in cultivating a lasting legacy while they navigate the journey of mother loss. The Legacy Project recently earned its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, and sent Laura to a training specific to learning about grief in children. They are planning to make their first
matches in the coming months, with the help of area churches and schools.
Nicole’s mom, Debbie Meyer, died after a battle with leukemia when Nicole was 29 years old. Nicole’s daughter, Sage, was born seven weeks before Debbie’s death.
“She was everybody’s friend, and everybody’s mentor,” said Nicole, who is the president of the board. “She was easy to talk to, funny, compassionate, fair, hard-working, and an amazing Christian.”
The most important aspect of The Legacy Project is mentors giving girls the opportunity to honor their mothers and build their legacy through activities they like to do – such as work on a memory blanket, baking a favorite recipe of their mom’s, or going to a community event their mom loved to attend, Nicole said. The hope is to hold larger group events as well.
“Mothers are such a special person in a girl’s life, and a void that can’t be filled. But we’re going to do the best we can to help these girls remember their moms well,” Nicole said.
To learn more about The Legacy Project, visit thelegacyprojectqc.com.