Sami Palavi and his sister, K.C. Harnish-Palavi, couldn’t be more proud of their mother, Christy Harnish. The family gathered at the 3rd Door in Palo Alto on Sunday to celebrate the first graduating class of the Women’s Achievement Network and Development Alliance (WANDA) economic-empowerment program. Christy was one of those graduates.
Three years ago, she and 12 other women signed on for WANDA’s inaugural class to learn the financial skills necessary to overcome the cycle of poverty that affects so many single mothers and their families.
WANDA was started in 2007 by 26 women who believed that the best way to move women out of poverty was to give them the financial skills they need to be their own best advocates. To date, 55 women from San Mateo County have participated in WANDA’s program.
According to co-founder ,WANDA participants are given financial literacy classes, a structured savings program, case management services and one-on-one mentoring to ensure they have the skills they need to get out of poverty, once and for all.
Participants are encouraged to work toward financial stability by focusing their efforts on one financial goal. WANDA, in turn, promises a 2:1 financial match toward those goals. This first graduating class accumulated more than $57,000 in the three years with WANDA.
“Today,” Susan Kokorus, co-founder of WANDA, said to the excited audience, “we are celebrating 13 wealthier women who spent the last three years dedicated to saving for one life-changing asset.” Some of the women, like Blanca Avedar, managed to set aside enough money to buy their first homes. Others put away money for their children’s college educations or their own retirements.
Sandra Gomez, a WANDA graduate, said that until she learned the necessary skills, she “felt like a hamster spinning in a wheel.” Now she is the proud owner of her own home and recently completed her Bachelor's of Arts from Notre Dame De Namur University. She says she wants to get her master's degree so she can have even more earning power for herself and her children. “My advice to all women is to raise smart, money-wise kids. Do that, and we will see a real change in society.”
Palo Alto Mayor Sid Espinosa clapped and cheered as the graduates were given purple shawls to honor their new roles as alumnae of WANDA. “The most transformative impact you can have on a community, be it in Botswana, Cambodia, or even here in the Bay Area, is by offering economic development to women. WANDA helps future women leaders help themselves and their families.”
Keynote speaker Sue Bostrom offered the graduates three key tips: Take the risk you believe in (even if others around you aren’t so sure), stay true to yourself but be adaptable, and define your own success and work toward it. “But most importantly,” she said, “be the fearless leaders you already are, because you are modeling change for your children.”
Sami Pavali is a perfect example of that. His mom is saving for her retirement. "Me? I'm saving for a computer for school and maybe a new bike, too,” he said, as he watched her receive her purple shawl.