Members Take a Stroll as Mentors

Posted June 18, 2007 at 3:09pm

The National Mall is as much a home to a legacy of marches as it is to cherry trees and historic monuments. Today, some of Washington, D.C.’s most successful and influential women, including a number of Senators and Congresswomen, will honor that legacy as participants in the Mentors Walk. Joining them are 250 local college-aged women who aspire to follow in their footsteps.

This walk, sponsored by the television network Oxygen, is just what it sounds like: A chance for older women to share their insights with a younger generation during a stroll through the park. Each “mentor” will walk alongside three or four carefully selected “mentees” who share similar goals and values.

Geraldine Laybourne, CEO and founder of the only cable network owned and operated by women, said the concept of the Mentors Walk — which has taken place in major cities across the country with a different group of participants each time — originated based on her own experiences.

“I live to break myths about women,” Laybourne said. “The myth that women don’t help each other is one I want to break in particular, so every time a woman wants to make time on my calendar, my office sets up a time for her to take a walk with me around Central Park in New York City.”

And so the routine was expanded into a full-fledged program. While the first official walk in New York featured an impressive list of women in the arts, among them Meryl Streep and Diane von Furstenberg, today’s walk will be joined by women in public office, business and communications.

While every woman in Congress received an invitation to participate, Oxygen’s publicity department said the politicians who plan to attend include Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Democratic Reps. Shelley Berkley (Nev.), Lois Capps (Calif.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Carolyn Maloney (N.Y.), Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Carol Shea-Porter (N.H.), Hilda Solis (Calif.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.).

Laybourne said she was thrilled with the politicians who have agreed to serve as mentors: “These are fabulous women. I’m very impressed with all the women I’ve met in Congress and how strong and smart they are.”

Waters is equally happy to be involved in the program.

“When I was asked to participate, I said yes right away. I’m a walker, and this is a way of doing what I like, plus I get to help someone while I do it,” she said. “I’ll have the chance to serve, even for a short time, as a mentor to some young girl who might get inspired by what I do. She’ll learn about me, and I’ll get to learn about her, too.”

Solis looks forward to the opportunity to encourage her mentees to pursue their highest aspirations.

“I recall in college wanting to become a lawyer or a social worker, wanting to help people,” she said. “Eventually I got into political science and public administration, but never once thought I could run for office. It was women who encouraged me.

“It’s hard to run for office as a woman, it’s hard to get into these high-level positions, but it’s doable,” Solis continued, “and it’s important for young women to seek out those folks who they can learn from to break through the glass ceiling.”

A breakfast following the walk will give mentors and mentees more time to become acquainted with each other. While this culminates the day’s activities, Laybourne said the relationships formed during this one meeting could progress in a number of ways.

“Over the years, some mentees have gotten jobs and book contracts, and some have had extended communications with mentors over e-mail. It’s really up to the mentors how they want to stay connected,” she said.