Heard on the Hill

Former Staffers Want to Fund Diverse Women for Hill Internships

New foundation’s goal is to fund 50 internships a year for young women

Sara Lonardo, left, and Elizabeth Whitney, right, both are former Capitol Hill interns. They teamed up to create the Women's Congressional Staff Foundation. (Photo courtesy Wynne Leahy)

All eyes are on women on Capitol Hill this week: How will those in the Senate vote on Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination? What might his accusers say to affect his confirmation?

Behind the scenes, staffers work to keep the trains moving and their bosses informed. One group doesn’t think there are enough staffers from different backgrounds among them.

While the Women’s Congressional Staff Association provides a network and space for women already on Capitol Hill, there was no group to get diverse women there in the first place.

The Women’s Congressional Staff Foundation was launched in July by two former Capitol Hill staffers to award scholarships to women who might not otherwise be able to intern on the Hill.

Founders Sara Lonardo and Elizabeth K. Whitney both worked part-time jobs when they were interns to make ends meet.

Whitney then became a co-founder of the Women’s Congressional Staff Association in 2008. She is continuing that work to give more women opportunities. 

“We’re hoping to open up that world to a broader class, a broader demographic who might take themselves out of the running for a career in public policy,” she said.

Whitney started her career on the Hill as an intern for former Maine Rep. Tom Allen in 2006. She is now the managing principal of boutique government relations firm Meguire Whitney LLC.

Lonardo started as an intern for Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Jack Reed in 2003. She is now the assistant director of communications for national media at the Service Employees International Union.

Lonardo and Whitney said they’re depending on women in Washington and their networks to step up and fund internships. The foundation is fully dependent on donations.

“As we’ve been doing this initial outreach process … it’s been really tremendously gratifying to see the support we’ve been getting from other women in D.C.,” Lonardo said.

They will have a scholarship selection committee to solicit applications, particularly from women who wouldn’t be able to hold an internship without this support.

Once the women are selected, they will walk them through the process of applying for an internship, direct them to opportunities, tell them insider information from their experiences, and share a network of people to help them find internships.

“As I’ve gotten further along in my career, I have just always shared this passion for helping young women through that very vulnerable time in your life, which is finishing college and starting out in your career,” Whitney said. “We’re really going to be looking for those women who are at that critical path, where this is a make or break opportunity … and they are poised for success if they have that helping hand at that moment.”

Their vision is to fund about 50 young women’s internships annually.

The foundation’s other goals are to put on training workshops for female Hill staffers and to support WCSA, especially by hosting an annual event.

The foundation’s Inaugural Awards Ceremony to honor WCSA’s 10 year anniversary is Wednesday. It will give the Senate Commerce Committee’s minority staff’s transportation counsel Devon Barnhart, who founded WCSA with Whitney, with the Leadership Impact Award.

Additionally, Rep. Kathy Castor’s legislative correspondent Joicelynne Jackson will receive the Rising Star Award, and retiring GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, will be presented with the Congressional Champion Award.

Ros-Lehtinen is an original sponsor of WCSA in 2008.

The foundation's Inaugural Awards Ceremony is on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in The McDermott Building (500 North Capitol St., NW). Tickets start at $75.Watch: There’s Been a Dramatic Rise in Female Campaign Donors This Cycle

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