Forum helps women strengthen community


By Kim McConnell
The Lawton Constitution Staff Writer

Mayor Fred Fitch, right, talks to participants in Tuesday’s women’s forum, “Stronger Women Make Stronger Families Make Stronger Communities.” Pictured are, from left, Shelley Hossenlopp, Jane Mitchell and Linda Dzialo, keynote speaker.

Women in Lawton-Fort Sill were asked to identify the community’s strengths and weaknesses Tuesday, then pose solutions.

The proposals surfaced during the Stronger Women Make Stronger Families Make Stronger Communities event, a women’s summit spearheaded by the Mayor’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Lawton Fort Sill Chamber of Commerce. The morning-long event, part of the local Women’s History Month celebration, was intended to bring the community’s women together to meet, mingle and propose measurable changes. Organizers said there already had been a summit for community leaders in October; the women’s summit was the next step in a process that also will include a youth summit.
The idea, said Mayor Fred Fitch, is to clearly identify strengths on which the community may build, while targeting its challenges. Tuesday’s audience, made up of women ranging from retirees to young military wives and college students, appeared to like that challenge.
Keynote speaker Linda Dzialo helped get the crowd of almost 140 women moving in the right direction. Dzialo, a former educator with Lawton Public Schools and founder of Lawton Food 4 Children, is CEO of Great Expectations, a professional development program aimed at teachers and principals, and she used some of those educator-aimed techniques to get Tuesday’s participants into a thinking, planning, organizing frame of mind.
Dzialo asked questions to get the audience engaged, telling them to jump up and yell “That’s me” when a question pertained to them. As a result, she found that while a majority of the women had lived in Lawton-Fort Sill for more than 10 years, many had been here for five years or less, and Dzialo said she was thrilled they chose to participate. The other thing participants learned almost immediately: About half the audience came to Lawton-Fort Sill because of the military.
Dzialo highlighted her own life in Lawton to explain that change can be healthy and the community must learn to “change to stay current,” saying staying current will help Lawton-Fort Sill expand and offer more to its residents.
“We’ve got to be vigilant,” she said, noting that vigilance must be directed toward bringing in businesses and growing the community, and by proving Lawton is a safe place to live, with a rich culture and recreational opportunities, among other offerings.
She challenged participants to remember three things: The power of women, the power of leadership and the power of community development. People can’t use a “cookie cutter” to create an effective leader, she added, noting there are many skills that define leadership and often, the best leaders are those who actively listen and assimilate what they hear, then act.
As for “outsiders,” Dzialo, quoting a favorite author, said those people often can provide clarity of vision. Or, to paraphrase another author: Those least wedded to the table are those who haven’t been allowed to sit at it.
She also urged participants to women who have made a difference, those in history as well as those in their own lives. She said they should pay special attention to their mothers and grandmothers, explaining that recognizing accomplishments in their own families will lead to greater strength in its girls and greater respect from its boys. Dzialo also asked the women to focus on some of the positive events and activities in the community – plans for Second Street, the citywide bike trail system, cleaning up neighborhood parks – and urged them to be a volunteer, mentor and leader.
“We can become the vibrant community we want to be,” she said.
Dzialo’s talk was the forerunner for the bulk of the morning summit, “table talks” where groups of up to eight women met with moderators to brainstorm questions pertaining to strengths and weaknesses of the community, then offering possible solutions. Those topics ranged from education (how smart are we about getting smarter), to strengthening families to strengthen the community, to whether the community is making Lawton somewhere children will remain when they become adults.
In one group, participants noted that community leaders must be inclusive of residents when discussing problems and solutions, bringing in a greater cross-section of involvement by taking discussions into those communities, perhaps via churches. Moderators said that proposal was a common theme and one noted the leadership summit in October 2011.