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DEI Committee Member Speaks about her Inspiring Mentors

Diversity and Inclusion

Editor's Note: On this last day of Women's History Month - and in these trying times when our when our relationships are most sacred -the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee asked Committee Member Amanda Schartau to share her thoughts on how her relationships have informed her values and her career. Her story brings us to know more about her, her Nana, and other women who have empowered her.

Nana Schartau proudly served as a lunch lady at the school of her five children. When she was 31 years old, Nana Schartau finally saved enough of her own funds to buy a pair of red alligator heels.  I believe this may have been among the most life-defining moments for her: the sense of self-sufficiency among a strong patriarchal household. Her husband would have never bought them for her; too wasteful when they had a house to feed. At 94 years old today, with dementia and its forgetfulness ravishing her mind, I hear the story of her alligator heels at least 15 times when I visit for an hour or so. We have tea and talk slowly of different days. I am her ‘friend.’ She can barely place my face among our family line.

Perhaps her story is not so foreign or long forgotten. I recall the same enthusiasm of my first purchase post-college, a pair of expensive red flats to pair with my favorite dresses. The feeling of knowing I could provide for myself, and to be able to extend beyond my most basic needs, elated me. I think we can all think of that moment – when we realized, by our own hard work, we no longer needed daily fear of not making ends meet and have the ability to dream beyond food, shelter, and safety. A life beyond survival mode. A life where we can freely dance in alligator heels ‘just because.’

Nana Schartau was one of the first strong female figures in my life. She kept a meticulous kitchen with old world recipes from her grandmother in Germany and delighted to have a home full of family and friends. She loved her gardens in the backyard and shared its bounty with all who crossed her path. She believed in the church and righteousness and doing good; but also believed in red lipstick, red wine, and red alligator heels. Nana Schartau was outspoken when needed, defending her children fiercely and her husband even more. She read, a lot, and journaled every day on the mundanity and extraordinariness of life. She had big dreams for the future generations of women. When I leased by first apartment, my own and just me, she was filled with joy and believed it was one small step in the right direction of sufficiency.

My mother is strong, too, with her diligence to remain a stay-at-home mom to take care of me and the twins, six years my junior. She became devoted to the recipes from Nana Schartau. She taught me how to love, to speak up, and to never forget my empathetic ear. All I am is because of her. My mother often yearned for a career. She still speaks candidly of wanting to become an EMT or a nurse; of course, which I reply, now is the time to dedicate and live the life she’s always imagined. Her story was one that has always resonated with me – the realization that women are all equal; stay-at-home mom or corporate ladder climbing careerwoman. We all have an important role in the advancement of women and our histories.

My mentors, too, have a tremendous role in my advancement and the lives of so many others. Joan Stevens, high school Health teacher, who lent an ear and a hug when I needed it through the throws of teenage ache. Tammy Wiley Wickson, college advisor, who coached, listened, and supported my every decision and became my champion. Colette Croop, Toastmasters mentor, who reminded me it’s okay if I haven’t found my voice just yet. Linda Marshall was my first mentor through PMI Rochester, and at the time of our meeting, I desperately needed direction. I was a month into my first full-time career post-college and I was terrified. Was I doing anything right? Why were all of my ideas being disregarded? How could I gain the trust of my constituents? She had tangible, actionable advice – and was there to check-in on progress and results of these actions. Lori Gacioch of PMI Rochester has also mentored me.. I am incredibly grateful for her weekly coaching, especially when work and life seemed challenging – and especially when I was succeeding and thriving as a result of her support. Although I know life is but lifelong learning, I know that I have been shaped by powerful women – mentioned in this article and not  – and I am so grateful for these opportunities to grow into a higher potential self.

Although many of my mentors and inspirators have been women, it’s so important to understand the role all people – regardless of gender – play in advancement of ourselves. My dad has taught me more about personal finance than I care to know (and for my own good!). I have countless peers in my office, all men, who are my go-to sources for advising, coaching, and direction.

I, myself, have yearned to mentor, too. My first mentee was a 7-year-old girl from the inner city in Rochester. I was 18 years old at the time and knew, being the oldest child, how much I’d wished for an older sister. We talked – a lot – and I learned to listen even more than I thought possible. I began to learn that the most beautiful aspect of mentoring is all that is learned from your mentee. Through the years, I’ve mentored three young, bright girls through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester. I have supported young women in the local immigrant and refugee communities by encouraging education and workforce opportunities. I encourage all young girls, and young adults, to work hard, balance with adventure, and to never forget to dream big for these are all lessons I’ve learned from Nana Schartau, from my mother, and from my various mentors throughout my life.

Who has supported you throughout your journey? Pondering your own life, successes and failures, what have you learned? What are your dreams for the next generations of women? Share in the comments below!


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