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Home / Expert Opinion / GRAWA President’s Message: Celebrating resilient women, youth in Rochester

GRAWA President’s Message: Celebrating resilient women, youth in Rochester

Melanie Wolk

Melanie Wolk

As we come to the end of another very busy year, I have had many suggestions on what to write about, ranging from our first female mayor, Lovely Warren, to a large law firm’s memo issued only to female associates about professional behavior and dress. Yet, while thinking about these topics, a much broader concept kept coming to mind, “resilience.”

Resilience is the ability and quality in certain people that allows them to get back up, often stronger than ever, after personal or professional setbacks. These are the individuals that refuse to wallow in self-pity following life’s disappointments; through a set of conscious decisions, the resilient person continues to push ahead, regardless of how daunting it may seem. We often think of resilience as a personality trait rather than a conscious decision, but I have found that it is a combination of the two.

I recently interacted with a group of the most resilient young women that I have had the fortune of meeting in our community. I am referring to the students of the Young Women’s College Prep Charter School of Rochester, many of whom come from the city’s most challenged neighborhoods.

The first all girls’ school in Rochester boldly opened its doors in August 2012, welcoming its inaugural class of 79 dedicated and truly resilient seventh-graders. In August of this year, the second class of more than 70 additional girls were admitted. Each of these young women, hoping to create a new future for themselves, made the conscious choice to enroll in the lottery. Upon being selected, each young woman and their respective families made a commitment to the school and their respective futures.

On Dec. 3, I had the opportunity to join many of our colleagues in a celebration of these young women, their families and the future that these young women now have available to them. These students were not hand-selected from their respective schools for good grades, excellent attendance rates and personal achievements. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

Many of these young girls were reading and writing well below their grade level, had truancy and behavior issues and were on the path of not graduating high school, or junior high for that matter. These remarkable and truly resilient young women are a shining example of our innate ability to consciously move past adversity, and set off on a journey of new experiences and opportunities.

Despite all the factors that could prevent these young women from succeeding and obtaining an education, each one of them has made the personal commitment to obtain their educational goals. They have literally “bounced back” and shed all barriers as to why inner city females do not graduate high school and go on to achieve their educational ambitions.

These young women are truly the optimal example of resilience and perseverance. They are, collectively, my personal hero. They reminded me that one’s destiny does not need to be defined by one’s ZIP code, but by one’s resilience and ability to overcome the odds.

Because YWCP is making such a positive impact on young women in Rochester and so closely aligns itself with GRAWA’s mission, “to promote the advancement of the status of women in society… ,” GRAWA decided to raise funds for the school at our annual Holiday Party on Wednesday.

GRAWA would like to provide as much support for these young women as possible. As such, if you were not able to attend the holiday party and would like to make a donation, please contact me personally at mwolk@goldbergsegalla.com. For all those that supported this wonderful organization at the holiday party, I can assure you that it is going to support our future young women.

While this article has been about the resilience of our young women in Rochester, it is also about individuals like Lovely Warren and other women attorneys. Resilience and determination kept Lovely campaigning and trying to reach her goals through a primary where her party supported the incumbent and when many told her that she simply could not obtain this goal.

Similarly, female associates have continued to climb the ladders and move around obstacles to reach their goals and now women are frequently managing partners of law firms and top billers. Other women have made different choices and left firm life to start their own firms and raise their children. These women now have successful practices and wonderful families. None of these goals can be reached without a great deal of resilience, compromise and fortitude; something that we all should be very proud of and celebrate.

On a personal note, the last few weeks have been more difficult than I could have imagined. Most parents that have children attending day care or starting school know that there are an alarming number of “illnesses” and viruses that leave their nasty imprints on our little ones, and then, unfortunately, the rest of the family. Redmond has had more than his fair share, which has resulted in bilateral ear infections, a trip to the emergency room and numerous days at home with fevers and sleepless nights.

Just as I think we have turned a corner on a cold, there seems to be another bug around that very corner. While we have joked that we should have our room at the pediatrician’s office, I know that we are not the only family to feel this way. So when I feel my resilience start to fade, I just look at Redmond and my husband, both of whom seem to “bounce back” from these health setbacks and I know that this phase too will pass; however, not likely not until Spring arrives in Rochester.

I wish everyone, on behalf of myself, Jeremy, Redmond and GRAWA, a healthy, happy and safe New Year. May the holidays that you celebrate be joyous and spent with those that you love.

Melanie S. Wolk is special counsel with the law firm of Goldberg Segalla, LLP, and is the 31st president of the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys.