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Sarah Simmons

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“When we empower girls to believe in their own potential and to spend time imagining just what that potential might be, and then surround them with women who reinforce those beliefs and imaginings, we are setting them on the path to success and fulfillment.”

In my professional life, I am a transactional attorney practicing ERISA law.  In general terms, I advise employers on how to comply with the complex rules that govern employee benefit plans.  The law strives to address various conflicting policy concerns and as a result is both complicated and fascinating.  I’ve only been here since June 2012.  Previously, I spent nearly two years as a law clerk to Justice Joel Horton of the Idaho Supreme Court.

In my pseudo-professional life, I help run Girls to Women, a volunteer organization that my friends and I gave life to about 1.5 years ago.  We pair career women with teenage refugee girls in mentor relationships, and we also offer monthly events at which all the pairs come together to build community and also learn about and discuss various issues and ideas.  We are based in Boise, Idaho and currently have about 15 mentor-mentee pairs.

What inspires you? People. Relationships. Narrative.  The fact that we all have something to offer, and likewise, something to learn.

Do you have a favorite quote? To thine own self be true.

What are the most pressing issues facing women today? The “rules of the game.”  Especially in traditional careers like the law, women have much to gain by contributing to and reshaping the assumptions and expectations that govern everyday business matters.  For example, women can emphasize a more holistic approach to their employer’s community involvement, or lobby for leave policies that enable successful and contemporaneous family and professional lives.  I think it’s important for individuals to speak up – every woman who broaches a novel subject paves the way for those who will soon follow.

What are the biggest keys to your success? My parents are incredible role models and devoted caregivers.  My first memories are of them telling me that I was smart and capable.  Because of that support, I’ve rarely doubted my ability to overcome a challenge.  My confidence today dates all the way back to those early years.

Also, I’ve been lucky to receive the unsolicited support and encouragement of several amazing women throughout the years.  I can look back through each phase of my life and identify at least one woman who decided that she would invest her time and energy in me.  Learning from these women and studying their examples has had a huge impact on my own vision of what I myself can accomplish.

What are the biggest keys to the advancement or success of women? When we empower girls to believe in their own potential and to spend time imagining just what that potential might be, and then surround them with women who reinforce those beliefs and imaginings, we are setting them on the path to success and fulfillment.

What prompted you to get involved with the community or politics? It is so easy to convince ourselves that people who don’t look like us, live like us, eat like us, shop like us, read like us, etc., simply are not like us.  But from my childhood in a small town in Southeastern Idaho, to adventures travelling solo in third world countries, to becoming an attorney three years ago, the common thread has always been the shared human experience.  The more that I learn about that experience by interacting with others who are not “like” me, and the more that I enable others to likewise engage in this type of learning, the more self-aware and fulfilled I have become.  Girls to Women is an incredible platform for this style of learning.

What do you hope to accomplish? Exactly the type of learning I just discussed.  Also, we hope to empower these girls by giving them real-life, immediate examples of the roles they may choose to pursue with their lives, and by offering them supportive, nurturing, and confidence-boosting relationships with strong, smart women who believe in them.

What prompted you to get involved in (or start) this cause? My friends and I chatted for months about creating an organization like Girls to Women.  I think all girls would benefit from the sort of mentor relationships we try to build through Girls to Women, but the refugee community in particular seems to provide a great opportunity for growth and change.  Some of our girls come from extremely paternalistic, traditional societies, or from situations where college and a career never seemed to be an option.  We hope that by pairing these girls with women who have chosen careers, we will prove to them by example that they are capable of achieving a million different forms of success, and that personal fulfillment takes many forms.

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