The Baltimore County Commission for Women is old but new. Founded by the County Council in 1977, two years ago the commission revised its mission to make the county-sponsored board more vital and relevant to women.
The commission's upcoming event on Saturday, May 10, a Women's Empowerment Expo, is an example of this new direction. Workshops on credit strategies and starting your own business, budgeting and résumé writing are not only practical but geared toward a younger audience than previous commission offerings.
"We want people to come away from this actually learning something," said NaTasha Horton, commission member and chairwoman of the expo, the first expo-style commission event.
Horton, a Woodlawn resident and vice president of SunTrust Bank, is a longtime advocate of women's issues. She'd been aware of the commission but hadn't thought much about it until 2012, when she was asked to join the volunteer organization.
"I heard they were putting together a new commission, one that addressed women's issues," said Horton, who attributes the transformation to commission president, Bella Santos-Owens.
Owens, a Towson resident and communications consultant, has been a commission member since 2008. When she took over as president in 2012, though, it was with a specific purpose.
"I wanted to change the commission. I said: 'We have to deal with subjects that are important to women. We have to move with the times,' " Owens said.
Since then, the commission has become an advocacy group sponsoring hands-on programs in local communities, a successful effort Owens credits to Nancy Surosky, special assistant to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for community outreach and whom Kamenetz named as executive liaison to the women's commission.
The commission has tackled topics as diverse as financial literacy and domestic violence. The programs, often in the form of free workshops, have been held in Essex, Towson, Randallstown and Woodlawn.
"We get the word out through local community newsletters and electronic invitations, and put them on our website," said Horton.
The commission's biggest project to date was its investigation of human trafficking in Baltimore County, undertaken shortly after Owens became president. "A commission member brought up the subject. We decided to find out how big the issue was in the county," she said. "It turned out to be much more dramatic than we had expected."
The commission worked with the Baltimore County Police Department and the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office on the human trafficking report. Issued in 2012, it resulted in a series of news stories that brought the subject to county, and national, attention.
The commission followed up the report later that same year with a fundraiser for victims of human trafficking. Last year, the National Association of Commissions for Women recognized the county commission's work with an achievement award.
The commission's 25 members must be residents of Baltimore County. Of that number, seven are recommended by the County Council, 14 are appointed by Kamenetz and four are nonvoting members. Members serve three year terms and can be re-appointed.
"The county executive wanted to invite younger women to be part of these [commission] events. He wanted it to be appeal to a broader audience" than it had been, Surosky said of the energized commission. "The commission can play a leadership role in women's issues. It seems to be taking off."
Indeed, a week before the Women Empowerment Expo, more than 200 women have registered, a larger number than expected. However, since registration is not required and the event is free, Owens wouldn't be surprised if the total number of attendees approached 300.
Next up for the commission is the Mom and Baby Fair, to be held later this month in Essex. "We heard that the east side has the highest infant mortality rate in the county," Owens said. "We are working with the county Health Department to address that situation."
For information about the County Commission for Women or the free Women Empowerment Expo on Sat., May 10, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., at North Baltimore Plaza Hotel, 2004 Greenspring Drive, Timonium, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 443-831-5036.
For information about the commission's free Mom and Baby Fair on May 31, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Deep Creek Middle School, 1000 S. Marlyn Ave., Essex, call 410-887-3725. Registration by May 23 is required.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun