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Fullerton Women’s Leadership Forum

The 15th annual Women’s Leadership Forum at the Fullerton Community Center on November 13 was hosted by the Women’s Club of Fullerton (WCOF) and the two women on the City Council, Jan Flory and Jennifer Fitzgerald, to recognize 5 local women leaders.

WCOF and other local non-profits such as the Assistance League, JOYA Scholars, WTLC, and Crittenton along with local restaurants and boutique vendors were set up for attendees to learn, taste, and shop during the opening reception.

Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva.

Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva, who founded the event when she was a councilmember, and Fullerton Mayor Jesus Silva opened the forum. Genevieve Paden directed the Girl Scout color guard and led the audience in singing the national anthem.

Susan Tang Ouweleen, Warrior Award and Keynote Speaker

The first honoree was Susan Tang Ouweleen who received the Warrior Award. She escaped Cambodia with her family in 1979. She was an infant when her family was forced from their home by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army to labor in the rice fields with very little to eat. Two older brothers died after forgoing food so that she could survive.

The family struggled to get to the United States. They walked 30 to 40 days to Thailand. When they arrived, they were blind folded and left in a remote area, walked again, and were finally rescued by the Red Cross and flown to LAX.

Susan Tang Ouweleen

Ouweleen began working at the age of 4 in the family’s 3 donut shops. “That was my life until I was 20.” Despite her parents, she attended college where she studied Human Resources and Computer Science.

She said that one time she was hired as the first female executive of a construction firm. The VP of Operations told her she was only there to remedy their “compliance problem.”

Ouweleen continues to work as an HR consultant and five years ago opened her own business, Assured Audio Visual. She said she has an all male staff and “they work for me.” She told the audience she has “never seen the glass ceiling.” She said the biggest hurdle people encounter is “limiting themselves.”

Cristal Drake, Business and Wellness Leadership Award

Cristal Drake, a realtor and yoga Instructor, received the Business and Wellness Award. She began her talk by leading the audience in a relaxation and breathing exercise.

She delivered newspapers as a child and had difficulty collecting payment from some subscribers. She recalled one time when a man refused to pay. While he was closing the door, she pushed the door open, put her hands on her hips, and told him it’s “not cool” to not pay. He paid her.

Cristal Drake and Pam Keller

When she turned 15 she stopped selling papers and started selling other things and eventually houses. After the 2008 “mortgage meltdown” their finances diminished, yet her husband suggested that she sell houses. She began volunteering at “a lot of little things.” She said the more she helped the better she felt about not having money. But the business grew so much that by 2015 her husband David left his job to work with her.

She said 2017 was her best year. She felt exhausted and was a “bitch.” On January 1, 2018 she decided to do yoga every day for 30 days. She continued and attended workshops and even studied in Thailand. She now teaches yoga alongside her real estate business, “Sharing health and balance.”

She closed by conveying the importance of friends. She calls hers her “tribe.” She said her mother took her life at 50. Her mother struggled alone raising she and her sister. She said her mother didn’t have a tribe. She offered, “We are all a tribe” and “There’s always room for one more in my tribe.”

Shirley Owens McClanahan, Philanthropic Leadership Award

Shirley Owens McClanahan received the Philanthropy Award for her work in the Leon Owens Foundation. The foundation was established to honor her brother upon his passing in 1994 and to continue the positive impacts he had on youth in the community.

She is the youngest of 12 children raised in the Maple neighborhood. The Owens family was one of the first black families in Orange County when they moved here in 1955.

Shirley Owens McClanahan

Leon Owens’ home on Balcom was “a light house” where he encouraged student to not drop out of high school. When he passed away the family realized his impact. At the funeral, men and women shared what he had done for them. He was quiet and patient and “there for family and community,” McClanahan said.

98% of the foundation’s scholarship recipients have graduated college over the last 25 years. The foundation has also donated 3,000 pairs of shoes to students since 2013 with over 100 going to foster children at Crittenton.

She said it was her mother who taught the family to have “a servant’s heart.”

Nancy Torres, Rising Star Award

Nancy Torres, a JOYA Scholar who is in her second year at CSUF, majoring in Math, received the Rising Star Award for her success and continued work mentoring other JOYA Scholars.

She grew up in the Garnet neighborhood and participated in the college readiness program at El Dorado High School. She said, “As a college student I am so stressed” and she finds it, “So much easier to feel alone in college.” But she is learning from others and wants to share her experiences to help other push through those difficulties.

Nancy Torres

“Now I feel empowered,” she told the audience. She said she is, “Grateful for those who have encouraged her to do the things her parent never could do.”

Besides mentoring at school, she mentors at home where her sister Emily is in the college readiness program now.

Debbie Adams, WCOF Excellence in Leadership Award

Debbie Adams is the President of Lane Building Systems and the recipient of the Excellence in Leadership Award.

She was raised on a farm where her sisters gave her the nickname “Do-ser,” for getting things done. She started working construction after high school and has continued for the last 30 years. She said she “Saw women more as competition than allies.”

When she joined WCOF in 2011, she was surprised how many people she connected with. As the Ways and Means Chair of WCOF she has doubled fundraising income. She also helps other non-profits to raise more funds.

Debbie Adams

She credited other WCOF volunteers for her ability to achieve the award. “Without them I would not have won this.” She said, “I don’t feel like I have such as story as the other ladies who have won in the past.” When she learned she had won she said, “I think you got the wrong lady. I’m too bossy.” But former WCOF President Lynda Holman said, “I got the right lady. That’s one of your strengths.”

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