Power Lunches from Women’s Giving Fund encourage Park City’s youth
As soon as the lunch bell rang, young girls started to pile into the library at Ecker Hill Middle School.
They sat at tables until there were no more available seats, and the girls who continued to trickle in sat on the floor. They took bites of their lunches and chatted with friends as they eagerly awaited the Power Lunch guest speaker.
Power Lunches at Ecker Hill did not always attract large crowds. When the program started three years ago, a few dozen students would show up as the word spread. But now, about 400 girls and boys attend the bi-monthly lunches, which are put on by the Park City Community Foundation’s Women’s Giving Fund and include a presentation from a female leader in the community. The speakers share the stories of their successes and life lessons with the sixth- and seventh-graders.
Lauren Vitulli, organizer of the Power Lunches, said the idea began after the Women’s Giving Fund received a grant from Vail Resorts’ EpicPromise program. She said the fund’s 1,200 members wanted to be more involved in the community. The fund’s primary role is to award grants to nonprofits.
After receiving the grant from EpicPromise, Vitulli said she talked with Park City School District about bringing its members into Ecker Hill Middle School to talk with young girls. The district agreed.
Vitulli recruits members of the Women’s Giving Fund to speak and volunteer at the Power Lunches. Speakers have included Olympic skiers, architects and Pilates instructors.
After some pushback from the young boys in the school, Vitulli decided to start hosting separate Power Lunches for the boys. Female leaders appear at about 10 girls-only events and five boys-only events each year.
At the most recent lunch, Joy Durling, chief information officer of Vivint Smart Home, spoke.
Durling spoke about her experience leading a team of engineers and chasing her dream of a career in technology. She encouraged the girls to lift each other up throughout their lives and to be positive during both successes and failures.
“Learning how to leverage the strengths of the young women around you is empowering,” she said during the event.
Some of the students said after the lunch that being surrounding by peers who want to learn from female leaders made them feel good.
Sophia Azzaro, a sixth-grader, said the group is almost like a family. She has attended every Power Lunch this school year.
“I feel like it’s the best thing ever to be here and find out about other inspirational women,” she said.
She remembers the visits from a judge and from an Olympic ski jumper. She said hearing about the different careers makes her consider pursuing similar jobs down the road.
Durling said after the event that the lunches are beneficial because they expose girls to various female role models. She hopes her message inspired someone in the audience to pursue a career in technology.
“I think it’s an incredible event and opportunity. I never had this growing up,” Durling said.
Lauren Kindt, a sixth-grader, took the time during a question-and-answer portion to ask Durling if she was ever discouraged by anything she did. Durling replied, “All the time. And I still do.”
Kindt said after the lunch that she asked because she gets down on herself sometimes, and she liked being able to find commonalities with a successful woman.
“It’s important because you feel like you can relate to this person, even though you are younger,” she said.
Vitulli said one of the recurring messages from speakers is that “you can overcome challenges,” which is a great message for the youth. The bursting attendance at the events and the comment cards the students leave after the lunches are evidence that the girls and boys are interested in the messages and taking the lessons to heart.
Park City resident Barbara Wirostko was set to speak at the Power Lunch on Wednesday, Dec. 12, Vitulli said. She is a clinical adjunct professor in ophthalmology and biomedical engineering at the University of Utah, founder of Jade Therapeutics and the chief medical officer of EyeGate Pharmaceuticals.
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A district spokesperson said six students were removed from an area in the school as police conducted a search.