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October 15, 2014

The word empowerment is new to me. I came across it by accident in 2010 when a great friend of mine, Jan Hill of Oklahoma City and owner of Eden Salon, was visiting the cafe. My daughter, Alexis, was waiting on her table when Jan asked her to be a model in her first fashion show for the Institute for Economic Empowerment for Women (IEEW), a non-profit organization for business training and mentorship program for women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan and Rwanda.


Jan Hill with Family

Jan Hill and family.

The name was a mouthful. Alexis and I didn’t exactly know what she had just volunteered to do. We both had suffered hardships in the beginning of 2010. I was looking for something new to inspire us. The opportunity for Alexis to be a part of a fashion show seemed intriguing. Considering she was just 16, I chaperoned her to the event. The event was during the Afghan and Rwandan women’s mentorship they receive in the United States after passing an extensive small business course in their country.


Alexis behind the scenes


Me & Shirley (Alexis best friend) at the event.


Alexis on the runway

That evening I attended the fashion show as a proud mother of a daughter but what I saw, met, and witnessed was the courage and strength of these women. The hardships that had weighed me down seemed pale and insignificant compared to the stories of such brave women whom had survived war or genocide and decided to follow their dreams despite grave danger from a culture that traditionally does not allow women to practice business.

These smiles though.

These smiles though.

Their passion beamed.


Their desire was their strength.


It was so intense and filled with love that it was unforgettable. I left Jan with the promise to become involved with IEEW. For 3 years their stories, passions, and strengths stuck with me. As I worked through my own issues, it seemed my passion was leading me toward an early Rock Cafe retirement to seek out my next career in non-profit helping women and children. Thus, the idea to sell the cafe was born in late 2012.

I was anxious to have some experience in non-profit and the lingering thoughts of that intense fashion show night lured me to seek out the Institute.  I made a phone call to Jan and she was quick to invite me to a High Tea Fundraising event. High Tea seemed quite fancy compared to my Route 66 life in small town USA. Feeling out of my comfort zone, I drew on the strength of the memories of the Afghan and Rwandan women who are constantly out of their comfort zone while pushing for their dreams.


Natalie Shirley recently opened her stately Heritage Hills home to host a High Tea that benefitted the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women. Hosts for the tea, from left, Lou Kerr and Mary Melon and Right, Judy Love, congratulate Terry Neese on her tremendous work with Peace Through Business.

I listened to Dr. Terry Neese presentation on the Institute for Economic Empowerment for Women and began to have a full understanding of the non-profit organization. I also met many of Oklahoma Cities powerful women and found them to be extremely smart and warm toward outsiders.


Dr Neese tirelessly speaking on behalf of women.

I found an opportunity to approach Dr Neese and introduce myself and volunteer.  My spiel was, “My name is Dawn Welch. I own the Rock Cafe in Stroud, Oklahoma. My business is small. My town is small with a population of 2,500. A one stop light town where our claim to fame is Route 66. I told her that I couldn’t make much a difference with my small $100 donation, but was willing to do anything to help the Institute. I can cook, help organize events, travel to meet the women, mentor, whatever labor needs to be done.”

Things happened very quickly from there. I received a phone call from Dr Neese the very next day and was thrilled and excited to be asked to mentor.  I was set up via emails with Atukunda Winnie from Rwanda. She was a rare case because her business was already open for about a year. We had very broken communication via email and I was quick to discover that Facebook was a much better mode of communication. She knew English better then I thought and even knew of our culture fairly well. When Winnie arrived in Oklahoma, I decided a trip down Old Route 66 would ease her into the idea of being in the small town of Stroud.


Winnie loved meeting John in Arcadia, Oklahoma.

My week with Winnie is an absolute indescribable experience of a mirror image of my business, my family, and myself. Mentoring Winnie quickly became a self-discovery of myself… where I had been and where I wanted to go.


Winnie was able to ignite a fire within me and give me new business aspirations. She made me awaken to my current success and  to the idea of stretching myself and my business to the next level. She asked questions about business and family while answering made me realize everything had been manageable even amongst the chaos of the daily grind. She questioned my reasons for selling that success to the highest bidder and softly suggesting that perhaps the idea of selling was quite absurd. She was unknowingly empowering her mentor. Winnie was a quick learner, as well. In a crash course over seven days, She took with her my 20 years worth of business ups and downs while also becoming an integral part of my family.

My son, Paul, and his friend, Anthony, still ask about Winnie.

My son, Paul, and his friend, Anthony, still ask about Winnie.

Fashion Show 2013 with Winnie.

Fashion Show 2013 with Winnie.

Winnie has returned to Rwanda to prosper in her business. I was left with challenges from Winnie to forge forward in my business. And the word emPOWERment began to take on a depth that is still being understood. I have had the opportunity to be heard and mentored by Dr Terry Neese and many other successful American business women. The sound bites ever familiar with mine; the trials of business and family. The heartaches and the successes so similar. This community of women and their dedication to help others has inspired me. Moved me. Changed me.

At Winnie's Graduation

At Winnie’s Graduation

Many fragile intersections when my life’s work seemed easier to sell to the highest bidder so my work in public service could begin.  My choices to create opportunities for my future….  became one goal. The idea of having both the cafe and working in public service became attainable and symbiotically assets to one another.


#emPOWERmentIS ….

* Opportunity

* Education

* Relationship

* Community

* Change

* Pushing Comfort Zones

* Loving Your Work

* Helping others

* Strength During Adversity

* Letter power go so others can do their jobs

And So Much More.

In closing, I highly recommend non-profit work. Find a way to fit it in your life. And even Better>>>>>

Join us by coming to an event.

Or Simply. Like our page. Let it linger. Something will stick. 🙂


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One Comment
  1. Super cool entry, Legs. You are making the “Good” everywhere you go.

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