By Jean Lotus
Amie Marks, an Oak Park financial planner, started something she thinks will be big: a chance for local women to lunch, and discuss serious current events. She calls her monthly series "Women in the Know." The group meets monthly at caffe DeLuca, 7427 Madison St., in Forest Park.
Marks pays for the food, and presents a topic of interest, opening the floor to discussion. "At first I developed it as a perk for my female clients," she said. "But they kept asking, 'Can I bring a friend?'"
Marks realized she was providing a service.
On Wednesday, Feb. 19, Marks hosted 12 women. They were hungry — for both a free lunch and serious conversation.
Marks, who is a champion of female empowerment, presented the second in her series of talks about challenges to women in the Third World.
She had previously discussed slavery and the international sex trade, a topic she said was "hard to research and difficult to talk about." But her focus Wednesday was on case studies of women in the developing world who are empowered by micro-finance and other charitable, corporate and government interventions.
"I'm a big fan of Coke CEO Muhtar Kent, who says women are the key to global success," Marks told the group.
"When women earn money in the community, they spend it on their families and in the community," Marks told women as they dined on pasta and chicken salads.
Marks also mentioned It Can Be Done, a Lake Bluff-based charity which digs wells in Tanzania near the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Founder Chris Moses was a tourist who noticed women and children walking with "5-gallon tubs of water on their heads," Marks said.
The Illinois group fundraised through cocktail parties among friends and hired engineers to excavate a well.
"Now that women and children don't have to walk 2-5 miles a day to get water, the women are beginning to have dreams for their children," Marks said.
"Women have proven over and over again to be the key to all of this," she added. "When they are put in levels of decision-making, women increase community participation and social justice."
Marks has hosted presentations on the economic ramifications of the North Dakota shale oil boom, changes in the U.S. health care laws, and food and nutrition issues for women. Women at the lunch were no strangers to leadership, travel and philanthropy.
Marketer Chris Hauri from River Forest volunteers at Ten Thousand Villages in Oak Park, a fair-trade gift shop.
Non-profit consultant Mary Heidkamp of Oak Park said her daughter traveled to Tanzania to volunteer before she started a job as a consultant. Heidkamp is planning her own journey to Africa in the spring. Katie O'Brien is PR director at the Oak Park and River Forest Infant Welfare Society.
Marks lives in Lake Forest and hosts a second group on the North Shore, which is attended monthly by almost 50 women. I
n her own life she realized that women help each other when she had her son.
"I've worked in a male profession all of my life," she said.
"When I had my son, a whole new world of other women opened up for me. Now I have friends who I can call to pick up my son from school in an emergency."
Marks will host another Women in the Know meeting on Wednesday, March 19, from 11:30 to 1:30 p.m. at caffe DeLuca. RSVP to Melissa.firstname.lastname@example.org or 708-524-9374.