photographs by Madeline Gray

Walter readers of all ages spent the afternoon at The Umstead Hotel & Spa May 6 for WINi, the sister event of Walter’s annual WINnovation. WINi celebrated girl power with five female speakers, local leaders who shared their personal creative and professional stories: successes, hurdles, lessons. The men and women of the audience, movers and shakers and thinkers themselves, listened with emotion and enthusiasm to tales of perseverence, self-confidence, and passion. This first annual WINi showcased the power of what women can do for their community. “We’ve got fabulous women leaders right here in the Triangle. We don’t need to go outside the community to find inspiration. What’s a more compelling way to demonstrate to women in our community that they too can contribute to a lot of our success?” said Kari Stoltz, Triangle market president at Bank of America, WINi’s presenting sponsor.  

Kari Stoltz, Triangle market president at Bank of America

Women inspiring women
Christmas Abbott, professional athlete and mom-to-be, spoke about the importance of showing up for yourself and embracing “disruptors,” or challenges. “I am no longer the victim of my circumstances,” she said. “… I am a living story, an example of how anyone … can overcome all odds and live the life they love. … I am the leader of my changes.”

Christmas Abbott

Kaitlyn Ryan, designer and founder of Peppertrain Jewelry, candidly explored embracing creative spark. “Creativity is a journey you have to foster and feed along the way,” she said. “Self-doubt and comparison are constant naggers. … Never underestimate your passion, because when you’re in your happy place, anything is possible.”

Kaitlin Ryan

In a similar vein, Carolina Ballet principal dancer Lara O’Brien Muñoz spoke about staying focused on your passion, while also being flexible and curious about yourself through professional evolution. “What I’ve discovered is I’m not a fixed thing, I’m multiple things,” she said. “That opened up the realization that it really all is just a process: a process of becoming.”

Lara O’Brien Muñoz

Molly Paul, UNC sophomore and youth environmentalist, also encouraged curiosity. She recalled her activism with the United Nations and the Jane Goodall Foundation, and urged students to ask thoughtful questions that can spark conversation and instigate change. “Youth are the key to actually implementing (world change),” she said.

Molly Paul

To close the program, Lotta Sjoelin, founder of A Lotta Love, shared her nonprofit’s beginnings: when she toured a local homeless women’s and children’s shelter and set out to solicit donations to spruce up the bedrooms. “It’s not about making it pretty. It’s about making it safe, respectful, and dignified,” she said.

Lotta Sjoelin

Following the speeches, Walter editor Jessie Rumbley facilitated a Q&A with the panelists. After dessert, Laura Tierney of The Social Institute led a breakout session about the dos of social media. Through action-oriented sports metaphors, Tierney encouraged the middle-and-high-school aged audience members to engage positively and productively on cell phones. All age groups had takeaways from the session, including the balance of social media in daily life and how to use it as a platform for good.

WINi was presented in partnership with Bank of America and with the support of Diamonds Direct. The Umstead Hotel & Spa provided an elegant lunch, cocktails, and mocktails. Ravenscroft School presented the social media literacy breakout session.