Last month, the Caterpillar Foundation and Diane Cullinan Oberhelman, founding partner of Cullinan Properties, invited girls from the Boys and Girls Club and the Peoria Park District's ELITE program, to Eureka College to attend a dinner for retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Eureka honored Chief Justice O'Connor as the first female Honorary Reagan Fellow; a distinction given to individuals who make significant contributions in leadership and service.
“Given Justice O’Connor’s modest beginnings and professional achievements, most famously as the first woman appointed Chief Justice, we wanted girls to see themselves in her. To know they have the opportunity to be strong leaders and break down barriers like Justice O’Connor,” said Latasha Gillespie, director of Global Diversity & Inclusion
Before the dinner, former ELITE student and current Reagan shared her personal journey with the girls and led them on a tour of the campus. By hearing the story of someone from a similar background, Lopez hoped she could also inspire the girls to continue their education and pursue their dreams.
"Being a part of the ELITE program and attending Eureka College opened up a world of opportunities that I didn't think were possible for someone like me. I want these girls to know that the sky's the limit. With an education, they can achieve anything they put their minds to," Lopez said.
To reinforce the value of an education and bring awareness to the challenges of educating girls in developing countries, the girls watched a story from the film "Girl Rising." They also learned how they could get involved in raising awareness and advocating for girls around the world.
"Many of the girls were shocked to learn that girls in some countries aren't allowed to go to school simply because they are girls," said Christa Michaud of the Caterpillar Foundation. "It was important to expand their world view and for them to understand that, despite their own challenges and obstacles, they have the ability to help inspire and empower girls thousands of miles away."
The girls were receptive to the message. When asked how she planned to help the cause, one girl replied "I'll share this story with my friends and explain to others the opportunities we have."
During her acceptance speech, Justice O'Connor offered the following advice to the girls: "To those young girls that are here tonight: stay focused and work hard. Get rid of any distractions and you'll succeed."
Caterpillar Inc. supports the philanthropic efforts of the Caterpillar Foundation. Founded in 1952, the Caterpillar Foundation has contributed more than $550 million to help make sustainable progress possible around the world by providing program support in the areas of environmental sustainability, access to education and basic human needs. To learn more about the global impact of the Caterpillar Foundation, please visit www.caterpillar.com/foundation.