Erna Milien, attorney-at-law, sat at her desk in her brand new office, looking with satisfaction at her name on the door. She could not help thinking about how her life had changed over the past fifteen years. Thanks to help from the Shelter for Abused Women & Children in 2005 and then six years of scholarship support from the Naples Woman’s Club, Erna went from a scared mom with four young children, to a successful attorney in her own practice, with adult children making their own way. She was also thinking about her Naples Woman’s Club benefactor, Lee Kraus, who had been instrumental in her ability to achieve those milestones. Erna mused, “I will always be grateful to the Club for supporting women like me who want the best for themselves and their children.”
Erna is one of many women who have received scholarship assistance from the Naples Woman’s Club Empowering Women Scholarship Program. Each year seven to nine promising women, over 21 years of age, have received scholarship funds designed to change the trajectory of their lives. Ashley Williamson, a single mom working at NCH as an aide, received a scholarship to pursue her RN; interestingly, her son will be attending nursing school at the same time as Ashley. Heather O’Connell, the mother of two, went back to school to study Human Services and Special Needs Administration, after years of advocating for her daughter with special needs. Gretchen McClair, who received a scholarship from the Naples Woman’s Club in 2020, is the single mother of two and is working on her Master’s in Nursing. Each woman faced adversity, had to interrupt her education, and had the drive to improve her career with the help of additional training and education.
The idea of offering scholarships to mature women evolved from the Naples Woman’s Club robust college scholarship program. Lee Kraus, an active Club member and former president of the Club, led the effort to expand scholarships beyond high school seniors, to include grown women who had faced stumbling blocks in the way of education or career advancement. Lee and other members, including Empowering Women Chairman Charmaine Klein, work to support the scholarships and provide educational programs on serious problems that affect women, such as domestic abuse and human trafficking.
The Naples Woman’s Club Empowering Women Scholarship program is administered with the help of the Community Foundation of Collier County. Potential applicants who are beyond college age and wish to expand their education or technical training are encouraged to apply. Education and Libraries Committee Co-Chairman Carolyn Melvin, said, “It is so appropriate that the Naples Woman’s Club seeks to help grown women. We especially look for candidates who have faced some challenges in life and truly need help to improve their ability to support their families.” Scholarships range from $1500 to $5000 depending on the situation and need. Scholarship candidates can apply at www.scholarshipconnector.org (search for the Naples Woman’s Club Empowering Women Scholarship) from November 1, 2021 until February 15, 2022.