When I reflect on first meeting the women in Rwanda who were HIV+ genocide survivors, I realize that for me, these women are my points of light. They inspired me to pivot from being a theatre and film producer to finding my purpose of empowering other women.
Each woman I met had an inspirational story to share. It was a privilege to be in the room to hear it. We provided them with training and a job, a hand up, not a handout. In return, they gave us this extraordinary opportunity to be in proximity, to see first-hand how you can make a difference in someone else’s life, and the impact it has on yours.
Our foundation’s work has focused on providing training and jobs to women. But during the pandemic we pivoted when we saw long lines of hungry people. We thought, “how can you think about job training when you need to feed your families?” After a great deal of research, and thanks to friends like Lauren Bush Lauren, we invested in the Food Bank for NYC. Providing more than 2,0000,000 meals to the hardest-hit communities in Queens and mobilizing our own network to join us in feeding our hungry neighbors.
At the same time, we also saw an increased mental health crisis. Working with the women in Rwanda, formerly incarcerated women in New Jersey, and those marginalized and now living in New York City homeless shelters, we saw the impact that mental health has on a woman’s overall well-being. When we learned how this is dramatically affecting college students, we were inspired to act. This second pivot resulted in a proud partnership with Barnard College, led by President Sian Beilock, who is with us tonight and a true visionary.
Together, we established the Francine A. LeFrak Foundation Center for Well-Being to equip young women with the tools to take control of their physical, mental, and financial wellness. These three pillars are poised to serve as a model for colleges and universities around the country. Our goal is to ensure that all women have the independence and confidence to take a seat at life’s table to share their fears, learn to believe in themselves, and have the tools to face and overcome any headwinds that come their way.
Thanks to my great Foundation board, many dear friends, and more importantly, my husband, Rick, we have been able to impact more than one million people. Without their support I would not be standing here, sharing our story, and being recognized as a Point of Light.
President Bush, “41”, said, we all have something to give. Like him, I believe talent is everywhere, and by connecting our individual talents we can be a point of light for each other and a constellation radiating hope.