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Cherie Animashaun, foreground, founder of Her Rising Initiative, gave a short speech and pulled names for a raffle. The winners recieved a copy of her Compass books, which help teens and adults journal. (Photo by Adina Keeling) 

Thursday might have marked the end of Women’s History Month, but it also saw the launch of a new website created to uplift women in the Evanston community. 

A networking event called Empowered Women Empower Women, held at a woman-owned Evanston restaurant, Koi Fine Asian Cuisine and Lounge, brought together women of all ages to eat, drink and mingle, while celebrating the website’s launch. 

Koi Fine Asian Cuisine and Lounge provided Chinese hors d’oeuvres, sushi and drinks. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

The night included a speech by Cherie Animashaun, a junior at Niles West High School who created her own books to help teens and adults journal, and founded Her Rising Initiative, a nonprofit working to empower women. 

Approximately 50 women attended the celebration, which was hosted by Koi and organized by the Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club (ELRC), a local chapter of Rotary International, a worldwide community service organization.

Each year, Rotary International elects a new president, who sets a new initiative. The current president, Shekhar Mehta, of India, asked Rotary clubs around the world to develop resources and programs to empower girls in their communities. 

Rebeca Mendoza, Evanston resident and regional grants officer at Rotary International, is leading the ELRC’s Empower Women’s initiative. (Photo by Adina Keeling

Mendoza reached out to Animashaun in January, asking if she wanted to be a part of the initiative. Along with other Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club members, the women began planning. 

Because women’s needs vary across cities and countries, Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club began by asking local women what they need in order to feel empowered, Mendoza said. 

For the last month, the club has been collecting information about women’s needs, which are showcased on the new website. 

The needs reported by Evanston girls varied, said Mendoza. One girl said she needs a quiet space, another responded that she’s a good dancer but doesn’t have the funds to take classes. 

Girls in the community also are asking for more sports equipment and sports programming, said Animashaun. They also said they wish they had more mentors to provide guidance, she added. 

The event drew approximately 50 women. (Photo by Adina Keeling)

Rotary International’s next president, Jennifer Jones, will be the organization’s first female president. She is extending the Empower Women’s initiative for another year, and Evanston Lighthouse Rotary Club will now develop programs and resources to meet the needs that local girls reported. 

“Now is where the work starts for us,” Mendoza said. 

Animashaun said working on the project taught her how powerful her voice can be. She said she didn’t expect her work to garner the attention of such a large organization and such important leaders.

“My words have power,” Animashaun said. “I’m helping the next generation because they’re going to be the next me.”

Animashaun said career readiness empowers her, and, therefore, as a part of the Empower Women initiative, she hopes to provide more girls in the community with career readiness workshops and scholarships. 

Sandy Chen, the owner of Koi, told the RoundTable that she was very grateful her restaurant had the privilege of hosting the event.

Before the meeting began, Chen said she didn’t know what to expect, but as it progressed, she felt so inspired that she asked organizers if she could give a short speech.

Chen told them that she grew up in a Chinese village and when her family moved to the United States, she didn’t speak any English. Looking back, Chen said she can’t believe she made it here and feels fortunate for all those who supported her along the way.

In hopes of giving back to the community, guests at Koi’s can make a reservation under “Table 23” and 23% of that table’s bills goes to a local charity. Chen added that serving the community empowers her.

“Women make the world go round,” Chen said. 

Adina Keeling

Adina Keeling is a photojournalist and reporter, covering city news, sustainability, schools, and art. She also investigates mental health systems and environmental injustices in Evanston, and puts together...

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