Orange County’s Female-Forward Forum Champions

Community & Services

There’s an uplifting energy and strength whenever a diverse group of open-minded women gather to learn and forge connections.

After attending the 2nd Annual “Mayor Demings Women’s History Forum: Cultivate Health, Harvest Success,” participants embraced that energy feeling empowered, inspired and motivated to tackle their own physical, spiritual and financial well-being.

In honor of Women’s History Month, 200 community leaders and Orange County employees gathered on March 28 at the county’s new Multicultural Center to celebrate women’s achievements, connect with peers, and discuss current issues impacting women.

The forum was the brainchild of Mayor Jerry Demings, a trusted leader who recognizes the unique role women bring to the workforce and community. Under his watch, 76 percent of his managerial appointees have been women and minorities; and five females serve as elected County Commissioners.

“I want to take this opportunity to honor the women present here today for your leadership and the significant contributions you are making toward the advancement of women in all professional fields,” he said.

The highlight of this year’s sisterhood included a spirited conversation with one of today’s most sought-after speakers, the honorable Congresswoman Val Demings, or “wonder woman” as the mayor fondly calls his bride of 36 years.

“It’s great to be home,” said Demings, whose local legacy includes 27 years in law enforcement in Orlando.

The beloved public servant shared personal hardships and victories as Orlando’s first female Chief of Police, her unexpected path to Congress during an epochal moment in history, and her difficult loss in the U.S. Senate race in 2022. She spoke candidly about failure and the importance of getting back in the game after defeat.

“You will never reach your full potential if you are not willing to take a risk. Sometimes when we look at obstacles in our way, those obstacles are not outside of us, those obstacles are inside of us,” she said.

“Never give up on you because if you don’t give up on you, we won’t give up on you. Believe in yourself. … You already have everything inside of you to be successful,” she added.

The spiritually motivated mother of three and grandmother of five reflected on her humble roots and the sacrifices her parents made which gave her countless opportunities to grow and shine. To balance a demanding professional and personal life, she said she never deviated from her mantra that family is the foundation for everything, and it’s ok to ask for help. Family, faith, and a purpose-driven life have been her cornerstones.

“When you believe in something greater than you, that is the best backup you can have,” she said. “There is no way I would be here spending this wonderful time with you today without God on my side.”

The now Georgetown University lecturer emphasized the importance of protecting America’s fragile democracy. She urged participants to be informed about government, actively participate in civic affairs and most importantly exercise their right to vote.  She reminded the group that their vote can help level the playing field.

Jessica Henlon, a small business owner who attended the function, said she was inspired by Demings’ openness. “Her segment about breaking the glass ceiling really resonated with me, as well as her advice on using your failures to motivate you both professionally and at home.”

Simone Babb, Chief Innovation and Emerging Technologies Officer for Orange County concurred. “She’s a great leader and excellent role model that people respect,” Babb said. “I plan to use her words of inspiration and apply them to my own professional challenges.”

The lively audience was also treated to the pageantry of an all-female color guard comprised of employees from Orange County Corrections and Fire Rescue Department along with riveting sessions with local female experts who delved into hot topics facing today’s woman including medical weight loss remedies, healthful nutrition tips, and financial literacy tools.

Panelist Dr. Carmina Charles, board-certified in internal medicine and endocrinology, cautioned women to be mindful of the current conversations in the media about weight loss options.  “Everyone has a different weight loss journey and it’s so important to have an individualized plan that is right for you.”

Community members can watch the 2nd Annual Mayor Demings Women’s History Forum: Cultivate Health, Harvest Success, airing on Orange TV.

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