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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Creative, Intelligent, Strong - Local Women Are Powerhouses for Change

Apr 29, 2009 07:30PM
By Lisa Moore

A woman’s power lies within her capacity to touch others with her love, strength and courage. She can stir the hearts of many with her creativity and self-expression, lighten the burden of one who is suffering and instill unity to change the world. People are naturally drawn to her inner beauty and wisdom. By the way she responds to others, conducts her life and perceives herself in the world, a woman can be an undeniable force.

This month we honor several local women who are following their dreams to be successful in their passionate pursuits.

ClaySure: Saving lives with clean water

As Kaira Wagoner approached her college graduation in 2006, she wanted to continue her dedication to community service, but also travel the world. Today, Wagoner’s job take her to places like Somalia, Kenya and Nicaragua to bring millions of people a commodity we take for granted- safe drinking water.

Wagoner, along with Guilford college friend Reynaldo Diaz, started ClaySure - an organization that works with local potters to establish water filter factories in developing nations. The silver-enhanced ceramic water filters remove approximately 99.98% of e-coli.

Diaz’s longtime family friend Ron Rivera worked for the non-profit organization Potters for Peace, and was the major promoter of the filter worldwide. Inspired by his quest to help save some of the estimated 5,000 children that die daily of waterborne disease, the young women raised $40,000 and set off to begin a career most of us can’t imagine.

Wagoner feels her work helps to empower women in developing countries who are typically responsible for childcare, cooking and collection of water and firewood. The filter eliminates the need for boiling water and reduces the amount of firewood women need to collect.

 “Access to a filter means that children get sick less often,” says Wagoner, a Myers Park High School graduate. “Therefore, less money is spent on medication, standard of living is improved and mothers have more time to generate income or get an education.”

Wagoner and Diaz will travel to places such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Rowanda to conduct feasibility studies to assure that there are adequate supplies, workers and locations to build factories. Their work involves the significant dangers of both disease and violence.

During the first ClaySure trip to Kenya, Wagoner had malaria, dysentery, altitude sickness, and a severe inner ear infection that put her in the hospital in Nairobi. And sadly, Rivera, passed away last year from malaria. Wagoner recently took over her beloved mentor’s position at Potters for Peace.

Funding is the biggest challenge for ClaySure.  It is solely operated by Wagoner and Diaz and they often have to find ways to supplement their income. They are working toward a non-profit status to obtain grants to continue their mission. “While we had high hopes when starting, we never knew that such a small, grassroots project would grow to be so successful,” says Wagoner who holds a BS in biology and health science.

Wagoner believes that the people she seeks to aid are not out of reach for Charlotteans to help, they are just out of sight. “With the cost of a new pair of shoes, you have the power to keep one more child-size coffin empty,” she states. “It doesn't matter what or how much you give, just that you do.”

Donations for ClaySure can be made at, or to the Ron Rivera Memorial Fund at Contact Kaira at [email protected].   Beyond the Curve - The creative mystique of women

Local artist Denise Torrance says that painting gives her a sense of equanimity. “Art has always been my testament to womanhood, attempting to translate the world as I see it, as I want it- something about beauty through the empowerment of a paintbrush. I think every woman should paint and let it touch her soul.”

Torrance is one of a dozen professional artists that will be featured at “Beyond the Curve: Celebrating Women’s Vision,” a free exhibition sponsored by The Pineville Civic & Cultural Arts Center from May15-June 12. The title reflects themes chosen by the artists and the idea that a woman’s beauty goes beyond what is “skin deep.”

The diverse cultural mix of regional artists will represent various mediums in painting, photography, tapestry, ceramics and sculpture. The artists will donate 30% of sales back to the non-profit center to promote access to the arts and give local artists a venue. "We wanted to give their voices free rein through their work, so that each artist could state her own vision in her own way,” cultural arts center director Lee Baumgarten says of the artists.  “This is a collective message about the uniqueness of what women experience and perceive.” The exhibition is a great opportunity for those who love art and especially for newcomers to art appreciation to experience a wide variety of artistic ideas, styles and media. It’s also an opportunity for men to deepen their understanding of the intuitive, creative and seemingly indefinable uniqueness of what women might see, feel and need to say.

Torrance believes her life’s challenges and obstacles have only strengthened her creativity and expression. “The name of this show is my story. Many women know my story because they have lived it too: getting through art college, getting married, having children, work,” she says. “I am only 41, but life has thrown me some curves: a lost pregnancy, cancer survivor, hormone replacement, raising two boys that love me but look at me sometimes like I am an alien.”

Torrence adds that great things can be achieved through the sometimes difficult process of growth. “I have seen hardship and adversity, but I do not feel disadvantaged. Instead I feel blessed. It is through my love of art that I find balance.”

The community is invited to a reception on opening night from 6:30 to 9:30 pm at the Civic & Cultural Arts Center at 314 Main St. in Pineville. “Beyond the Curve” is supported in part by Carolinas Medical Center Pineville, The Town of Pineville, the ASC and the Pineville Fire Department. For more information visit

Charlotte FemmeFest – Celebrating the arts to benefit women   Local musician Lea Kuhlman observed on a few occasions that female musicians were not being supportive of one another by not wanting to share a bill with other female acts. Inspired to establish more unity, she decided to take matters into her own guitar-picking hands.

She created Charlotte FemmeFest – a celebration of music, art, culture and community designed to provide a showcase for female artists and a forum in which to inform and empower the women of our communities.

“Anytime I have played women's music festivals there is a great sense of community, so I thought that would be something we could use more of in the Queen City,” says Kuhlman a member of the all-female group The Near Misses and co-owner of The Evening Muse.

The second annual event kicks off on May 30th in the NoDa arts district and is open to all ages. “We definitely don't want the guys to feel excluded, we just want both genders to take a moment to appreciate what women are accomplishing in the arts - so we hope lots of men and families will come out to support the event,” she says.   FemmeFest will feature national, regional and local female songwriters, visual artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers. The mission is to reach, inspire and strengthen our cultural community by showcasing the diverse work of emerging and established female voices throughout the region and beyond.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the ECO Center for Women at the Center for Community Transitions. The program helps women near the end of their state prison sentence to make a successful transition from prison to the community through educational opportunities and support systems.

Kuhlman feels it’s important to have an impact on someone's welfare and happiness outside of ourselves. “Giving back to our community reminds us that we are a part of a community. And while we may assist someone today, someone may help us tomorrow. Being a part of FemmeFest is an inspiration to everyone involved as an artist, volunteer or attendee,” she concludes.

FemmeFest will take place on May 30th from 5:30pm- 1am. For information on artists and venues visit

Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange - Unifying Women of Color

Stephanie Counts, a national and local educational leader, and Dee Dixon, CEO of Pride Magazine, were surprised to learn in 2004 that there were 32.7 million women of color in the United States representing $723 billion in purchasing power. They quickly realized a need to pull together women of color in Charlotte to discuss the unique opportunities and challenges they faced in their personal and business lives.

Believing that corporations and policy makers around the country needed a “wake up” call, they brought together 100 influential African American, Asian, American Indian and Hispanic women from the community. Participants took a detailed survey geared toward determining the needs of women of color that concentrated on four general areas of need – Career Development, Finance, Health and Market Power.

The survey, whose results garnered local and national attention from corporations, inspired Counts and Dixon to start Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange (WIE). The non-profit’s mission is to build and bridge social capital among women of diverse cultures, foster cross-cultural awareness and develop the infrastructure for community dialogue, engagement and programming.

Since 2005, WIE’s distribution list has grown from 100 to 3,000 women who desire to be a part of change in the community. The organization, which also includes caucasian women, serves the Charlotte community by creating and delivering educational programs and opportunities for women to come together to discuss timely issue while looking through the lens of the multi-cultural world we live in.

Joan Zimmerman, Co-chair of WIE, believes that while Charlotte is a welcoming and vibrant city, there is not yet an acceptable level of multi-cultural trust. “I truly believe WIE is destined to be the catalyst that brings together first women, then families, then the community,” she says.

WIE offers members a variety of educational events. A Town Hall Meeting is held each fall that features a multi-cultural panel that presents and discusses data regarding the status and needs of women across race/ethnic/culture groups. For the past two years WIE has created one of the Your World Diversity tracks for the North Carolina Women’s Conference.

On May 19th WIE will present the seminar “Multi-Culturalism in the Era of Change.” Dr. Paula McClain from Duke University will guide participants through a closer look at what’s going on in our nation—from President Obama’s White House Council on Women and Girls to local and state politics. A panel of local Thought Leaders will provide “on the ground perspective” for the Charlotte region.

Zimmerman feels there is strength and comfort in the unity that WIE offers. “WIE is poised to put together a giant and colorful grid work for social unity and justice. Charlotte is just the beginning,” she states.

To learn more about WIE visit/

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