When Phyllis Gordon joined the Contra Costa Commission for Women 20 years ago, she saw it as a chance to spread the word about the important work of Community Violence Solutions, for which she was board chairwoman. "Rape and molestation are real women's issues," she said.
Julianna Hynes became a commissioner in 2011, advocating for women in leadership roles because of what she'd experienced as an administrator for a terminal operator in the Port of Oakland. "I was a young, African-American female and single mom working in management with mostly white males," she said, "and it was a struggle for me to feel I had a level playing field."
Both still cling to their passions -- fervently, one might add -- but they'll tell you the all-volunteer commission that reports to the board of supervisors embraces all the goals noted on its website: "Improving the economic status, social welfare and overall quality of life for women in Contra Costa County."
The women's commission has helped educate high school girls about alternative careers, inequities in male and female pay and the real-world challenges of job interviews, earning a living and balancing budgets. It has organized health forums for older adults that stress the need for blood pressure and bone density checkups, sponsored leadership forums, pushed for females in professional fields, campaigned for awareness of sexual violence and educated parents about the bullying that schoolgirls experience.
The National Association of Commissions for Women honored the Contra Costa commission for its two-year study on girl-on-girl violence that found nearly every county school surveyed had experienced female bullying, starting as early as primary grades. It most often was verbal or emotional bullying that included social media assaults, and remedies require awareness, education and counseling.
"Most of the things we've done involve trying to elevate the status of women," Gordon said, noting that her favorite project is the Contra Costa Women's Hall of Fame. The Hall, begun in 1997 with the support of then-Supervisor Mark DeSaulnier, honors women at a fundraising dinner for their contributions to the arts, health care, justice, science, leadership, environment and their involvement in the community.
"Many of them aren't famous," Gordon said. "They're just good people who do good things."
She told of two older women from Alamo -- nicknamed The Listeners -- who visited terminally ill young mothers and carefully recorded their stories in books so children could later read about their mothers' lives.
"When we honored them, there wasn't a dry eye in the house," Gordon said.
One favorite undertaking is the Cookie Project, in which high school girls are given a less-than-whole cookie packaged with a message: "You're missing 23 percent of your cookie -- the same amount as the wage gap between men and women."
More ideas await, but more volunteers are needed, said Hynes, the commission chair. "The more we get on the roster, the more projects we can work on."
Women can excel at anything, said Gordon, who rattled off some of her heroes -- Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Golda Meir -- before adding a final thought.
"I have three brothers, two sons and two grandsons," she said. "So I care about boys, too."
Contact Tom Barnidge at firstname.lastname@example.org.