Empowered Women of the Future Club elevates students and community businesses with monthly “lunch and learns” funded by AWEF

 Shani Klapheck’s inspiring “We Are Enough” presentation at West Aurora High School’s Empowered Women of the Future Luncheon helped students explore the topics of self-acceptance and empowerment

AURORA, IL, USA, March 18, 2022. Months before the 2021/2022 school year began, Empowered Women of the Future (EWF) Club members at West Aurora High School began putting in place a plan to reimagine the women’s empowerment movement in Aurora. EWF student leaders Janice Baez (graduating senior who began the club in 2019), Mariella Acevedo (Co-President), Melissa Flores (Co-President), and Terri Shepard (Teacher Co-sponsor) were encouraged to dream big and together, with the assistance of the A+ Foundation for West Aurora School District 129, the group helped develop a grant proposal which was presented to and funded by the Aurora Women’s Empowerment Foundation (AWEF).

Club activities include a series of monthly “lunch and learn” events on topics ranging from career and skill development to period poverty and emotional health. The EWF Club members organize the monthly events, including securing speakers and local food caterers, and also promote the event and help lead group discussions.

“These are well-attended and empowering luncheons the students produce each month in addition to keeping up with their studies,” said Terri Shepard. “They are a remarkable group and the educational luncheons, while they are a significant focus of club activities, are only one of the many ways these students support and empower each other and the community.”

In addition, the EWF Club members formed a “Girls on Fire” mentoring group with girls from Jefferson Middle School. At least monthly, they spend time with the girls on enriching activities from making friendship bracelets to teaching them hip-hop dances. Younger mentees at Nicholson Elementary received copies of Kamala Harris’ book “Superheroes are Everywhere” when EWF students led group book discussions with them. The club also provides opportunities to help EWF Club members explore STEM camps, paying for transportation and clothes if needed, and helps members explore and receive training in future college and career fields of interest. Club members, including one student who plans to break the glass ceiling into auto mechanics, learned car maintenance at Christian Brothers Automotive. Plus, the club gets involved in promoting empowered females throughout history and sharing stories of human rights leaders at school activities, such as homecoming and Women’s History month.

The club’s most recent luncheon speaker, Shani Klapheck, spoke on the topic “We Are Enough.” While listening to Shani, each student received a lunch catered by Night Market Taiwanese Bistro, a local business owned and operated by female entrepreneur Liyu Sung Ma (Lisa) who immigrated from Taiwan with her family in 1989.

Student leaders (standing at right), Barbara Nunez and Marco Bean, guide the lunch and learn activities, make club announcements, and introduce speakers.

In Shani’s inspiring presentation she shared her journey to gain self-acceptance with over 90 students in four consecutive sessions held during the school’s lunch periods. She gave plenty of real-life examples of what she’s learned through a series of unique life experiences, including being a black girl adopted into a white family, a teen mother who didn’t want to be defined by statistics, a survivor of abuse, a mental health advocate, a passionate voice for BLM, LGBTQ rights and all marginalized groups, and part of the 1% of the population living with a skin condition called Vitiligo.

After Shani’s presentation the students participated in a special discussion and small-group exercise called “4 Corners” where they responded to five statements such as “I’m comfortable in my own skin” and “I choose to do and/or say kind things about myself”. Based on their response, the participants would go to one of 4 corners in the room where they discussed questions to better understand their responses and gain new ideas. The discussions were supported by school counselors and social workers.

One of the students at the luncheon, Melissa Flores, commented that “Shani shared with us her story on how she has been able to jump over obstacles including how she escaped an abusive relationship. I know how challenging that can be, my grandmother suffered a lot because of that. The other major point she highlighted was how she was able to have self-love and how important it was to feel my emotions. I work hard in school, and I know many of the other students also feel frustrated due to schoolwork but feel the need to brush it off. Shani helped me understand that the occasional cry-it-out was essential. We need more people like Shani to remind us that we, too, are strong, smart, and capable of more.”

“We believe that what West Aurora High School’s Empowered Women of the Future Club has accomplished this school year is extraordinary and they are doing their part to build a more equitable world, lifting up young women and expanding the awareness of female issues among young men in Aurora,” said Amy Baudouin, Board Chair, Aurora Women’s Empowerment Foundation. “It’s been a delight for our board of directors to watch the EWF Club grow and the incredible ripple effect it has not only at West Aurora High School, but in neighboring schools and throughout the community.”


The Aurora Women’s Empowerment Foundation mission is to elevate and empower Aurora-area women and future women by making grants to tax-exempt nonprofits engaged in meaningful, measurable work that helps women over the hurdles of inequity and exclusion, propelling them forward with life-changing programs and services.  For more information about grants made by AWEF, including our grant guidelines and online application, visit awe-foundation.org.


West Aurora High School’s Empowered Women of the Future (EWF) Club was founded by Janice Baez in 2019. At the time, Baez, a junior, felt inspired to begin a focused and ongoing program at the school with support by teacher sponsor, Terri Shepard, to bring together young women who want to develop their opportunities, empower other girls and women, and create a world of equality and equity.

The club serves a diverse population of girls: 74 percent of the student population are of color and 50 percent come from low-income families. The EWF Club educates and empowers girls of all ages in School District 129 in age-appropriate topics and opportunities, developing educational and career connections, improving mental health, and more.

A+ Foundation is a not-for-profit organization that supports and assists alumni and raises money to enhance the opportunities of the students and staff of School District 129. The goals of the A+ Foundation are to enrich the curriculum of West Aurora School District 129, inspire excellence in students and staff, expand opportunities for community involvement and foster alumni connections.

Those interested in learning more about the EWF Club can contact the club’s teacher co-sponsors Terri Shepard at tshepard@sd129.org or Mayra Rios at mayra.rios@sd129.org.