Close to 100 women in the community gathered together for the Women’s Leadership Network’s kickoff event on Friday at UCA Downtown.

Patricia Poulter, the first female provost at the University of Central Arkansas, was the featured speaker during the day, which was hosted by the university’s Division of Outreach and Community Engagement.

Angela Webster, who is on the planning committee for the network, said the group is designed with “women in mind.”

“It is our great hope that this network helps you connect with women, reflect on the contributions of women and respect the essence of women even more,” Webster said. “We are rooting for your relationships, your like harmony, your professional development, your leadership development and your overall well-being.”

Taine Duncan, who serves on the steering committee, said the group has been working on restructuring its mission, vision and values as well as reshaping what’s important to them.

Duncan said the program started in 2017 after being inspired by a need in central Arkansas when they saw that the women that represented the “rich diversity” of the region were expressing a desire for community building, learning opportunities and mentorship networking.

She said the women were searching for an inclusive space where the flourishing of women across diverse backgrounds and of varying ages and races could come together to flourish.

“To that end, the WLN was formed,” Duncan said. “In creating a network of, for and with these we’ve begun our mission to empower, elevate and embrace.”

She said to empower, they want to strive to give women access to resources, mentorship opportunities and support business development; to elevate, they want to express their commitment to helping women grow on their paths of choice; and to embrace, want to fearlessly welcome all women in the community.

“When we all embrace one another the beloved community gains in richness and depth,” Duncan said.

Not only have they restructured the vision of the group, they have also combined with Women In Networking, which Lori Quinn said she helped start.

Quinn said both groups were started around the same time, which led to a lot of confusion in the community regarding the differences of the two.

“We kind of had the same mission, basically, was to have women get together and to provide education,” she said.

With UCA’s network having mentorships, Quinn said they agreed it was a perfect match and decided to combine.

“This was just a great opportunity to bring it home, make it local and to be involved with UCA so we’re very very excited about this partnership,” she said. “We are one, we are the same.”

Shaneil Ealy, associate vice president of the Division of Outreach and Community Engagement, said despite last year being the first, they had a great response.

“We took everything that we learned all year and we just revamped and have expanded greatly,” she said.

Last year, Ealy said, the mentorship program had 25 matches.

“This year, we had 55 matches,” she said, excitedly. “We had over 100 people that want to be involved so that just shows you, the need and desire for women to want to engage with other women and those who want to empower other women is great in this community, so, we are thrilled.”

Ealy said the network will have at least three opportunities a month for people to engage in the program, including the luncheon with Colleen Nick on Oct. 31.

For more information about the network or upcoming events, visit http://uca.edu/outreach/women/.

View the event's slideshow here.