Local women prove to be empowered 365 days of the year
■ By Mark Lentine / Contributed
March 8 was International Women’s Day but women are celebrating, and winning, every day. As March came to a close, we wanted to highlight some remarkable women and their stories.
“I’ve always been a seeker; I’ve always sought and found direction,” said Mary Morse, a woman of accomplishment who holds two impressive titles; President of the Human Relations Council for the greater Hemet, San Jacinto and Menifee region, and also Director of the Spirit Mountain Retreat Center in Idyllwild. Mrs. Morse went on to say, “Back when I was young, there were only so many roles for women and I was told that I was not supposed to question why that was, but I never let that stop me from seeking answers.”
Mrs. Morse’s journey, both spiritual and secular, began at the tender age of 14 as, of all things, a nun. “Back then, you could enter the convent at a young age, which I did. However, after eight years, I realized that I wasn’t fulfilling my quest, but was instead living the life my parents wanted for me. At 22, I left the convent.” As a product of the 1950s and ‘60s, Mrs. Morse, like so many women of the time, was not equipped to live a life alone. Like all strong women though, that didn’t stop her. “I hold a BA in Human Development and the Creative Arts, and I’ve been a musician and mother. I figured it out as I went along and never let fear stop me. I’m also a recovering alcoholic with 30 years sobriety on June 18.”
As if all those accomplishments weren’t enough, Mrs. Morse also finds time out from her volunteer work at the Human Relations Council to aid others in finding their own spiritual path in her position at the Spirit Mountain Retreat Center. “At age 58, I had to start all over. I gathered myself up, moved back to Idyllwild and began to rebuild. I wish I’d known then what I know now, but which was never taught: women should and can rely on other women, and that’s vitally important.” While Mrs. Morse uses her work to empower and strengthen women, she believes everyone’s story, and their spiritual growth, is important. “I believe it was Mr. Rogers, my favorite philosopher, who said ‘It’s hard to hate people once you’ve heard their story.’ Through my work, I try to give people a platform to do just that; tell their story.”
Because of the former generations of struggle for women, most of today’s women don’t necessarily see themselves as part of a “women’s movement,” leaders though they may be. “I’ve never thought of myself as just a woman,” said Susan Arviso, owner of the San Jacinto Certified Farmers Market, adding, “I’m too busy trying to grow my life and my businesses.” Those businesses now include a brand new farmers market in Banning.
“If I had to give one piece of advice to young girls, it would be simply this; stay busy. I can’t just sit and watch TV. I learned from my mother and my grandmother before her that you must keep busy.” While Arviso is a shrewd businesswoman, she knows that at the heart of it all is family. “I watched my dad pick up the produce in Los Angeles, and then my mom, grandmother and I would help sell it in Perris. It was a family thing, and so are my markets. These vendors are like my family.” And the family is growing: “I’d like to open even more markets, if I could find more days in the week,” says Arviso, smiling while packing up her goods at the SJ Farmers Market. Located at 2575 S. San Jacinto Street, the market is open every Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“I’ve watched women break stereotypes and that helped me become my own woman,” says Taj Shorter, Metro Editor for the Valley Chronicle. “Because of those who came before me, I don’t define myself as just a woman; I’m me. I believe you have to find your niche in the world and that’s my goal.”
After graduating with a BA in Creative Writing, Ms. Shorter came to the Chronicle as an intern and worked her way up from door-to-door circulation, to the office, to reporter, then finally Metro Editor. “Our Advisory Editor, Chris Smith, has been a mentor and guide all through the process.”
Shorter notes that she was brought up in a liberal household, but one that still upheld certain traditional values. “My brother and I were taught to speak up for ourselves, but we were also taught Christian values. As I got older though, I realized that I had to make my own decisions in spirituality, and in life.” While Shorter says that women have come as far as they can up to this point, she believes that women still have more to do and should be thankful for the women before them. “I’m always seeking to make my mother proud.”
“To me, family is everything. Because of all the women who struggled in the past-my mom, grandmother and great grandmother-I see myself as a person, a person of worth. I don’t think about myself as a woman, just as men don’t think about it,” said Alyse Rodriguez, a married mother of a six year-old. “To me, the equality of women shows in the paycheck, and that’s not fully there yet,” said Rodriguez, adding, “I’ve never had a problem in the workplace because I will speak up for myself immediately. I speak up for myself, as well as for my family, my son and my husband. We are in this together.”
While Rodriguez is part of the growing workforce in America in the last two years, she also realizes the importance of schooling for both men and women. “I’m planning to go back to school to become a sonographer.”
As for women’s roles in the future, while Rodriguez is pleased with the current administration, she also sees a need for a female President; “I like what the President’s doing, but I do think we need to see a woman in the White House. I think that would be a very good thing for the world.”