6:30-8 p.m. Jan. 17: “Finding Where I Belong: Equity, Inclusion and Me,” Gisella Aitken-Shadle, The Innovation Lab, 210 Jones St., Suite 100.
9:30 a.m. Feb. 3: Snowshoeing, Fillmore Recreation Area, 21655 U.S. 151, Cascade, Iowa.
6:30-8 p.m. Feb. 21: “Take Care of Your Network, and Your Network Will Take Care of You!” Jennifer Mond, The Innovation Lab, 210 Jones St., Suite 100.
More information: SheUnitesIowa.com
When Nat Finley relocated to Dubuque from Muscatine, Iowa, in 2020, she felt a disconnect.
“I wanted to meet more people,” said the 34-year-old photographer, entrepreneur and owner of Nat Finley Photography.
Specifically, she wanted to connect with other women who, like her, wanted to explore what the community had to offer, particularly if they were putting down new roots.
Through a business connection, she met Adele Herman, another entrepreneur and transplant to Dubuque, from Rochester, Minn.
“Nat and I became fast friends, but both wondered where the women’s groups were in the area,” said the 31-year-old graphic designer and marketing professional. “We couldn’t be the only ones feeling this way about being disconnected from the community.”
It was during a New Year’s Eve conversation that the two decided to seize the opportunity for a need they saw to help women connect with other women through community engagement.
In 2021, the duo founded She Unites, a nonprofit organization that aims to connect women through unique programming opportunities, from its monthly Gatherings with guest speakers at Dubuque’s The Innovation Lab to what’s known as Recess — occasional Saturday morning or Wednesday night recreational activities that have featured hiking, biking, kayaking, snowshoeing, yoga, pickleball tournaments, self-defense classes and more.
“It’s a group for women, by women,” Finley said. “We wanted to provide opportunities to help women not only connect with other women, but to get out of their comfort zones and educate them on things they might not know very much about. It has been very fun to watch and is particularly great for women who might find themselves a little more introverted or intimidated to try a new activity by themselves.”
The organization hosted its debut event at Dubuque’s Smokestack. Thinking it would be a success if it drew at least 20 attendees, Finley and Herman realized just how much of a community need they were meeting when more than 100 women showed up.
“It was very eye-opening,” Finley said. “Since then, it has just continued to snowball.”
Drawing attendees primarily through word of mouth and social media, activities are open to all women.
“Our core group seems to be women in the ages of 25 to 45, but we’ve seen people in their 70s and 80s come to our events,” Herman said. “We always try to offer a wide variety of topics covered from guest speakers for women in all phases of life, as well as activities for all women to try.”
Most events also are free to attend, or only requiring a minimal fee, thanks to partnerships with local businesses, event hosts and sponsorships.
Gatherings do not require pre-registration, while Recess events do.
“We didn’t want things like cost or membership to be a barrier,” Herman said.
They also didn’t want the focus of the group to be business-driven.
“There are a lot of organizations in town that offer business-to-business connections,” Finley said. “We wanted this to look and feel different and to be more about women connecting through activities, rather than just professional development. I think because we’ve kept that kind of a focus, we’ve been able to meet all kinds of cool women.”
For Mckenzy Marley, that kind of connection also helped her to find her footing during a difficult moment.
“In 2021, I was going through a transitional period in my life,” she said. “She Unites gave me the support I desperately needed. This organization helped me understand and implement that we, as women, are owners of our actions. With each honest conversation, meaningful connection and warm welcome, I became someone I was proud of.”
Bailey Petersen was encouraged to try She Unites after relocating to Dubuque during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was pretty isolated for about the first year I lived here,” she said. “I’m a relatively introverted person, so pushing myself to make friends in a new place was extremely daunting to me. I spent way more time than I should have alone. It was actually my boss and co-workers who nudged me to start attending She Unites meetings. I’ve been able to grow really close and meaningful friendships with these wonderful women in ways that don’t strictly revolve around work. She Unites has been such a meaningful group to be a part of because it has allowed me to interact with and socialize with so many women within the Dubuque area, as well as to be able to think about and discuss topics I’ve not always been exposed to before.”
The organization also promotes diversity, engaging women from various walks of life.
“The best way to connect with people and find true treasures are by connecting, listening and becoming open to change,” said Arantxa Martinez Resendiz. “She Unites became a space where I found diversity within the community, met incredible women and challenged my perspective. Attending their Recess and gathering programs has been an opportunity to learn about other women’s journeys and how to become a better support system for my community.”
She Unites recently launched its program lineup for 2024 and anticipates continued growth — perhaps even to other communities. Additionally, the organizations has launched a podcast to keep conversations going between in-person events.
“Women truly are seeking the power and connection of other women,” Finley said. “They have great ideas, and their energy is unmatched. We never thought we’d be running a nonprofit, but to be able to have created a space to bring women together like this, help them build relationships and try something new has been very inspiring to see.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.