March is Women’s History Month: The Power in Empowerment


Photo by Rithika Sivapokaran

Moncerath Gutierrez (9th grade), Ava Munizaga (10th grade), Ceania Gonzales (11th grade), Mallory Rettig (11th grade), Rithika Sivapokaran (11th grade), and Karina Tiniganay (11th Grade) represented PMHS this past weekend!

In honor of March being Women’s History Month, this past weekend, the first Young Women’s Empowerment Conference was held at William Floyd Middle School on Saturday, March 4th. I, along with 10 other girls from our school district, had the privilege of attending this very special event.

To begin, the event wouldn’t have been possible without 8th grader Lena Schmalacker (South Ocean Middle School) and 7th grader Caitlyn Young (William Floyd Middle School), two very inspirational young women who shared their stories at the conference and are living proof that you aren’t too young to accomplish your dreams.

Lena and her mother, Rahana Schmalacker, together created “Learn and Lead”, an organization made to empower young girls into becoming the leaders of the future. Instead of creating a club within her school, Lena wanted something she could carry on beyond her middle school years. So, with the help of her mother and the community, Learn and Lead grew into what it is today.

Despite being only 8 years old, Caitlyn Young had a dream. Diagnosed with a rare eye disease called Bilateral Anterior Uveitis, Caitlyn wanted to raise awareness for children like her who were suffering from rare eye diseases. Thus, Caitlyn’s Vision was born. In 2019, “Caitlyn’s Law” was put into effect by Legislator Rudolph Sunderman and County Executive Steve Bellone, which directs the Department of Health to distribute information on eye health. It also designated the month of August as Children’s Eye Health and Safety Awareness month.

Girls from various school districts from grades 4-12 attended the conference. The day consisted of hearing from guest speakers and participating in workshops covering different topics such as CPR and first aid, interview and resume skills, self-defense, healthy relationships, and women in male-dominated careers.

Rithika Sivapokaran (11th grade, PMHS) remarks, “I had so much fun at this conference! I am truly grateful to have been able to learn about the lives of many unique women and the adversity they overcome. It was truly inspirational. I think my favorite part was hearing about Geraldine Hart’s journey to becoming an FBI agent.”

Guest speakers such as Geraldine Hart, former FBI agent and Suffolk County’s first female police commissioner, Kate Travers, community manager from Chase bank in Patchogue, and Deputy Sheriff Phil Doukas and Deputy Sheriff Amie Rodecker spoke on the power of being a woman leader, financial literacy and goal setting, and school safety.

“The conference was an amazing place to meet other women who are dedicated to making a change and impact on society. Getting advice from other women who have made their own path in their career despite the many challenges they faced helped to give me motivation and skills that I need for the future,” says Mallory Rettig (11th grade, PMHS).

Ava Munizaga (10th grade, PMHS) recalls the event as an “Amazing experience! I made so many friends and learned many new things from this meeting.”

Overall, the conference was a success and such an honor to be a part of. With plans already in the making for next year’s conference, I can’t wait to see what comes next for us future women leaders!