Emmaus Rotary Club celebrates International Women’s Day
“International Women’s Day was started 112 years ago, when on March 19, 1911, the almighty and tenacious suffragettes forged an action with purpose of equality, which was supported by over a million in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.
“Today, International Womens’ Day is celebrated worldwide on March 8, and we are encouraged to reflect upon the important roles women have in society, how far equal rights have come and to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women all around the world” is how Alicia Ruiz-Orbin, chair of Emmaus Rotary Club’s International Women’s Day Celebration started the program which this year celebrated two women, who in their way, are breaking barriers and helping others.
“It is so humbling to be in front of this group. What Rotarians do, what you all do every day is so under the radar, and the impact that you have is so amazing that, to be in front of you, is more intimidating than me introducing an artist.”
These words were spoken by Salisbury High School graduate and ArtsQuest President and CEO Kassie Hilgert during a special Emmaus Rotary Club breakfast March 9 at Superior Restaurant, 102 Main St. in Emmaus.
Hilgert is one of this year’s Emmaus Rotary Club’s Celebration of International Women’s Day honorees.
Since joining ArtsQuest back in 2008, Hilbert has been instrumental in helping the artistic scene across the Lehigh Valley flourish.
Credited with her key role in helping to raise funds for the $26 million ArtsQuest Center and ArtsQuest programming at SteelStacks, she was unanimously voted as president and chief executive officer of the organization in 2014.
Among her current projects is a new Banana Factory, for which $14.5 million out of a projected $22 million has already been raised.
“This is going to be a new cultural center. We are switching from visual arts to cultural. And that is to reflect the many different communities that make up the Lehigh Valley,” Hilgert explained to a room filled at capacity.
Revitalizing South Bethlehem with the new cultural center is a key priority for Hilgert.
“Once that building gets completed, you can expect that to be a new venue for Musikfest, but also the start of new festivals there.”
Hilgert made it clear ArtsQuest is a big supporter of small business, especially with vendors and crafters who make important revenue during festivals.
Safety is a priority for Hilgert. She explained how she works closely with Bethlehem City Police, the county, the state, the FBI and Homeland Security to ensure Musikfest is as safe as can be for everyone.
She is concerned about staffing and the mental health of her employees, especially as we come out of COVID-19, she said.
Proud of having been able to keep ArtsQuest open during COVID-19, Hilgert credits working closely with the Department of Health, as well as her staff, who took between 10 to 30% pay cuts during that period. They have since received back pay and are back to normal pay levels.
Post-pandemic, Hilgert clearly has a vision for ArtsQuest, as well as how to embrace and help the different artistic forms within the Lehigh Valley flourish.
The voice behind Steer Your Story, Kristin Pedemonti, is the other Emmaus Rotary Club International Women’s Day honoree.
“If there’s a thread of story throughout my life, it is about service. And that was something my grandmother taught me. She was someone who was instrumental, as my grandma raised me from when I was a child. Her life was always about giving to others,” Pedemonti said.
A few years ago, she started Steer Your Story, which is based on narrative therapy. It is a form of therapy based on understanding the different layers of how we perceive ourselves, the people around us and our greater surroundings.
“Steer Your Story is about assisting people to getting into the driver’s seat of their own life narrative. And many of the people that I’ve worked with are survivors of abuse, including childhood sexual assault, trafficking, violence, homelessness.
“Sometimes when we hear this, our hearts take a pause. And the thing is, every person who’s been through traumatic experiences has a whole other story to their life. It’s about so much more than those events. They have skills, they have abilities and they deserve to step into that story as well,” Pedemonti explained.
She spoke about her childhood and her Vietnam veteran father who had numerous attempted suicides, how he was a broken man and how that impacted her. The importance of realizing how a person has more than one story is her personal drive to make the concept of Steer Your Story more accessible to those it might help.
In 2018, Pedemonti attended a retreat for female survivors of sexual assault.
“As I listened to every woman in the room talk about these incredible things they were doing with their lives, ... they still said ‘I don’t think I’m doing enough. I feel like I need to do more’ and that planted a seed for me about what other stories they can tell about their lives.
“What would happen if they could see all these amazing skills they have and not just women who are doing great accomplishments but women who are contributing in some way. They may be a fantastic mom and they have no idea. Maybe they are someone who is really a great friend. Maybe they are someone who is creative and they haven’t been able to embrace that part of their life yet,” Pedemonti said.