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Albright to Speak at Women's Center Conference Mar. 8

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, appointed by former President Bill Clinton to become the first woman to serve in that role, has been confirmed as the keynote speaker at the Women’s Center’s annual Leadership Conference on March 8. The theme is “Advancing the Agenda.”

Martha Burk, president of the Center for the Advancement of Public Policy, who is trying to break the gender barrier at Augusta National Golf Club where the Masters Golf Tournament is held, will also attend.

Former U.S. Assistant Surgeon General Susan Blumenthal, now a senior advisor for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will discuss the controversy over hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Over the years, the Women’s Center’s spring leadership conference has attracted women who share traits of resilience, perseverance and integrity.

Albright, who was nominated as secretary of state in December 1996, was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate. When she was sworn in as the first female secretary of state in 1997, she become the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is divorced and the mother of three daughters.

IN TALKING about challenges in their lives, previous Leadership Conference speakers such as Sarah, Duchess of York, and Erin Brockovich have served as role models for women.

Judith Mueller of McLean, who founded the Women’s Center more than 29 years ago and now serves as its “chief fund-raiser and friend-raiser,” said that like all human service agencies, the Women’s Center faces funding challenges.

“We’re in troubled times,” she said. “All charities have been impacted by scandals in corporations and the United Way implosion.” Giving has been impacted by the decreased assets of foundations in the economic downturn, Mueller said.

Although the Women’s Center focuses on psychological counseling, it also offers courses for virtually every contemporary challenge facing men, women and families.

The Women’s Center, Mueller said “has been around for 29 years. This is an institution that serves people, from which they graduate and recover.”

The Center offers counseling and support during life’s transitional phases and crises such as getting fired or being laid off, having one’s marriage collapse, and taking fiscal responsibility late in life, Mueller said.

“We have a joke that if you’ve never heard of the Women’s Center, you’ve had a charmed life,” she said. “We are helping people who are high-functioning. They have multiple responsibilities.

“Our stock in trade is we are immediately available and totally affordable.

“EVERYONE KNOWS someone who’s run into a major black hole. The combination of services — legal, financial, professional and psychological counseling — gives you the tools to recover and puts in place the changes that need to occur.

“If you go round and round feeling bad, you just go round and round feeling bad,” Mueller said. “We initiate the ‘to do’ piece that breaks the cycle.”

The Women’s Center has depended on third-party reimbursement — insurance — to cover its costs and return its clients to fully functional lives.

“We were an unusual charity. We had counseling as a profit center,” said Mueller.

But with the advent of managed care, mental illness has been redefined as “a physical ailment with a medical treatment model,” Mueller said, and “it is more difficult getting reimbursement” from insurance companies.

Now, she said, “insurance is based on a medical model. If you break your leg or you break your heart, it is still the same method of payment, if you are using insurance. It gets harder and harder to collect third-party payment.

“To come to the Women’s Center for marriage counseling, someone has to agree to be diagnosed as depressed, if they are going to use third-party payment,” Mueller said.

“The status of women is always a function of care-giving,” she said, “But there is no universal understanding that care-giving costs.

“Women are disproportionally disadvantaged when they drop out of the labor force to do the care-giving that our culture expects of them.”

That’s increased the need for couples to dialogue over how they will handle the responsibilities of parenting, taking care of their parents, and “sequencing their lives.”

“Now that women are making money, who does what, when and how? How do we live the espoused value of love? What do we sacrifice to have the optimum arrangement?”