For most of her adult life, Judith Mueller has worked to improve the lives of women by creating programs aimed at empowering them during difficult periods in their lives. Until last year, she helmed the Northern Virginia Women’s Center, where she was able to create tangible services that assisted women in need.
For her 28 years of working to uplift women, Mueller is being honored by the General Federation of Citizens Associations as the Citizen of the Year in April. Mueller has lived in McLean for 30 years.
Suzanne Wheeler Klein from the Women’s Center praised Mueller, saying, “The Center would not be what it is today without her remarkable leadership. Under her stewardship the Women’s Center’s effectiveness as a force in the community was tremendously enhanced.”
Mueller explains that her goal at the Women’s Center was to compile “cradle-to-grave, life-span career services.”
She came to the Women’s Center as a graduate student and immediately saw the opportunity to put together a series of programs and services that were tailored to the changing and emerging roles of women. “Divorce was on the rise for the first time ever in our culture,” said Mueller of her early days at the Center. “I used myself as the norm. If people such as I had no idea how to negotiate financial black holes and find a job, I knew there was a need.
“THE PROGRAMS WERE tailored to their needs as caregivers, as employees and participants in the labor market. Women are the individuals most likely to be financially and psychologically damaged through divorce. So we put together practical programs that were instruction-based. Programs that provided the ‘to-do’ part of their lives,” said Mueller.
One of the programs she was able to put together was the Information and Career Advisory Network (ICAN), which is a selective mentoring matching program that pairs women with professionals in their field of interest to give them practical insight into the career they are pursuing.
Mueller’s passion lies in helping women to overcome the challenges in their lives. She decided to leave the Women’s Center in 2002 when it changed from being centered on encouragement to being more clinical. “It became a medical model that was increasingly dependent on insurance. A ‘medical model’ means that something is broken — you break your leg, you break your heart, you break your mind. It’s a pathology,” said Mueller.
HER EXPERIENCE over nearly three decades made it difficult for her to view the women she was working with in clinical terms. “It’s a very different model from the wellness model we have used. That model worked. I know it did because we had people tell us over and over that it did,” said Mueller.
Wheeler Klein said, “Her energy and commitment touched the lives of thousands of women and families.”
Not one to sit on her laurels, Mueller has turned her aptitude for drawing resources and attention to her causes into her new company, The Advisory Network, and into her efforts to improve the lives of women in developing countries. “I very much want to be involved in improving the status of women in developing nations,” said Mueller. Currently she is focusing on the needs of women in Muslim societies as well as coaching individuals through The Advisory Network.
Her work has taken her around the world and has garnered her the acclaim of both her peers and political figures. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright said, during a ceremony honoring Mueller, “You’re doing God’s work, and she is well-pleased.”
Mueller appreciates the accolades but feels there are still challenges ahead that need a solid and experienced leader. “When you get to be 65 years old, you have some perspective. As we mature, the hope is to lend support and ego strength to those individuals who are seeking to be respected,” said Mueller. “I look forward to being engaged with the next generation of women.”