For Vicki Kirkbride, a mission to help area women to better their careers and empower themselves has been a mission rooted in personal experience.
As a young college graduate, Kirkbride was the first woman to break the gender barrier when she became the first woman selected as a planner for the City of Chesapeake in 1974.
"When I was growing up, a lot of the questions and changes that we know today about the feminine movement were being raised," said Kirkbride. "I witnessed a lot of that and I think it really affected my drive and career goals."
A little more than 30 years later, Kirkbride would be named the executive director of the long-standing Vienna-based non-profit resource center, The Women's Center. Coming from her work at the Arlington Community Foundation, she has served in her post a little more than a year.
An organization that provides a range of resources for women including career counseling, psychological therapy and skills workshops, The Women's Center has allowed Kirkbride the continuing opportunity to assist women — and some men — to improve their careers and tackle common problems. It has also provided immediate crisis assistance and information about domestic violence and organized seminars for several area law enforcement agencies in dealing with those issues.
"It's all about women having the opportunities and the resources they need when it comes to making decisions and improving their lives," she said. "It's just about having a place that is safe and a secure environment where people can come for help when they need it."
Teaching women to be economically self-sufficient has also been a major goal of the center over the years.
"There are a lot of women who haven't really ever been in a position where they need to handle financial planning or investments and retirement," Kirkbride said. "This is about showing those women what resources are available, what is out there for them."
THE SAME YEAR that Kirkbride overcame her own career obstacle was the year when The Women's Center first opened its doors in Vienna.
Initially started as an informational and career counseling resource for women, it grew over the years to take on a broad approach in offering its services to the community, according to Dr. Janet Kimberling, vice president of clinical service and programming with the center.
"If we have a woman in here who is dealing with a separation or divorce, there might be several different needs there," Kimberling said. "She can meet with a lawyer to talk about legal aspects or a therapist to deal with the psychological effects of what she might be going through."
With services such as educational workshops and reduced-rate or free sessions with licensed psychologists or social workers, The Women's Center has grown to serve more than 6,000 people last year, most coming from Fairfax County, according to center statistics.
Three years ago, the center opened up its Washington, D.C. branch to begin its work in providing its services to an urban population as well.
"We've just seen that there is a constant need knocking at our door," in Washington, D.C. said Kirkbride. "It's a new set of challenges and a different network but we've been coming along."
WHILE ITS EVER-GROWING rendering of services has made The Women's Center a regional entity, it still has garnered attention as a group firmly rooted in Vienna, according to local community leaders.
"They do a lot of important things in and around the community and Vienna and we want to do what we can to help them provide that service," said George Creed, director of community services for the Vienna Rotary Club. Each year, the Vienna Rotary Club uses its fund-raising at the ViVa! Vienna! festival to raise about $1,000 annually for The Women's Center, he added.
Having a service that provides women not just with the tools to improve their lives, but also to stop domestic violence, has been a priority for the community outreach efforts of downtown Vienna's Whole Foods supermarket, which sits across the street from The Women's Center.
"We try and work with organizations that serve the immediate community and we like to work with organizations that support community well-being," said Amy Beisel, Vienna Whole Foods community liaison. "An organization that connects women with information and provides protection against domestic violence is definitely something that promotes the well-being of the community."
As the group continues to grow, Kirkbride said that the desire to serve the regional community through teaming up with other non-profit organizations will be a primary strategy for increasing services and benefits.
"With my experience, I see that wonderful things can happen when two different groups link together," she said. "There are so many good people doing so many good things in this area and people just want to give with their heart.
"The more people we can find out there who want to help out, the better we can serve those people who need it."