MAYS LANDING — “Go women, go women, go women!” Theresa McReynolds told a group of about 40 seniors from Oakcrest High School on Friday morning.
The empowering chant was the culmination of a breakfast to celebrate Women’s History Month in March by exposing the students to local women from various backgrounds who have had successful and fulfilling careers.
McReynolds was one of five speakers, all Atlantic County Women’s Hall of Fame inductees, during the breakfast put together by Oakcrest history teacher Vince Sera. Sera said the idea behind the annual event is to motivate young women as they prepare to begin their lives post-high school.
“They’re not alone in this journey. There are good people who are here to guide them,” Sera said.
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One of the speakers was Jacqueline McBride-Jones, who founded the local hall of fame for women. McBride-Jones, who grew up in Mays Landing and raised her children here, is a humanitarian and empowerment coach, as well as a Global Goodwill Ambassador. She told the students she was humble for the experiences she had with them Friday.
“There’s a spirit in here that makes me happy, and it has to be making all of you happy,” she said.
McBride-Jones told the students she saw among them destiny, hope and purpose and encouraged them to find those things in themselves.
McReynolds told the girls she grew up in Atlantic City in an abusive home marred by alcoholism. She went on to co-found the Atlantic County Women’s Center, recently renamed Avanzar, with a group of other women, and eventually became a chiropractor.
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“You never know the twists and the turns and the changes,” she said. “I started out in this violent and alcoholic home, and now I’m a doctor. How cool is that?”
McReynolds said now is an exciting time to be a woman, especially with the many movements underway toward equality and against sexual assault. She told the students to keep going despite any challenges they face.
“So don’t get down, don’t let it get you to a place where you’re not thinking, ‘How can I serve?’” she said. “Life’s just this wonderful, exciting journey if you just grab hold of it and know that every part is important.”
Other speakers were Brenda Taube, the first female member of Margate’s governing body in its 144-year history; Anna Arena, longtime local volunteer and senior director of business process improvement at Spencer Gifts; and Mary Lou Antinozzi, the first woman in charge of a facilities/engineering department in the casino industry.
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Senior Brielle Smith, 18, said she was honored to get to participate during the breakfast. The students who attended were nominated by their teachers or guidance counselors to attend.
“It was great to see the different perspectives coming from diverse backgrounds and still finding similar paths,” Smith said.
Katelyn DeFrancisco, 18, also a senior, said she was inspired by McReynolds’ journey.
“Talking about growing up in a violent home and what you could become, it was very different to hear her tell her story: that you can be more than where you came from,” DeFrancisco said.