Terry Hernandez was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2012 and recently awarded the 2013 Connie Wimer Spirit award by the Central Iowa chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners.
Terry Hernandez was recently awarded the 2013 Connie Wimer Spirit award presented by the Central Iowa chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners for authoring the report, “SHE MATTERS: Status of Women and Girls in Iowa” on the disparities and challenges faced by women and girls.
As its executive director for the past 12 years, Terry (Henderson) Hernandez has led Chrysalis, the leading community foundation in central Iowa dedicated to building stronger futures for women and girls. Long a champion for women and girls’ issues, Hernandez was hired to expand the public foundation’s reach in the Greater Des Moines area. Her extraordinary efforts in impacting the lives of more than 5,000 girls through the Chrysalis After-School program and establishing the Women’s Alliance and Central Iowa Funders Forum, led to her 2012 induction into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame.
Hernandez attended classes at Upper Iowa University’s Des Moines Center, when they were held at Valley High School. She is a West Union native, but moved to Des Moines with her family as a young girl.
With a degree in marketing, Hernandez worked in youth development at YMCA of Greater Des Moines where she became acquainted with Senator Elaine Szymoniak, who along with Barbara Barrett and Chrysalis founder, Louise Rosenfield Noun, had started the Chrysalis Foundation in 1989. At the time, the foundation’s main goal was to fund projects that directly impacted the lives of girls and women. Chrysalis took applications and awarded money based on the scope of the projects.
While working at YMCA, Hernandez noticed the disparity in programs available to girls. “I saw adolescent girls just standing around watching the boys play basketball,” she said. “I thought, ‘You know, you need something for yourself.’” She wrote an application for funding to the Chrysalis Foundation, but it was denied. The YMCA’s history of working mainly with boys’ programs worked against Hernandez in the eyes of Chrysalis.
She remained persistent in her efforts to find out why the program went unfunded by contacting Szymoniak. A working relationship blossomed. Later, the pair worked together on youth issues and pregnancy prevention when Hernandez was employed at Iowa Lutheran Hospital Foundation. When Chrysalis decided to expand its impact on the lives of women and girls in the Des Moines area, it tapped Hernandez as the woman to lead the charge.
Prior to her being named the founding executive director, Chrysalis met once a quarter and gave money away. The foundation was funded by Noun, and is now an endowment from her estate. Noun took her life at age 94 in 2002.
When Hernandez was hired to direct the foundation, Noun told her to “Start something that will really make a difference.”
To get started, Hernandez conducted a conference with middle school teachers and counselors in the area. She outlined an idea for an after-school program for adolescent girls to engage them, empower them and provide them with a place to go after school with a safe and nurturing environment. When she concluded her presentation, she asked the crowd if this type of program was needed. Their response was a resounding, “Yes!”
Since starting in 1998, the program has expanded to 30 schools and now includes elementary schools in Warren, Polk and Dallas counties in Iowa. “We decided to take Chrysalis After-School into the elementaries, because sometimes, by sixth-grade there was a lot more going on than we expected. Girls are developing so much faster,” said Hernandez.
Now that Chrysalis After-School and the foundation as a whole are securely funded through Noun’s estate, Hernandez is no longer the only employee. This is a relief to Hernandez who has really seen the foundation grow from the ground up. “I used to be in charge of finding funding not only for Chrysalis, but for my job, too. I also spread the message of the foundation through various speaking engagements and emptied the wastebaskets,” she smiled.
Chrysalis employees hold training sessions for the after-school program to ensure that workshop leaders know how to interact with girls who have been traumatized, can assist girls in developing leadership skills and help girls develop civility.
The idea that a girl can become an aerospace engineer, carpenter, physician or corporate CEO was a notion that never existed a few years ago. Chrysalis After-School works hard to change this perspective. Annual evaluations have proven that participation in the program increases a girl’s intent to finish high school, ability to resist peer pressure, capacity to care for herself and others, willingness to take responsibility for her actions and understanding that working hard today will make her life successful in the future, according to the Chrysalis annual report.
Hernandez has had the opportunity to witness the success of Chrysalis and its direct impact on the lives of the girls in the After-School program. One young woman went from skipping school as a fifth-grader to being accepted at Harvard. Three young women were selected to attend the highly-competitive and internationally-known Eleanor Roosevelt Leadership Center program. Chrysalis keeps track of how the program impacts individual girls by monitoring attendance records, as well as collecting anecdotal evidence from the girls themselves.
In addition to overseeing Chrysalis After-School, Hernandez keeps various civic groups and constituents apprised of the status of women and girls in the state of Iowa. “Women more often live in poverty, and are homeless,” she said. “People don’t understand what the conditions are for women and girls in Iowa. They think that everything is just fine. They think that women’s lives are great.”
According to the 2012 SHE MATTERS: Status of Women and Girls in Iowa, over 80 percent of Iowa women ages 16 to 64 are in the labor force, yet they work for approximately 79 percent of men’s income for similar positions. Nearly 14 percent of Iowa’s women live in poverty, and the numbers increase with an aging population.
Hernandez hopes to instill in women and girls, that the media is not a true picture of how they are or should be. “We can’t change the world, but what we need to do is teach girls and women that (the media) is not the way,” she said. “You are smarter than that. (You need to) make better choices. We need to build their self-confidence and resilience, and build relationships with adults they can trust to give guidance.”