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Women's organization boasts fashion and funds for education

By Jessica Rodrigo
July 20, 2011 at 2:20 a.m.
Updated July 21, 2011 at 2:21 a.m.

Lexi Rohde is the center of attention in the arms of  grandmother Debbie McClanahan.  Lexi's mom, Michele Rohde, gets her hair touched up and makeup applied before walking the runway Wednesday in the fourth annual  Showcase of Fashions and Silent Auction.  Rohde is the incoming president of Victoria Professional Express Network, which had the event.

Chatter of work, clinking of silverware and voices catching up with colleagues consumed the air in the Spring Creek Event Center on Wednesday afternoon.

Inside, groups of women met over a meal of chicken salad and cake for this month's luncheon event hosted by Victoria Professional Express Network.

However, unlike the usual luncheon put on by the nonprofit group each month, this was the fourth annual Showcase of Fashions and Silent Auction fundraiser event.

VPEN's outgoing president, Lola Castro, explained that the money from the annual fundraiser goes toward various components of the organization, including the SBMF, the Stephen Bufton Memorial Education Fund.

The fund is designated for a local resident who is a student - sophomore or junior - and is attending an accredited college or university.

The fundraiser also benefits the Business Skills Reimbursement, which is for members who have completed any sort of continuing education courses through an accredited college, university or industry.

"For an insurance agent, for example, that has to get continuing education for her license, we would reimburse costs based on what classes they took through an accredited program," Castro said.

The fashion show included wardrobes from Dillard's, J.C. Penney, Pitter Patter and Foster Creek Station, all modeled by members of the organization.

There was also a silent auction of donated items from various businesses and members of the community, which is where most of the funds are raised. Items varied in value with the highest valued at $550 from Texana Furniture.

This year's recipient of the SBMF scholarship is Avery Rains, a 21-year-old senior at University of Texas-Austin.

Rains, who submitted her application as a junior, is a graduate of St. Joseph High School. She is majoring in speech language pathology.

"I decided to apply for the scholarship when a friend of my mom's had mentioned it," said the UT senior. "If she hadn't mentioned it, I wouldn't have tried for it."

With aspirations to work with children, an influence from when she worked as a babysitter, Rains said she needs to earn her master's degree after finishing her undergraduate degree.

"I babysat for a lady who was a speech language pathologist and, before I had even heard about it, I was thinking about going into public relations," Rains reminisced. "She told me about it, and how rewarding it is - she works with stroke patients at a nursing home - and she saw how good I was with her kids, and she thought I would be good (in the field). She introduced it to me, and it just sounded good to me."

The $2,000 scholarship will help to cover expenses for tuition in the fall when Rains returns to Austin.

Lorene Bothe, an independent real estate agent with Re/Max, was one of two recipients of the Business Skills Reimbursement this year. The other recipient was Tari Pillgreen, owner of Custom Windowscapes & Design Co. in Victoria.

"It promotes the opportunity for (members) to continue education in our field," said Bothe of the reimbursement. "So, I thought, 'Gosh, if I could get reimbursed, that'd be wonderful.'"

That was when Bothe contacted VPEN and began the process for reimbursement. She sent a few emails, made a few calls and filled out a few forms documenting that she received her CRS, which stands for certified real estate specialist.

"They made it very easy," she recalled. "They stayed on top of me. ... They had called me, and made it so easy. All I had to do was produce receipts for the class and fill out some forms..." and members of the organization sent it on.

Bothe, a 10-year Victoria real estate agent and one-year member of VPEN, received her certification at an international Re/Max convention that she attended in February.

She explained that the certification is not a requirement for a Realtor, but completing the certification shows her commitment.

"I encourage any members to continue education in their own fields," Bothe added. "It only, again, makes people take you more seriously and it fine-tunes your skills and professionalism."

Both Bothe and Rains, members for less than a year, agreed the organization is a great avenue for paving the way to friendships and relationships with different professionals, and it helps one learn about new businesses in the area.

"It's a fabulous group of diversified professional women. Members can be retired, those who have just started their careers, (or) those who have matured in their careers," said Castro in support of the 4-year-old organization. "You'll see an empowerment of women, and the camaraderie of providing support for each other to do well personally and professionally."



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