Feel the power

Column by Crystal Graham

At first glance, walking into a meeting of the Successful Women’s Alliance Network, or SWAN, might give you the feel of a BNI-type atmosphere. The group passes business cards, gives a 60-second elevator speech, and members work to help each other through a referral process – all routine parts of your typical business networking group.

Look again, and you’ll see one of the reasons that SWAN is different. While the room is full of businesspeople from Waynesboro, Staunton and Augusta County, SWAN is also made up entirely of women. The networking group launched in 2007 and was the brainchild of local Realtor Cambridge Austin and professional organizer Kathryn McMillian. The idea behind the group, said Austin, was that women network differently than men, and providing a venue for women to grow together was important to her.

While the weekly meetings are strictly business, the mission of SWAN goes far beyond just succeeding professionally. Dig a little deeper, and you will find a group that is truly a gem for the entire Shenandoah Valley.

McMillan and Austin shook up the traditional mold used for networking groups – and added a community-service aspect to the group, something more typical of a civic group. It was one thing to just create another venue to network, said McMillian, but her emphasis was on making it easy for successful business women to give back to their communities.

In its first six months, SWAN has already put its money where its mouth is. The group has made donations to the Waynesboro High School Concert Choir, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the American Cancer Society, Vector Industries, Global Puppet Ministries, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Boy Scout Troop 121 and the Wayne Theatre Alliance. In addition to donations of money, the group has also donated time to the local Dakota Falls fundraising effort, the Wayne Theatre Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.

The combination of networking and community service has proved to be a winner for SWAN. The group’s mission is bringing a certain amount of buzz to the business community – with more and more women learning about SWAN each week. The membership roster boasts numbers of more than 25 members to date – and the amount of guests at regular meetings is on the rise.

SWAN meets every Wednesday at Charlton Groome in Fishersville from 8-9 a.m. The regular meeting is a good introduction to the group – but it’s only half of the picture. To get a complete understanding of the group, join them on a Saturday washing cars to benefit Global Puppet Ministries or offer to help out at the Big Brothers Big Sisters benefit. Only then will you truly understand the impact of SWAN – and the reason the group got started in the first place.

Building our businesses and helping the community along the way – it’s all about community impact, and as vice president of the group, I’m definitely feeling it.

For more information on SWAN, visit www.swanladies.com.


Crystal Graham is the vice president of Successful Women’s Alliance Network.


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