“Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves” wasn't just an '80s hit by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. Nor was this forced pairing just a publicity stunt to boost flagging record sales. It's an anthem of independence, a call to arms, that still has resonance today; and the young women we profile here, all in their 20s and 30s, embody its very spirit.
But there's a difference. These women aren't just doing it for themselves. No, these spirited sisters are doing it for others, too.
Each year, the Times focuses specifically on women for a summer cover story. We've looked at the glass ceiling of business advancement and women's place in Arkansas athletics. Last year, we focused on women in combat, on the front lines by choice or happenstance in the Middle East.
This year, we turn our attention to women on the front line of nonprofit work, those fighting for community and the well-being of others — here and abroad.
It takes a certain kind of woman to wage this battle, one with pluck and determination. These sisters have that — times ten. They have all forged their own paths in singular ways, and have helped others while doing it.
She's smoking — but only figuratively
When we meet Genine Perez at her office, she is a vision in orange and pink — sporting a silk tunic with a scarf thrown effortlessly around her neck and a head full of wild curls. She is warm, welcoming and quick to laugh, and, yes, a little tired.
Asked to describe her job, she exhales a long, “Whooo!” Which job, we might well ask. Genine works full time, teaches two college courses, has a burgeoning music career and her own line of hand-made bath/body products. Oh, and she's the mother of three with a fourth due in August.
As head of the tobacco prevention program for Family Service Agency, she explains, “I coordinate the efforts for a statewide youth program . . . to encourage them to be leaders in tobacco prevention so that we reduce youth initiation and consumption of tobacco products.” The goal is to raise awareness about the risks of tobacco use and the ways in which big tobacco targets the young.
To demonstrate, Genine produces two tin buckets full of tobacco products that look and smell like candy; she's using them in an upcoming project, “Let's go to the candy store” to talk about deceptive packaging.
Genine's work in the nonprofit world began in 2003 when she joined ADFY (Arkansans for Drug Free Youth), where she remained until they closed in June 2006.
Before getting into this kind of work, Genine served in the air force during the Gulf War, stationed in Germany. There she married, had a child (Immanuel, now 17), and divorced. Like a lot of young people, she joined the military because she needed a way to pay for her education.
She returned home to Fort Smith and then moved to Little Rock, where she had her two other children (Olivia, age 12, and Sophia, 7), launched a small business out of her home and got her music career off the ground.
Frustrated by not finding bath/body products she liked, Genine, with characteristic gumption, decided, “I'll just make my own.” Though she's been brewing up her own salves for years, her company, Experience by G.L.P., was officially born two years ago, after Genine attended a small business administration class at UALR. (No surprise that while there she received the “Most Enthusiastic Entrepreneur” award.)