The Pioneer is taking a week to feature pioneering women in Charlottesville and beyond. Each day for the next week, we will post a story that informs, inspires, and empowers. As part of this weeklong event, The Pioneer is collecting clothing donations for the Sexual Assault Resource Agency – you can find the donation boxes in the lobbies of #9 and #17 Elliewood Avenue.
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong. It’s about changing the way that the world perceives their strength” – G.D. Anderson
That is the mission that the creators of Sheville, Caity Seed and Maddie Boehnlein, have in mind when they think of the impact that they want to make on Charlottesville.
This journey started as an idea in the Ignite program at HackCville. This program is focused on allowing students to engage in social entrepreneurship and bring their ideas to fruition. On a pitch night at the beginning of their semester, Maddie had an idea for a program called “feminknits,” which would be knitwear with feminist slogans on it. All the proceeds would go to local women’s care centers. While that project may have been too much for them to handle, it sparked this idea that they both wanted to do something to help women in Charlottesville. Maddie said that, “You can’t say that you’re a feminist, but then only support women who go to U.Va.” The emphasis has to be outward facing.
From feminknits, they changed their tactic and went to the Women’s Initiative, Shelter for Help in Emergency, Sexual Assault Resource Agency, and the Women’s Center to ask them what they needed instead of assuming that they, as college students in the University, knew best. What came out of those meetings was an understanding that what those programs need more than anything is awareness and funds because all these programs rely on donors to stay active. People also have difficulty differentiating between the different programs and what they offer. Caity and Maddie wanted to focus on encompassing all women in Charlottesville. Caity described the female population in Charlottesville as full of intersections. Intersections of race, class, sexual orientation and they want to make sure that all women felt welcomed and heard.
“As a woman you can experience very gendered events in your life and those can be very influential in how much you think women’s issues are important, but the real idea by defining it through women’s resources and women’s issues is the fact that women are marginalized in a particular way and especially women of color or women from low-income backgrounds. I hope that Sheville can do more for women in those positions” – Caity
They ran with that idea and began to produce content on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but then evolved into art shows and concerts. This past semester, Sheville hosted an event in the Anteroom called Femme Funk that featured female artists and performers in Charlottesville. They found that, when asked, women in Charlottesville answered. Sculptures were donated, musicians signed up and the Anteroom donated the their fee for hosting to the Shelter for Help in Emergency. After they graduated from the Ignite program, they enrolled in the HackCville Alpha program, where students come in with an idea that they want to see developed seeking resources and support.
Caity is currently a fourth year and is contemplating what she wants Sheville to look like when she isn’t physically in Charlottesville any more. Caity says they want Sheville “to be more than just a blog, graphic or an idea.” They want it to be a way women can truly find out where they can get the help they need. She hopes to work remotely next year to keep her role in the development of Sheville. The ultimate goal of this project is that after Caity becomes a certified social worker, she will be able to use Sheville to provide her own resources to women in the community and not simply be a conduit directing women to resources.
Maddie has another year here in Charlottesville, and she hopes to continue to grow awareness of the brand and mission of Sheville and to continue to raise awareness for women’s resources in Charlottesville. Both women, however, discuss the integral role HackCville has had in shaping this passion project. “Sheville truly wouldn’t exist without HackCville,” Maddie notes. “Everyone has such great ideas and a willingness to try it out and it’s inspiring.” The Ignite and Alpha programs not only allowed them to discover this great passion for providing health resources for women, but also showed them how to take an idea from start to finish. Andy, their Alpha program lead, would always ask them, “what are three things you did this past week and what are three things you plan to do next week?” They are always learning and always doing.
“At the beginning of this process I thought that the word entrepreneur was horrifying, and I was so afraid of it. Well, I guess that’s what we are now, aren’t we?” – Maddie