Charlene Prounis’ 2010 Star Volunteer Acceptance Speech

Charlotte Prounis
HBA Star Volunteer 2010

Thank you Susan, and to the members of the HBA for this great honor. I humbly accept this award for the spirit of volunteerism that‘s alive in us all. It’s what makes the HBA, the HBA, and I LOVE the HBA.

Thank you to all of my family and friends for being here today, with a particular thanks to my husband Mike, of 28 years, who has helped me become who I am today.

The men in our lives, whether at home or in the work place, play an important role by believing in us and supporting us as we fulfill our dreams – and let us go to all those meetings at night. We can’t do it without you guys– and to all the men here today, thanks for being here.

And to my daughter Jeannie. Jeannie, I hope you can see another side to me today — not just the Mom who’s always asking you to do more and to stop texting, and loves you, but a Mom who also cares about other women, and how she can help other women achieve their career goals.

I hope that as a young woman of 16, you can see and feel the power of women as leaders, how they come together to help each other and celebrate their accomplishments — and be inspired to fulfill your own dreams.

So how did I become a Star Volunteer? To use an earlier HBA tagline that I feel has the most relevance to me: “Get involved. Get connected. Get ahead.”

To begin, I “got involved.” As a young girl, I watched my own mother, Beverly, volunteer for numerous organizations – at the Rosary Society, the school and local political club. She did not fear responsibility; she welcomed it— she was my role model for getting involved.

I joined the HBA while working as an AE at an advertising agency and soon found myself being asked to be president of the HBA. I felt excited, scared and a real sense of responsibility. I wanted to transition the HBA from largely providing programs of topical interest and skill building to addressing the issue of women’s advancement in a more tangible and concrete manner. I helped launch three key initiatives that continue today:

1.  Research into women’s advancement with The POWER Study — Anne Camille Talley, a former Star Volunteer, was critical to its successful implementation which has evolved since then to the EDGE study.

2.  First Leadership Conference, which, with the help of strong, dedicated volunteers—celebrated its 10th anniversary.

3. Rising Stars – giving more recognition to outstanding women in our industry

The point of getting involved, though, is to build up your skills, stretch and gain leadership experience, and maybe make a few great friends along the way. Volunteering provided me with tremendous leadership experience that would have taken years to get at my job. So if you are ready to jump start your own leadership skills, get involved.

There’s another aspect of getting involved that we often overlook, and it’s the opportunity to learn from others, and to meet role models, who you wouldn’t necessarily have access to at your job. You get to observe dynamic women in action who are also willing to help you develop as a leader.

I remember being in an HBA board meeting, observing then President Sharon Callahan, listen to each member contribute her ideas. After taking into account all of the voices at the table, Sharon moved the members to a final decision, but in a uniquely respectful manner that made everyone feel as if they had contributed. At that moment, I made a mental note to be a better listener and to recognize everyone’s contributions.

The second component is “get connected.” A lot of people join the HBA because they want to meet other people – and the best way to do that is to not just come to a meeting, but to get involved through volunteering. connecting, or networking, is at its peak when you work side by side with someone else and get to know her not only as a colleague, but as a person.

The third component is “get ahead”. To advance we need to have confidence. I’ve seen too many women lacking confidence in their abilities. The HBA provides a source of confidence building through volunteer experiences that can lead to meaningful leadership positions.

My own personal advancement began the year after I was president. My friend and current business partner, Risa Bernstein, asked me if I wanted to start an advertising agency together, and I said “why not?” – And that’s an exact quote. I gained confidence in myself from having run the HBA and felt that I could take on new challenges and venture into the unknown.

Because as president of the HBA, I learned to govern a board, set a vision, build strong teams and motivate them to achieve – all skills needed to run a business as well. And in turn, I decided to leave the comfort of a very good advertising job and embark on an entrepreneurial venture. And much thanks goes to Tom Harrison who believed in us and gave us a chance by investing in our business. Thank you Tom – and again, the men are in important in our lives and careers.

Having started two successful agencies, I credit the HBA and the leadership opportunity afforded to me, for giving me the confidence and experience to go out on my own.

On a personal note, as I close out my comments, after all these years together, wonderful friendships have formed, trust has been built, and laughter shared – and that’s the best part. Simply put, the HBA has enriched my life, and I feel so full.

I thank the HBA for being who they are, a group of dedicated women all striving to help advance the careers of women. Look at this room, if ever there was a visual message, it’s here today – the power of women to achieve and make a difference. We are a dynamic force and together, through volunteering, we can help women gain the leadership edge and be the absolute best they can be.


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