Throughout the past decade, numerous organizations have come to fruition that help connect women who want to better themselves while simultaneously paying it forward to help better others. There are many that focus on offering professional support and development, but Ekhos strikes a unique balance, fostering both professional and personal growth through its programming, events and activities. Through the perseverance of three strong women-strangers at the time-the organization launched in 2006. Here’s our story.
11 years ago, one of Ekhos’ founding members, Nicole (Nikki) Stokes, found herself in a “funk”-a quarter life crisis funk, to be exact. She found herself pondering her purpose in life and looking for ways to connect with fellow female professionals who were seeking deeper relationships than what was typically gained through networking. She craved deep friendship and real discussion.
Right around this time, an article published by the (at the time) St. Pete Times, proclaimed Tampa as one of the worst places for young professionals to live. Not one to sit back while other disparaged her city when a solution was within reason, Nikki wrote a letter to the editor saying how “we” (a yet to be created group of women) were going to change that.
Later that week, Nikki received an e-mail from Kari Goetz saying she read her response and wanted in. Invigorated by this passion and enthusiasm from a perfect stranger, Nikki invited Kari to meet for coffee. Each brought along their most connected and passionate girlfriend; for Nikki that was April Monteith, and Kari brought Jenny Wiegle.
Together they discussed their shared observations; it was hard to build authentic, healthy, and deep relationships with other women after college. They all needed and wanted to discuss things that were relevant in their lives within a safe space-one devoid of judgement. This was not as much about growing professionally, but personally. They envisioned a group where women could and would support other women.
If four women independently had some of the same needs, there had to be other women looking for the same, right? To gauge interest, the foursome hosted at dinner at a local restaurant. Each invited 3 or 4 women who they thought could rally around this movement. There was no pressure to commit to anything; the guests were simply asked to hear the mission out.
The group of four became a group of 12 who designed the framework for public events they branded as “Conversation & Cocktails,” as well as periodic members-only intimate gatherings for dinner branded “Dinner & Dialogues.”
The inaugural Conversation & Cocktails event was at the Straz had over 100 women in attendance. Appropriately so, the topic was “The Quarter Life Crisis.” Programming went on to cover an “F” series (friends, fertility, fortune, etc.). Dinner & Dialogues were always hosted by a member and were typically catered with a $10 contribution.
In its first year, the group organized its first annual retreat which was where landmark decisions that are carried out still today were made.
We get many questions about the name and what it means. Ekho was the name of a Greek Goddess who lost her voice. The founders saw this as particularly appropriate. Members of Ekhos strive to ensure we all have a voice and are heard; we strive to “echo” what fabulous women before us have done and the awe-inspiring work yet to come.