By Ronni Diamondstein
As a stay at home mom for most of her life, Geri Shapiro, Regional Director for United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) never expected to start a career in public service at the age of 59. Now nearly 12 years later, on December 13, Shapiro will receive the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) 2012 Women of Excellence Award for Service to New York. Betty Spence, the NAFE President will present this honor at a breakfast at the Yale Club in New York. States Spence: “The annual NAFE Women of Excellence Awards honor the achievements and accomplishments of NAFE members in their careers, businesses and communities. Winners are chosen for their vision, courage, compassion, proven success and generosity as demonstrated by how they help other women succeed.”
As Regional Director, Shapiro says her main job as Senator Gillibrand’s surrogate is to be a problem solver. She is the Senator’s eyes and ears in the county often stepping in to represent the Senator. Shapiro fields questions and addresses the concerns of her constituents from non-profits, hospitals, various levels of governments to individual citizens. She is intimately involved with all of the issues that impact Westchester residents.
As a long time Westchester resident who grew up in New Rochelle, this job seemed just right for her. She had honed her problem-solving and communication skills as an Edgemont P.T.A. President. As she raised her daughter, she took courses at Columbia University and became a stockbroker so she could help her ailing father with his business. After caring for her elderly parents and in-laws, Shapiro, an only child, learned a lot about health care issues first hand. Shapiro credits Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton who hired her as Westchester Regional Director in 2000 for launching her career. “It gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘late bloomer’,” she says about this opportunity. She was drawn to Clinton because of her passion for health care and volunteered in her U.S. Senate campaign in 2000. When the Regional Director position for the newly elected Senator became available she got the job and was rehired for that position when the current Senator, Kristen Gillibrand was sworn in 2009.
Shapiro sees herself as an example of the possibilities that can be available for older people and especially women. “One of my goals is to mentor and help women of a certain age.” She says that everyone needs someone to believe in him or her and as you age that becomes even more important. “Hillary changed my life and Kirsten continues to give me opportunities,” says Shapiro.
When asked what receiving the NAFE award meant to her, she said she felt humbled and honored. “I’m a staffer just doing my job,” she said. She hopes this award brings awareness to people over fifty, both men and women, who are still in the job market. “ I believe there are so many people like me.”
Spence says that Geri Shapiro is a great example of the amazing members of NAFE who are quietly doing their work and empowering other women who have no power to be successful in their own right. “These women make sure that more women are in leadership positions alongside men,” and she adds, “Geri is making this happen.”
Ronni Diamondstein, owner of Maggie Mae Pup Reporter, is a Chappaqua based freelance writer, PR consultant, award-winning photographer and a School Library Media Specialist and teacher who has worked in the US and abroad.