- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Tracy Tajbl got tired of arranging jewelry, so she rearranged her life.
Now shes on the fast track, and it has taken her to an important position with a New York-based firm.
Today, as program director for Community Counseling Services, headquartered in New York, Ms. Tajbl combines her innate talents and personal interest into raising funds for organizations that run the gamut from the American Red Cross to the United Nations.
For it she credits the Womens Center, a nonprofit community resource for women and families in Vienna, Va.
"I wouldnt be doing what Im doing today without the Womens Center," Ms. Tajbl says. I went from working in a dead-end retail job to a high-level position."
With the help of the Womens Center, Ms. Tajbl defined her professional strengths, gained confidence and got on the executive fast track.
"They really helped me home in on and refine my career interests and my talents [and at the same time] combine what I enjoy doing to create a far more fulfilling career," Ms. Tajbl says, smiling.
Since 1974, thousands of women and men who live in the Washington metropolitan area have walked through the centers wooden doors with windows at 133 Park St. for advice on how to change careers, get on the right career track, solve personal problems through counseling and manage their money, plus much more.
The phones ring nonstop: The centers 58 telephone volunteers part of a volunteer cadre of 1,200 answer 65,000 calls a year. The Womens Center provides 25,000 hours of counseling to individuals, couples and families each year.
Ms. Tajbl, 33, calls the Womens Center one-stop shopping. Its all there, under one roof: psychological services, legal services for separation and divorce, career development and financial and consumer education. She credits Judith Mueller, the centers executive director, with vision and the ability to grasp the imperceptible.
"What Judy does so well is observe whats going on in womens lives today. She keeps her finger on the pulse of what women are doing and thinking as well as men. Everybody from teens to couples go to the Womens Center for whatever services they may need," Ms. Tajbl says.
Ms. Mueller knows life isnt always fair and that lifes realities can be harsh. Thats why the Womens Center is needed for problem solving. She signed on with the center as a graduate student at George Washington University more than two decades ago.
She knows firsthand what can happen when diaster strikes and theres no place to turn to for answers. Before her divorce in 1981, Ms. Mueller lived a comfortable life in McLean with two small children. Then, the bottom fell out everything changed with her divorce. Divorce, she says, is a pivotal moment. The economic consequences to women and children are devastating.
"I went from being an extremely fortunate mother of two to living with mittens and vests. It was terrible," Ms. Mueller says.
"I think the reality of womens lives is understood here at the Womens Center and women in relationship to the people they take care of, and that can be children or parents. And the reality of womens lives in relationship to men and how they are able to sustain marriages in this throwaway era," she says.
The center isnt just a refuge when things fall apart. Ms. Mueller says people come in for all sorts of wonderful reasons, too. Some come in search of a better career position; they are teamed with mentors in their field of interest through the Information and Career Advisory Network (ICAN).
The program puts people together with mentors who can lead clients to helpful people in a particular field, she says.
"Were responsive to their needs as well through special funding, where we take bilingual counselors into disadvantaged communities to help people get up and running. Thats what makes the center unique. Its a resource for your typical Washington woman or couple or family. But we also do tremendous outreach to those who arent," Ms. Mueller says.
The centers mission is to provide immediate and affordable education, counseling and support to women and families regardless of ability to pay.
"Our philosophy is 'Problems are not for having, problems are for fixing, " she says.
She has watched womens roles change from the days of the "womens movement" into the 21st century.
She wants the womens center to take a leadership role in identifying the issues that need to be addressed and in bringing about policy and institutional change.
"It seems to me that the failure of institutions to make a systemic response to bearing and raising children results in womens incomes falling at the same time that costs of families are on the rise," Ms. Mueller says.
"Women interrupt their careers, which reduces lifetime earnings and savings, and therefore in old age or in the case of divorce they are much impoverished," she says.
On March 10 the Womens Center will present its 16th annual leadership conference, this year called "The Economic Equity of Women," at the McLean Hilton. The daylong conference spotlights exceptional leadership in advancing the economic status of women and their families.
"What we do is showcase women leaders and a few good men who have been critical in making understood the issues that must be addressed to make womens social and economic status more equitable," Ms. Mueller says.
This year, she says, theres a rich mix of people from the worlds of government, entertainment, journalism, business and philanthrophy.
Some of the speakers at this years conference include activist Erin Brockovich; a legal file clerk who took on the giant public utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., in Hinkley, Calif., and won; Rep. Lynn Woolsey, California Democrat; Tom Gardner, founder of Motley Fool Investments; David Gergen, journalist and presidential adviser; and philanthropist Alma Johnson Powell.
"Our theme is 'From parity to philanthropy. Women are trying to achieve economic status and we know that locally there have been enormous gains for women, but nationally and globally that is not true. So, those of us who have achieved parity and those of us who have the enviable position of leadership and philanthropy have a moral obligation to extend a hand backwards to those who are not on the same stairstep," Ms. Mueller says.

WHAT: The Womens Center presents its 16th annual Leadership Conference, "The Economic Equity of Women."
WHERE: The McLean Hilton, 7920 Jones Branch Drive, Vienna.
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 10. Lunch will be served.
INFORMATION: 703/281-4928, ext. 333, www.thewomenscenter.org.

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