People sit at circular tables with white tablecloths in a room in Ashland University's convocation center. A woman stands at a podium at the front of the room.
A room full of people listen to Kari Pickens give a keynote speech at a National Business Women's Week celebration on Oct. 16, 2023. Her speech focused on Title IX's 50-year anniversary. The celebration was hosted by Ashland Business and Professional Women.

ASHLAND — Kari Pickens grew up surrounded by women who accomplished a lot athletically. 

Her mom, Carolyn Mast Pickens, is the only female basketball player in Ohio University history to have her jersey retired, and was a two-time All-American. One of her sisters was named the best girls basketball player in the state of Ohio — twice. Her other sister was an All-American athlete at Ashland University. 

Pickens was an outstanding athlete, too. She set the Division II record for most consecutive games with a double-double in her career. A former Division II Player of the Year, Pickens coaches Ashland University’s women’s basketball team.

Under her leadership, the team has a 142-15 record. It also had a perfect season last year, winning the Division II national championship. 

Still, Pickens told a crowd of Ashland Business and Professional Women on Tuesday night she used to be ignorant to the need for groups like theirs. 

Kari Pickens, Ashland University’s women’s basketball coach, gave a keynote speech at Ashland Business and Professional Women’s National Business Women’s Week Celebration on Oct. 16, 2023.

“I’ve been surrounded by women empowerment my whole life,” Pickens said.

She shared it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that she understood not all women had experienced the same empowerment she did. She said she researched the issue and had her eyes opened thanks to reading reports on the issues, and watching films like “Hidden Figures.”

Pickens was the keynote speaker at Ashland Business and Professional Women’s National Business Women’s Week Celebration on Monday night. 

Her speech focused on the 50-year anniversary of Title IX.

Title IX is the federal law that banned discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities receiving federal funds. The 50-year anniversary was in 2022. That act opened the door for women like Pickens, her mom and sisters to participate in high school and college athletics.

“For me personally, I didn’t realize how much this law impacted my life before I was even born,” Pickens said. 

She talked about how 50 years ago, the opportunities she’s been afforded in her athletic career wouldn’t have been possible for women. She told those in attendance at the celebration that it’s important to educate youth on this topic. 

“When we get lost in the opportunities we have, we forget to reflect on where we came from,” Pickens said. 

As she worked to educate herself on the topic, she educated her team, too. They’ve watched videos and read articles about Title IX. She said they’ve also had team discussions about what it means, why it mattered and how to continue to grow from it.

Pickens added organizations like Ashland Business and Professional Women play a role in that education. She challenged the organization to educate youth about women’s equality and the history behind it.

Ashland Business and Professional Women

Ashland Business and Professional Women is part of a national group, the Business and Professional Women’s Foundation. 

The national group was “the first foundation dedicated to conducting research and providing information solely about working women,” according to its website.

Ashland’s group of Business and Professional Women has about 19 members, said President Rachael Yoder on Tuesday. 

Its mission, according to its Facebook page, is “To achieve equity for all women in the workplace through advocacy, education and information.” 

The group has a scholarship fund, sends a female student from the area to Buckeye Girls’ State each year and runs a “Sunshine Project” where it donates to the Rape Crisis Project and Safe Haven, Ashland’s domestic violence shelter.

National Business Women’s Week celebration

Each year since at least 1984, said Secretary Karen McCready, the organization has hosted a National Business Women’s Week celebration. Anyone in the area could register to attend the dinner and evening’s program. 

A table of people who attended the National Business Women’s Week Celebration on Oct. 16, 2023. Guests were served dinner and dessert at the event.

Mayor Matt Miller also spoke, reading a proclamation declaring Oct. 15 to 21 as National Business Women’s Week in Ashland. He also talked about how important women in business are to Ashland, and gave the group an update on the city’s construction projects. 

The organization presented its Continuous Giving Award to recognize a member who excels at giving back to the Ashland community.

This year, Roberta Weiler received the honor. She told the crowd she was “blown away” by it, and hadn’t expected the award. 

Representatives of the Rape Crisis Project, run through Ohio Health, and Safe Haven also gave speeches. Both organizations receive donations from Ashland Business and Professional Women through the group’s Sunshine Project.

Jennifer Coffindaffer is a registered nurse with Ohio Health, and talked about the Rape Crisis Project. It provides sexual assault nurse exams. Coffindaffer said she has seen survivors ranging from two weeks old to 98. 

She shared about how collecting evidence can mean survivors have to go home without articles of their clothing.  

Ashland Business and Professional Women helped provide bags of clothing in their sizes for survivors to take with them. The bags contain pants, t-shirts, flip-flops, brushes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soaps and gels, deodorant and new pairs of underwear.

Coffindaffer said the bags make a huge difference. 

Rebecca Garcia with Safe Haven also spoke. She said the domestic violence shelter has served 61 people in the shelter this year. They’ve received more calls than that, though. 

Through the Sunshine Project, Yoder said, Ashland Business and Professional Women donated 60 towel sets and laundry detergent to Safe Haven. 

“We have to take care of our own people,” Garcia said. 

Garcia said Ashland Business and Professional Women, along with Coffindaffer’s work with the Rape Crisis Project, allow “Ashlanders to take care of Ashlanders.”

Final impressions

Rachael Yoder, the president of Ashland Business and Professional Women, speaks at the group’s National Business Women’s Week Celebration on Oct. 16, 2023.

For Yoder, the group’s president, Tuesday night was a success. She has been part of Ashland Business and Professional Women for three years. Yoder shared on Tuesday that she joined because of the group’s advocacy for childcare. 

She works in manufacturing, and said that’s often a male-dominated field. Yoder said the group has inspired her. Many of the women involved have gone through struggles and become strong community mentors. 

Yoder said this year’s event had one of the largest attendances the event has ever seen. Plus, she said, Pickens made for a great keynote speaker. 

Yoder encouraged any women in need of a sisterhood to join the group. It’s open to men too.

“We’re stronger in numbers,” Yoder said. “The more people we have, the more good we can do.” 

For those interested in more information on Ashland Business and Professional Women, you can visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/AshlandBPW/.

This independent, local reporting provided by our Report for America Corps members is brought to you in part by the generous support of the Ashland County Community Foundation.

Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...