Betty G. Scholarship

The Betty Gissendanner Memorial Scholarship

Betty Gissendanner

The Betty Gissendanner Memorial Scholarship is awarded to Charlotte County young women who are graduating from high school and are registered or pre-registered as Democrats. They are chosen on the characteristics that illustrate the values that were so important to Betty as a Charlotte County Democrat:  Civic Engagement, Equal Opportunity, Women’s Rights and Scholarship.  In addition to the standard transcript and letters of recommendation that go with the application, the applicants must also submit an essay on a political topic chosen by the Scholarship Committee.

Betty Gissendanner grew up in very Jim Crow Alabama. Betty was one of 22 black students that integrated her high school.  She was the first member of her family to attend college.  She became a nurse and received a Master’s Degree in nursing.  When she moved to Charlotte County, she ran a very successful small business, served as an Officer with the DWC and the DEC.  She ran for State Rep (unsucessfully) and was constantly encouraging others the run for office, offering advice and financial support.  She was an active member of Ruth’s List, the Florida branch of Emily’s List. She serves as an inspiration to all young women.

To Donate to the Scholarship Fund make checks payable to DWC Scholarship Fund and deliver or mail to:  DWC Treasurer, 1181 Dewhurst St, Port Charlotte, FL 33952.

DWC names 2023 scholars

The Charlotte County Democratic Women’s Club (DWC) and Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) are pleased to announce the recipients of our 2023 Scholarships. 

This year we have three scholars.  The recipient of the annual $1000 Betty Gissendanner Memorial Scholarship is Carmen Galvan-Cuevas from Florida Southwestern Collegiate High School.  Ella Extejt from Lemon Bay High School was selected for this year’s $1000 scholarship in memory of DWC member Sonia Waters who passed away in February 2022.  This year the DEC awarded a $500 scholarship in honor of Deven Seibert, a former Charlotte County teacher who had the courage to bring students to a School Board meeting to discuss bullying of gay students.  The recipient of that scholarship is Ariana Sierra of Port Charlotte High School.

Carmen Galvan-Cuevas has had many leadership roles during her high school career, spanning both academic and community service programs, such as serving as the president of the National Honor Society, mentoring fellow students, and working in the Z-Club, a high school version of Zonta Club.  She has served in these leadership roles in addition to holding down outside jobs.  Carmen will be attending the University of Florida in the fall as a political science major in their Honors Program.  She plans to become an attorney, ideally specializing in immigration or international law. 

Ella Extejt has also been a leader at LBHS.  She was a founder and is currently the president of the Women Empowerment Club.  She says, “I started this club to help represent women which I felt were put in the shadows in my community.  I wanted to give women a safe space to make friends, express themselves and better themselves.”  She has been involved with leadership activities such as the Hugh O-Brian Youth Leadership Program and The World Leadership Congress. She will be attending the University of South Florida.   She will pursue studies in business and hopes to start her own business. 

Ariana Sierra has been involved in the Democratic Club, Diversity Club, National Honor Society, Student Government, Pep Club and Captains Club.  She is also in the Junior Leadership program of Charlotte County.  In addition, she is the captain of the swim team.  She plans to attend Boston University and later apply to that university’s medical program.  Ariana says, “My goal is to surpass the statistics for Latinas on the road to higher education while representing my culture and serving the Latino community.”

DWC names 2022 scholarship recipients

The Democratic Women’s Club of Charlotte County is excited to announce the winners of its annual Betty Gissendanner Scholarship awards.  This year we have two recipients:  Cassidy Gibbs, graduating from Port Charlotte High school and Kiley Rydberg, graduating from Lemon Bay High School

Cassidy Gibbs plans to attend the University of Florida and major in Pre-Dental Biology with the long-range career goal of becoming a maxillofacial surgeon, working with high anxiety patients.  She has been an activist in high school: she lobbied the School Board and local government to reinstate bicycle safety policies, served lunches to youth and homeless populations, and co-founded PCHS’s year-long donation drive for the Center of Abuse & Rape Emergencies. She also participated in student government and the Young Democrats Club along with many other club and sports activities, including varsity tennis. 

Kiley Rydberg also plans to attend the University of Florida and major in biology.  Her interest in biology and other STEM subjects is already evidenced by the summer she spent volunteering at the Mote Marine Aquarium and volunteering for her school’s aquaculture lab. Kiley has participated in many high school clubs and activities, including Model UN, the math and science national honor societies, Key Club, basketball, and student government.   Kiley’s recommending teacher writes, “Kiley showed exceptional skill and work ethic in my class.  She was a student that consistently produced high quality work, often going above and beyond what was asked of her.”

DWC Announces 2021 Scholarship Recipients

The Democratic Women’s Club of Charlotte County is excited to announce the winners of its  Betty Gissendanner  and Bob Taylor Memorial Scholarship awards. 

Bob and Mary Ellen Taylor (President of the DWC 2007-2013)

This year’s $1000 recipient of the Betty Gissendanner Memorial scholarship is MaKenzie Carter of Charlotte High School.  Also due to generous memorial donations in memory of long-time Democratic Women’s Club supporter, Bob Taylor, who passed away last year, the club was also able to give a $1000 scholarship in his memory.  The recipient of the DWC’s Bob Taylor Memorial Scholarship is Talon Bottenfield of Lemon Bay High School. 

MaKenzie Carter

MaKenzie Carter

MaKenzie Carter will be a first generation college student.  She has had a distinguished high school career, including academics, athletics, and community service.  She has coached a K-8 basketball team and has served as a teaching assistant for AP calculus.  One of her teachers describes MaKenzie as “the support system that keeps her peers academically engaged and their emotional wellbeing in a healthy place.”  MaKenzie plans to study either behavioral neuroscience or environmental science at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. 

McKenzie’s Application Essay

Why Women in Politics Matters

Twenty-three point five percent.  That is the percentage of women that currently hold office.  Out of the 535 spots in Congress, only 126 are held by women as of 2020.  Compared to recent years, having women of different races, ethnicities, and political beliefs in Congress, at all, is an accomplishment of its own.  However, this does not discount the fact that over 75% of Congress is male, a significant imbalance to the actual percentage of female to male ratio, which is 1:1.

Women in politics matter because our unique perspective on childbearing, menstrual cycles, societal pressures, abortion, the gender gap, and much more needs to get addressed by the population that it is opressing.  Without that representation, aspects of women’s life can be misrepresented by the dominant male political system that has perpetuated America since its beginning.

It is necessary to have women in politics because it is about representing half of the population that face different struggles every day.  For example, expecting a white person to create laws about indigenous land would not be fair to that population. It works the same way when talking about women in politics.  We experience life through a different lens that can be valuable when having discussions that affect women.

American politics is about creating bills and laws that affect the entire country, so why not have the entire country represented in politics?  A view upon the accessibility of abortions can drastically differ from women growing up in poverty from a man who grew up in wealth.  Both of their opinions are based on the environment they grew up in and how that environment affected them.  It is about representation in a country where politics affects everyone.  It is about equal opportunities for different genders to come together and speak from different views to find the best solution.  

Talon Bottenfield

Talon Bottenfield

Talon Bottenfield overcame a reading deficit in elementary school to become a highly accomplished student.  In addition to pursuing a rigorous academic program, Talon also took leadership roles in extracurricular activities, put in 200 hours of community service, and worked part time.  In her application essay about why women matter in politics, Talon writes, “issues that women face can be easily overlooked when politics are dominated by males.  It is easy to silence the minority voice, so having women in politics allows women’s issues to be vocalized and addressed.”  Talon plans to attend the University of South Florida and study environmental science. 

Talon’s Application Essay

The Future is Female 

Women’s place in society in recent decades has shifted dramatically.  Women went from being limited to being nurses and teachers to having the freedom to create their own paths.  This unforeseen development has reshaped society as women, who enter fields that were priorly predominantly male, bring new ideas to the table. The same can be said for women entering the field of politics.  For as long as the United States has stood free, men have been in control of decision making.  Now, women are challenging this standard through entering politics. 

The half of the population, females, that was never being represented in politics now have a voice.  Electing women into important government positions allows the population of our country to be better represented.  Instead of having solely men making the decisions over female issues, such as reproductive rights, those who are impacted by these laws can now help make the final verdict.  No one understands women’s issues better than women.  Along with that, issues that women face can be easily overlooked when politics are dominated by males.  It is easy to silence the minority voice, so having women in politics allows women’s issues to be vocalized and addressed.  

A common argument against having women in politics is that women are too emotional;

however, instead of hindering decision making capabilities, strong emotions allow politicians to work with compassion.  Rather than acting in the best interests of a person’s political campaign, women can use their power to pass laws that benefit the greater good.  Overall, the typically caring nature of women can allow for compassion in politics.  The claim that women cannot make good political leaders is sexist and outdated.  In reality, women in politics are vital.  

Additionally, representing women in politics can help inspire the next generation of girls to be politically active.  Seeing other women in politics makes children realize that they have the potential to follow the same path.  This chain reaction will better the political system as people with different life experiences bring different perspectives to politics.  Rather than having our country run by the gender that only constitutes half of the population, it is best to put our strong women in office as well.   

Therefore, women in politics are necessary and need to continue growing to adequately represent America.  Laws restricting abortion or categorizing feminine products as luxury items need to have a far argument with the gender it affects the most.  Politics matter.  Having a voice matters.  Women need a voice in politics because it matters.     



DWC Announces 2020 Winners

The Democratic Women’s Club of Charlotte County is excited to announce the winners of its annual Betty Gissendanner Scholarship awards.

anna-belevitch   This year’s $1000 recipient is Annamaria Belevitch of Port Charlotte High School. Annamaria was the president of her school’s Model United Nations Team and plans to attend Columbia University in New York to prepare for a career in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps. Annamaria wrote the following in her application essay topic about why women in politics matter: “if more women occupied the political sphere, the promotion and advocacy for women’s education and feminism would be a significant focus of upcoming policies.”

The Democratic Women’s Club is also thrilled to announce the winners of two $500 runner-up scholarships: Tammy Flores of Port Charlotte High School and Sabrina Lefebvre of Lemon Bay High School.

Tammy Flores Tammy was the president of her school’s Environmental Club and participated on the mock trial team for several years. Tammy has been accepted at Florida State University and plans to begin her college studies in nutritional science with the goal of becoming a medical doctor.

Sabrina Lefebvre  Sabrina Lefebvre participated in a variety of high school activities, including the Student Government Association and the girls’ weightlifting team. She plans to attend the University of Florida where she will study nursing with the goal of becoming a BSN and certified nurse anesthetist.

As part of the selection process, the applicants were asked to submit an essay about the topic of Why Women in Politics Matters.  Here are this year’s essays:

Annamaria Belevitch:

When I became old enough to understand, my mom explained her experiences in the Dominican Republic. She pushes me to take advantage of the opportunities granted by public education here in the U.S., ones she and her family never had. When my mom and her eleven siblings were growing up, the prospect of obtaining higher education was simply an insurmountable hurdle. In my family if a woman wanted to attend a secondary institution of any sort, they would be sent to live with another family, cooking, cleaning, and attending to her new family’s needs just to be able to attend college. The summer before my junior year, we visited the Dominican Republic where my mom introduced me to the reality of her childhood home: a single-room house with metal panels acting as a roof, and no functional plumbing.

In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, a commentary on the social expectations of women at the time, exclaiming that women suffered under a pervasive patriarchal system that assigned the roles of wife and mother as the only avenues for personal fulfillment. Within developed nations, we lament workplace harassment, discrimination, and the intrinsic exclusion of women in STEM fields and government. Yet within the developing world, the widespread lack of education, political equity, or even lack of basic human rights allotted to women illustrate the gravity of gender equality issues today. Not to mention the blatant fact that if more women occupied the political sphere, the promotion and advocacy for women’s education and feminism would be a significant focus of upcoming policies.

In AP Literature, we study how canonical works far too-often portray a patriarchal society. In AP Government, we study the history of the women’s’ suffrage movement and the disproportionately male-dominated government system of today. Yet, in AP Capstone Research, I got the opportunity to uncover an element of the “why?” of these realities. Addressing the key potential barriers to female development in the workplace, I looked into how intrinsic forces like the wage gap, discriminatory hiring practices, and the potential burden of household responsibilities impacts the success of women in the workplace– and I would even argue that these same influences are prevalent in the discussion of women in politics. There is still hesitancy for millions of Americans to vote for their next female presidential hopeful based on an “indescribable” intuition. Simply put, we must recognize discrimination in the political realm.

Ultimately, my mom might have never wanted a political career, but the freedom and support from her community and many Dominican women like her determines how we progress from a history that has too often maintained the glass ceiling to a world where gender disparity expires and equality flourishes.

Tammy Flores:

I believe having women participate in politics is not only important, but essential, as women’s input provides legislation with a new and pertinent perspective. Women’s participation in politics not only helps advance gender equality but also affects the range of policy issues that get considered, and the types of solutions that are proposed. Current research states that a legislator’s gender has a very distinct impact on their policy priorities and goals. There is strong evidence that suggests as more women are elected to office there is also an increase in policy making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities. I will cite a personal experience of why women in politics is necessary. To this day racist, sexist, and derogatory names are still said against me. Even though I have used these words to motivate me these acts still remain fundamentally fallacious. Not too long ago, I was merely trying to cross the parking lot of a store, when a lady decided to take her hateful ideologies out on me. She repeatedly and hysterically screamed at me to “go back to my country,” just because she said I was in her car’s way. When I looked into her eyes, I felt immensely disheartened that some, like her, still judge others based on the color of their skin and misconstrued ideas. I have since spoken about instances such as these to my friends and peers, and I have demonstrated that I will never let hateful adversity stop me from trying to excel in being who I am, and who I desire to be. I know hate like this can be stopped with education and policy changes to address structural problems endemic to American culture and I hope to lead my peers to promote equality, through these means. I am a woman who hopes to be avid in politics, but I need someone to represent me. I need someone that has had the same experiences as me to make policies. For this idea to be brought to life women of all backgrounds are needed in politics. I will also continue to speak up for social issues that I feel are pertinent to my quality of life. Currently, roughly only 25 percent of elected offices are occupied by women. This means that decisions are made by a roughly 75 percent male majority. This ratio is not representative of the U.S population. Having women participate in politics matters because women’s political participation and leadership are necessary for our democracy to function most effectively. Without women’s involvement in today’s politics, men will be left the task of making legislation/regulations for women without the accurate informed consent of women. The more closely our government can represent the composition of the United States as a whole, the more stable policies will be, this is why women in politics matter.

Sabrina Lefebvre

Although women have not always had a place in the political arena, women have had important influences in American politics throughout this country’s history. Most of the years since the Senate’s inception, men were the only representatives. Today only a quarter of the members of the Senate are women. The first woman elected to the House of Representatives actually served four years before women were granted the right to vote. Many of the historical women in politics have fought for women’s rights and rights of others who were marginalized in the political system. Harriet Tubman, Margaret Sanger, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, and more recently, Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Nancy Pelosi are just a few of these crusaders. These women have cemented a place in history working tirelessly for those who faced discrimination and to improve our nation’s health and healthcare system. Women in politics matter because, more than 50% of the US population is female; women are the primary caregivers of most households, and are the primary purchasers for their households, meaning they have a more complete view of the day to day workings of the average American providing them with unique insight into what the average American’s challenges are.

I believe women in politics is crucial to the success of democracy. Women tend to be more in tune with the needs of our citizens. Hillary Clinton worked for years to find a solution to our healthcare crisis. Michelle Obama, very successfully, worked on ensuring children at all socio-economic levels had access to healthy foods and healthy school meals while also encouraging children to be active. While men in office many times focus on important issues, they are more military and global oriented. Women focus more on family and daily life as well as social injustices. Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, while not directly political figures, brought racial injustices to the forefront placing them squarely in the political arena. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood supported and fought for women’s contraception and Susan B. Anthony focused on women’s suffrage and the right to vote. Without strong women in politics, the United States and nations around the world would not have the valuable insight which only a woman can provide and democracy would not flourish.


Betty Gissendanner with Omevhy Rivera-Martinez, a student she mentored in the Take Stock in Children Program. Omevhy received one of the first scholarships given in Betty’s name in 2019.
salowitz twins
Betty with Sabrina (r) and Shannon (l) Salovitz. Sabrina is a 2019 scholarship recipient.

Jane Merriam, Andrew Gillum and Melissa Leon Pons at Leadership Blue 2019.

scholarship winners 2018
The DWC Scholarship Committee with previous winners: (Front Row l-r) Kelly Shearin, Tien Thuy Le, and Taylor Torres.
(l-r) DWC President Kay Blue with scholarship recipients Maya Zwack and Sabrina Salovitz, and Young Dems member Melissa Leon Pons.

Here is a link to a more complete story about the 2019 Awards

As part of the application process, students submit essays on the topic Why Women in Politics Matter.  The 2019 essays follow:

Omehvy Rivera-Martinez

Why Women in Politics Matters

“Well behaved women seldom make history” – Laurel Thatcher.

Susan B Anthony knew this when she fought for women’s rights to vote. Esraa Abdel Fattah knew this when she was a leader of a revolutionary group in Egypt during the Arab Spring under the threat of an oppressive president; Samantha Powers, former U.S. Ambassador for the UN Council, lived by this when she created her own campaign, “FreeThe20”, to release female political prisoners around the world. Women like this are the perfect representation of why women in politics matter. Women, often sidelined, have often been some of the first to witness or experience oppression. A 2010 research paper by Craig Volden, Alan E. Wiseman, an Dana E. Wittmer titled “The Legislative Effectiveness of Women in Congress” showed that the priority of legislation divided by gender is often different. Women often focus their policies around the idea of a better quality of life. Especially for any minority group who’s daily lives are affected by social structure and policies against them, it makes sense that these would be the policies that are a priority for women throughout the whole spectrum of politics. U.S. citizens can look at the current politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for proof. She is running on a campaign fighting for the improved quality of life for residentsori in Flint, Michigan, fighting for the children in the Bronx, and the daily lives affected by extreme climate change.

Females make up 50% of America’s population and the world. With regressive regimes that priorities the birth of males, women around the world are fighting just to survive, just so they may one day have the chance to live their lives. There is alway undiscovered talent in female minority groups whose flames are too often snuffed out by the subconscious stereotypes of women. A democracy is not effective if half of its population does not have a representative. When there is nothing to lose and so much to gain, women are risking it all to reform society and fight stigma back with such fearlessness just to have our voice heard. The world cannot evolve without women in it to help facilitate equal change. For centuries women have had to scream to have their voice heard. They’ve screamed because they were the voice for those who were too afraid. Policies about female contraceptives and healthcare are spearheaded by men who have no first hand life experience on the issues that affect women directly. When there is no one left to speak for half the world, half the world is forced to live in silence. That is why the women who have had to struggle to be recognized have the experience and humbleness to make the greatest change in the world.


Sabrina Salovitz

Why Women in Politics Matter

Simply put, women in politics matter because representation matters. It is an unvarnished truth that men cannot speak to the struggles of women as well as women themselves, and history has proven that men in power are rarely staunch advocates for women’s issues. They lack the perspective and the experience, and they have allowed women’s issues to go unaddressed for decades. Women have historically been denied a voice in politics; an ostracism that is no accident; in fact, the American political structure has been exclusionary to women since its inception for one obvious reason: when women do not have a seat at the table, the issues that matter to them the most can be systematically ignored, mishandled, and misrepresented.

Issues that affect girls and women the most acutely have remained untouched by male politicians; for example, in a majority of states there is a sales tax on pads and tampons, goods that are regarded as luxury items, unlike the untaxed necessities: Viagra, Rogaine and condoms. This disparity exists because feminine hygiene products are not a daily concern of men, so even though it should not take a woman to know that there is nothing “luxurious” about choosing to wear pads and tampons, male politicians ignore this blatant inequality.

The other flaw in the way that male politicians address women’s issues is in how they address them, not in a manner which is best for the girls and women themselves but through heavy reference to religious dogma. Women’s rights are to this day held back by the precepts of a 2,000- year-old religion, which views women as being responsible for all sin and suffering, and considers every aspect of their existence, but most especially their sexuality, to be dangerous and thus something to be controlled and repressed. The impact of these attitudes can be found in the prevalence of abstinence sex education, which teaches young people less about biology and more about morality; as well as the widespread acceptance of child marriage, which remains because of the popular notion that the only thing worse than a teen mom is an unmarried teen mom; and the current war on abortion, a medical procedure which women can be denied of at every stage, from the doctor’s office, to the pharmacy. The only way we can start to bring more reality and less ideology into the way we address women’s issues is by having women represent themselves.

Old-fashioned traditions and misconceptions have kept women out of the political arena, and maintained an almost uninterrupted flow of men in and out of office, not because each and every one of them was the most qualified, or because they were the most intelligent, honest, or forward thinking, but because they fit the mold of an American politician. Today, things are changing; the mold is changing, allowing for a more diverse political landscape than this nation has ever seen.

Maya Zwack

Why Women in Politics Matter

Women compose half of the globe’s population, yet are highly underrepresented when it comes to government’ and politics. Women’s participation and acceptance into governmental leadership positions has grown and of course, historically, women faced greater oppression, not only from their legal restrictions from obtaining positions of power, but were even denied the fundamental democratic right to vote. However, despite the vital progress that has been made, the proportion of men und women in politics is far from equal, posing a risk to democracy in the United States and worldwide.

Women arc often discouraged from running for office due to social expectations and stereotypical discrimination from the public. Women face greater criticism and doubt when it comes to their suitability and qualifications to run for office and to potentially obtain a leadership position as compared to men; this is directly related to the fact that voters and candidates are accustomed to and comfortable with seeing a majority of men in government while women with equal positions are few and far between. As a result, potential candidates and voters are hesitant and wary to run for office and to vote for female candidates. The solution to put an end to this cycle is to elect more women and close the gap in numbers between men and women in politics so that future candidates and voters trust in their ability to lead and trust their elected officials lo represent them justly and with compassion. When equal representation is the norm, women will have the chance to pass crucial legislation and have an influence on the laws that are passed, many of which directly affect women in the United Slates. Women in politics set a standard for young women interested in leading and protecting their country; therefore, it is vital for there to be women to be this inspiration and example. Without women having a direct impact on legislation, half of the population is not protected and accurately represented.

The hope for the future is that the fundamental disparity in the hardship in getting elected between men and women will be eliminated; however, currently, this is not the case. When women are in office they have the chance to pass meaningful legislation not only to serve and protect the people, but also to set the standard that women are equally qualified, capable, and effective in doing so. It is common sense that women deserve a say in the laws that govern them, especially when it comes to laws that dictate what rights they have concerning their bodies, families, and workplaces. Women are equally affected by the choices of the government and should therefore have an equal say in these making choices. This is why women in politics matter.