To be a Southwest Florida “Maker,” a woman has to be the b-word: bold.
She has to be someone who has a sense of humor, exhibits passion, has empathy, perseveres through challenges, takes risks, is courageous, assertive and open to life.
Those are the characteristics the producers of the upcoming WGCU program “Makers: Women who make Southwest Florida” said their list of 21 honorees possess.
The program is a local version of “Makers: Women Who Make America,” an AOL and PBS national project that collects the stories of inspiring women such as Condoleezza Rice, Carol Burnett, Katie Couric, Sandra Day O’Connor and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
WGCU decided it would be right to honor local women who have contributed in a special way to the region, according to Barbara Linstrom, the executive producer for the local version of the show.
“I just brought it up internally, and everybody thought it was a great idea for us to take it on,” Linstrom said.
To round out the production team, Linstrom chose freelance writer Chelle Koster Walton, an award-winning journalist who has lived in Southwest Florida for about 30 years.
“When this came up, I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, I want to do it,’” Koster Walton said.
Finding the makers
Finding the Makers took a few months because the producers decided not to pick their own list of women.
“I mean, that would have been very easy to do because there are so many phenomenal women, but we decided that through community partnerships we could use social media and really get the word out there,” Linstrom said.
Linstrom reached out to two local organizations she said are dedicated to women’s issues — the Southwest Florida Community Foundation and the Women’s Fund of Southwest Florida. Beginning in August, they used social media, radio, television and the WGCU website to advertise their nominee search.
By Oct. 1, they had more than 200 online nominations, Linstrom said.
Then a 12-person selection committee of made of some community leaders, station staff, members of partnership organizations and WGCU advisory board members met during November to choose Makers for each of the six categories.
“We were working with specific criteria,” Linstrom said.
A Southwest Florida Maker had to have left a legacy, built the community, affected lasting change, defied social norms and served as a “first” in her field.
In the end, the selection committee chose 21 Makers.
It was evident that the Southwest Florida version of the project would have its own personality after the names of the honorees emerged, according Linstrom.
“The national project hardly has any women related to environmentalism or issues at all,” she said. “I thought that was very interesting because we have our most nominees in the environmental category.”
She said that says a lot about the distinctness of the Southwest Florida region.
“Unlike other areas of Florida, our development came later,” Linstrom said. “There was more opportunity to make a difference and preserve the environment. I think that sets us apart.”
Linstrom personally called everyone who was named a Maker. She said the responses were quite interesting.
“There was such a humble gratitude,” Linstrom said. “It was really gratifying to hear how they responded.”
Koster Walton, who did follow up calls with the women, said it was because the Makers probably felt as though they were “just doing their job.”
“There was no ego involved,” she said.
Drawing out the story
Still, Linstrom and Koster Walton had to get the Makers to talk about themselves during interviews, which turned into a special process for the producers.
Koster Walton draws the stories out of the Makers one question at the time inside the WGCU studio, while Linstrom listens from the control room. Koster Walton said the experience has been rewarding but intense.
In just one day of shooting for the show, Koster Walton said they interviewed a Holocaust survivor, a woman who had overcome breast cancer, another woman who had been through sexual abuse and one who managed to help lead a social movement even though her first language was not English.
“The women have such amazing stories,” Koster Walton said. “A lot of them have overcome one thing or another — poverty or abuse or whatever — and it’s made them stronger. It’s made them a Maker.”
Although the Makers acknowledge there are still gains to be made for gender equality — many of them brought up the issue of pay disparities between men and women as an example — being a woman was not a setback for them, according to the producers.
“I don’t know that any of them have ever really felt that their gender was anything that they needed to overcome,” Lindstrom said.
Beckwith has been a leader in hospice care reform for much of her career. She currently serves as the chairwoman of the National Hospice Foundation board of directors. Beckwith said she is telling her story with hopes that more people will do what they love.
“If one person is inspired, that makes it special,” she said.
Linstrom said she already has been inspired by the stories that the women have shared. She said WGCU intends to continue the yearly “Makers” program with fewer categories.
“We hope that this project would inspire other women. It certainly can inspire other men, too,” she said.