In a season of graduations, one small ceremony, which actually may bode big things, has gone largely unnoticed. It was the first graduation exercise of the CORO Foundation's initial 10-week Public Affairs Training Program for Women.
Twelve women from various backgrounds, races, and religious completed the first course. What they had in common was a desire to work more effectively in the public interest, on issues that could range from problems of the aged to improvement of local education, transportation, and criminal-justice systems.
Some of these unusual May graduates may become "movers and shakers" in a large, political sense. Some may work quietly, but with new strength, in the communities where they volunteer their talents in the many avenues of public service.
All were selected because of their proven concern about what happens to other people and for their efforts to remedy some of the problems. All are expected, as a result of the foundation's practical training program, to become more effective leaders in understanding, interpreting, and determining public policy.
The graduates ranged in age from 30 to the 69-year-old Alpha Omega Edmondson, a black woman who spent 37 years as a municipal employee and is now a vice-president of the retirees' association of her union. Mrs. Edmondson says that the course has given her self-confidence, has taught her how to speak more easily, and has given her an understanding of the legislative process. She plans to use what she has learned to lobby and petition for retirees' bills and to alert members of her association on changes in social security and pensions legislation.
Mrs. Edmondson's three-week period of internship, a vital part of the training program, was with the State Advocate for the Disabled. She is now interested in involving retirees in activities for the disabled. In addition, she hopes to help members of senior citizen centers become more aware of their political potential.
"I would also like to see our senior and child-care centers combined, since the old and the very young can help each other," she says.
Another graduate of this unusual public affairs "schools" is a Connecticut nursery school teacher. In addition to being a wife, homemaker, and mother to two children, she has served as president of the local YWCA and as an officer and convention delegate for the republican town committee.
A third trainee, a New Jersey mother of two teen-agers, has had extensive experience as a professional lobbyist for private industry. Another woman from New Jersey, a professional volunteer, devotes her time to working as a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church, chairs a committee for the resettlement of Indonesian refugees, and serves as president of her local board of education.
This cross section of graduates illustrates the broad scope of interests of this first dozen graduates. The program is planned specifically for the growing number of women who are seeking more active leadership roles in community organizations, politics, labor, business, the new media, and government.
Over 700 women indicated interest in this first East Coast CORO Foundation training program, for which 12 were eventually chosen. Pat Koch Thaler, the foundation's program director in New York, says two other 10- week programs will be given this year. they will follow the same format, which combines internships (in such areas as corporations, newspapers, and offices of labor leaders and politicians), fieldwork, seminars, and a week in Albany, N.Y., interviewing state legislators and key lobbyists.
The training encompasses six sectors: business, labor, media, community and political organizations, and government.
"Once these women learn the process by which public policy is made," says Truda Jewett, executive director of CORO in New York, "they can transfer that knowledge to the area in which they may be working. They are also taught how to mediate conflicts, speak in public, and deal with people in all kinds of situations.
The course is expensive to plan to operate, and the $750 fee paid by the women who participate in no way covers presentation costs. Financial aid is available for those who need it. Funding comes from many sources, including individuals, the Ford, Rockefeller, Luce, and other foundations; from corporations such as McGraw-Hill, General Electric, W. R. Grace, and Xerox; and from Chase Manhattan Bank.
The 12 women graduates are part of a long line of women and men, extending back to 1942, who have benefited from the grand-scale plan of two idealistic San Franciscans. One was Don Fletcher, a lawyer; the other, Van Dyn Dodge, an investment banker. Both were committed to public service.
They believed the only way American democracy would survive would be to have people participate in it more completely and intelligently. with their own funds they established a nonprofit, nonpartisan, community-supported institution to provide public affairs education, training and research. They called it the CORO Foundation, for no other reason than that it was a name that was short, and easy to pronounce and spell.
"It has had phenomenal success," Mrs. Jewet says. Coro Foundation Centers now exist not only in San Francisco, but in Los Angeles, St. Louis, and, since last November, at Freedom House, 20 West 40th Street, in New York.
The foundation's best-known program is its nine-month fellowship program for young men and women who have recently completed graduate or undergraduate school. This program, started in 1947 with returning GIs, has now had over 800 graduates, including the first woman mayor of San Francisco, Dianne Feinstein. Other distinguished graduates include Lois Gatov, former treasurer of the United States; Craig L. Fuller, a Cabinet secretary; several congressman; and almost 30 city managers of California communities.
The foundation has also conducted a five- day orientation program for newly elected members of the California Assembly, and has developed many special programs for teachers, students, public officials, and business and labor groups. All programs fulfill a statement of purpose "to provide the practical training in public affairs required by those who want to participate actively in the governing of our society."