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Takes Herstory Into the Next Quarter Century


There are moments when big dreams are born. Imagine a small group of women from all walks of life gathered in the darkness of a cozy back room in the Heart and Soul Counseling Center in West Babylon. By the light of a few flickering candles that Amy, our newest member, has gathered by ringing doorbells to seek out the cause of the neighborhood blackout, each woman reads aloud from her memoir in progress. And so, although we do not yet know this, a new era for Herstory begins. 

It is Amy’s first night in a Herstory workshop, three years past our founding. Erika, our founder doesn’t yet know how far Herstory’s work will spread. Nor does she know more than a bit about Amy’s story, or that Amy is about to begin one of the most important philanthropic journeys our region has known.

Like the other women in the room who are meeting one another in the “page one moment” they have chosen to unravel their journeys, Amy is

imaging aloud a moment from her childhood - growing up in a poor Italian immigrant family during the second world war - that will become the opening chapter of the book she always wanted to write.

Erika is talking about how writing a book—or even a shorter story-- is like navigating a rowboat on a dark lake in the middle of the night. This is particularly true if you don’t know where you will end up.  You pick out a light on the opposite shore and steer toward it until it goes out, and then you are forced to pick another nearby, which guides you until it too is extinguished, and so on to the next and the next and the next… until you are able to come safely ashore. Amy, who happens to be a serious rower who goes out on the water every morning, begins to share her opening scene in the flickering candlelight. 


Why is this personal writing journey so different from those going on in the grassroots writing groups springing up everywhere, in homes, libraries, cultural centers, and even classrooms? The group is learning to use a unique approach to the development of empathy in an imaginary reading stranger. This is allowing them to create powerful works of art while building understanding across the barriers of race, class and culture that too often set us apart. Suzy Sonenberg, then director of the Long Island Community Foundation, is sitting next to Amy. Together they have worked with Long Island’s philanthropic leaders to co-create the Long Island Fund for Women and Girls, Sustainable Long Island and ERASE Racism. 

Knowing that Amy has a story inside her, Suzy has brought her here to join the others who are launching their own book length projects. Amy and Suzy would remain in the West Babylon branch of Herstory for about a year. But what they experienced would keep them engaged in multiple roles over the decades-- as funders, as advisors, as builders of audience, and as dreamers about what Herstory could become. 


There isn’t enough space here to write about their whole Herstory journey. For more details, we invite you to read Turning Memories into Memoirs: Chapters of their Lives, a Newsday Feature by Rhoda Amon that was published in 2000, and an excerpt from the memorial booklet for Amy Hagedorn by Bob Keeler that appeared in 2016, the year Herstory’s training institute was born.  

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Herstory’s training institute formally came into being through the vision of Gloria Jacobs, who had been the editor of MS Magazine in the early days and was later the publisher of the Feminist Press. Amy did not live to see Herstory join forces with a campus-based entity to offer a 13-week practicum to Herstory facilitators in training, followed by a 12-week field placement-- first at Hofstra University, through a partnership with the Center for Civic Engagement from the fall of 2016 through the fall of 2018, and then through a partnership with the Humanities Institute at Stony Brook University, where Herstory’s training institute and fellowship program found a permanent home.


As the Training Institute has grown and expanded to become the underpinning of Herstory’s work and the beacon for its future, the idea for naming it after Amy felt increasingly appropriate. A few years before Amy’s passing, Erika asked her where she would like to see Herstory in the future. Without missing a beat, she answered, “I want Herstory to make a mark, to become a household name in the world of Feminism and social change.” 


It is with that dream and that vision in mind, and with the support of the Horace and Amy Hagedorn Fund at the New York Community Trust, that we proudly adopt the name: The Amy Maiello Hagedorn Training Institute, in perpetuity, as we move into the next quarter century of our work.


With deepest thanks to Sue Hagedorn, Lisa Valentine, and Kate Hagedorn Littlefield for their continuing support of Amy’s belief in our work. 

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