In August, YWCA Greater Charleston welcomed Cristina Turcu, previously with the United Nations Development Program in Moldova, to a four-month international fellowship at its Charleston office.
Visiting as a Community Solutions Program fellow from a former Soviet republic in Eastern Europe courtesy of the U.S. Department of State, Turcu had previously worked to enhance women’s political representation in Moldova.
She holds a master’s degree in political science from Central European University—and while earning her bachelor’s degree in international relations, she represented the American Studies Students Association at international conferences and as a speaker during media meetings.
Hoping to make a positive difference for Charleston’s women and girls during her few months here, she quickly put her speaking and leadership skills to good use.
Turcu initiated and led YWCA Greater Charleston’s first-ever Toastmasters International program for high school girls of color, part of the organization’s Career Success Series. The eight-week program began on October 6 at Art Pot, South Carolina’s first Hispanic multicultural center.
At each 90-minute Saturday session, Turcu taught the girls communication and leadership skills designed to help them succeed in college and career, including evaluating their speaking ability, preparing and giving speeches, controlling their voices, vocabulary, and gestures, and giving constructive feedback.
She chose Toastmasters International in part because of her own positive experience with the program. “Thinking of all the benefits I gained from my four years in a Toastmasters club learning to build my public speaking and leadership skills,” she said, “my vision for the girls was to help them successfully meet teen and adult challenges by building their self-confidence within the program.”
By the sixth week of the program, participants were seeing results. MaryGrace Gadsden, a junior at Palmetto Scholars Academy, said holding the chairperson position in the group had improved her leadership skills. “This is a good program to help us improve our confidence and speaking abilities,” she said. “In this small group setting, we can develop more individually.”
“I came to this program not because I am not confident when speaking in front of crowds,” said Vigi LeBlanc, a sophomore at Charleston County School of the Arts. She wanted to improve her skills. “I also wanted the exposure and experience to meet new people, and I have gotten that.”
With her high confidence, Vigi was in the minority. Jasmin Santiago, a student in the ninth grade at Stall High School, noted she applied for the Toastmasters program because she felt shy at school and wanted to increase her confidence, especially when speaking in front of her class.
Turcu was pleased with the mix of girls participating in the program. “It’s good to have a combination like this, because they learn from each other,” she said. “Often confident participants inspire and encourage the other ones.”
When she returns to Moldova, Turcu will implement a similar Toastmasters program for girls and boys in the northern part of the country in partnership with a local resource center.
As for her four months with YWCA Greater Charleston, Turcu says she most enjoyed taking part in efforts to build an inclusive community in the Charleston area. “It was inspiring to work together with the YWCA Greater Charleston team to create a community where all of us, regardless of race, color, age, gender, or political views, can speak up and communicate in a friendly and constructive manner. That’s what I’ll take home from my experience.”
To schedule an interview with Turcu and/or a Toastmaster program participant prior to Turcu’s November 26 departure, please contact YWCA Greater Charleston Executive Director LaVanda Brown at [email protected] or 843.722.1644.