INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – When Maria Heshmati left her IRB home for the first IRB Women’s Tea, she didn’t know what to expect.
Heshmati, who has lived in IRB for years, had never seen anything like it and wondered what she would see when she got there.
The tea was held in the Church of the Isles on Nov. 3. It was only minutes from Heshmati’s house and even though she didn’t know what was ahead, she felt confident it would be a good afternoon.
“When I left my house I wasn’t expecting anything,” she said. “I just knew I was excited that we have a female mayor who understands other women and pulling off something like this.”
When she got there Heshmati was pleasantly surprised.
“Honestly, it was the first of its kind in the history of IRB and it was wonderful to be part of it,” she said.
The woman behind the Tea was Mayor Cookie Kennedy. Soon after her election as the first female mayor of Indian Rocks Beach, Kennedy said she wanted to hold the afternoon tea for all the women of IRB. There was no charge and everyone was welcome.
Like Heshmati, Kennedy didn’t quite know how it was going to turn out. She knew as soon as she walked in that it was going to be a successful afternoon as nearly 200 women gathered for tea, sandwiches, sweets and conversation.
“It was more than I ever dreamed of; I’m in la-la land,” said Kennedy. “In fact, there are very few things that could have been better.”
Kennedy’s feelings about the event were clear when she stood to greet the crowd. Her emotions were evident as she paused from time to time to compose herself. Her message was to the point.
“I have this idea about women as I think of the challenges many of us have, raising children and so forth,” she said. “We go through life making mistakes but that’s OK. You learn from your mistakes. We have to be comfortable in our own skin.”
Kennedy hoped the gathering prompted the women to share their experiences with one another and realize they are not alone in what they face every day.
Guest speaker at the event, Kristi Cheatham Pettit of Clearwater Gas, told the group of her experience as an abused spouse.
She made it clear she wasn’t looking for pity.
“Everyone has a story,” she said. “I’m 6’2” and 190 pounds, my ex-husband, I call him knucklehead, is 6 feet 10 inches and 300 pounds. He beat the life out of me, almost, on more than one occasion. The last time he did it was with a shower curtain rod and I still have that scar to this day.”
Cheatham Pettit said she realized she had to get away when her parents walked into the hospital after that last beating. She cried as she remembered that day.
“My parents walked into the hospital and I could see they were disappointed and the last thing you ever want to do is disappoint your parents,” she said.
“You can find a positive in each situation. In this case I realized you need friends and family who will tell you the truth, you need people who are honest with you,” she said. “Don’t put up with something you don’t have to, life is too short.”
Her ex-husband, she said, is now serving a mandatory 45-year sentence at the state prison.
Cheatham Pettit was one of several speakers at the two-hour event; all were part of the event that impressed Maria Heshmati and others.
“I thought it was important for the women in our community with different backgrounds and ages to get together and talk about stories and issues and struggles and get support from other women,” she said.
Jean Scott, a longtime community volunteer and one-time city commissioner, said she thought it was a successful event.
“Everybody I talked to thought it was great,” she said. “Afterwards everyone said how wonderful it was and would like to get together again and do something similar.”
Even though she has lived in IRB for decades, Scott said she learned things she didn’t know that afternoon.
“I learned about a lot of things that are going on in the city,” she said. “A lot of things that are important and when women get together we can do a lot of good for the city.”
Although there was no admission fee to attend the event the women were encouraged to donate toward one of the three charities that the tea supported: The Beach Community Food Pantry, Kimberly Home, a Pregnancy Recourse Center, and Miracles Outreach, part of the Church of the Isles.
Twenty-four hours after the event, Kennedy was still beaming with excitement and couldn’t say enough about the women who helped her organize the day and those who attended.
“I had a dream that turned into a dream for all the women who helped put this together,” she said. “It was magnificent, inspiring, everyone who spoke was inspiring.”
Looking ahead Kennedy said there likely will be another tea next year. She was surprised at the quick response from those who attended.
“I’ve gotten calls from many who want to help,” she said. “All different ages came up to say they wanted to be part of it next year. I can see something bigger; something at the county level at a bigger venue,”
Kennedy’s parting words answered the question, what did you give to the women that day?
“Our gift was every person that we touched,” she said.