Celeste Gleave always spells SHEROES with capital letters.
The word defines women who overcome life’s hardships and go on to mentor others—perfect for Gleave’s non-profit group, SHEROES United. Because, if there’s one thing a SHERO knows how to do, it’s turn tragedy into triumph.
Born and raised in Ogden, Gleave started the group to honor courageous women after serving in a male-dominated field—the U.S. military. After the Vietnam War ended, she enlisted and climbed the ranks to squad leader, then platoon leader and eventually non-commissioned officer in charge of her unit. The lightbulb turned on when she served at the Pentagon and a major command center for the Air Force Reserve two years ago.
“I was one woman out of three in a group of 80,” she says. “From the very top level down, I was told to be larger than life, to go out and present my ideas and make a difference.” But when she brought her thoughts to the table, she says she was often ramrodded with negative feedback.
“Women’s voices at that point, at that level, were not being heard,” she says. “I felt like I was there to fill a demographic, but nobody was taking me seriously.”
Seeing a desperate need to strengthen the female military voice, Gleave launched SHEROES United in November 2011 with a salute to women veterans, asking military leaders for nominations. Since then the group has begun honoring non-veterans as well. “Not everyone is in the military,” Gleave says. “Why can’t I make it even bigger and look at all of the female role models?”
Last April, SHEROES United honored four courageous women, who are also directors and committee members for the organization, at the University of Utah by giving them a platform to share their inspirational stories of struggle and survival.
René Johnson, president of the local chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners, spoke on how she overcame her fears after nearly being killed by in an abusive marriage. Bridget Cook, a worldwide best-selling author who survived domestic violence spoke about overcoming her struggles and running a successful trucking company. Mrs. Wasatch Front 2012, Becky Swanson, abused and neglected as a child, told the crowd about turning to drinking after losing her daughter in an automobile accident. And Rebecca Musser discussed being set to forcibly marry FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and escaping to testify against the polygamous sect.
“The morning after, CNN, MSNBC, Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper, all of their offices were calling and asking us to appear on their shows,” Gleave says.
Along with sharing the stories of inspirational women, the group is poised to target heavy topics in women’s rights, like the porn industry and human trafficking, and plans to reach out to other organizations, currently teaming with programs like the KUED7 Women and Girls LEAD initiative, Community Foundation of Utah, and Girl Scouts of Utah.
“We are the unifier for women’s organizations,” says Julie Harman, who is on the board of directors for the non-profit. “We beat with one heart globally so we can empower the voices of women, raise awareness of global issues and recognize female role models.”
Five years from now, Gleave sees SHEROES United offering scholarships and holding an international presence.
“We’re reaching out to women in Africa, [Europe] and Asia,” says Gleave, who was also named the Business Owner of the Year by the Salt Lake Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners for her other ventures. “We consider ourselves the mothership of women globally—to infuse, impact and empower.”