Real Life, Real Women: Wine and Chocolate Gathering Builds Support for Goodwin Scholarships

On Thursday, February 26, the Pond House Café in West Hartford’s Elizabeth Park was filled with 150 inspiring and caring individuals at Goodwin College’s celebration, Real Life, Real Women: Wine and Chocolate Gathering. The room for the sold-out event was elegantly adorned with twinkling lights, and guests were tempted with decadent chocolate and a wonderful selection of wines.

In 2014, Goodwin held its inaugural women-centered event, the Real Life, Real Women Brunch, which brought together Goodwin women and the women who inspired them — mothers, sisters, daughters, friends, partners — sharing stories of tragedy and triumph, setbacks and successes. That event became a model for future, women-centered programming aimed at gathering women and men and raising money for student scholarships for women.

Mercado posing for a photo with her fiancé.
Mercado posing for a photo with her fiancé.

Not only was this year’s a successful fundraising effort, but it was again a way for women to inspire and support one another and to share their powerful stories, such as that told by Gladys Mercado, a Human Services student and recent scholarship recipient at Goodwin.

Mercado, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved to Connecticut at nine, grew up in Hartford’s inner city. There she witnessed domestic violence, experienced homelessness, hung out with gang members, watched her mother struggle with substance abuse, and lived on welfare. She became a mother, herself, at age 15.

However, Gladys was determined not to become another statistic. “As an inner-city, Hispanic, teen mom, I refused to let that stereotype define me,” she explained. Mercado went on to earn her GED and was introduced to community organizing by her mother — which is how she found the innate calling that would lead her to a college career.

While pursuing her bachelor’s degree at Goodwin, Mercado has been the recipient of several scholarships, inducted into two honor societies, become a published poet in Goodwin’s literary magazine, The Beacon, and is now a member of The Crew, Goodwin’s student ambassador group. “I am so thankful for the immense, unwavering support of the Goodwin College community,” she added.

In addition to pursuing her studies, Mercado also works full-time for Congressman John Larson, where she received a promotion from staff assistant to district aide. In this new role, “I’m able to help veterans and immigrants, which is extremely rewarding.”

As passionately as she pursues her degree and maintains her involvement in the College, the road hasn’t been easy. In the midst of raising her three boys, maintaining a job, and keeping up with her studies, she was involved in a custody battle and lost transportation for a period of time. She wouldn’t let that stop her. “I continued on. You have to respect life’s hurdles,” she said.

Mercado hopes to get a master’s degree in social work and eventually open an art therapy studio for youth and children. “I am so grateful to have been recognized as an individual you can invest in,” she stated. “I must extend a sincere thank you to the Goodwin community and the bright lights in my life for nurturing my potential and improving my quality of life.”

The next guest speaker eager to share her advice was Dr. Carlita Cotton, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Goodwin and a military veteran. An inspiring speaker and motivator, Cotton captivated the room with her energy and liveliness.

Cotton speaking to the crowd.
Cotton speaking to the crowd.

“At Goodwin, not only will you get a quality, accredited education, but you will also have access to the people and tools to guide you to find the courage and confidence to reach your calling and positively impact the world,” Cotton stated. “But you can’t get there by yourself. You need an example, you need a mentor, and you need guts and grace.”

Cotton recognized Mercado as a wonderful example of someone with “guts and grace”, the tenacity and courage to succeed, and she recognized the College’s willingness to give students a second and third chance. “The College liberally dispenses nonacademic support and will work with you even when others have counted you out,” Cotton stated.

Ann Clark and Brooke Penders smiling at the end of a successful evening.
Ann Clark and Brooke Penders smiling at the end of a successful evening.

At the end of the program, Brooke Penders, Vice President of Advancement, announced a new endowed scholarship fund established by Provost Ann Clark. This fund will support Goodwin students who demonstrate a willingness to turn their lives around and who have the courage and vigor to succeed.

Over $10,000 was raised for student scholarships for women. The evening’s success was a reflection of the time, effort, and commitment of so many, especially the newly formed Goodwin College Women’s Event Committee. If you would like to support students like Gladys, please contact the Advancement Office at (860) 291-9934 or

Check out more photos here.