In what has become a rite of spring for the Central Bucks area, supporters feasted on food and wine Tuesday during the 2012 Gourmet Getaway.
More than 20 area restaurants, wineries and food shops offered tasty treats for the annual event sponsored by the Women in Business committee of the Central Bucks Chamber of Commerce.
At the table sponsored by The Temperance House, of Newtown, Shane Bowen offered the restaurant's roasted corn salsa or roasted garlic gazpacho.
Laurie Douglas, of Laurie's Chocolates, served samples of her homemade treats, including chocolate truffles made with merlot or cabernet.
And Doylestown's Japanese restaurant, Ooka, dished up generous plates of spicy tuna rolls, salmon rolls, California rolls and dumplings.
Held at Spring Mill Manor, the evening is a fundraiser for the scholarship program sponsored by the Women in Business committee. Tickets were $45, and the event also included dozens of raffles and silent auctions.
Since 1983, the committee has awarded more than $241,000 through 90 scholarships to women in Bucks County. The scholarship fund helps Bucks County women who have overcome substantial challenges and wish to re-enter the workforce by educating themselves.
Scholarship recipients are chosen at the group's luncheon, typically held in June.
Past scholarship recipients:
Thanks to the Women in Business committee for the following biographies of these past winners.
Stephanie Taylor of Doylestown has worked hard her whole life. Because her family couldn't afford to send all five children to college, they sent only "the two boys." So Stephanie worked full-time after high school - until she was laid off due to budget cuts in May 2009.
She quickly learned that 28 years of experience without a college degree would not get her a job. So she enrolled at Bucks County Community College in fall 2009 and cleaned houses part-time.
That December, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Three surgeries, six rounds of chemo and seven weeks of daily radiation and she never missed one class -- and maintained a 4.0 GPA.
"There are weeks when there is no money for food except for spaghetti all week long," she wrote in applying for a scholarship. "Yet, I fight on to earn my degree to better my life and the life of my children."
One of four recipients in 2011, Taylor says the award enabled her to continue school and earn a professional certification.
Sajida Salim won one of the scholarships in 2005.
She came to the United States from her native Pakistan in 2000 with her husband, who was an American citizen, and no family or friends.
Three years later, she took her two daughters, two diapers, her prayer rug and her Qur'an and escaped the abusive relationship. Her daughters were nine months and a year and a half old.
Although she had never worked outside the home, Salim had a master's degree in biochemistry from before she was married and knew how to speak English.
"When I got to the [Bucks County] Opportunity Council, I found my family," she said.
A Doylestown resident, Salim wanted to work in a hospital or pharmaceutical company. But first, on the road to self-sufficiency, she had to learn to drive. She had only 11 driving lessons, with car seats in tow, and got her license.
She earned her certification in medical technology and she works at Doylestown Hospital. "I love my job," she says.
"I'm very lucky. I wouldn't have been able to do it without the scholarship."
I'm paying it forward," Salim says. "I just became a board member of the Opportunity Council and I joined the American Muslim Association of Lansdale to empower women, to tell them they can do it; they don't need a man."
Last year, she helped the North Penn Mosque, where she joined the board of directors, raise $12,000 for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti.
A teacher and single mom with an 8-year-old and a 3-month-old, Kristen Arnwine was laid off when the alternative school she worked at closed more than a year ago. She found part-time work to get by but wanted to get her degree in special education and open her own school for at-risk and disruptive youth.
She was one of seven women to receive a scholarship in 2010.
Arnwine now attends Gwynedd Mercy College, and her school TIME (Trust in My Education) Academy is open for enrollment.
"There are a lot of giving women involved in the process," she said. "I am honored."
Joan Connors owned a staffing company for 20 years before life took many turns for the worse.
In 2003, she became ill and endured several surgeries. Then her son was killed in a car accident. She was unable to work, and her husband went into heart failure and spent months in the hospital. (He is stable now.)
Only three months before her son died, her stepson and granddaughter moved in. She has since adopted her and relocated to Doylestown, where her son is buried.
"I'm in recovery, but I relapsed when I had to take pain medication," Connors said. "We lived in Upper Makefield and lost our house, our business, our cars.
"I had to get sober again. I had to raise my granddaughter."
Connors also felt compelled to volunteer, to teach women in jail about recovery "because they have no support system when they get out." Two years ago, she decided to pursue a degree in psychology so she could counsel women when they leave jail. But as both she and her husband were on disability, and they had her granddaughter to raise, they struggle financially.
"The scholarship enabled me to take classes over the summer to stay on track to graduate." She attends Penn State Abington.
"My granddaughter (who is now 7) has learning disabilities, and her teachers tell me that it is an asset for her to see me going to school. She struggles in every subject. But when I struggle, she says, 'Mom, keep on going. You can do it!' "