Compilation of Women Warriors Honorees
For the past several weeks, the Guiding Circle of the Fund for Women and Girls chose women from submitted nominations to spotlight. So many impressive nominations were received, and for the tenth spotlight, the Guiding Circle wants to share them all!
These honorees are true Women Warriors, sacrificing for their families, their neighbors, and their community during this crisis. Thank you to each of the women below and to all of the other fighters out there!
Amber Bonilla is a special education teacher at Struthers Middle School, wife, and mother of two. Before and during the current health crisis, she has gone above and beyond in her duties as a mom, friend, and Struthers resident. Spending most of quarantine purchasing fabric and elastic and sewing, Amber created roughly 3000 masks through her family's bridal shop, Jacqueline's Bridal. She then donated them to anyone who asked. This is just one example of how Amber always seems to come up with the best ideas to make people smile and stay positive especially during particularly rough times. She is a guiding light for anyone who has the honor of knowing her, and Amber's steady presence and ability to contribute no matter the needs makes her a valued Woman Warrior.
Jenn Drennen is currently the director of organizational development for Youngstown State University and has an extensive background in human resources. She has served on the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity of Mahoning Valley for over seven years. Her passion for the Mahoning Valley is evident as she often pitches in at the construction build sites, always brings a positive and upbeat attitude to organization events she attends, and is a part of Habitat's resource development committee.
She's an amazing asset to Habitat's board and is happy to lend her knowledge and insight. Her experience in human resources and oversight was essential in leading Habitat Mahoning Valley through the stay-at-home order, in implementing employee furloughs with compassion, and bringing staff back to work. Her support and guidance made the transition smooth and professional, and with Jenn's partnership, all Habitat employees are now back working.
Jenn is also a key lead in helping support and fundraise for her friend, Kristin Fox. In the midst of COVID-19, Kristin Fox spent past seven-and-a-half weeks hospitalized, fighting her own medical issues. What started as the flu, ultimately left her a quadruple amputee. Jenn helped organize and facilitate a t-shirt campaign and a spaghetti dinner to help raise funds for Fox's family during this difficult time.
Jenn repeatedly goes above and beyond to help others. She's dedicated, selfless, and is always thinking of how to improve ANY and ALL situations to best maximize resources, assets, and humanity. She's a true Woman Warrior in the Mahoning Valley!
Dr. Katie Fallo is the director of student services at Boardman Local Schools. In this role, she coordinates all of the special education services for over 700 students. While this is her first year in the role, she has not hesitated at all in developing creative solutions to make positive change for kids. This problem-solving mentality has been especially beneficial during this unprecedented time for students and schools. Katie has done everything from coordinating summer services for students with disabilities to hand delivering Chromebooks to students at home. She has sought out additional trainings for the teachers during the school shutdown and is diligently working on individualized plans for students with disabilities in the fall. Katie not only understands that the answer for each student with a disability is individualized, but she spends the time and energy to propose individualized solutions--and that is not a small task with over 700 students. Understanding that families with children with special needs need more support now than ever, Katie continues stepping up as a source of that support and should be recognized for the true Woman Warrior that she is.
Marti Flint from Hartford and the group of primarily women volunteers who come weekly to the Women's Park in Downtown Warren have continued demonstrating strength and commitment during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Women's Park was established in 2003, and one of the original volunteers, Marti continues to shepherd the project. Marti and her husband ran a wholesale tree farm before retiring, and her previous agricultural experience is an asset in the maintenance of the garden at the Women's Park throughout the year.
The garden features a stream, flower beds, decorative benches, a bridge over the creek, a large urn with flowers, and shade trees, all of which need constant attention. Marti and the other volunteers provide the weekly manual labor of planting, cleaning, weeding, and maintaining the water feature and bricks throughout the park. The group has established a successful partnership with the City of Warren, which assists with lawn mowing and "heavy lifting" projects. Marti would say that the volunteers (including a couple of men) make the garden shine and deserve equal recognition. She utilized her volunteer resources, and the beautiful end-result is due to the hard work and assistance of everyone involved.
Given that the Governor and Dr. Amy Acton have consistently encouraged people to get outside, this volunteer group's work has remained essential during the pandemic. With the constraints on group outings and milestone events, those events are being celebrated at the park more often than in years past, from weddings and graduations to photoshoots with the family dog and family picnics. The park provides the perfect urban setting for socially distanced physical activity ,and its usage has steadily increased over the past several months.
The dedication and vision of these Women Warriors (and their male counterparts!) continue to provide beauty in an urban outdoor space where people can catch a peaceful moment and respite from these unusual times, giving residents a moment where everything feels normal again.
Volunteers in the photo (L-R): Karen Sprague, Karen McGaha, Joyce Fleisher, Martha Flint, Deborah Rudloff
Kelley Frazier is a certified Zumba/fitness instructor and health/exercise coach with Mercy Health's Stepping Out program. In addition to those roles, she is an inspiration and a leader to a dedicated group of over 50 individuals of all ages and backgrounds who affectionately look to her as the mother hen of their "Fit Family." Almost immediately after classes were cancelled and the world was shutting down so people could stay safe at home because of COVID-19, Kelley responded by setting up "Zoomba" classes so that her "Fit Family" could stay connected and active online while they couldn't be physically present with each other. She conducted online sessions almost every day of the week through Zoom, and participation has not suffered one bit. These online Zumba and Fitness classes brought back a sense of community and comfort in a time that otherwise felt disconnected and uncomfortable. And, staying active helps keep people healthy in mind and body, which is always important but now even more so. Even during a crisis, Kelley continues to show her leadership and share her passion and commitment to health, wellness, and community. She is an strong and inspiring Woman Warrior!
Stephanie is a wonderful, hard working woman with an unstoppable vision. As the executive director of Inpsiring Minds Youngstown, she makes sure her students have everything they need from food for their pantry and hot cooked meals to activities and interactive after-school programs such as individual gardening kits. She goes above and beyond the call of duty at all times, continuously making connections so her students can access resources they wouldn't otherwise have.
Stephanie's commitment to her students and her community makes her a fierce Woman Warrior, and one who will help us get through this crisis #Together.
Ashley Marie Gore is a caseworker with the Mahoning County Department of Jobs and Family Services. During this time of crisis, Jobs and Family Services has experienced an influx of calls from families needing government assistance to make it through. Ashley and many of the other caseworkers have altered their work hours to meet the demands of a significantly increased volume and work load in a time when they're needed the most. As an essential worker, she is on the front lines every day, and her efforts to continue servicing Mahoning County should be highlighted and applauded. Ashley and her colleagues are strong examples of Women Warriors in our community.
Hope Haney is the executive director of the National Alliance of the Mentally Ill of the Mahoning Valley (NAMI). NAMI works to educate, advocate, listen and lead to improve the lives of people with mental illness and their loved ones, and Hope spearheads those efforts each day.
At the start of this pandemic, Hope had a major loss in her life as her significant other passed away at Mercy Health. It was not due to COVID-19, but the virus prevented her from being with him during his final moments. With social distancing requirements, she has also been unable to hold a memorial service at this time. The day after her loss, Hope reached out to Duane Piccirilli at the Mahoning County Mental Health & Recovery Board and asked what she could do to help others. Her agency holds support groups, but the groups were on hold because of the pandemic. So she offered to deliver needed supplies, such as cases of hand soap and personal protective equipment, to the Rescue Mission, recovery houses and group homes. Now, Hope goes shopping every weekend for cleaning supplies for these housing providers, often having to go to several dollar stores and other shops to find all of the needed supplies. The Mental Health & Recovery Board reimburses her for the supplies, but she uses her own money to make the purchases. When she located a group home in need of food, she contacted the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley United Way and obtained a $500 gift certificate, went directly to the store and then personally delivered the food and cleaning supplies to the home.
Hope also works as a social worker at the Emergency Room at Mercy Health. Her coworkers wanted to take up a collection for Hope because of her loss, but she requested they collect food for the clients she is serving instead of giving her a gift.
Hope has started conducting support groups using social media, while continuing to provide support to residents living in group settings who are most at-risk for COVID-19. Her steady service during the pandemic and ability to adapt has helped many individuals and is a prime example of a Woman Warrior.
Dollaine Holmes has worked in the community for the past 25 years, both as a facilitator of the Community Reinvestment Act in the banking industry and at the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority (YMHA). At YMHA, she coordinated men and women of the community through programs that would help the most persons in need. Most recently during the COVID-19, Dollaine coordinated the distribution of over 1800 hot Grab-and-Go dinners to senior citizens, veterans, and individuals with disabilities in local neighborhoods. These individuals were able to weather the worst of the pandemic because of Dollaine's leadership and organization. Her personality, which drives her to help others, is a gift from God, and her community partners salute her compassion and loving care for others. Dollaine is a shining example of a Woman Warrior.
Sarah Lowry genuinely cares about ensuring the health and safety of Mahoning Valley residents. As the director of the Healthy Community Partnership, she was already tackling health and safety issues before the pandemic. Her work positioned her perfectly to aid various individuals and local agencies in responding to COVID-19 and its negative effects. Beyond her professional work, she supports the efforts of the Senior Support Action Group, particularly in regards to the mask making project. Sarah is an invaluable resource of information to our community and is always happy to share her knowledge with others. She also strategically makes connections between people and agencies to facilitate their collective work to help meet resident needs, including access to food, transportation, and masks as well as ways in which people can stay active and healthy during the pandemic. In every aspect of her life, Sarah embodies the qualities of a Woman Warrior.
Courtney Poullas has more hustle than any human should be able to possess. As a mother of two young children, runner, Youngstown State University instructor, blogger, influencer, organizer of Youngstown’s first marathon, Courtney never sits still and has a heart for helping people. During the pandemic, Courtney and her 6 year-old daughter, Gracie, became the Bread Fairy. Courtney baked loaves of bread and, with Gracie by her side, delivered them for free--safely of course--to anyone who claimed one when she advertised them on her Facebook page. Courtney thought homemade bread brought comfort, and she wanted to help people who needed that comfort. Courtney is know for these selfless acts of kindness when they were needed, and that selflessness has made her a true Woman Warrior.
Jennifer Saul Campbell knew early on she wanted to contribute to her community during the COVID-19 pandemic. She created a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for “Feeding the Frontline,” an initiative to get meals to healthcare first responders. Her efforts have raised $10,800 to date, all of which went directly into the program. In addition to raising the funds, Jenn and her team took meals to St. Joseph Hospital, St. Elizabeth Hospital, Trumbull Memorial Hospital, local pharmacies, and fire departments (Warren, Howland, Cortland, Bazetta). Jenn made sure she purchased the food from all local restaurants, including Saratoga, Mocha House, the Hot Dog Shoppe, Margherita's Grille, El Torero, and many more. In addition, the publicity generated from this project helped shine the light on many of those restaurants when business was lagging. With the service industry hit so hard by this pandemic, Jenn wanted to ensure the donated funds helped local workers and local businesses in more than one way.
Throughout the pandemic, Jennifer has used her fundraising and publicity talents to provide an amazing service to her community and demonstrate her true Woman Warrior spirit.
Robin Silvestri is a paramedic supervisor for Lanes LifeTrans. She started as an ambulance dispatcher more than 20 years ago and her strong commitment and leadership has helped her work her way up. Robin has been on the front lines, continually risking exposure to the virus, but continuing to help others during this pandemic. In the beginning of dealing with COVID-19, many staff members and other supervisors were exposed to the virus and were forced to quarantine. This left Robin and one other staff member to take on all of the management and operations responsibilities until they were cleared. While this extra work likely resulted in less sleep for Robin during those few weeks, she continued showing up for the people of the Valley. She will always show up for her family, including her colleagues at Lane LifeTrans, and she proved it wholeheartedly. That is why she is a dedicated Woman Warrior.
As a school-based, clinical therapist with The Village Network Youngstown, Emily Sutton, MSW, LSW, is accustomed to helping vulnerable youth at Stambaugh Charter Academy cope with a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, trauma, and ADHD. Throughout the school year, Emily works in collaboration with the teachers and school administration to ensure students can progress in their academic goals by helping them manage their emotional wellbeing.
However, the COVID-19 crisis brought a whole new set of concerns for the youth and families she typically works with at Stambaugh Charter Academy. When the schools were shut down this spring due to the pandemic, Emily quickly recognized that beyond the emotional stress of COVID-19, many of the children from Stambaugh Academy and their families would be facing another challenge: not having enough food to eat. Emily sprang into action and organized a food drive for the children and families in need. She collected over $1,000 in donations and was able to provide food to these Youngstown families.
To ensure the children continued receiving their mental health treatment during this stressful time, Emily assisted the families with the transition to The Village Network’s telehealth counseling service. She continues to connect with these families through regular check-ins to ensure the family’s basic needs are being met and connects them to community resources as needed.
As the schools prepare for the uncertainty that this school year brings, Emily and her colleagues with The Village Network are ready to assist students with the emotional turmoil that the coronavirus has brought. Through individual and group counseling sessions, Emily will continue offering the youth and families opportunities to build positive coping skills, develop healthy relationships, learn social skills, and progress in their life skills. Emily is a dedicated counselor whose empowering attitude and helpful nature shines through with every family and youth she serves. She is truly an inspiring advocate for youth and family mental health.
During a time that is filled with stress, fear, and uncertainty for us all, Emily is helping youth and families who are more susceptible to the emotional strains of the pandemic and assisting with their physical needs as well. That’s why The Village Network nominated Emily, a courageous Woman Warrior on the front lines of the coronavirus health crisis.
Shelia Triplett is the executive director of Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership (MYCAP). With her leadership, MYCAP continues to ensure members of this community have access the everyday needs without any interruption due to COVID-19. Whether she is working to redefine programming and funding or creating new funding lanes, Shelia has been a pioneer in the community, especially for those living in low socioeconomic populated areas. Shelia is a champion for and servant to her fellow community members, embodying all the characteristics of a Woman Warrior.
LaDonna Walker is the parent engagement coordinator at Wilson Elementary School, and she is incredibly passionate about what she does. With her perseverance and endless phone calls, LaDonna has gotten more parents in the school building, and those parents not only come, but they stay! Parents get involved because of LaDonna's passion and her heart, as she lets them know they are needed and valued. In addition, LaDonna helps ensure the basic needs of Wilson scholars are being met. Because of her efforts, the school's food and clothing pantry is stocked and replenished, and at Christmastime, she worked hard to ensure every student at Wilson went home with a gift. If there is something that needs done, LaDonna will make it happen, and she takes care of business with such a soft, gentle heart behind it all! She will always lend an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on, which has been particularly important during this health crisis and the trying emotional toll it has taken on residents. On top of all of her work with and on behalf of the students at Wilson Elementary, LaDonna is also a mama and a wife. In true Woman Warrior fashion, she seems to be able to do it all!
Lisa Wallace is the co-founder of the Brightside Project, a nonprofit conducting community outreach to children in Columbiana County. With Lisa at the helm, the Brightside Project supports children with various needs throughout the year. During this current health crisis, Lisa has worked tirelessly day and night to raise funds and gather kid-friendly food. She organized seven food drives for children at different locations throughout Columbiana County and helped distribute a total of 1400 bags of food to children. Lisa brightened the lives of many children with her tireless efforts, and she exemplifies an amazing Woman Warrior in our community.
Carmella Williams has a long history of working for the Black community in the Mahoning Valley. When COVID-19 hit, she started a company to support that very community, which we all know has been disproportionally affected by the current pandemic. Carmella's company, Black Periodt, is focused on building and supporting the Black community and creating tools for allies as they join in the fight against racism. On top of all that, 50% of the company's profits will be donated directly to local Black-led initiatives to advance education, small business, health and well being, as well as support beautifying neighborhoods. Carmella has also gathered a group of Black residents and their allies to stand against racism. Her group has very specific actions to take to help the community move closer to equality and racial equity. The pandemic has only exacerbated health and racial disparities for Black community members, and Carmella's continued efforts to address those and stand against racism are why she is a local Woman Warrior.