The 2016 Women of Distinction award winners.
GODFREY — Melinda Gates said “a woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman.”
Those voices can be heard throughout the Riverbend, making our home a better place, and the YWCA of Alton’s 26th annual Women of Distinction Awards dinner on May 5 at Lewis and Clark Community College recognized those victories.
The award recognizes women who demonstrate leadership skills, serve as role models and are dedicated to the elimination of racism and the empowerment of women — the YWCA’s mission. Since the event was created in 1991 by Sandra Lauschke and Nancy Ryrie, 241 women have received the honor.
Cynthia Simms served as the evening’s master of ceremonies. Starting out as a casino cashier, Simms worked her way up the ladder into a successful career in human resources management, in which she now has more than 15 years of experience (more than 30 years of experience in the gaming industry altogether).
Joelle Shearin, general manager of Argosy Casino in Alton, was the evening’s keynote speaker. Shearin is the first female general manager in the history of Argosy owner Penn National Gaming.
There were 11 women honored at the dinner, from all ages, backgrounds and occupations.
Elaine Kane is the literacy coach for the Alton School District and a mother of four young children. Kane volunteers with the district’s Reach Out and Roar program and serves as the coordinator of the district’s mentoring program.
Sandy Smith, through her position at The Bank of Edwardsville, helped create a program that assists minority families to navigate and obtain banking services, build credit and buy homes. Smith also serves as “team mother” for Alton High School’s basketball team. She is the daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, and the first of her family to earn a college degree. Smith is the mother of two daughters.
Tawnya Hooper is a supervisor with the Department of Children and Family Services, a licensed social worker, and has worked on the Child Death Investigation Task Force. Hooper attends fundraisers that are empowering to women and their families. Community service includes donating her money and time to help children in foster care, as well as serving as president of the North Elementary parent-teacher group. Hooper has one son.
Valorie Harris is the director of adult education at Lewis and Clark Community College. In her role at L&C, Harris works with women to help them obtain their GED, as well as assist in their transition to college coursework. Harris’ community service work includes Alton Care Corps, Grassroots Grocery and Habitat for Humanity.
Karen Cooper is the first woman in the Ohio EPA Division of Public Drinking Water to hold the position of environmental scientist. She also is the first woman to hold the position of director of water quality and the first to be superintendent of operation in the Alton area. Cooper has worked with RiverBend Growth Association, Senior Services Plus and has served on the boards of the St. Anthony’s Foundation and the Alton Symphony Orchestra.
Kris Fulkerson started a support group called Parenting Alone about 10 years ago at the Heartlinks Grief Center for young widows. In 2008, Fulkerson was the recipient of the Avon Hello Tomorrow Award for her work helping women find support after the loss of a partner. In 2011, Fulkerson started an organization called Coping4Kids, which helps woman and girls age 7 to 25 cope with the stresses of life. Fulkerson also is a suicide prevention advocate and guest lecturer.
The Rev. Diana Williams is the first woman in the Alton area to accept the position of pastor. In her role as pastor, Williams has offered guidance and encouragement to the women of her church, where she has served for more than 25 years. Williams also has started programs to provide meals to children during the summer, and food for those in need during the holidays. Williams is an Alton Housing Authority board member and a motivational speaker.
Minnie Johnson is a retired Alton School District educator. Johnson is active in her church and spends time working in the Women’s Mission Unit. Johnson provides rides for senior citizens and offers assistance to single mothers with transportation and child care. She also has served as a volunteer for Oasis Women’s Center, Salvation Army and Precious Organization. She is the mother of one son and has two grandsons.
Sharon Pratt is a managing broker at RE/MAX and is involved in the National Association of Realtors and the Illinois Association of Realtors. Pratt spends her time mentoring women, especially in her RE/MAX office, to achieve their dreams. Pratt is active in her church, and has helped with several fundraisers, including those for Children’s Miracle Network and Options Now.
Dr. Stephanie Monroe just celebrated 20 years in business as a chiropractor. Monroe is known for providing employment for young women with little work experience to help them become financially stable. Monroe gives girls the opportunity to obtain entrepreneurial experience by hosting lemonade stands every year, after which proceeds are donated to the 5As animal shelter. Monroe is the mother of two daughters.
Elizabeth Parker is an attorney, a respiratory therapist and an adult educator. She is an advocate for senior citizens who have suffered abuse and neglect, and for holding nursing homes to higher standards. Parker also assists debtors in finding solutions to their financial problems. She has served as a volunteer at Beverly Farm Foundation, Easter Seals Camp, and is on the Board of Directors at Marquette Catholic High School.
Andrea Lamer, executive director of the YWCA of Alton, was enthusiastic about this year’s honorees.
“All of these women embody the qualities that are most admired in leaders, in general,” Lamer said. “They’re passionate, goal-driven, and they care about the needs of others.”
Proceeds from the dinner will go toward the YWCA of Alton’s programs and assist in the implementation of future initiatives.
The Child Enrichment program provides before, after and out-of-school care for more than 150 children in the Alton, Roxana and Wood River school districts.
“We typically care for between 150 and 275 kids per year, through that program,” Lamer said. “Funds from the Women of Distinction event help support families that are enrolled in that program.”
Sickle Cell Disease Support Services, through A Precious Organization and created by Tammy Smith, will also receive support from the event. Additional beneficiaries are the YWCA’s yoga class and fitness center.
New services will be available through the YWCA of Alton in the near future, such as a Zumba Wellness Party on May 22, a summer camp for children, and career support services for women.
Through the hard work and good deeds of this year’s honorees, the community is able to benefit once again through the event that has honored them for their tenacity and selflessness.
“They’ve been pretty fearless in the care of our neighbors, who do not enjoy the privileges of power,” Lamer said. “They teach us the difference between doing something well and doing something with love.”
For information about the YWCA, call (618) 465-7774 or visit altonywca.com.
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