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Classic Woman Awards 2012
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- Colleen Duffley
With heartfelt gratitude, we present the five phenomenal volunteers honored through our eighth annual Classic Woman Awards. They stand tall among many other heroic women throughout the country who were also nominated. Each of our classic women saw a deep need and decided to fill it. As honoree Evelyn Castellar puts it: "I didn’t start my organization—it started me."
Sincere thanks to the caring sponsors who make Classic Woman Awards possible:
Photography: Colleen Duffley
- Colleen Duffley
Federal Way, Washington
Evelyn Castellar went to Honduras in 2002 in search of respite because of her failing health and ended up saving lives.
The successful businesswoman—founder and CEO of an insurance training school—had heart and lung conditions as well as breast cancer. She and husband Jose fell in love with the eerie beauty of the Honduran cloud forests (like rain forests only they "catch" precipitation in the form of clouds rather than rain). Evelyn and Jose built a winter home near one.
One stormy night, they were startled by a knock on their door. A frantic neighbor led the Castellars to his home, where a just-born infant, placenta still attached, lay choking on a dirt floor. His mother languished on a cardboard bed nearby. Both survived, but after learning how dangerous the combination of unsanitary water, dirt floors, and the lack of shoes and medical care was for her neighbors, Evelyn opened a small, free medical clinic in her guest room in 2002. Soon she was seeing hundreds of people a day, consulting with Honduran medical personnel, and imploring friends back home in Washington to assist. Today, Projecto Honduras, founded in 2008, provides medical care, education, housing, and community programs to 15,000 Hondurans with the help of more than 200 volunteers.
Evelyn (who divides her time between Honduras and Washington and whose health is still fragile) leads volunteers to Honduras twice a year to work with the organization’s myriad projects. Honduras has a desperately high infant-child mortality rate, and it is the malnourished children (two of whom she has informally adopted) who tug hardest at her heart. Her goal for her agency is simple: "To keep children from dying. To see them live."
- Colleen Duffley
Displayed in Linda Davidsons office are the words that inspire her: A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world will be different because I was important in the life of a child.
Serendipity led Linda to found Our Military Kids in 2004. While she was using her business expertise from her former career at IBM to help a friend organize a military nonprofit organization, she noticed a disturbing trend: When National Guard and Reserve members went overseas, their families suffered a gap in services. Before 9/11, these soldiers were often sent to help after natural disasters. But deployments to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan brought new problems. Because families of the deployed often did not live close to military bases, they felt isolated. Dips in pay caused by the change from civilian to military duty sometimes forced the elimination of kids’ extracurricular activities.
Our Military Kids fills this gap. Recently, Linda heard from the grandfather of a boy living with his grandparents while his mother was deployed as a medic. He called when his grandson returned from the summer camp arranged by Our Military Kids, tearful with gratitude. "He had been afraid the boy would hurt himself, but camp refocused him, blew off some of his anger, and gave him new pride in his mom," Linda recalls.
Linda launched her agency in Virginia, then took it national. But she didn’t stop there. Seeing the invisible wounds of the children of wounded warriors, she included them, too. Our Military Kids has provided $14 million in piano lessons, sports programs, tutoring, and hope to what our brave servicemen and women hold most dear: their children.
- Colleen Duffley
When Nancy Chance was visiting her grandfather at the age of 4, she saw six men jump from a train and gather under a bridge for shelter. When she speculated that they might be hungry, her grandfather challenged her to come up with a solution. She cut her own sandwich into six pieces, walked to the bridge, and distributed it to the homeless men. That rare combination of pragmatism and compassion is still Nancy’s gift. In 1995, she founded the Good Samaritan Network, which connects clubs, agencies, and businesses in Hamilton County, Indiana, to share resources and unite for the common good rather than duplicate efforts and compete for funding.
Having experienced tough times as a child when her father was injured and hospitalized for months, Nancy says: "It’s hard to get a total picture of the working poor—families who struggle at low-paying jobs or have two or more part-time jobs with no benefits. It only takes one emergency to derail a family."
Numbers tell the story: Good Samaritan unites 64 agencies, 240 churches, 9 township trustees, 32 food pantries, and 3 free medical clinics to serve 20,000 people a year with everything from food to used cars. Nancy directs its efforts while working full-time as a blood bank coordinator. The former sheriff of Hamilton County, Douglas G. Carter, puts it this way: "Nancy is known all around the county as the go-to person. There is never any doubt that if there is a way to help, she will."
- Colleen Duffley
Pascha Peay, who grew up in inner-city Baltimore as the child of a single mother in a loving extended family, recalls: "I loved my early years. They were full of love and excitement and unity and camaraderie. I didn’t know that I grew up in a low-income area until I got to college and realized my norm wasn’t everyone else’s."
While completing her master’s degree at Johns Hopkins in 2003 (and hoping to earn a huge income, she admits with a chuckle), the thought kept nagging her that not every girl growing up in her neighborhood was so fortunate. She credits Jesus Christ with guiding her to establish Imagine Me in 2007 at her alma mater, Calverton Middle School, in a high-crime area in Baltimore. She was prompted to do so by her previous experience in a corporate mentoring program with Latoya, a middle school child whose parents were both deceased. Against the odds, Latoya just graduated from college. "I have learned more from her than she has from me," Pascha says. "Her strength just pushes her through."
Since 2007, Pascha has held after-school sessions with groups of girls twice weekly. She also organizes outings, such as visits to women in prison, who urge the girls to make good choices. Having lost her job during the recession, Pascha nonetheless continues to help fund the program herself while attending seminary. Today, Imagine Me provides group, peer, and individual mentoring. It has matched more than 50 caring women to girls (many of whom are in foster care) for long-term, one-on-one mentoring that encourages them to embrace a life of promise.
Pascha’s wisdom shows in her request that the term "at-risk" not be used to label her girls. "We’re all at risk," she says.
- Colleen Duffley
San Diego, California
Shannon Thompson had it all. A high school leader, soccer player, and yearbook staffer headed to UCLA, she had told her mom she planned to be the first female president. But her plans changed abruptly and dramatically when substance abuse and an eating disorder sent her to rehab. She recovered but was stricken by how low the bar was set afterward—it was suggested that she might be able to swing high school graduation with a General Equivalency Diploma. "I was treated as if I had been damaged beyond repair," she recalls, "as if I no longer had dreams, ambition, and talent."
Ever since, she has focused on empowering other women. Shakti Rising, which she founded in 1999, is the culmination of those efforts. Shakti is the Sanskrit word for female energy. Her agency harnesses the power of women’s empathy, creativity, and community-building through Transformational Recovery (achieving wellness after substance abuse or trauma), Educational and Community Wellness (cultivating healthy, purposeful living), and Transformation Through Service (developing leadership skills). It also provides a home for women in recovery. Shannon’s holistic approach incorporates art and massage therapy, meditation, and yoga into Shakti Rising’s healing repertoire. The organization changes the lives of more than 1,500 women and children a year, employing 10 staffers and relying on more than 300 volunteers to help 10 women in residence and 300 off-site.
"Fail forward" is Shannon’s slogan. "When we get people together and unleash our leadership," she says, "I am astounded by what we are collectively capable of."