2019 YWCA Alton Women of Distinction
The story of YWCA is one of women intentionally working together across categories of economic, generational, and racial differences to harness their collective power and combat problems impacting women and girls. Each year at our annual spring event, Women of Distinction, we celebrate dynamic women leaders who are making a difference in the Riverbend and embody our mission to eliminate racism and empower women by inducting them into our YWCA Women of Distinction Academy.
To date, YWCA of Alton has honored more than 280 influential women making a difference in the lives of many.
We will celebrate the 30th Annual Women of Distinction Dinner on Thursday, April 2, 2020 at the Lewis and Clark Community College Commons in Godfrey.
Check back with us for nomination forms and other event details in the near future.
We will honor the 2020 the Women of Distinction with an award and a special evening, acknowledging their many accomplishments in our community, and their commitment to the YWCA mission. In addition, the Josephine Marley Beckwith Future Leaders Scholarship winners will be recognized. We will toast their future successes. Funds raised at this event will be used to continue our life-changing programs for the children, teens, women and families in our community.
Please take the time to learn more about the 2019 Women of Distinction. YWCA of Alton was thrilled to recognize this distinguished group of women leaders at our Women of Distinction dinner on May 2, 2019.
With a bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology, and a minor in chemistry, she is a graduate of SIUE. Dana inspires young women by succeeding in a male dominated career, whether in the field of chemistry or forensics. She has taken the time on many occasions to give tours to female students interested in pursuing a career in either of those fields.
When asked what woman, other than her mother, has most influenced Dana in her community service journey, her response is her daughter, Emilee. Several years ago, at the age of 12, Emilee started her own non-profit, making blankets to donate to those in need. Dana says it was easy to be inspired and challenged by the passion, enthusiasm, and service of a child. She followed Emilee’s example and started Restore Décor shortly thereafter.
Restore Décor is a store that operates solely for the purpose of raising money that is then donated to other non-profits in Edwardsville and surrounding communities. Dana came up with the idea of a store staffed by volunteers who are motivated to help others. Each week she gathers volunteers to paint and repair furniture which has been donated by members of the community. Volunteers help move the “rehabbed” furniture to the store itself during the week and Dana works on Friday nights to complete the displays. She arrives early on Saturday morning to open the store and works all day to sell furniture and accessories. The monies raised that Saturday are then donated to that week’s chosen non-profit organization. In 2018 (while still working full time at her day job), Dana coordinated 14,000 volunteer hours and on 40 Saturdays, raised over $64,000 for non-profits. Over the past five years, Restore Décor has raised over $200,000 for organizations dedicated to inclusivity and equity.
Through Restore Décor, Dana is also able to help families in need, such as a family that lost their home to a fire, by providing each child in the family with bedroom furniture and accessories. She was also able to help a woman transitioning from a domestic violence situation. Dana provided her with furniture and had it set up in the woman’s new space, while also providing mentoring to help this woman move on in her life.
Dana said she started Restore Décor to make money to help those in need, but it has become about so much more. She says, “In a world where it’s easy to be divided, Restore Décor is a place that we all come together to make a positive impact on our community. Some people connect with us because we are ‘green’ and repurpose items to keep them out of the landfill. Some people connect with us because we are a faith-based group that welcomes everyone.” Dana hopes that, “long after I’m gone, Restore Décor will still be making a positive difference in our community. Even better, I hope that it will inspire others to create a change where they are.” It’s this attitude and the actions which spring from it which make Dana a Woman of Distinction.
As one of her nominators wrote, Kim Baalman-Eberlin lives in a small community where there aren’t many organizations, clubs or groups that are dedicated to serving the needs and interests of women. She has single-handedly filled that void for many young women and teen-aged girls in Grafton, Illinois.
Kim says that she would like her legacy in her community to be that she positively influenced the lives of others and that what she does leads others to challenge themselves to do more. She seems to be succeeding.
As a young store manager several years ago, Kim would often hire a woman who may not have had the best interview or resume, but the one who was in need and would benefit the most from the opportunity provided. She provided “refining”, guidance with compassion and encouragement to these women. More than one of her early “projects” says she wouldn’t be where she is today – successful in her field – without Kim’s support.
Kim continued to mentor women through the 1990’s when she owned and operated Kid’s World Licensed Day Care Center, employing women who had never received a paycheck before. This continued into the 2000’s, when she hired and supervised 28 managers for a nation-wide employer, 90% of whom were women.
Today, Kim owns and manages The Whole Scoop, an ice cream store in Grafton. She employs — and yes, still mentors – teenage girls for whom this is generally their first work experience. She teaches them about commitment and responsibility, work ethic, how to get along with the public, and helps each girl improve her self-esteem. When the girls move on to their next job or post high school educational opportunities, Kim writes letters of recommendation or makes telephone calls on their behalf. Most of the girls stay in touch with Kim well after their time in her employ has ended. In fact, two of her past employees wrote letters in support of her nomination as a Woman of Distinction. One woman wrote that Kim “has taken very raw inexperienced, immature children and molded them into productive, confident young women. She instilled in them a skillset that would prepare them for most challenges in life.”
In the past year, Kim has become a volunteer with Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), representing children who have been removed from the custody of their parents and placed in foster care. She visits with her “clients” on a regular basis and attends court hearings on their cases.
Kim also makes time to promote Grafton and its businesses and is active in her church. When asked what advice she would give her 16-year old self, she says she would tell her not to be so impatient, to trust more in the path you’ve been put on, to try to be more introspective and always, ask for help when you need it. It is clear that Kim has made the most of the path on which she was put and her willingness to reach out and empower women and girls in her community makes her a Woman of Distinction.
Plesetta Clayton volunteers, on average, 40-60 hours per month. That is in addition to working at her full-time job with the American Lung Association, being married to Carl Clayton for 24 years, and raising three children.
Plesetta currently oversees and implements health promotions and mission activities on behalf of the American Lung Association in Missouri, California and Alaska. She also spent nearly 16 years working in the non-profit sector on issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and education, health disparities and health equity.
It is through her volunteer work with the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) and the Upsilon Phi Omega Chapter in Edwardsville, Illinois, that Plesetta has found her true calling. AKA is the first Greek-letter organization for black women, founded by Ethel Hedgeman Lyle in 1908. Ms. Lyle was committed to equality, civil rights and civic engagement at time when women had no rights. Plesetta identifies Ms. Lyle as the woman who, other than her mother, has most influenced her community service journey. Plesetta notes that due to Ms. Lyle’s dedication, AKA today has about 300,000 members all over the world, who are college educated women engaged in community service and providing scholarships to young women of color who want to go to college. She thinks it is astounding that Ms. Lyle had the foresight and determination to form such an esteemed organization over 111 years ago, while being a black woman with no resources or civil rights. As president of the Edwardsville chapter of this amazing organization and a 30-year member, Plesetta is actively engaged in social justice initiatives, service projects, and activities to raise funds for scholarships for female high school students of color.
She is able to combine her professional interests in health with her goals of ending gender and racial inequality, by raising money and awareness for issues that impact women, from planning and participating in awareness walks to raising money for health causes that disproportionately affect African-American women. One of her supporters writes that she does all this with a “cheerful giver” attitude; she says that in the 13 years she has known Plesetta, she has not known her to ignore or turn down a call to help someone in need. “She shows up for people and her community and does so with a smile and infectiously cheerful spirit that helps drive the people and organizations she serves towards positive, equitable outcomes.”
Plesetta also directs her energies toward her work with Pride Kids Sports Booster Club as a parent volunteer. There she guides girls in healthy physical activities and helps build their self-esteem. She also engages in fund raising initiatives on behalf of the organization to provide financial assistance and support to athletes participating in cheerleading, gymnastics and power tumbling.
Plesetta values and fosters the importance of eliminating racism and empowering women and girls through her efforts at mentoring, coaching, and community service work. She is committed to strengthening the position of women, girls and people who have been marginalized and underserved, as well as addressing health disparities and access to health care and health equity. For all these reasons, Plesetta is certainly deserving of being a YWCA Woman of Distinction.
Yolanda Crochrell has committed herself to “a life-long movement of mentoring young women about the realities of life inequities, the importance of education and the real value of understanding their self-worth.” She goes on to explain that, “For years, I have realized that the road to achieving gender equality in the U.S. is quite clearly checkered with significant potholes.” She credits a spiritual gift for helping her understand that “women’s rights is an intricate mosaic, a picture which cannot be complete without my own painful experiences as they relate to one of the most widely violated legal principles of our society, race and gender inequalities. This is why the mission of the YWCA is so dear to me. I understand and care about our girls and I knew that in order to make a difference, that I had to get involved and become part of the process.”
So get involved she did. Yolanda relocated to this area from California and hit the ground running by involving herself in her church activities as well as volunteer and charitable work. She is the Executive Director of the Quad City Community Development Center in Madison, Illinois, a mission of Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church, where she implemented the TWIGS lunch program providing free lunches to children during the summer months in the Venice/Madison area. She also provides a full summer camp for youth during the summer break months which includes a hot breakfast and lunch.
Yolanda serves as a mentor for Girls Keeping It 100, which helps teenagers from 13-18 years of age, engages in activities with young ladies and their mothers at the Madison Alternative School, and mentors young, pregnant women to continue their education and assist them with resume’ writing, career exploration and training, community job opportunities and interview skills. She also partnered with the Madison County Community Development SNAP program to help young women find employment and assist them in finding funding to further their education.
Other volunteer efforts include serving as the 3rd Vice President of the Venice/Madison NAACP (2018-present), being a member of the Madison County Leadership Council (2017-present), serving as president of the Sisterly Love Society which hosts an annual coat drive for the youth and homeless in the Madison/Venice communities (2015-present), being a member of Peacekeepers, a group which sponsors many activities for youth and encourages them to keep peace in the community (2017-present) and serving as a trustee at Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church (2014-present).
Yolanda truly believes that teaching girls the value of education and their own self-worth “are the types of investments that we can use to empower our girls to develop new ideas, activities and opportunities for each other in order to leverage the power of ‘Women in America.’” It is clear that this Woman of Distinction has put her words and beliefs into action.
Amy Golley loves working with middle school girls. Some may say that this is the toughest age to deal with. Amy now spends her days at Alton High School as an administrator, but her after school hours are spent mentoring children – primarily teen aged girls in her neighborhood – so it is clear that she means what she says.
Amy and her husband, Ben Golley, own and operate a business on Central Avenue in Alton. They made the decision to open up a safe place next door to the business to neighborhood children of all ages where they are welcome to hang out during after school hours. Amy uses that time to work with girls to improve their self-image and sense of self-worth. She teaches them about the benefits of healthy eating and exercise. In order to help them express emotions, Amy provides the girls with a journal and encourages them to write how they feel and helps show them ways to help overcome barriers in their lives. She teaches them about short term and long-term goals and discusses with them ways they can pursue their goals and dreams.
Amy not only acts as a mentor to girls through direct one-on-one contact, but also in how she carries herself day in and day out. She demonstrates professional dress and behavior daily. She shares fashion tips with the Empowered 2B Me girls’ group for their annual dress for success program. She also provides an example of a woman who had a goal and worked hard to achieve it. Amy started her work life as a teacher’s assistant, attended school part time to get ger education degree, taught school and eventually rose in the ranks to become an administrator. As noted on the nomination form, Amy exemplifies “hard work, dedication, and tenacity, thus showing women and girls that it is not where you start it is where you end.”
Amy says that she appreciates the mission of the YWCA because she is a black woman who works everyday with young black girls “who need to know they are empowered to be them.” She also says that, “Everyday I work with young ladies to fight against the stereotypes society has placed upon them. Every day I encourage young ladies to know their self-worth.”
Amy’s dedication to the children in our community is apparent. In her “spare” time, Amy also volunteers with the Alton Section of the National Council of Negro Women, the Boys and Girls Club of Alton, and the Elijah P. Lovejoy Memorial organization, all of which provide activities which touch the lives of area children. She says she loves her job “because I get to interact with students, build relationships, mentor, and see them become successful young adults.” She loves the Alton community and wants it to be “a prosperous place for young families to raise their children.”
When asked what advice she would give her 16-year old self, Amy says she’d tell her, “You don’t have to be perfect. Allow yourself to make mistakes because through each mistake comes growth which leads to a stronger and more successful you.” Today, Amy is a strong and successful woman and a role model for empowering young girls in our community, especially young girls of color, which makes her a Woman of Distinction.
E. VIRGINIA ILCH
Virginia Ilch has been a caregiver her entire adult life. She has worked as a registered nurse at Alton Memorial Hospital since 1960, raised two children (one, her son, is bi-racial), and cared for her husband who died from metastatic bone cancer in 1974 and her daughter who was diagnosed with acute leukemia in 2006 followed by breast cancer. These experiences led her to the causes for which she gives numerous volunteer hours every year.
Virginia served as Alton Memorial Hospital’s Infection Control Officer in the 1980’s, at the onset of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. That gave her an insight into social justice issues and led her to volunteer with the American Red Cross to provide the public with accurate information about HIV and AIDS issues.
Caring for her husband during his illness and experiencing his death at a young age taught Virginia the value of sharing experiences, feelings and problems with other women who have traveled that road or are on the same journey. She says she is especially cognizant of the important role women fill as caregivers, whether they are taking care of a son with HIV/AIDS, a family member with cancer, or raising a child in a biased, bigoted society. As a result, since 1978, Virginia has facilitated many support groups for women, allowing women to share their experiences, wisdom, and expertise and providing strength and stability for other women who need it at a particularly stressful time in their lives.
When E. Virginia adopted her bi-racial son, it opened her eyes to the injustices experienced by people of color. That led to her work with the United Congregations of MetroEast, a faith-based group made up of members from several different denominations, which focuses on social justice issues. Over the years, she worked on homeless counts, the Racial Equality Team, a restorative justice project, and held book clubs with a focus on racial justice topics, among other activities.
Her interest in learning more about and promoting racial justice also led her to volunteer with the YWCA of Alton, where she served on the board of directors for five years. E. Virginia says that her work with the YWCA has taught her the importance of recognizing racial injustice and speaking out against it. She currently serves on the Racial Justice Committee of the YWCA, helping plan and carry out programs designed to raise the awareness of racism and its impact in our community. She also serves on the Program Development and Evaluation Committee for the YWCA.
Virginia is also active in the United Church of Christ, tutoring students and participating in church and committee conflict resolution activities.
When asked what she would like her legacy to be in the community, she is rather self-effacing, stating that, “While I, myself, may never have done anything spectacular, I am a good representative of all the women in the community who consistently work in many different ways and serve in the organizations that help and provide benefits to the needy and unfortunate.” That is a wonderful description of the important and unsung roles women play in our community and why Virginia Ilch is a 2019 Woman of Distinction.
Page Selby says that she continues to be inspired by women making a difference: women in leadership, improving our community and our world, women in her church who serve selflessly, her amazing sister, her daughter, friends, and her own mother. Page, herself, can be counted among those women.
As a young woman just out of college, Page joined the Junior League of Greater Alton, an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving communities through the effective action of trained volunteers. She recruited a group of diverse women to join Junior League and served in numerous leadership positions within the organization. She worked to update policies and practices of the chapter in order to advocate for child protection and family preservation, as well as educate elected officials on issues arising out of domestic violence against women and its effect on children, maternal and child health. She took steps to strengthen the structure of the organization through leadership development and succession planning to focus on educating and inspiring women to assume leadership roles. She also created an external newsletter distributed to the community to increase awareness problems facing women in this area and how the community could support women and become involved in creating solutions to these problems.
Page worked with the United Way for many years taking on tasks such as serving on the allocation panel. That gave her the opportunity to see the work of other organizations helping others in our community. She was particularly interested in those organizations that supported women, such as Oasis Women’s Center. She took it upon herself to educate family, friends, and other organizations about the work Oasis does in the community and encouraged them to support the center through donations.
After seeing the effects that bullying has on women and children, Page became involved in efforts to stop it. She sought partnerships with local hospitals to educate children in area public and parochial schools on the long-term effects of bullying, created policies and procedures to handle escalating interactions, and drafted procedures to track the outcomes of these efforts. Page also worked on programs to promote empathy, break down barriers through proactive role-play, peacekeeping circles and shared activities. Additionally, she worked with girls in the various schools to take on leadership roles in planning and carrying out joint school activities for local parochial schools.
Page is also a volunteer facilitator of diversity and inclusion workshops in the St. Louis metropolitan area, regularly sharing diversity and inclusion programs with area communities and police departments. She is also currently mentoring five young women in the workforce to encourage growth and development in their careers.
When asked what she would like her legacy to be in the community, Page says her passion is to “leave it better.” She is inspired to join other women before her who have blazed trails to eliminate racism and empower women and now joins others like her as a Woman of Distinction.
The person who nominated Candice Wallace as a Woman of Distinction says that this quote by Carolina Herrera reminds her of Candice: “I don’t get my inspiration from books or paintings, I get it from the women I meet.” Clearly, Candice is an inspirational woman.
Employed by the Alton Community School District as a third-grade teacher at East Elementary School, Candice has used her position as a teacher to reach out and inspire students. She started an initiative in her classroom to dream big about their future, whereby a professional person or community leader comes to her classroom to read a book to her students. After reading, the guest visitor spends time answering questions posed by the students about their job, life and experiences. This program helps her students aspire to become judges, police officers, community leaders, and entrepreneurs, regardless of their race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
During her nine years as a teacher, Candice has seen first hand the discrepancies between the number of office referrals received by African-American students compared to student of other races. She has also found that African-American students within the district, as well as at the county and state levels, are performing drastically below their Caucasian peers in both math and reading. Instead of bemoaning these situations, Candice set out to do something about them. She is currently working with a colleague to create a professional development/training curriculum to help educate educators across the county about the specific needs of African-American students. This training will include valuable information, resources, and strategies teachers can use to help increase academic achievement among African-American students and decrease behavior problems.
Candice believes in creating a classroom environment which promotes equity for all, safe and comfortable learning zones, and inclusive practices supporting students with academic and behavioral disabilities. During and after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri which arose after the not guilty verdict in the Michael Brown case, she provided students with the opportunity to process and articulate their thoughts and experiences. During these conversations, many students expressed anger and resentment toward police officers. Candice took note of this anger and invited local law enforcement officials into her classroom to bridge the gap between police officers and her students. Initially, this effort was met with tension but eventually blossomed into a positive interaction that changed bias and mindsets.
In order to address the learning loss that occurs for students over their summer break from school, Candice started the Community Tutoring program, which will begin its third year this summer. Students within Madison and surrounding counties receive instruction in math and reading from certified teachers during the summer months. They also receive lunch and educational resources to use at home. The program is free for all participants.
Candice says she would like her legacy to be filled with examples of nurturing young minds and expanding the dreams of the next generation. She believes children are our future’s greatest resource. She is already an exceptional young woman and educator with many years ahead of her, so it is safe to say that the legacy of this Woman of Distinction is well on its way to being firmly established.
A native of Alton and graduate of Alton High School, Sarah Farley Woodman has spent most of her life in this community. It isn’t surprising, then, that she believes in making this community a better place.
Sarah spent her professional career with First Mid America Credit Union, beginning as a teller and retiring as a credit analyst. In her work life, she encouraged the young women with whom she worked over the years to further their education and mentored them as they worked their way up from teller to management positions within the organization. In some cases she even helped them discover a new career and find the means to succeed in that. She was on the Board of the George Burnett Chapter of Credit Unions for eight years, serving as their Youth Involvement Representative for Illinois.
Outside of work, when not raising her four children and helping establish successful family businesses in the Alton area with her husband, Sarah’s volunteer interests mirror her efforts at work. In other words, she loves helping young people succeed and showing them the value of education.
As a member and officer of the Philanthropic Education Association (PEO), Sarah worked to raise money to fund scholarships for women returning to college after many years away from school, as well as for scholarships for women from other countries who studied here before returning to their home countries. Members of PEO also mentor women in preparing to succeed in school.
The focus of much of Sarah’s volunteer efforts has been the Boys and Girls Club of Alton. She spent over nine years as a board member and served as Board president. She routinely works with the children to encourage them in school and life and works with their families on a positive home environment. She tries to inspire the children to achieve both at school and at home. As is needed with most non-profits, Sarah also spent 14 years raising funds for the organization. All these activities earned her the Distinguished Service Award for the club.
Sarah also volunteers at the Caravan Shop which supports Oasis Women’s Shelter and victims of domestic violence. She has also been involved with Pride, Inc., the White Cross Auxiliary at Alton Memorial Hospital, the Alton Cemetery Board and Wreaths Across America.
Sarah says that she would like her legacy to be one of example, and has always tried to set an example of hard work, kindness, diligence and understanding. When asked what she would advise her 16-year old self, it isn’t surprising that education is involved; she says she would advise her younger self to go further with her education and know that she was capable of achieving more. By sharing that advice with young women throughout the years, as well has her time, Sarah has made the kind of difference in our community that makes her a Woman of Distinction.
Megan Williams hopes her legacy is one of providing compassion and understanding to those in need while helping to lift them up to achieve their own goals and ambitions. She started building that legacy during her service as the first female City Attorney for the City of Alton from May 2013 to April 2017.
During her tenure she, with the approval of the City Council, rewrote the ordinance establishing a Community Relations Commission. Through this commission, Megan was able to assist in bringing racial diversity and mental health programs to Alton. She was also the driving force behind bringing Dr. Dan Isom and the University of Missouri St. Louis to Alton to conduct community wide policing surveys, focus groups and developing a community policing strategic plan.
Megan also changed the way defendants were prosecuted for city ordinance violations. Individuals were no longer demeaned and spoken down to when they came to court. She created an environment and culture where individuals felt comfortable showing up for court and working out a successful resolution to their problems. As a result, the compliance rate for violations drastically increased during her term. She also eliminated the policy which called for warrants to be issued to individuals failing to pay fines. Instead, she worked with the court to find alternatives to incarceration to encourage compliance, requested that all existing ordinance violation warrants be quashed and all outstanding fines be sent to collection rather than using the threat of jail for enforcement. Eliminating warrants allows individuals to more easily pass a background check when attempting to gain employment, work out a payment plan with the collection company, and not fear arrest when coming to court to resolve problems. This small change helped to even the playing field for all Alton citizens.
As a member of the YWCA of Alton Board of Directors and chair of the Racial Justice Committee, Megan planned a speaker series to address white privilege as well as racial disparity which exists within our educational system. She brought together author Debby Irving, author of “Waking Up White,” and Professor Kim Norwood, author of “Ferguson Fault Lines” for a discussion of white privilege and how we can work for racial equity in our communities. She brought Dr. Mary Ferguson to Alton to discuss the school to prison pipeline and other racial inequities in schools.
Megan is a trained facilitator and trainer on the issues of social identity, including race, gender, sexual orientation, ability and socio-economic status. She is constantly educating and holding space for discussions around issues of equity, especially those issue affecting women and people of color. She works diligently to educate people on the own biases and the impact of those biases on others around them. She has probably lost count of the number of books she has given away to people, including copies of “Waking Up White,” as a means of encouraging them to start their own journey to an awareness of white privilege.
Megan recognizes that in order for our community to thrive we must lift up women and people of color. Currently working as Assistant Regional Director for the Anti-Defamation League Heartland, a national civil rights organization in St. Louis, Missouri, it is clear that she carries her passion for social justice initiatives in all she does and deserves the honor of being a Woman of Distinction.