'They have moved where no woman has gone before'

YWCA awards: Fall tradition recognizes efforts

October 31, 2010 

There's a universal theme among the six recipients of the YWCA of Olympia's 2010 Women of Achievement awards: All of the women have followed their hearts into unchartered territory for the sake of social change.

“They have moved where no woman has gone before,” said Karmel Shields, executive director of the YWCA of Olympia. “They have identified a human need – a community need – and they have taken it upon themselves to rally, support, encourage and address it.”

The awards program, which is a fall tradition for many YWCA organizations across the country, recognizes women who have improved their communities through their work and volunteer efforts. This year’s program will be Thursday evening at the Indian Summer Country Club off Yelm Highway.

“It is a celebration of the strength of what women can do,” Shields said. “Empowered women is what the YWCA is all about, and we just want to inspire other women to do the same thing.”

South Sound’s honorees include:

Jeanne Carras, 55, of Olympia, who was described as “a champion for downtown and Olympia” by her nominator for her work in the Olympia Downtown Association, the Thurston County Chamber of Commerce and the Olympia Symphony Orchestra.

Carras is the owner of Bonaventure, a downtown Olympia store that carries shoes, handbags and fashion accessories.

A graduate of Olympia High School and The Evergreen State College, Carras said she was raised in a family that valued philanthropy. Her father used to say: “Start with whatever you can afford to give. If it’s only time: give. If it’s only money: give. If it’s both: give.”

“I don’t do the stuff that I do to get an award,” Carras said. “I do it because I love it ... because it’s the right thing to do.”

MaryAnne Lindeblad, 58, of Olympia, the newly-appointed Assistant Secretary for Aging and Disabilities Services Administration in the state Department of Social and Health Services.

Lindeblad serves on the Medicaid Managed Care Technical Advisory Group and is a member of the National Academy for State Health Policy. She has a nursing degree from Eastern Washington University, and a master’s degree in public health from the University of Washington.

She is president of the new Olympia Free Medical Clinic, which is under development, and is vice chairwoman of the Family Support Center.

“It really is about how we can do a better job of making sure everyone has access to health care – that’s what motivates me to do what I do,” Lindeblad said.

Carolyn McKinnon, 37, of Olympia, founder of OlyBabies.net, a social networking site for South Sound parents.

Her nominator wrote: “This site has done what so many online communities fail to do, and that is bring families together in real life to play, share meals, share stories and offers support.”

McKinnon, who is a former policy analyst and an economist for the state, launched the site shortly before her 17-month-old son, Sam, was born.

“It was pretty self-serving,” she said. “I knew I needed the support of a network, going into parenting.”

She’s also got involved in a national parenting activist group Moms Rising, and recently began a business as a post-partum doula, which is someone who offers non-medical support to new mothers.

McKinnon described OlyBabies as much smaller, local version of Facebook. Families can join for free and post photos, birth stories, questions, and blogs, and interact with other members.

“It’s a small social network, but I think it reaches people more deeply than some of the other online (communities),” she said.

Maureen McLemore, 66, of Olympia, director for Community Youth Services’ Transitions program, which focuses on housing and living skills for homeless and foster youth.

According to her nominator, McLemore has sought “innovative and more effective ways to serve homeless youth and make their lives better and their futures brighter.”

McLemore has worked for Community Youth Services for 20 years, and also serves as a member of the Thurston County HOME Consortium Citizens Advisory Committee.

“I love the young people that we work with,” she said. “I enjoy my work. ... I’m passionate about helping young people and helping others who work with young people to realize their potential.”

Mary Williams, 60, of Olympia, a retiree who worked in mental health and chemical dependency administration for more than 30 years, mostly at the county level.

Her nominator wrote: “Mary’s influence radiates from her direct professional and volunteer work, to the professional women in this community who have benefited from her wisdom and experience, to the children and families who have directly or indirectly received services.”

Williams established two scholarship programs, is a founding member of the Women’s Leadership Council, and a board member of the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound. She also helped create two mentoring and support programs for women in social services.

“We realized that someday we were going to retire, and it would really be a good idea to encourage and mentor emerging leaders,” Williams said.

Shelly Willis, 46, of Olympia, founder and executive director of Family Education and Support Services.

Her nominator wrote: “Shelly is always looking for new ways to help children and families. Her ideas and energy are endless.”

The nonprofit provides support for parents and caregivers throughout Thurston, Lewis, Mason and Pierce counties who are affected by divorce, poverty and other forms of family disruption.

“We’re dedicated to helping families raise healthy children,” Willis said.

She also is an adjunct faculty member of SPSCC’s Early Childhood Education program, a member of the Zonta Club of Olympia, and is involved with the Early Learning Coalition.

Like other honorees, Willis said she feels honored and humbled to be named a Woman of Achievement.

“This award is difficult for me because I’m more of a behind-the-scenes type of person,” she said. “I couldn’t have done anything that I do today without the support of my family and a great staff.”

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