Women Of The Year 2018
Women who are making a positive impact on our community.
Photography by Roberto Gonzalez
Back Row (L to R): Shanta Barton-Stubbs, Catherine Steck McManus, Elizabeth Forrest, Karla Radka, Kay Rawlins, Lashea Reaves. Middle Row (L to R): Nancy Ludin, Elisha González Bonnewitz, Teresa Tachon, Lambrine Macejewski. Front: Laura Diaz.
Back Row (L to R): Kari Conley, Jenna Dail, Brenda March, Marnie Forestieri, Blue Star, Heather Wilkie, Desirée Matthews, Christina Tineo. Front Row (L to R): Cindy LaRoe, Lara Lee, Laura Eidson Cosgrove, Michelle Chira Carlton.
They are educators, mentors, counselors, fund-raisers, business owners, and managers of organizations that help those in need. But most of all they are leaders, who step forward to help keep our community strong. Orlando magazine is proud to honor the 23 individuals pictured on these two pages as Women of the Year. We asked you, our readers, for nominees and you responded with a wealth of recommendations, along with details on how these women make a huge difference in the lives of countless people daily. Our congratulations—and thanks—to them all.
Back Row (L to R): Blue Star, Shanta Barton-Stubbs. Seated (L to R): Desirée Matthews, Laura Diaz.
Blue Star | Cofounder and President | The Barber Fund Inc.
The owner and creator of local entertainment hub The Venue, Star is a performer and an advocate for the LGBTQ community as well as for cancer victims, earning her the description of being “quite literally a star of Orlando.”
“Without her guidance and support, the family of The Venue wouldn’t have a place to be who we really feel we were meant to be. And families living with cancer would be with one less advocate in their corner,” according to one nomination.
In 2014, Star cofounded The Barber Fund, which provides physical assistance and support to cancer patients. A year later, the nonprofit won the Points of Light Award in recognition of its service to the community.
“It is up to us to make the change. When you are called to be of service, you don’t hesitate. You just go,” Star says. “We are the people paving the way, and it is inspiring to be [honored] among strong, selfless people who have common goals.”
Star’s advice to her fellow Orlando residents: “Stay inspired, be aware, and give back.”
Shanta Barton-Stubbs | Founder and Executive Director | New Image Youth Center
In the summer of 2004, Barton-Stubbs was helping her parents at their Parramore church building when she saw eight children taking turns pushing each other into traffic while riding a shopping cart. She invited them to play games inside the church. That became the first unofficial day of her outreach program to Orlando youth.
“Shanta took $1,500 from her savings and got the building next door to her parents’ church. NIYC now occupies three buildings and serves more than 100 students per year, offering academic assistance, crisis intervention, health and wellness and social development,” a nomination reads. A mental health counselor, she serves 40-plus hours a week as a volunteer.
“I recognize that underprivileged youth have it way harder than what most of us can actually see when we look at them,’’ Barton-Stubbs says. “I am here to give them hope, and to help them find their way. I have more than 200 reasons why I keep doing what I do for my students. This is my life’s work: to see them succeed. I wake up every morning knowing that what I do today can change the life of a child tomorrow.
Desirée S. Matthews | Kissimmee Deputy City Manager
Matthews, who has served as a leader in the city of Kissimmee for 16 years, is known as much for her work on behalf of the homeless as for the leadership and business acumen she brings to her job.
“Although Desirée’s efforts have made Kissimmee a better government, her passion is social services – especially in her work on organizing an aggressive homeless strategic plan to help those most vulnerable in our community,” one nomination reads.
Matthews is on the board for the Community Hope Center, which focuses on serving the homeless along Osceola County’s U.S. Highway 192 corridor. In addition, she helped secure more than $2 million in grants to build HOME, transitional housing for homeless women and children.
A mother of two, Matthews says, “My belief in linking my personal, social and professional worlds has been critical in maximizing the impact I have on this world.” She credits her mother, who was the first black female firefighter in Fort Lauderdale, with teaching her the importance of “character, courage and integrity. Her selflessness and commitment to her children were unwavering.”
Laura Diaz | Founder | Face of a Feminist
An on-air personality for Johnny’s House on 106.7 FM and a former WKMG Channel 6 anchor, Diaz launched her nonprofit to depoliticize the concept of feminism and empower women and girls.
“Laura is the face of modern feminism. She proves that we can have all we want,” one nomination reads. “Her work with postpartum depression is also admirable. She openly announced and discussed her own experience with postpartum. I think she exemplifies a woman who is making a positive impact on our community,” says another.
“To achieve empowerment, inspiration and unity, I recorded interviews that showcased strong women from all walks of life and shared the videos on social media,” Diaz says. The organization has held fundraisers that have benefited such organizations as Harbor House of Central Florida and the Victim Service Center of Central Florida. She also has a podcast.
“When you talk into a big microphone for a living, you have an even bigger platform. At some point, about a year ago, I realized I should be doing more for a cause I’ve been passionate about my whole life: strengthening women and girls,” she says.
Back Row (L to R): Elizabeth Forrest, Nancy Ludin, Karla Radka. Seated (L to R): Cindy LaRoe, Marnie Forestieri.
Elizabeth Forrest | Founder of Dancing for Diabetes
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 10, Forrest wasn’t going to take the diagnosis lying down. A year later, she launched Dancing for Diabetes, whose mission is to “spread awareness through the art of dance to better educate the community, raise funds to find a cure, and inspire those with diabetes to live healthy and active lives,” she says.
“Dancing for Diabetes began as a neighborhood fundraiser in her parents’ driveway, but it has grown to feature hundreds of local dancers volunteering their talents to help raise funds for a cure. This past December, the show debuted at the Bob Carr Theater,” a nomination reads.
Forrest was nominated for the “courage she demonstrates daily as she battles her own body to stay alive, her dedication to spreading awareness about an extremely misunderstood disease, and the passion she radiates for an organization she designed to help people affected by Type 1 diabetes live their best life.” Forrest maintains a full-time job managing a law office while leading the nonprofit.
The organization offers outreach events throughout the year as well as free dance classes to patients with Type 1 diabetes.
Nancy Ludin | CEO | The Jewish Pavilion
To the 1,500 Jewish residents of about 74 senior living centers in Central Florida, Ludin helps provide an ongoing connection to their spiritual and cultural roots.
“Whether it is recruiting volunteers or sponsors, networking at community events to find additional service providers, or personally making in-room visits to residents, Ludin has made it her life’s mission to ensure that the residents of Central Florida senior living communities routinely have the opportunity to connect back to their Jewish community with the observance of important holidays and traditions,” one nomination reads. Seniors also enjoy regular visitors, entertainment and special events.
A Jewish Pavilion volunteer herself, Ludin oversees 400 volunteers, fundraises, and does marketing and event planning for the nonprofit. “It takes Nancy Ludin’s patience, caring and passion to make sure that the mission is fulfilled,” a nomination shares. Ludin also visits the sick and cooks for the homeless through her synagogue.
She is driven by compassion. “It means the world to me to ensure that our elders in long-term care are not forgotten. I want to make sure that they feel loved and appreciated and connected to their cultural heritage,” Ludin says.
Karla Radka | COO | Goodwill Industries of Central Florida
Radka has been called “instrumental in the nonprofit’s remarkable success in 2017”—defined by assistance to 47,531 residents and job placements for 8,102—in her role at Goodwill overseeing a host of retail stores, Donation XPress locations and Job Connection Centers in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Brevard, Lake and Volusia counties.
Under her leadership, donations and revenues are climbing. “Thanks in part to Karla’s leadership, Goodwill expanded its reach into every corner of the six counties it served, opening a new Job Connection Center both in DeLand and at its headquarters in South Orlando, a location strategically chosen to meet the needs of job-seekers with limited transportation,’’ a nomination reads. “Goodwill also continued to broaden its array of programs, including a relationship with the City of Orlando through the GoodSource temporary staffing agency for homeless Central Floridians.” Radka is also credited for her efforts in disaster relief.
In 2005, she cofounded Hope Now International, a community outreach program that serves more than 9,000 children and youth each year. “I am motivated by inspiring young people to follow their dreams, to create positive change and to enhance the quality of life of our entire community,” Radka says.
Cindy A. LaRoe | Cofounder and CEO | The Art of Medicine Foundation
LaRoe was forced to abandon her medical career seven years ago when she suffered traumatic brain injury in a bicycle racing crash. As she recovered, LaRoe discovered a passion for art and began to channel that passion into a way to help other traumatic brain injury (TBI)
patients: The Art of Medicine Gala.
“My husband and I started the Art of Medicine Foundation, a 501c3 that was born from the idea that we would bring together physician artists to auction their work to raise money for TBI. In my capacity as CEO, we have held two galas that have raised a total of over $700,000,” LaRoe shares. Proceeds benefit the comprehensive concussion center at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville.
A Eustis native, LaRoe’s career began at 40 in a quest to advocate for those with developmental disabilities, a quest inspired by her disabled son. “The highlight of my career was practicing in Eustis and being known as the doctor who knew everyone and provided care to the community,” she says.
Today her focus has shifted to prevention. “I want to prevent damage to the environment, eliminate preventable health issues and prevent concussive brain injury.”
Marnie Forestieri | Cofounder and Chief Learning Officer, Amazing Explorers Academy
An advocate for introducing children to an inquiry-based model in preschool, Forestieri brought together a diverse team of experts and community leaders to create a 21st-century teaching methodology that’s designed to equip children with skills in science, technology, engineering, the arts and math (STEAM).
“Marnie believes that parents and teachers don’t need to be scientists or engineers to teach children the foundations of problem solving and critical thinking skills that will prepare them for the future,” a nomination reads. Her company was named the GrowFL Florida Company to Watch in 2017.
The entrepreneur began her career as a CNN en Espanol reporter in Asia and then transitioned to the telecommunications industry before launching her franchise. According to Forestieri, “I was able to combine all my previous experiences and bring together a team to provide a solution to prepare children for the careers of the future and promote an innovative mindset at an early age.”
“I am passionate about innovation. It brings me fulfillment and deep satisfaction to solve problems and come up with new solutions. I thrive in an environment of trust, collaboration and kindness,” she says.
Kari Conley, Catherine Steck McManus, Lashea Reaves.
Kari Conley | Director of Community Relations | Orlando Health
Part of Conley’s job involves encouraging volunteerism, a role for which she is well-suited as one who serves extensively to help promote the development of young people while raising her own teenagers.
Through the Valencia Promise–Take Stock in Children program, Conley mentored a young woman from seventh grade through her senior year of college. She has served as vice chair of the Early Learning Coalition board of directors and has twice co-chaired their First Five Years Gala. She is also a co-chair of the Heart of Florida United Way Women’s United initiative, which advocates for early education and literacy.
“Kari’s continual support of our community shined bright as she worked diligently to arrange charitable giving in response to the community’s
desire to help after the Pulse tragedy,” a nomination states.
“Working for Orlando Health, which has a mission to serve the community and its patients, is very fulfilling and motivates me to serve others,’’ Conley says. “Giving back and servant leadership have been instilled in me since I was a child. It is an honor to work for an organization that is committed to giving back as well.”
Catherine Steck McManus | President and CEO | Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando
Many Central Floridians can call themselves proud homeowners thanks in part to McManus’ efforts, which have resulted in the construction of affordable housing in the Butler’s Preserve community and in much-needed repairs for other disadvantaged residents.
Nominated for her “unwavering community leadership and stalwart position to champion those in need,” McManus stepped into her role in 2015 and joined the City of Orlando’s Affordable Housing Task Force in 2016. She also serves on the Orange County League of Women Voters’ Affordable Housing & Quality of Life Committee, which advocates for fully funded housing.
With the completion of the Butler’s Preserve community in Orlando, McManus’ organization has broken ground on Arbor Bend in South Apopka and is planning construction of a third affordable-housing community.
“Professionally, I am motivated by the challenges that I face every day, the families I get to know and see grow throughout their home-buying process, and my colleagues, who make me laugh and keep me going,” McManus says. “My personal motivation is watching my daughter flourish as an active member of society, willing to speak up and out to support the causes she is passionate about.”
Lashea C. Reaves | Founder and Executive Director | 8 Cents in a Jar
Reaves is a chain-breaker, one who helps others break generational cycles of poverty and poor financial management, earning her the distinction of being a “compelling voice for the voiceless, an effective hope of the hopeless.”
In 2016, Reaves created 8 Cents in a Jar, a nonprofit devoted to teaching financial education to underserved students. Students receive in-home counseling on wealth-building techniques. Since its inception, the organization has helped 875 students in Central and South Florida.
“Since relocating to Orlando in 2008, she started her mission to make this city her home and effect change,” a nomination reads.
“I’ve witnessed firsthand the power and prosperity of people,” Reaves says. “At 14 years of age, my mother passed away unexpectedly, followed by my father [when I was] 21, In both instances, countless individuals through their respective organizations gave their time, talent and treasure. When I became the legal guardian of my younger sister, I continued to receive love and support from my community. As a thank you, I have no choice but to pay it forward as I passionately believe I was saved to serve others.”
Elisha González Bonnewitz, Kay Rawlins, Teresa Tachon.
Elisha González Bonnewitz | Government and Community Relations | Educator/Public Affairs Executive
Someone reviewing Bonnewitz’s list of achievements and accolades would walk away with one word: tireless.
A former educator, Bonnewitz advocated for disadvantaged youth. She has served on a lengthy list of philanthropic, cultural and civic boards in addition to her recent gubernatorial reappointment to the Career Source Florida State Board – all while managing what is described as her “big job” as a government affairs and community relations professional.
In addition to all that, “she is on the board of the Holocaust Center of Florida and works diligently toward sharing the mission to stop hate, and bring together individuals to have difficult conversations,” a nomination for Bonnewitz reads.
“During my tenure at Valencia College, I had the opportunity to successfully build from scratch the Valencia Promise–Take Stock in Children program,’’ Bonnewitz says. “The program was committed to providing scholarships, mentors and hope to economically disadvantaged youth.” Through it, she raised scholarship dollars, recruited mentors and had an impact on the lives of many students.
Kay Rawlins | President | Orlando City Foundation
Rawlins’ day job is vice president of community relations for Orlando City Soccer Club and the Orlando Pride, but her role in the organizations’ philanthropic offshoot is helping to restore the city’s underprivileged communities.
“She puts so much energy into our community, and her Orlando City Foundation is turning once neglected areas into neighborhoods of hope,” a nomination reads. The organization provides free soccer programs and safe places to play, in addition to building community gardens in urban food deserts.
Rawlins keeps her feet firmly planted in the community she serves. In addition to her role with the foundation, she serves on the Community Leadership Council for Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families. She also is a board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, Cannonball Kids’ Cancer Foundation, Central Florida Foundation and the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.
“I love Orlando, and I want to make it the best city in the U.S. to live, work and play. There is a lot of disparity and need in our community but also a lot of compassion and a willingness to collaborate to solve issues. I love being involved!” Rawlins says. ν
Teresa Tachon | Math Teacher | Boone High School
Named her school’s Teacher of the Year in 2003 and 2015 and Orange County’s Mathematics Teacher of the Year in 2005, the Advanced Placement calculus teacher is known for her dedication to her students and recently garnered the College Board’s Jenny Oren Krugman Service Award.
Tachon has been teaching for 31 years and is in her 27th year of teaching AP calculus. At Boone, Tachon sponsors two math clubs. She also supports other AP calculus teachers through her work as a districtwide professional learning community leader. In addition, she serves as an adjunct math professor at Valencia College.
“Teaching provides an opportunity to inspire students academically and personally, touch their lives, and develop a lifelong bond/connection with them,’’ Tachon says. “Teaching provides an opportunity for me to grow professionally and personally too. I’m continuously learning new strategies and ideas, as well as improving communication with my students and community.”
“I thank God every day for blessing me with such an incredible family. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to them for giving me the motivation and inspiration to work hard and succeed in my lifelong career as an educator.”
Standing (L to R): Christina Tineo, Lambrine Macejewski, Jenna Dail. Seated (L to R): Brenda March, Heather Wilkie.
Christina Tineo | Vice President of People & Culture | Feeding Children Everywhere
Nominated for being “all things humans should be,” Tineo is credited with the nonprofit’s $30 million Orlando Cares Project, which brought together 54,000 volunteers who packaged 4.4 million meals for Puerto Ricans in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
“Christina’s long-term commitment to building an organization and community to address poverty was instrumental in this time of national disaster,” one nomination reads. “Christina is pure gold,” another shares.
Tineo grew up volunteering at nursing homes, soup kitchens and homeless shelters. “Community service and humanitarian aid have always been foundations in my life. This has always been my normal,” she says. She has served on humanitarian missions in Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Zambia and Nicaragua.
She began building and equipping the organization’s team six years ago, when it was a startup whose crew fit around one fold-out table in the back of a small warehouse. “Fast forward, and FCE has now distributed over 95 million meals to hungry people, mobilized over 600,000 volunteers, partners with incredible companies like Chick-fil-A, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Google and JetBlue, and currently has three locations – Orlando, Dallas and Salt Lake City,” she says.
Lambrine Macejewski | Cofounder | Cocina 214
Macejewski is credited with being “a valued entrepreneur and active community member, dedicated to both the economic and social growth of Central Florida” who brings leadership and job growth to the table.
The Texas native’s Winter Park restaurant has won 35 dining awards and recently opened a second location in Daytona Beach. “Macejewski took on the challenge of not only opening a new restaurant location but building it from the ground up,” a nomination reads.
In Winter Park, the restaurateur advocated for a streetscape on Welbourne Avenue and also spearheaded an ordinance banning fast-food restaurants on Park Avenue.
“I have always been a take-action, results-driven kind of person. When it comes to inciting change within the community, I don’t just talk about it; I do it, regardless of how long it takes me to finish the project,’’ Macejewski says. “Ultimately, I would have to say the satisfaction of seeing a successful project through – whether it be developing a new ordinance or opening a new restaurant – is what drives me in my community and professional leadership roles. Knowing that these initiatives are helping other people also gives me the passion to consistently seek out new, impactful projects to complete.”
Jenna Dail | Founder and Executive Director | The Color Blue and Hope
Dail’s nonprofit began as a blog through which she shared her journey of losing twin boys at 22 weeks of her pregnancy. In February 2017, she began sending gift boxes to pregnant moms on bed rest and to those who have lost newborns as a way to “spread God’s hope, love and joy, as well as His strength in the middle of each storm,” she says.
The organization fills Boxes of Hope with donated items—toiletries, notebooks, note cards and devotionals—designed to encourage pregnant moms on bed rest at hospitals around the country. Boxes of Love are customized to offer support to moms at their specific stages of grief.
“Since February 2017, we have been able to send 450 Boxes of Hope to mothers on bed rest at Florida Hospital, Winnie Palmer and all over the United States,” Dail says. “We have also been able to send 39 Boxes of Love to grieving mothers.” Her goal is to provide 600 boxes to moms on bed rest each year.
“Bed rest and infant loss can feel very isolating and lonely. But hope keeps you going, creates a path within that fog, brings you healing and gives you purpose,” she says.
Brenda March | Children and Education Manager | Parramore Kidz Zone
March’s 30 years of experience has given her a national presence in children’s advocacy as she provides leadership for community leaders, nonprofits and faith-based organizations, in addition to developing a host of programs for the city.
“It’s in my DNA,” says March, who grew up as the sixth of nine children in the Lake Mann Homes neighborhood. She says she understands the challenges of youth who get caught up in the “survival of the fittest” subculture in inner-city communities.
Parramore Kidz Zone received America’s Promise Alliance’s Powell Legacy Award and the state of Florida’s first Children’s Initiative, which helps provide support, education and job opportunities, health care and housing for underprivileged families.
She is also credited with her leadership in First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move! Cities, Counties, and Towns” and President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Orlando in addition to serving on several task forces, committees and community relations initiatives designed to inform and engage Orlando citizens in municipal government.
Heather Wilkie | Executive Director | Zebra Coalition
A former chief executive officer of Harbor House, Wilkie uses her 15 years of experience working for nonprofits and her master’s degree in mental health counseling from Rollins College to provide support to LGBTQ youth.
Wilkie “goes above and beyond to keep LGBTQ youth recognized and safe, and [she] provides a space where they can be themselves. If you meet her you feel her passion for these kids; she fights the fight every day, giving LGBTQ youth hope and inspiration,” a nomination reads.
After the Pulse shooting, Wilkie says, “the Zebra Coalition evolved as a leading organization in the community’s provision of services to victims and their families.” She continues to lead these efforts “to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth in Central Florida have a safe space to turn.”
The organization serves young people ages 13 to 24, including those experiencing homelessness. It also provides case management and counseling services.
“What motivates me is the power of social change. Witnessing communities shift in ways that help our young people thrive is one of the most important things we can do to ensure a healthy future for all,” Wilkie says.
Michelle Chira Carlton, Lara Lee, Laura Eidson Cosgrove.
Michelle Chira Carlton, Laura Eidson Cosgrove, Lara Lee | Cofounders | Foundation for Foster Children
Carlton remembers the moment her interest in providing support and advocacy for foster children began—as she observed her mom’s work at Devereux Florida, where she saw a boy lamenting that his mom hadn’t shown up for visitation.
“Gathered around a conference room table in College Park, Michelle Carlton, Laura Cosgrove and Lara Lee discussed ways they could pool their talents and community know-how to best meet the needs of local foster children. After two years of research, the Foundation for Foster Children (FFC) was formed,” a nomination reads. “FFC’s mission is to enhance the lives of children in foster care through support and advocacy to create opportunities for a brighter future.”
FFC’s goal is to help children grow into independent, contributing members of society. In the past 10 years, the nonprofit has given support to more than 5,000 children, coordinated 1,300 summer camps and provided 56,000 hours of tutoring.
“Our grassroots support provides important opportunities for which there is limited government funding for kids in care,” the trio shares. “FFC is changing the lives of local foster children and providing them hope for a better future.”