Orlando’s 2022 Women Of The Year
They are educators, mentors, counselors, physicians, fundraisers, entrepreneurs, and individuals who stand up for others. But most of all they are leaders who help keep our community strong. Orlando magazine is proud to honor the 24 individuals featured on the following 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.
CEO | Inspired Insurance Solutions LLC
Jessi Park has received local and national acclaim for the success of her independent insurance brokerage firm, described as one of the fastest-growing companies of its kind in the nation despite being launched just four years ago.
Park’s firm, which specializes in healthcare and life insurance, was named among Orlando Business Journal’s Top 25 Women-Owned Companies in Orlando for 2021. She also has been featured in Forbes magazine and Bloomberg News, and she is the author of the recently released Soul Beneficiary: The Good, Better, Best Guide to Success in Selling Insurance.
A single mother, Park helps needy youth while also serving single moms in her firm. “I am a testament that with determination and true grit, you can become a success. I want to be an example that it is possible for young mothers who have experienced challenges in life to realize their dreams, make something of themselves and build familial wealth,” Park says.
Keshini Parbhu, MD
Oculofacial Plastic Surgeon | Remagin
Her twin desires to improve people’s lives and inspire women are at the very heart of Dr. Keshini Parbhu’s efforts as she serves her patients and mentors medical students at the University of Central Florida.
Parbhu performs both reconstructive and aesthetic work and has launched her own skin care line along the way. “I enjoy what I do most because I help patients boost their confidence,” she says. “Making such a difference in people’s lives has been so rewarding, and I feel so lucky to be doing something that I truly enjoy.”
As one of a handful of local experts in her specialty, Parbhu says she strives to “perform the best I can for my patients and to serve as a role model for women [who] want to pursue medicine and specifically surgical specialties. I want to show them that it is possible to have a career and a family.”
Her greatest moment, she acknowledges, “has been having my children. I hope I can serve as a good role model for them.”
Ph.D., MBA candidate | CEO | Accel Research Site Network
In 2021, right in the midst of the pandemic, scientist Lora Parahovnik took the helm at her clinical research company, where she launched more than 30 COVID-related trials and became an industry leader worldwide.
“Lora Parahovnik’s accomplishments in the past year don’t just have an impact on the Orlando community. They have an impact on the entire world,” her nomination boasts. Under her leadership, the company’s revenue has exploded and the business has tripled in size, the nomination continues.
“My experience in clinical research and executive management made me uniquely prepared to lead our company in the midst of the global pandemic,” shares Parahovnik, who describes herself as “one of only a handful of people worldwide with such unique expertise in both scientific research and senior executive management in the clinical research industry.”
Parahovnik’s passion is to improve the quality of life of people affected by diseases. Despite her heavy load, she serves as an adjunct professor at Valencia College, as a volunteer at an assisted living center and with a teen entrepreneurship program.
Executive Producer and Producer | “Let’s Talk About It: The Candid Conversations Show with Muriel and Ruby”
Most people wouldn’t introduce themselves to the world as mental health patients. But Ruby Mabry—along with her sister Muriel Bissianthe, a domestic violence survivor—dare to dive headfirst into taboo topics on their TV and online-based series.
On their show, the sisters also address mental health and domestic violence in addition to divorce, self-care, self-love, overall health and other topics. Diagnosed with four mental illnesses, Mabry is passionate about “raising more awareness and letting people know they are not alone and that there is help out there,” she says. Mabry also serves as president and CEO of the New Life Manor mental health center.
The show helped Mabry step out of her comfort zone by “creating space for healing, transparency and opening the doors of communication” regarding taboo topics. She encourages people to make peace with their past or “it will keep showing up in your present,” she warns.
“We only get one chance in this life; make sure you live it to the fullest and on purpose,” Mabry advises.
Assistant Director | Winter Park Library
Melissa Schneider remembers the little boy who excitedly shouted, “Mom, I love the new library!” when the new $30 million Winter Park Library opened its doors in December. The moment embodied her two greatest passions: people and education.
Libraries, she explains, are “educational hubs for their communities” where the potential of each person is recognized. “Much of my time over the last five years has been spent planning and designing spaces and services that connect people, guide learning, and transform lives,” Schneider says. “I am so excited to show our community what this new facility means for them. We truly have something for everyone.”
Her nomination credits the librarian with her involvement throughout the new library’s design process while overseeing a staff of 30. It credits Schneider with making the library a “place where staff love to work, and patrons of all ages love to visit… Melissa is moving the library into the new millennium for the City of Winter Park.”
Executive Producer | “Let’s Talk About It: The Candid Conversations Show with Muriel and Ruby”
When Muriel Bissainthe emerged from domestic violence, she wasn’t about to push her pain aside and pretend it never happened. Instead, her experience would become a springboard for helping others through difficult conversations.
Having awkward conversations has become a sister act, one Bissainthe does with sibling Ruby Mabry, a mental health patient and advocate, as they co-produce their TV and online show.
A first-generation Haitian American, Bissainthe wants others to know “that it is okay to move forward in your life and break generational curses, tearing down barriers and the stigmas to have open dialogue,” including with a counselor or therapist.
Bissainthe often speaks publicly about domestic violence awareness and divorce, receiving recognition for her work. Her motivation is knowing “that if I can help just one person, it was all well worth it.”
Her greatest moment so far, she says, is successfully launching a show with her sister despite having no education in broadcasting. “When God chooses you to do something, nothing can stop it from becoming.”
Communications Manager | Orange County Government
When Jane Watrel left a career as a TV reporter to work for Orange County in 2012, she probably didn’t imagine herself holding 166 televised press conferences over 20 months as she kept the public informed of developments during the coronavirus pandemic.
Watrel “not only made sure residents had the most up-to-date facts and figures, but she worked closely with experts to interpret what the data exactly meant for the citizens of Orange County,” her nomination shares. “Jane’s leadership ability, active project management and sharp intellect helped save lives during this deadly pandemic.”
According to Watrel, “our job is to make sure our residents are being served with the most up-to-date information that they need to make informed choices. That includes messaging in English and Spanish through social media, Orange TV and our Orange County Government website.”
In addition to her county role, Watrel actively serves in civic and nonprofit organizations. “I love connecting with people and being involved in the community,” she says. “Staying active is my oxygen!”
Founder and President | GenCare Resources Healthcare
In 2012, Olive Gaye left behind her human resources position with the Orlando Aviation Authority to fill what she saw as a critical void in home healthcare: “A human element was desperately needed amid the monetary focus,” she says. Six years later, the Jamaica native was named Healthcare Business Leader of the Year by i4 Business Magazine.
Gaye built her business, which cares for children as well as the elderly, upon “the core values of dignity and respect for all human beings” after witnessing the experiences of elderly friends on home healthcare.
“My ongoing goal and purpose is to advocate for and serve the medically fragile and vulnerable in the community,” she says. Her “most poignant moment was during an all-staff meeting when an employee boasted that the organization is the only company to treat her and her patient with respect.”
In her free time, Gaye serves the community in multiple roles and is passionate about supporting professional women “to ensure we are being successful in making a difference in the lives of others,” she says.
Executive Director and Development Director | Modern Widows Club
Carolyn Moor never dreamed her Valentine’s Day celebration with her husband 22 years ago would end in a car crash that would take his life. But she probably also didn’t dream that his death would give birth to a nonprofit that would serve widows worldwide.
“With two young daughters to raise alone, Carolyn struggled to find the mentors she needed to model the healing and growth she desperately sought,” her nomination shares. Moor founded the Modern Widows Club in her living room in 2011. The group provides mentorship, group support, education and resources.
After losing her husband, Moor was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Winfrey encouraged Moor “to find a way to make a difference with my story.” Moor says she has met the challenge by “leading a generation of widow advocates whose voices need to be heard today more than ever, as COVID-19 has been a widow-making machine.”
It’s about renewed hope. “When a widow has the community and connections she deserves, she has a bright, purposeful, empowered future,” Moor says.
Rev. Dr. Jennifer Stiles Williams
Lead Pastor | St. Luke’s United Methodist Church
When scores of Central Florida performers suddenly found themselves jobless as the pandemic throttled the economy, The Rev. Dr. Jenn Stiles Williams helped orchestrate food and financial relief while working to ensure equity, inclusion and justice.
“Her leadership has inspired so many and helped a wounded city and community begin to heal,” according to her nomination.
Williams has been on staff at the 3,500-member Orlando church since 2007 and took the helm in 2015 as its first female pastor. During the pandemic, she helped create Greater Orlando Performing Arts Relief, which provides financial support to the performing arts community.
Her passion is to “ensure St. Luke’s is an inclusive, welcoming environment of acceptance, hospitality and community for all people to know they are loved by God and a community of faith in order to cultivate a passion to go serve and lead with integrity, hope, love and justice through their work and volunteerism in our city,” she says.
Barbara Liz Ortiz Sanchez (Barbara Liz Cepeda)
Founder, Director and Choreographer | Escuela de Bomba y Plena Tata Cepeda
A multigenerational bomba dancer, Barbara Liz Ortiz Sanchez (Barbara Liz Cepeda) honors the legacy of her famous dancer mother, Tata Cepeda, while preserving “our Afro-Caribbean culture and educating our community through cultural management, education, and the transmission of our Puerto Rican values here in Florida,” according to one of her students.
Bomba dance originated among slaves brought to Puerto Rico from Africa. Sanchez (Cepeda) began dancing at age 4 and has performed nationally and internationally. She describes her dance school as “the first school in Central Florida dedicated to Puerto Rico’s Black music and dance traditions.” In addition to running her dance school, she serves as a bilingual teacher and media specialist with Osceola County schools.
“Every moment in life, for me, is one of true educational and personal growth. I have come to understand that every path I take brings me to learn more about myself, my strengths, and my capabilities to help others achieve their highest potential,” says Sanchez (Cepeda), who aspires to be “an exemplary model for others to follow.”
Tonya Cox Turrell
Founder and President | The Launchpad
It’s okay to think of Tonya Cox Turrell as a disrupter. That’s her plan. She’s out to disrupt the tech marketplace and create “the blueprints for a different kind of organization” that produces and celebrates success.
Her nomination describes Turrell as a “serial entrepreneur” who has launched a “$5 million-plus technology marketing company that is changing the way technology solution providers engage with technology decision makers across the USA.” The company has twice been named an Inc. 500 honoree and works with Fortune 500 technology companies including Tech Data, ranked as Florida’s second-largest private employer in 2021.
Turrell works to help people identify their purpose while achieving prosperity. “Seeing the extraordinary potential in people, calling the best of them forward to stretch and grow to become more than they thought possible is what motivates me,” she says. “I want to create a network of unstoppable leaders who have the financial freedom to direct resources and energy to the things that the world needs most.”
Special-Needs Teacher and Podcast Host | “What a Day Kids”
As a teacher for neurodivergent middle-schoolers, Melissa Winston works not only to educate kids but also to educate the public about how to help special-needs students thrive and find their rightful place in the world.
Winston recently was named Teacher of the Year at Greenwood Lakes Middle School in Lake Mary “because she gives 100 percent every day,” according to one nomination. “Her students are special and have many challenges. She treats each one like her own and shares their stories on her podcast, ‘What a Day Kids.’”
The teacher launched her podcast in 2021. “I am excited to have a platform that allows me to uplift the voices of my students and the neurodivergent community, as well as educate, inform, and provide resources to parents, teachers and members of the community,” she says.
Winston treasures her involvement in the lives of her students. She hopes others will follow her lead. “My wish is that because of my continued involvement with the neurodivergent community, people will include my students in their life activities.”
Creative Director | Good Salt Restaurant Group
Orlando is known as the City Beautiful, and part of the credit may go to Sue Chin. After nine years of designing theme park attractions locally and worldwide, she now creates aesthetically pleasing, welcoming environments where people gather over food.
Chin and her husband, Jason Chin, were semifinalists in the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Restaurateur category for 2022, a feat for which Chin credits their entire team. Their Good Salt restaurant group—responsible for creating several community events—includes Seito Sushi Baldwin Park, Reyes Mezcaleria, The Osprey and The Monroe.
“As an Orlando resident of almost 30 years, and seeing how much our city has grown, bringing people together to make meaningful connections and further helping to build the community helps keep me motivated with the realization that we have the ability to make a difference,” says Chin.
She says she also hopes to ensure her team enjoys a “good quality of life and that they are not torn between doing what they love for a living or choosing a lifestyle that is healthier.”
Andrea Lynn Piazza
Director of Virtual Programming | Discovery Behavioral Health
As a therapist, dance educator and entrepreneur, Andrea Lynn Piazza says she works to encourage “others to build their lives and careers around kindness, authenticity and creativity” as she promotes inclusivity in the United States and around the world.
Piazza also founded and owns Inclusive Impact Therapy, which ranked No. 1 in the mental health category of Orlando magazine’s Best of Orlando 2021 poll. Through her roles at Discovery Behavioral Health and Inclusive Impact Therapy, Piazza provides mental health care to underserved individuals and communities.
Described in her nomination as “incredibly successful, generous and, most important, kind,” Piazza also served as the artistic director of Chance 2 Dance Inc., which launched “an international dance program for 150 children with Down syndrome in Saudi Arabia,” according to her nomination. In addition, she is the author of the inclusive children’s book Peter Pan in Everland.
“I am motivated by the connections I have with my community, students, patients, peers and mentors to create a brighter, more-inclusive future,” Piazza says.
Attorney and Owner | Pinho Law
In 2006, Izi Pinho left her native Brazil and immigrated to the United States, where her first order of business was learning the language. Today her firm, which focuses on immigration and business law, helps other immigrants achieve the American dream.
“She’s amazing, and she inspires me,” reads one nomination, while another credits Pinho with dedicating her life to helping others. Pinho describes helping others as her driving force.
“Being an immigrant myself, I know how people can feel helpless when they don’t understand the system or speak the language. In this fragile moment, foreign citizens are at a very high risk of being victims of fraud or losing potential benefits for lack of information,” says Pinho, whose firm has served hundreds of clients. Pinho also volunteers to serve battered women.
The attorney says she hopes someday to “influence state and federal immigration reform to reflect the realities and needs of immigrants and foreign investors.”
Owner | KBF Design Gallery
When many business owners were scaling back at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ashley Sheaffer went full throttle, first by buying the business her father established, then by building a new showroom nearly twice the size of the old one and finally, by nearly doubling her staff.
“Overcoming those obstacles, and seeing the growth of our company and personnel out of this new space has been one of my greatest achievements to date,” says Sheaffer, who co-owns the Maitland residential remodeling company with her brother, Adam Vellequette.
Since changing hands, the firm has earned a 2021 Parade of Homes award and was voted No. 1 in multiple categories in Orlando magazine’s 2022 Home Design Awards.
Sheaffer, who says she has a “desire to help people,” raises funds for several local foundations in addition to supporting an Oviedo High School scholarship program for future designers.
“I pray to be an example for my girls [and] to embody what it means to be a leader with a servant heart,” she says.
Vice President of Corporate Engagement | Orlando Economic Partnership
Jo Newell has a vision: a thriving, prosperous community rich in opportunity for all its members, including women and minorities. She credits herself with “a small part” of the progress toward that goal through her career and community involvement.
“I learned many years ago that to truly be fulfilled you cannot merely exist in your community. You should find ways to give back,” says the California native, who joined the Orlando Economic Partnership in 2019.
So Newell does, having served as the first board chair for the nonprofit From Outside In, in addition to Orange County Government’s Minority and Women Business Enterprise Committee, United Arts of Central Florida, WholeLife Church, Tech Sassy Girlz and J4 Leaders. She also helped launch the partnership’s All Women Empowered program, a collaborative effort to “propel women forward,” she says.
“There is a quote I read that really resonates with me and one I strive to live by: ‘Success is not measured in the amount of dollars you make, but the number of lives you impact.’”
Chief Excitement Officer | Anything Is Posh Able
It’s not a stretch to call Paula Wyatt the life of the party because that’s part of her job. Wyatt’s image-building and event-planning service exists to build “excitement about brands, missions, and events in Central Florida,” while its nonprofit extension, Posh Abilities, provides free communication, fundraising and event services to other local charities.
Describing herself as “passionate about Orlando,” Wyatt launched her brand in 2008. She also serves the community as fashion curator for FusionFest, executive director of the Annual Cure Cup held at Isleworth Country Club and Lake Nona Golf & Country Club, and as the producer of the annual March2Cure event. In addition, she leads and performs in an annual all-female comedy show, “An Empowering Night of Laughter.”
The entrepreneur and philanthropist attributes some of her success to the lessons she has learned from failure. “It was these times when I failed at a thing, fully felt the fail, and then used the experience to build a stronger version of myself… and now I just see everything as an opportunity,” she says.
President and CEO | AMA Consulting Group
Each day, Stephanie Rosario-Smith works with organizations at multiple levels in the hopes of improving people’s lives, such as when her woman-owned business helped 40,000 families avoid eviction during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rosario-Smith “was proactive, saw the problems Americans would soon be facing and knew the rules and regulations to make sure they saw relief,” according to her nomination. Her company helped coordinate policy development and government compliance regulations, resulting in assistance to many.
The experience left her humbled and grateful. “Our advancement during the pandemic still astonishes me,” she shares. “We did not allow the pandemic to immobilize us. When doors were closing, we were opening them.”
The wife and mother says she hopes to be remembered for “creating paths of opportunity for not only my family but for other families as well,” whether through her business, her personal or professional charitable efforts, or her example. “I’ve had the chance to create pathways for others to thrive. Every time, it brings my heart joy.”
Founder and Owner | Orlando Cat Café
When lifelong cat lover Sandra Cagan turned 50, she decided to combine her affinity for felines with her 25 years of experience in property management and development to open Florida’s first cat café.
“I once heard a speaker say that when you turn 50, you stop thinking about what you are going to put on your resume, and you start thinking about what people are going to say at your eulogy,” Cagan explains. Opening the café in partnership with the SPCA Florida and Minch Coffee “seemed not only doable but something that I was uniquely qualified to do.”
According to her nomination, Cagan donates all profits to the SPCA. The café recently celebrated its 1,700th cat adoption and 100,000th guest. “There are some people, that when you meet them, you instinctively know that you want to be like them when you grow up,” the nomination reads. “For me, and many others who have had the privilege of meeting her, Sandra Cagan is that person.”
Freelance Performing Musician
An institution within the Orlando music scene, Nicole Equerme can be found onstage 200 nights a year as a solo act or as a member of one of three bands. In her free time, the singer, songwriter and instrumentalist mentors up-and-coming musicians.
“Nicole strives to be a leader in the musicianship she brings to each venue, raising the value and prestige of the local community,” her nomination reads.
As Equerme puts it, “My goal has always been to just see others fulfill their passion and collectively elevate local music in Central Florida.”
In 2019, the Mount Dora resident toured with the Celtic Angels, a year after taking the top spot in the Local Band or Singer category of Orlando magazine’s Best of Orlando contest. In 2017, Equerme performed a solo show at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
The musician treasures the moments “when I catch people truly enjoying and being immersed in music, whether that’s a child bopping along to a percussive tune, or someone telling me why a song I just performed moved them.”
Tara L. Tedrow
Attorney and Shareholder | Lowndes Law
Co-Executive Director | The Florida Debate Initiative
Tara L. Tedrow has won multiple national awards and accolades for her work as an attorney. But her winning streak began as a student with her four years as a competitive debater, experience that paved the way for her successful law career.
As the only debater to win three national Lincoln-Douglas Debate championships, Tedrow helped found and also leads the Florida Debate Initiative Inc., a nonprofit that helps students statewide participate in competitive speech and debate. Through her work, the attorney seeks to “equalize the educational playing field for students statewide by providing access to competitive speech and debate opportunities.”
In addition to her roles at the nonprofit and at Lowndes Law, Tedrow serves as an appointee to several state boards. She also teaches a course on marijuana law and policy—what she describes as the first of its kind, for which she wrote the curriculum—at the University of Florida.
“Tara is the hardest-working person I know in all facets of her life,” her nomination reads.
President | Biller Genie
Like revenue, respect is earned, and “Garima Shah has more than earned the respect of her peers in the fintech [financial technology] industry,” according to her nomination, with numerous mergers and acquisitions and honors under her belt.
“To say I’m passionate about fintech is an understatement. It’s the backbone of our society. It’s how money moves, and nothing moves without money,” the 18-year industry veteran says.
In 2021, “we secured our $3.5 million seed from some of the sharpest minds in fintech and signed two major national partnerships with PNC Bank and USAePay,” Shah says. In addition, Shah received Orlando Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 and CEO of the Year awards.
Under her leadership, the company’s revenue and employee headcount have skyrocketed, according to her nomination. “Whether it’s through my employee relationships or mentorship roles, I genuinely want people to feel empowered to live intentionally, purposefully and perpetuate the quality of life that they deserve.”
Despite her professional success, “absolutely nothing can top the moments I gave birth to my two daughters,” she says.