Orlando’s Women Of The Year 2020
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 22 individuals 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.
Dr. Lisgelia Santana
Pediatric Anesthesiologist and Director of Pediatric Pain | Nemours Children’s Hospital
When most people think of patients who undergo treatment for pain, they think of adults, particularly those who have suffered injuries or have debilitating conditions. As founder of Florida’s only pediatric pain program, Santana’s attention is fixed on children.
“I want to create consciousness that there is a lot of suffering—physically, mentally and emotionally—in our kids and adolescents,” she says. “Most of the time it is created or intensified by biopsychosocial reasons. We need to pay attention to the kids now because they are the future.”
Santana has led multiple mission trips to Africa and Latin America, focusing largely on helping kids with cleft palates. She also served on a medical team after Hurricane Irma devastated her native Puerto Rico. At home, she mentors students at the University of Central Florida.
“Dr. Santana is an amazing woman not only personally and professionally but also in community and international service,” her nomination reads.
Compassion is key to her approach in helping children and their families. As she has said, “What I want parents to know is I’m here for them, to listen to parents and the child.”
Commissioner Patty Sheehan
Commissioner | City of Orlando
Sheehan’s civic service has been marked by two milestones: She is Orlando’s longest-serving commissioner and Central Florida’s first openly gay elected official. But perhaps she is most known for her ubiquitous community presence, whether in person or through her “Bad Kitty” art.
“Commissioner Sheehan works tirelessly for the constituents in her district,’’ her nomination reads. “She attends as many neighborhood association meetings as physically possible each and every month. She helps support and encourage all of the Main Street districts. And she paints her ‘Bad Kitty’ mural on garbage dumpsters, traffic signal boxes and storm drains.”
In 2002, Sheehan launched Wheels for Kids, which gives bikes to underprivileged kids. She also leads an annual backpack and school supply drive and provides Thanksgiving meals to families in need. In addition,
the former University of Central Florida art school graduate donates her paintings to
Her advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community has proved pivotal. One of her greatest moments, she says, was “seeing over 50 LGBTQ couples get married on the steps of Orlando City Hall in January 2015. I never thought I would see all the activism and work pay off for equality in my lifetime.”
President and CEO | Harvey and Carol Massey Foundation
The nonprofit headed by Massey-Farrell, the daughter of Massey Services founders Harvey and Carol Massey, awarded more than $5 million in charitable contributions and another $90,000 in in-kind services in 2019 alone—a reflection of the pest control company’s community commitment.
“One of our company’s guiding philosophies is ‘We believe in being a contributing member to our community and industry,’” Massey-Farrell says. “I’m honored to be able to carry out that mission on behalf of our team members.”
Philanthropy is part of both her corporate and family DNA. “Growing up, she saw her parents committed to giving back, and she knew she wanted to do the same thing,” her nomination reads.
The nonprofit head, who also is senior vice president of community relations at the family company, has received multiple awards for her civic involvement. She is president of the Orlando Shakes board and also serves on the boards of Nemours Children’s Health System of Florida, the Central Florida YMCA Family Center, Mead Botanical Garden and One Orlando Alliance.
“One of my father’s favorite proverbs always stands out to me: ‘A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.’ Ultimately, I want to plant trees for our future generations.”
Chairwoman and Owner | Demetree Global, Demetree Real Estate Services and Demetree Builders
As the owner of Central Florida’s oldest real estate company, Demetree juggles the demands of carrying on her father’s legacy in business while serving extensively in the community and in politics.
“Demetree is an active community leader, serving as trustee of Ave Maria University and on the Florida State University Seminole Boosters Board. She is chairwoman of the William C. Demetree, Jr. Foundation, gifting about $250,000 a year toward serving adults with learning disabilities, providing assistance to children and animals in need, as well as advocating rights of the unborn child,” her nomination reads.
The business mogul is working on two large mixed-use development projects: one near the University of Central Florida and another in Winter Park. Her company is also developing the Pegasus Hotel at UCF.
Despite her extensive civic and political involvement, which included appointments by former governors Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, the single mom says her greatest source of pride was “bringing another life into the world.”
“We are all gifted with talents. How we choose to use them for the greater good is up to us. I believe the more you use your talents for a purpose-driven life, the more talents you will be given.”
Lourdes M. Mola
Founder | Lourdes Mola Solutions
The daughter of Cuban refugees, Mola helps clients grow their businesses while serving in multiple capacities in the community and in a state-appointed position. Her goal: to make “Central Florida a community my children are proud to call home.”
Her nomination calls Mola “an unsung hero who is making a difference in our community…. She is always looking at ways to tie in a social program or something that will have a lasting impression on the community that she loves and has called home for the last two decades.”
In 2016, the Women’s Executive Council in Central Florida named Mola its Entrepreneur of the Year. She has served on the board of the Early Learning Coalition of Orange County under governors Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis.
Mola sees education as a “great equalizer.” She worked with California-based Great Minds in STEM to bring one of the nation’s largest STEM conferences to Orlando for two consecutive years. The conference benefits underserved students as well as the community at large.
When the Great Minds in STEM conference returns to Orlando this year, Mola says, it will generate an estimated economic impact of $7 million in hotel rooms, food and beverage, theme park tickets and more.
Deputy Director | Orange County Convention Center
During her nearly 20-year tenure with the operation, Osuba has helped the convention center achieve its rank as the nation’s second largest, generating more than $3 billion in economic impact annually and on the brink of a $605 million expansion.
“She strives to make her team and her colleagues better, and she excels in every aspect of her work and family life, fostering professional excellence by developing and empowering those in her life,” Osuba’s nomination says.
The wife and mother also volunteers with LANES, a nonprofit mentoring organization for teenage girls. In addition, she supports the Laurita Spina Bifida Project and United Way, and she serves on the board of directors for two industry organizations.
“Because of our clients, the OCCC generated almost $3 billion in economic impact to Central Florida last year,’’ Osuba says. “Together, we support 1,200 businesses and about 30,000 jobs in the Central Florida region.”
The convention center leader says she hopes her commitment “to initiate change and create a gratifying, rewarding and nurturing work environment inspires my OCCC team and others in the hospitality, meetings and conventions industry in Orlando and beyond.”
CEO | Harbor House of Central Florida
Describing herself as a “businesswoman who wants to make a difference in the nonprofit sector,” Sperzel works to provide life-changing services as an advocate for domestic abuse victims.
After taking on the role in January 2017, she recognized the pattern of abused youth later returning to the Harbor House domestic violence shelter as abused adults. “She realized in order to stem the cycle of abuse, it must start with the youth,” her nomination reads. Sperzel received a grant to bring Camp HOPE America—a year-round camp and mentoring program for young victims of domestic abuse—to Florida. She also launched a trauma support group within the shelter and an intervention program in juvenile court.
“For survivors, she started an injunction-for-protection attorney program, which has achieved unprecedented results; opened an extended-stay shelter; created trauma support groups; and started a yoga program in the shelter, among other survivor support activities,” her nomination continues.
Sperzel says she is “exactly where I need to be” in her role at Harbor House. “I am motivated by the courage and the perseverance of the survivors we work with.” Her hope is “to leave the world better than I found it by inspiring people to find and walk with their purpose.”
CEO and Creative Director | Imperfect Creations
“Don’t diss my ability,” the entrepreneur is known to say—and for good reason: The 19-year-old with Down syndrome makes and donates quilts for newborns diagnosed with the same congenital disorder, in addition to making pillowcases for kids with cancer.
A Valencia College student studying American Sign Language, Duncan started sewing at 13. Her business has grown to the point that she now employs a staff.
“She is changing the world’s perception of individuals with disabilities,” her nomination reads. “She has brought hope and inspiration to those parents who received the baby blanket. They see what their babies can do in the future.”
Duncan says, “It matters to me that parents receiving these baby blankets understand their baby will succeed and that children with cancer will smile and have comfort from my pillowcases.”
In 2019, the Women’s Executive Council named Duncan a Rising Star honoree. She also won the Youth in Philanthropy Award and the Jennie Bronstein Citizenship Award.
“I want to have people look back on my life and see that even if you have a disability, you can succeed,” Duncan says. “I want to impact not only individuals with disabilities of any kind but those who do not have a disability as well.”
News Anchor | Spectrum News 13
Fields has won numerous awards in a journalism career that has also seen her interview celebrities ranging from former First Lady Laura Bush to the late civil rights leader Coretta Scott King. “But perhaps it’s her current ‘A+ Teacher’ segment, in which she focuses weekly on a Central Florida educator, that is having the greatest impact,” her nomination shares.
The daughter of teachers, Fields “recognizes the importance of these professionals who make it their mission to inspire students through creativity and caring,” it continues. “The reports themselves are inspiring, with nominations coming from students, fellow teachers, and members of the community. Tammie Fields is providing well-deserved recognition to these individuals who are true local heroes.”
The journalist hosted a luncheon for the top A+ Teachers featured in 2019. Then the A+ Teacher of the Year was announced. “It was such an emotional event for everyone there because current students, past students, parents and teachers surprised the teacher by sharing their fondest memories of her,” she recalls.
Fields says her love for journalism compels her to share people’s stories. Her coverage of the 2004 hurricanes earned her an individual achievement award from the Associated Press. “I enjoy learning something new every day, and I challenge myself to go the extra mile to serve our viewers.”
College and Career Counselor | Osceola County School for the Arts
A 2019 Teacher of the Year for her school and a current finalist for top teacher in her county, Gill bases her success upon the success of her students as she prepares them for college and beyond.
“I have never met an educator who was more devoted to the kids and ensuring that each and every one has higher education in their grasp,” her nomination reads. “She personally makes sure that each of them knows their value and feels loved and respected. She takes time for each of them and makes their problem hers while teaching them to work through it.”
Gill helped implement a plan to give students 30 minutes of SAT practice each week. “As a result, our seniors earned scholarships and college acceptances into top-tier universities such as Yale University,’’ says Gill, who is in her 22nd year as a counselor for Osceola schools. “We have maintained college acceptance rates at 90 percent or above and have confirmed scholarships offers averaging $7 million yearly.”
A first-generation college student herself, Gill says she hopes to help students “remove as many barriers as possible in order to pursue their goals” beyond high school in hopes of developing future leaders.
Joanna M. Foard, JD, LL.M.
Attorney | Weiss, Grunor, Barclay & Barnett
From childhood, Foard knew she wanted to spend her life helping people—to become a “voice for those who needed it” and “someone who could always be counted on in a person’s time of need.” One of her clients says she has achieved those goals.
“She is a kind, compassionate, caring attorney,’’ the nomination for Foard reads. “She helped me with my divorce case, and I wouldn’t have made it through that time without her. She cares for her clients, her family and her community, and I am so lucky to call her my friend.’’
Foard says she has found her true calling. “Your reputation is everything, and I take that very seriously. I always do my best to give my best work and provide my honest opinion. People often joke that I am a moral compass, and that brings me so much joy,” she says.
Named a Florida Trend Legal Elite Up & Comer in 2018 and a Florida Trend Legal Elite Rising Star in 2020, Foard is also active in the community. She is a board member of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Florida and serves on the advisory board of the Orange County Teen Court.
Founder and Executive Director | GROW Central Florida
What began as an observation—other Seminole County schools had cross-country programs, but her children’s school did not—grew into Gonzalez’s determination to ensure teachers and students have access to the resources they need to promote healthy lifestyles.
“She and her nonprofit, GROW Central Florida, support countless school-run clubs and facilitate Seminole County elementary cross-country meets,’’ her nomination reads. “They rejuvenate playgrounds, pair students in need with new running shoes, and give recess toys to schools that otherwise would not have any.”
Gonzalez has received multiple accolades for her community service, which includes establishing a “Friday Fun Run” and “Walk & Roll” programs for schools.
“What motivates me is the children,” she says. “In today’s world, things have become extremely and often unnecessarily complicated. Why should our teachers—especially at low-resource schools—have to continue to carry the burden of additional work and cost out of their pockets?”
Gonzalez is encouraged by the support of her volunteers and the community. “I want GROW to be here for generations to come. I want this nonprofit to be a beacon of support for young families, teachers and staff who want to make sure all children have increased access to physical activity and healthy living.”
Betsy Gardner Eckbert
President and CEO | Winter Park Chamber of Commerce
When Eckbert took the helm in 2017, “we knew she would move us forward in ways we hadn’t imagined,” her nomination reads. A year later, the chamber won the grand prize in the Chamber Innovation Awards, beating out nearly 200 North American entrants.
“Betsy is an innovator who recognizes that chambers must face their relevancy gap and deliberately shrink it. She has modernized the Winter Park Chamber to everyone’s benefit and increased revenue by double digits,” the nomination continues.
A winner of multiple awards, the mother of two is “very proud that I have consistently been the kind of attentive, present mom I wanted to be while achieving my business goals.” She took 13 years off work to raise her children, inspiring her to create the Relaunch: Career Reentry for Professional Women program. She says the initiative “helps transition stay-at-home moms back to the workplace.”
Eckbert wants to be remembered as someone who “empowered people along my journey,” she says, instead of “the kind of leader who reached her pinnacle and then pulled up the drawbridge, excluding others. Let’s build a big tent of opportunity and let a whole lot of people in. In fact, let’s be sure we fill it.”
Dr. Laine Powell
Founder and Executive Director | Tech Sassy Girlz
“Representation matters,” Powell asserts, as she works to eliminate the gender and diversity gap in STEM-related fields. Her efforts have reached 1,000 middle school and high school girls since her organization’s inception in 2012.
“Dr. Powell is a powerful force in the Central Florida community,” her nomination reads. “She works to inspire others by dedicating her life to the programs and outreach efforts that provide the opportunity for girls to see women in real careers, as well as to benefit from interaction and mentoring support.” The group, called TSG, has awarded scholarships totaling more than $30,000.
Powell has established collaborative partnerships with businesses and educators. Her group’s latest initiative is a “workforce development program that prepares girls in 10th to 12th grades for STEM internship opportunities,” she says.
TSG’s annual Tech Sassy Girlz Day Conference grew from 40 participants in 2012 to 500 in 2019. Students participate in coding and engineering challenges, in addition to meeting prominent women in STEM fields.
“I want my legacy to be that I never gave up advocating for and inspiring girls and women in STEM,’’ Powell says. “In the words of Mrs. Michelle Obama, ‘If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s the power of using your voice.’ ’’
Entrepreneur and Philanthropist | Team Staffing Services, Beth’s Burger Bar, and Shades Hopes & Dreams
Many people would be satisfied to launch one company. Steele has launched two, in addition to a charity inspired by her late mother’s battle with cancer. Her nomination describes her as “in a league of her own.”
Steele launched Team Staffing Services in 1995 and Beth’s Burgers—now with three Central Florida locations—in 2013. Her charity provides flowers and headscarves to cancer patients.
“She is no stranger to hard work and is definitely not afraid of it,” her nomination reads. “I have witnessed and greatly benefited from her creative problem-solving skills, tireless work ethic, and her empathetic soul. [She] is constantly thinking of her friends, family and employees before thinking of herself.”
Steele says she perseveres in hopes of making a difference in people’s lives. “I want my friends and family to always remember how special they are to me. I am ambitious, I work hard, and I am passionate about my success. However, I also understand how precious life is and the importance of family and friendships. Living my best life while dedicating myself to growing my businesses is a delicate balance, but it can be done. I hope I will have a positive impact on generations to come.”
Kirsten Shay Evans
Owner and Lead Instructor | MOMLETA
Described in one nomination as a “superwoman,” Evans launched her award-winning franchise in 2014 to create what the mother of two calls a “community of support and excellence” for all stages of motherhood.
Six years later, MOMLETA (formerly Baby Boot Camp) offers fitness classes and programs in Lake Mary, Orlando, Casselberry and Winter Park. Its reach extends into other sectors of Central Florida society through its support of such organizations as the Howard Phillips Center for Children & Families and the Cascade Heights Eagle Senior Living center.
“I’m blown away by all the community events they host and the care that is shown,” one nomination reads. “I feel as if she is the glue in our community of moms, and I’m so grateful to know her,” shares another.
Evans says she hopes to “empower women to know that we are more than what society tells us at times, and that we can accomplish whatever we set our mind to—whether we are working 40 hours a week while finding time to handle the loving and nurturing responsibilities of being a mother, or if we are a stay-at-home mom looking to find additional purpose in our day-to-day activities.”
Community Relations and Events Manager | 26Health
In her job at the all-inclusive healthcare center and in her role as a winner of multiple pageants, Acuff “works tirelessly” to serve the LGBTQ+ community, her nomination states.
“She has continuously dedicated herself to causes and always goes above and beyond to help not only patients but allies too,’’ it adds. “Brittani also works with the pageant circuit, not only competing but also volunteering to mentor and organize these events.”
Acuff has planned the Family Pride event and served as chair of the Opening Reception Committee for the United States Conference on AIDS in 2018. She has also advocated for the LGBTQ+ community as a member of the OnePULSE Foundation’s memorial task force, as Miss Southern States Galaxy, and as Miss Orange County USA and Miss Orange County Galaxy.
At the opening reception of the Conference on AIDS, “I was able to talk about the HIV epidemic in Orlando and what strides we are making as a community,” Acuff says. The experience was “something I will not forget.”
She describes the LGBTQ+ community as “being authentic and true to who you are, which is how I try to live my life—to be true and authentic.”
Pamela Sissi Carroll, Ed.D.
Dean | UCF College of Community Innovation and Education
The founding dean of her college, Carroll was on the team “that worked tirelessly to create the UCF Downtown campus,” says her nomination, as part of her role to promote community success through education.
“Her effective leadership benefits all of us who live and work in Orlando by creating inclusive opportunities for all at a high-quality, public-access institution of higher education,” the nomination continues.
The new college was created, Carroll says, to consolidate academic departments such as law, criminal justice, education, counseling, health administration and public administration to address societal concerns. The college has 350 faculty members and 9,000 students.
Carroll credits her mentors and says she tries to pay it forward. She enjoys seeing students and colleagues she has mentored changing lives through their teaching, research and community service.
“I would like to be remembered as a person who held doors open for others as they walked through them and into the places where their lives would be better,” she says. “I want people to know that I have a deep faith in God and in life. I love my family, friends and critters fiercely, and I laugh—a lot.”
Entrepreneur and Mrs. Orlando America 2020
Nominated in part for her “beautiful soul,” the wife and mother of two uses her platform as a pageant winner to work against bullying in schools, which victimized her as a child in the 1980s.
“Her initiative to help children is an inspiration to me, and I know she is impacting the world,” one nomination reads. Seale hopes to launch a program for elementary schools nationwide.
“Bullying has become a major widespread epidemic in schools, and therefore, I am committed to promoting awareness and prevention against bullying and to ensure that our kids have a place of belonging, acceptance and respect for themselves,” she says. She has begun working with the nonprofit Puppets Against Bullying to spread her message through storytelling.
“She is an amazing example of determination and perseverance,” reads one nomination.
Seale also works to promote female entrepreneurship. She co-founded zipcoda.com, which helps people find on-demand service providers, and inkozi.com, a platform for lawyers. In addition, she has a skincare line called CelluSeale.
“My motivation is to adhere to the challenges we have in the competitive business world of today and to find solutions to the issues on hand as a female entrepreneur,” she says.
Founder | Excelling Exceptional Needs Through Soccer (XL.ENT)
A former Division 1 soccer star who came from England on a soccer scholarship, the coach launched a mission to help autistic kids in 2015 after she observed a child who sat alone on the sidelines.
“He has autism,” his mom whispered. So Bowman started a league just for kids like him.
“Fast forward, and now there’s a waiting list to get on the team. Coach Grace has also brought in UCF students to be helpers on the teams so they can earn credit at school,’’ her nomination reads. “Her autism team has made it in 2019 to Special Olympics and was
best in the region. Bowman has since launched a team for kids with Down syndrome.”
“One of my biggest values is good sportsmanship. Teaching children with autism how to show this can be tough at times as they can struggle to express emotions,” she says. When one of her players ran the length of the field and scored a goal in the Special Olympics, “he remembered the importance of good sportsmanship and ran to every single player on the other team to give them a high five.”
“These children have taught me so much over the years,” Bowman says.
Dr. Laura Bradley Pratesi
Doctor of Audiology and Owner | Citrus Hearing Clinic
Once a “hard-of-hearing child who slipped through the cracks of the system many times,” Pratesi says she now works “to close the care gaps that exist and to make audiology more affordable and accessible to those who need hearing and balance health care.”
Her nominations cite the difference her young practice is already making in the Clermont area. “She hasn’t let her own disability hold her back,” one reads. “She’s an inspiration to others that with a little hard work and elbow grease, you can overcome anything and make a difference right where you are.”
Another nomination cites her “unique empathy” for her patients, ranging in age from two days to 105 years. It also credits her community involvement as an actor, singer and director with Moonlight Players Theater and as an active member of the First United Methodist Church, where she sings in the choir.
“Whether she is playing Cinderella in a Moonlight Players production or Dr. Laura at Citrus Hearing Clinic, you are sure to appreciate her passion and skill,” the nomination continues.
Pratesi says she hopes to be remembered for love: “I love my God, I love who I am, I love my work, and I love my patients.”
Chief Curator | Orange County Regional History Center
An advocate of representing “all the voices of the community within our walls,” Schwartz has helped the history center earn five national awards over the past three years. At the same time, her nomination notes, she has diversified its collection “to be much more inclusive and reflective of our entire community’s experience.”
That is her personal mantra as well. Schwartz moved to the Orlando area shortly before the Pulse massacre, prompting her involvement in the onePULSE Foundation and leading her to volunteer in other communities affected by similar tragedies.
“Our community found the way through our darkest hours together, and not every city has that built-in support,” she says. “We have gained a terrible knowledge and experience, and we must pay it forward to others facing similar horrific circumstances. I am also spearheading an effort with museum or similar professionals across the world toward creating an online resource for collecting and preserving memory after tragedy.”
Schwartz’s five-year plan for the museum focuses on bilingual exhibitions and varied learning formats to reach people with different needs. She hopes to “help every person recognize the power their own story holds and to know that an understanding of the past can help them to positively impact the future.”