Orlando’s Women Of The Year 2021

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 23 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.

Cathy Henesey, Leticia M. Diaz, and Malika Harrison

Cathy Henesey

Executive Director of Talent Acquisition | AdventHealth

Henesey’s teams across nine states have won top national awards for talent management and recruitment. Their performance amid the COVID-19 crisis is indicative of the teams’ professionalism.

“In 2020, our incredible team hired over 22,000 healthcare workers who were committed to providing compassionate care through the COVID pandemic,” she says. In addition, “our team members were deployed to crisis call centers, where they rotated shifts on a 24/7 basis.”

The talent-recruitment professional chose her field so she could “help people achieve their life goals by offering them a position that aligns with their belief system, values, and dreams.”

Mission accomplished, according to her nomination. “This last year was a year for adversity and change. Her positive impact is felt by all team members.”

As for Henesey, she wants people to know “there is someone like me who cares for you and will do anything possible to help you.”

Leticia M. Diaz, J.D., Ph.D.

Dean and Professor of Law | Barry University Dwayne O. Andreas School of Law

With her 2007 appointment, Diaz became the nation’s first female Cuban American dean of a law school. She since has “relentlessly advocated for diversity, social justice, professionalism and service in the legal profession,” according to her nomination.

With a student body diversity rate of 50 percent, the school was recently named the sixth most diverse law school by preLaw Magazine. Diaz also serves the community through law clinics and assisting immigrants, juveniles and families facing bankruptcy, among other support.

“Barry has given me the opportunity to make a difference and impact the legal profession through our students and clinics,” she says. “I’ve also been able to give back on a larger scale than I ever imagined.”

For Diaz, it’s a family legacy. Her grandfather was a judge in Cuba, where her father was an attorney. Carrying on the tradition are her son and daughter, both of whom were sworn in as attorneys on the same day in what Diaz calls “my greatest personal moment.”

Malika Harrison

Director of Social | Responsibility Orlando Magic

Named among Orlando Business Journal’s “40 Under 40,” Harrison leads the basketball team’s civic engagement and philanthropic efforts, resulting in $150,000 in charitable contributions to local nonprofits.

“Last year, Orlando Magic employees volunteered 5,000 hours,” according to her nomination. Harrison also oversees the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation in addition to serving in a host of community service roles.

“Malika is a trailblazer in her own right. She demonstrates exemplary leadership, empowers women to break through barriers and is a role model to the girls she mentors. Her dedication to others is seen through mentorship, philanthropy and volunteering.”

A Jamaican American, Harrison sees herself as “a passionate advocate for the advancement of educational opportunities, equity and inclusion, youth and women’s empowerment.”

She adds: “Giving my time, talents and treasure to support people and nonprofit organizations allows me to collaborate with others, uplift our community and create change.”

Antonia Barron, Kelly L. Price, and Thali Sugisawa

Antonia Barron

Founder and President | New Source Corp.

The defense subcontracting industry may be a male-dominated field, but Barron has proved her family-owned company can thrive in the heated competition despite her humble beginnings in Nicaragua and, more recently, the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Barron founded her company in 1992 with just $15,000, achieving a record revenue of $18 million in 2020 despite the pandemic. “This is a woman who has let no adversity defeat her,” her nomination reads. “She is an inspiration to all who know her and helps numerous causes”—including supporting her Central American birthplace.

“Coming from the impoverished and war-torn country of Nicaragua, I hope to provide an example for any person that they can accomplish their dreams, no matter the barriers,” Barron says. “I specifically want to instill hope in women that they can do anything they set their mind to. Every woman can be a success, even in a male-dominated industry.”

Kelly L. Price

Broker and Owner | Kelly Price & Company

With more than 30 years of experience, Price—described in her nomination as “a household name in the Orlando real estate industry”—is often listed among Central Florida’s Top 50 Realtors and Orlando magazine’s Hot 100 real estate professionals.

“Kelly has long been in a class of her own, renowned among colleagues and clients alike for her integrity, loyalty and professionalism,” her nomination shares. “Despite the demands of her business, Kelly remains passionately dedicated to civic and philanthropic projects. She is a strong advocate of several charitable organizations and actively participates in nonprofit events around the year.”

Price supports the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, helps with toy drives at the Winter Park Community Center, and describes herself as an ambassador to Winter Park, her home since age 12. “Giving back to the community that I call home is a cornerstone of my performance as a Realtor and broker,” she says.

Thali Sugisawa

Business and Development Manager | FusionFest

Sugisawa says her life mission is to effect social change, leading her to work toward the world being a better place “by tearing down barriers of fear and division” as a mother and in her professional role advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

According to her nomination, “she has invested her life in the year-round program working to increase understanding of people of different heritages and celebrating our diversity.” Sugisawa also helped plan the COVID Safety Protocols for the 3rd edition of the in-person festival in 2020 using the Frontyard Festival’s setup before its official opening at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

She has also expanded FusionFest’s offerings to include regular virtual events while promoting dining at restaurants representing diversity.

“When Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings during Diverse Orange voiced how much he believes in FusionFest and our mission, it made me realize how important this work is for all sectors of the community—and nothing makes me feel better than being of benefit to my community,” Sugisawa says.

Carol Cox, Dr. Karen Perry, and Wendy Roundtree

Carol Cox

Founder and CEO | Speaking Your Brand

The entrepreneur, speaker and women’s advocate works to “amplify and champion diverse, progressive and purpose-driven women’s voices,” through coaching, events and podcasts, according to the company’s mission statement.

“Every time I listen to her podcasts I am armed with a paper and pen on hand so I can take notes and learn,” her nomination reads.

Cox’s organization has recently held virtual summits “that attracted over 500 attendees and brought together women from all across the country to go outside their comfort zone,” her nomination continues.

Cox says she finds encouragement in knowing “I’m building something that is much bigger than me . . . a movement that I would love to last far beyond me.”

The entrepreneur and political leader also serves as a Democratic political analyst for WESH, WKMG and Fox 35 news. In addition, she sits on the advisory boards for weVenture, New Leaders Council, and ATHENA’s Women in Community and Public Service.

Karen Perry, OD FAAO

Optometric Physician, Co-Owner and Co-Founder | Vision Health Institute

Called “an amazing optometrist” in her nomination, Perry recalls the difference she made in the life of one adolescent patient in what she calls “one of the most impactful turning points” of her career.

“Once vision correction was prescribed, I was able to follow-up with her over a few more years. Several years passed when she came into my office as a young, accomplished professional and thanked me. She explained how the glasses made the significant difference in her life and gave her the ability and confidence to succeed.” Perry then “realized the true impact of my work.”

Perry has chaired fundraisers for several nonprofits that benefit those with vision impairments. She has also served on the Board of Governors for Prevent Blindness Florida and finds inspiration in her parents, “whose benevolence, strength and compassion … I will always admire and treasure.” From them, she says she has “ inherited a resilient passion for building bridges of hope and vision.

Wendy J. Roundtree, APR

Founder and Chief Storyteller | Jarel Communications

Words are important to Roundtree, who says her mentors encouraged her “while pushing me beyond my comfort zone to be better.” As a marketing and communications professional, Roundtree helps others find their voices. In 2020, she was featured on Canada’s CBC News, explaining how organizations can approach social justice issues authentically.

The interview, which took place a week before the birth of Roundtree’s son, helped “other communications professionals understand that we truly are the conscience of our organizations,” one nomination shares.

“It brings me joy to use strategic communications to help clients define what makes them special and to share that with our community,” Roundtree says. But her greatest joy is more personal: “My family is my strength.”

Roundtree also “makes time to stand on the frontlines for her community,” another nomination reads, through her service with Girls on the Run Central Florida, Joe R. Lee Boys & Girls Club and Elevation Scholars. “I can’t help but give back,” she says.

Sarah Grafton, Chassity Vega, Jean Nowry, and Dr. Anu Saigal

Sarah Grafton

President and Founder | Park Avenue District

Though the pandemic brought its worst to commerce nationwide, businesses in the Park Avenue District managed to stay financially afloat, thanks to Grafton’s guidance and advocacy.

Grafton “stepped up to the plate this past year when the pandemic hit to serve the small business community, advocating for their needs, putting in endless hours to help them survive an economy like we had never seen before,” according to her nomination. “She walked owners through the Paycheck Protection Program process. She hosted virtual meetings to meet their needs. She advocated to the City for small business relief.”

A partner and senior financial advisor at Grafton Wealth Management, Grafton won volunteer service awards from presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump for her many civic contributions.

“I want to make a positive impact in this community and on the people I meet,” says Grafton, who finds motivation in “my family, my community and my faith.”

Chassity Vega

CEO | Greater Orlando Builders Association (GOBA)

Vega’s nomination describes her as “the glue that keeps builder and associate members interacting with each other,” as she has helped the nonprofit association and its foundation grow and thrive—even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic—since taking the helm in 2017.

According to her nomination, Vega “has led the state in new member recruitment, increased overall membership satisfaction, created two new job positions at the association, and formed the Women’s Alliance of GOBA group to help bring together like-minded women in construction.”

The real challenge came in 2020, when Vega says the pandemic “hindered business affairs and events were halted for most 501C6 organizations.” Despite that, “2020 was one of the most successful years for GOBA. We were nearly the only organization that found a way to hold events safely. They looked and felt different, but it provided opportunities for our members to continue to do business with other members.”

Jean Nowry

Executive Vice President and CFO | Massey Services Inc.

As a financial professional, Nowry invests heavily in the community and people—her colleagues, youth and the arts—by working to protect and provide for team members while serving with Junior Achievement of Central Florida and Orlando Ballet.

“Jean has been deeply involved in philanthropy and giving back in our community for over 25 years,” according to her nomination. She also supports Kids House of Seminole, Autism Speaks and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer.

When the pandemic struck, Nowry led Massey’s COVID-19 task force. In addition, her nomination shares, “She was instrumental in ensuring all team members who were unable to work would continue to receive their salary and contributions to their 401(k) plans.”

The mom of two teenage daughters hopes to create “a better place for future generations. That’s why supporting causes in both education and the arts are so critical. Both will leave a lasting impression on our community for years to come.”

Dr. Anu Sharma Saigal

Breast Surgical Oncologist | Women’s Care Florida

Inspired to enter her field of expertise after her mother’s cancer diagnosis, Saigal is “a mother of three boys who manages to find time to call and check in on her patients no matter the day or time,” according to her nomination.

“She’s highly in tune with the current, and staggering, data showing women younger than 40 with no family history are the ones being aggressively attacked by breast cancer,” it continues.

Saigal often tells her patients the advice her mother gave her on the day she left for her surgical residency: “Everyone is someone’s somebody. Think about that when you are taking care of a patient.”

The oncologist says raising three “thoughtful and kind men” will be her greatest achievement. She adds that if she “can be remembered as a mother, a doctor and as simply a human who cared, then I will have lived my life to the fullest.”

Latisha McCray and Dr. Francelis Gonzalez

Latisha McCray

Assistant Director of Academic Support for Health Sciences Collegiate Academy | Lake-Sumter State College

Once a “struggling single mom,” as her nomination describes her, McCray received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees after raising her son, and then she pursued her calling of helping young people—including many first-generation college students—prepare for STEM and health sciences careers.

Her efforts to mentor students academically and professionally “have helped our local students get on the right career path,” according to her nomination.

“Empowering students with information, reducing the intimidation of higher education, and affirming self-value within every student I work with motivate me every day,” says McCray, who sees herself as a student advocate. Each year 80 percent of her students graduate high school with an associate’s degree and then transfer to public universities to complete their bachelor’s degrees.

McCray looks forward to each graduation, which she considers her greatest moment: “I get to celebrate with families who have watched their student surpass their parents’
educational background.”

Dr. Francelis Ivette Gonzalez

CEO and President | Kidsville Pediatrics

A Puerto Rico native, Gonzalez—affectionately known as Dr. G—is described as a “dedicated community activist,” patron of the arts, friend to the needy and advocate for kids with life-threatening illnesses.

Gonzalez founded her first clinic in 1999. The practice has branched out to multiple locations, including three after-hours walk-in clinics. “Her ultimate success is directly related not only to her obvious talents but her unrelenting can-do attitude and interminable energy,” her nomination reads.

The pediatrician, who also specializes in hematology and oncology, helps support Kids Beating Cancer, a research and treatment foundation, and raises money to provide services for families and children throughout their therapy. In addition, she and her husband, Victor Pantoja, became the first Hispanic founding donors of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Gonzalez describes herself as a “person who was able to overcome challenges [including language barriers] by working hard” and a “person who loves to give back to the community.”

Suzanne Dukes, Patty Maddox, and Radhika Narain

Suzanne Dukes

College and Career Access Consultant | Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida

Twenty-two years ago, Dukes began volunteering with Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, and seven years ago she made a career of helping disadvantaged kids in a seven-county area find the right post-high school educational, training or job opportunity.

“My goal is to find out each member’s dreams and talents and find the best fit, whether that is college, trade school, the military or a direct link into the workforce,” she says. She helps members with college and scholarship applications, resumés and financial aid.

Dukes recently helped a busboy take a step toward his dream of working in the culinary field. And when her students walk across the stage to receive college degrees, “I tear up every time,” she says.

“The members she helps describe her as a counselor, confidante and visionary, able to see possibilities for them they could not see for themselves,” her nomination shares.

Patty Maddox

President and CEO | Winter Park Health Foundation

At the foundation’s helm since its inception in 1994, Maddox finds joy in supporting community health and wellbeing alongside her team of what she calls “extremely talented and dedicated staff and volunteers.”

The longtime healthcare professional serves as a role model for her team members, according to her nomination, treating each with respect and exemplifying dedication.

In addition to her work, she serves on boards of multiple community and national organizations. She credits her parents with teaching her to give back using her talents. “My father spent his entire life working on behalf of seniors, and my mother volunteered countless hours for a variety of causes,” Maddox says.

She takes pride in the 2019 opening of the Center for Health and Wellbeing in Winter Park. “This was a dream many years in the making, bringing a new and innovative approach to helping our community’s residents succeed in their healthcare journey,” she says.

Radhika Narain

Founder | A Childhood for Children

A first-generation immigrant, Narain founded her volunteer-based nonprofit in 2012 to meet physical needs while providing “love, respect, and dignity to thousands of underserved children, including children in Orlando,” she says.

All net contributions go toward food and hygiene items that have benefitted more than 20,000 children in 12 countries, including many locally. “Nonprofits have a lot to learn from her model, which does not have a bloated budget or staff,” her nomination shares. “During COVID, she successfully completed almost all of her international projects and expanded local outreach opportunities.”

Narain manages the nonprofit while serving as a semi-retired corporate tax professional. In addition, she works to end childhood hunger through Taste of the Nation.

She hopes people will some day say of her: “She tried her hardest to make a difference. Maybe she succeeded just a little.”

Dena Jalbert, Eliza Juliano, and Ellen O’Connor

Dena Jalbert, MBA, CPA

Founder and CEO | Align Business Advisory Services

As other businesses gasped for breath in the pandemic-slammed economy, Jalbert’s mergers and acquisition advisory firm “closed more than $100 million in deals and doubled its headcount in 2020,” her nomination shares.

Her efforts will allow more companies to “seize opportunities available to them in the capital markets.” But the entrepreneur did even more to boost the economy. “Dena recognized the needs of the disadvantaged and donated money to Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida to assist displaced families and individuals that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. She has also supported the Orlando Union Rescue Mission.”

Opportunity and diversity are among Jalbert’s core values. “We bring opportunity to clients that they could not achieve on their own,” she says. Her diversity focus “allows finance professionals of all genders, ages, and ethnicities to pursue a career in an industry that historically hasn’t been as welcoming to them.”

Eliza Harris Juliano

Director of Urbanism | Canin Associates

The self-proclaimed “doctor for cities” says she works to ensure “walking and biking are safe, convenient and pleasant for people of all ages, [and cities] are better for social interaction, sustainability and well-being.”

Her nomination states: “Eliza came to Orlando to make a difference.” An accident in 2018 galvanized her desire to create a safe environment for all. Juliano “was run over by an SUV while walking home from dinner. She was seriously injured and is more devoted than ever to safety and better lives for Orlandoans.”

Juliano looks to create “complete environments” with stores and restaurants within walking distance. In her job, she works to help develop better zoning codes, design new neighborhoods, improve existing ones, and create safer street networks for bicyclists and pedestrians.

“It’s important to me to live out my values,” she says of her commitment to creating a sustainable and enjoyable urban existence. “I’ve biked to work for most of the last decade, [and my] husband and I bought a house where we can walk to dinner and the grocery store.”

Ellen O’Connor

Executive Director | Dave’s House

In her quest to end homelessness among the mentally ill of Central Florida, O’Connor “has worked hard to give their residents a positive outlook as they begin their journey to stability and success,” according to her nomination.

The advocate has helped establish nine permanent group homes in the area. “She has added support programs for her residents for personal and professional life skills so they can get back up on their feet and find a job that will provide them a positive and bright future,” her nomination continues.

O’Connor says she is “motivated by seeing individuals improve their lives one step at a time, no matter their obstacles.” Recalling a conversation with a resident’s father about his son, O’Connor says, “His father said, ‘Living in a Dave’s House home, he has blossomed. We see he has a future that allows him to be independent. It’s a huge burden off our shoulders. It has made all the difference in the
world to us.’ ”

Anna V. Eskamani

District 47 Representative | Florida House of Representatives

In 2018, then 28-year-old Eskamani became the first Iranian American elected to public office in Florida, winning reelection in November 2020 by an even larger margin, at least partly as a result of her work to fix the state’s struggling unemployment system.

“She is in tune with the needs of her constituents and works tirelessly to support her district,” reads her nomination, which calls the first-generation American “a rising star in the political arena.”

The Orlando native and University of Central Florida graduate outlines three primary goals: “first, delivering the best constituent services to solve problems faced by our community; second, passing good policy and a strong budget focused on improving people’s lives; and finally, building collective efficacy across the state so more people vote, know their personal power, and get involved in politics.”

Eskamani hopes to inspire “more everyday people to run for office and challenge the
status quo.”

Judith Nathanson Levin

Associate Lecturer and Academic Program Coordinator | University of Central Florida

For Levin, her life is a continuum of teaching and advocating for children, whether through UCF’s Early Childhood Development and Education office, the Parramore Kidz Zone/Early Learning Coalition of Orange County’s Baby Institute, or the Milk and Muffins Early Literacy Program.

“She works tirelessly to support and educate early childhood teachers and professionals for the Orlando community,” according to her nomination, while working toward “the betterment of young children and their families.”

Levin created the Social Bridges social skills program for children and serves on the board of Nap Ford Community School/Legends Academy, a charter school in Parramore.

“I am committed to changing the world for children, ensuring each child grows up with dignity and self-worth,” Levin says, a goal that can be reached by committing to “one child, one mama, one daddy, one family at a time.”

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