Women of the Year 2023 Honorees Part 7

They are educators, mentors, nurses, 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.
Jennifer Knopf, Esq., Gina Jacobs Thomas and Amy Akamine

Jennifer Knopf, Esq., Gina Jacobs Thomas and Amy Akamine

Photo By: Roberto Gonzalez


Jennifer Knopf, Esq.

President and Founding Director | REED Charitable Foundation

When her 7-year-old son, Reed, was diagnosed with dyslexia in 2018, lawyer Jennifer Knopf began to research and advocate for him. As Knopf learned 20 percent of the population is fighting the same battle as Reed, “it triggered something in me,” she admits.

REED Charitable Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at empowering dyslexics and ending global illiteracy, was born.

“I am driven by a mother’s love and instinct to protect coupled with a passion for justice,” Knopf says. 

Over the past two years, her organization has provided no- or low-cost training and support for more than 1,200 educators and parents worldwide in a science-based literacy technique known as the Orton-Gillingham Approach. Four Orange County schools now employ the technique, which is also promoted at community education events. “And we are just getting started!” Knopf says.

Her multiple nominations commend her dedication, tirelessness and passion. “She is kind, present and is helping to change the world,” one reads.

Gina Jacobs Thomas

Franchise Owner | Goldfish Swim School

Six-year-old Gina Jacobs Thomas was “absolutely terrified of the water,” she admits. Today her efforts to promote water safety and teach swimming have benefitted thousands of children.

“I’m passionate about changing the staggering drowning statistics in our state,” Jacobs Thomas says. A member of the Central Florida Water Safety Task Force, she has taught water safety to more than 4,000 children in schools and daycares. The franchise owner is also working to reduce the increased danger of drowning for kids on the spectrum.

More than five years since opening their Winter Park franchise, Jacobs Thomas and her husband, Jon, have given swim lessons to more than 8,000 children and are preparing to open a second site in Winter Garden. Their franchise has received multiple awards.

“The comments that keep me doing what I do day in and out are the ones that come from parents who let me know that, because of the lessons we provide, their children were able to rescue themselves after falling into a body of water,” Jacobs Thomas says.


Amy Akamine

President, Orlando Chapter | National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP) | ACTOR. AGENT. ADVOCATE.

Inspired by her mom, a Japanese refugee and survivor of the bombing of Okinawa during World War II, Amy Akamine lives to “empower women to make healthy decisions mentally, physically and professionally,” according to her nomination.

Akamine has taken her mother’s slogan, “never give up,” to heart. In her volunteer role with NAAAP, she helps build leaders. The organization is a founding member of Asian American Pacific Islanders Coming Together, which works to increase voter registration. 

As a church member, Akamine distributes food boxes every Saturday. In addition, she serves as a volunteer consultant with the Seminole County Public Schools Business Advisory Board.

Then in 2022, at the age of 60, Akamine launched an acting career, landing a role in a national TV spot in February. “Life is not a dress rehearsal. You’re never too old, it’s never too late, and never give up,” she says.

Akamine credits her faith in Jesus with helping her use “the talent and gifts I’ve been given to serve people and the planet in love and without judgment.”


Sandra Fatmi-Hall

CEO and Founder | United Foundation of Central Florida Inc.

Ask Jamaican immigrant and community powerhouse Sandra Fatmi-Hall how she would like to be remembered, and she’ll tell you she hopes to be a “ladder builder” who helps others achieve a “brighter future.”

According to her nomination, Fatmi-Hall’s organization has awarded more than $150,000 in scholarships, distributed nearly 4 million meals and has provided workforce development “just to name a few accomplishments and contributions.” She also serves as president of the Pine Hills Community Council in what she calls her quest to make “a positive difference within the local community.”

Fatmi-Hall says she draws upon her banking industry experience to “help families become homeowners, help small businesses with loans, and help students with financial literacy.”

Her proudest moment, she says, was launching a future leaders mentoring program at Evans High School, Robinswood Middle School and Meadowbrook Middle School. Since the program began 10 years ago, Evans High’s graduation rates have reached 98 percent, well above the state average of 89 percent.

“That is an impact that is priceless,” she says. “The future is forever changed.”


← Back to honorees list

Categories: News and Features