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Super Women 2022e2be8a5b524029c41c84762c9ae82c0c

Each year Orlando Family Magazine celebrates local women who are making a positive impact on the community at large. They have donated their time, money and skills in the hopes of helping others and creating a better world. From starting nonprofits to enhancing charitable programs and projects, this year’s group of 12 exceptional women is sure to uplift and inspire us all. 

 

WOMAN OF THE YEAR:

Dr. Shantá Barton-Stubbs 

The daughter of pastors, Barton-Stubbs has always valued the opportunity to help those in need.  In 2004, her father moved his church from Winter Park to the Parramore community, which was a big culture shock to the then 21-year-old college student. She recalls, “Seeing a deep level of poverty that appeared to be normal to everyone else was very eye opening to me.” After befriending a group of neighborhood kids through a game of Monopoly, Barton-Stubbs decided to create a safe place for local children to have fun and learn. She soon founded New Image Youth Center, a nonprofit that empowers and provides after-school and summer programs for the at-risk youth of Parramore. Over the past 18 years, the organization has helped numerous kids through its year-round services, programs and mentoring. With an emphasis on academics, health and wellness, social development, crisis intervention and social justice, children are able to participate in a variety of programs such as mixed martial arts, step, dance and piano. Says Barton-Stubbs, “Our slogan is, ‘We are some of the good in our hood.’ We truly believe that and aim to instill in our youth that they are meant to do great things, and whatever that is, we will help them and they will represent the greatness of Parramore.”

 

June Feezel

Nearly 20 years ago, Feezel learned of a dog-assisted therapy program in her area and decided to volunteer along with her pet Schnauzer. Before long, she began seeing the positive impact the program had on those it served and decided to expand upon the idea by creating her own foundation with a mission of “turning frowns upside down.” Along with her husband Ross, Feezel founded Be An Angel Therapy Dogs Ministry, a nonprofit that provides on-site therapy dog visits to those in need throughout Central Florida. Though the organization travels to many nursing homes and assisted living centers, its main focus has shifted over the years to children with special needs. Its Angel Paws to Read program provides a calming environment for children who struggle with reading. The gentle dogs are always happy to offer an attentive ear, free of judgment or criticism, and help the children to associate reading with something pleasant. Feezel says one of the greatest rewards is getting to witness the “noticeable boost of confidence in each child’s reading skills and in themselves.”

 

Barbara Poma

After working as a teacher for Orange County Public Schools for several years, Poma joined her restaurateur husband, Rosario, in opening Pulse Nightclub in 2004. Established in honor of her late brother John, who died of AIDS in the early 1990s, the popular hotspot 

was embraced by the LGBTQ+ community as a place where patrons could feel free to be themselves. Tragically, on June 12, 2016, the beloved nightclub became the scene of one of the deadliest mass shootings in America, taking the lives of 49 innocent people and wounding over 50 more. Horrified and heartbroken, Poma decided to create a foundation that would honor the lives lost as well as offer aid and support to the survivors and victims’ family members. Since its inception, onePULSE has annually awarded 49 legacy scholarships in honor of each victim. In addition, the foundation is working to create a national memorial where Pulse once stood, a nearby education center and an Orlando Health Survivors Walk, all of which Poma hopes will “serve as a beacon of light and hope to everyone around the world.”

 

Rebecca Leininger

Helping others, particularly in their times of crisis, is something Leininger has always been very passionate about, but not something she initially saw as a career path. An administrator by nature, Leininger received a degree in political science and eventually got a job in banking but felt a strong calling to give back to the community. While volunteering at Coalition for the Homeless, Leininger learned of a new program the organization was starting and offered to help with outreach and setting up policies and procedures. The experience showed her that there were many ways she could contribute to the community without being a social worker. Leininger successfully helped many charitable organizations before joining Embrace Families Solutions nearly 10 years ago. Since then, she has helped secure much-needed grants, as well as improve and implement many of the organization’s programs, which “empower children and families to transform their lives through innovative, community-driven solutions.” As vice president of operations, Leininger works hard to ensure loving families stay together, saying, “Families should never be separated simply over housing issues.”

 

Theresa Smith-Levin 

As far back as she can remember, Smith-Levin has always loved the performing arts and helping others. Recognizing a void in the local industry, she set out to create an inclusive performing arts foundation that focused on creating well-rounded performers. In 2012, she founded the nonprofit music advocacy organization, Central Florida Vocal Arts. The organization offers a wide variety of music programs to students of all ages and skill levels. Its scholarship programs and partnerships with Orange County Public Schools provide accessibility and opportunities for students who otherwise could not afford musical training. With some of the best instructors in the area as well as summer programs and intensives, Central Florida Vocal Arts has helped many students go on to successful careers in the industry. However, Smith-Levin notes that is not the main focus of the organization. “For me, the goal is for every student to feel seen, heard and valued and that they learn to believe in themselves as they develop the confidence to be able to do whatever they want to do across all sectors.”

 

Dominik Peyton

It’s not easy to find a silver lining in a difficult upbringing, but Peyton sees her rocky childhood as somewhat of a blessing. “I am motivated by my own struggles and enjoy helping others in similar situations overcome barriers in order to get to where they want to be in life.” Peyton’s passion and genuine dedication are evident in her work with Goodwill Industries of Central Florida, whose vision is for everyone to have “the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential and participate in and contribute to all aspects of life.” Over the past five years, she has quickly climbed the ranks at the organization and now holds the title of learning and development manager. During this time Peyton has implemented the first standardized processing system across all stores for an estimated $50,000 additional daily revenue, developed landmark orientation and training protocols for all Central Florida Goodwill team members and has built up the learning and development department. Peyton looks forward to continuing her work with Goodwill and dreams of one day starting a mentoring program for young adults.

 

Barbara West   

Throughout her illustrious career as a television journalist and news anchor, West’s compassion for others not only shined through her work on television but off camera as well. 

West, along with her husband Wade, would often volunteer any free time to emcee a variety of charitable fundraisers in Central Florida and across the nation. Over the years, the couple’s passion for helping others, along with their fundraising expertise, inspired them to create the American Fundraising Foundation (AmFund), a nonprofit organization that aims to “empower and equip other nonprofits to experience the fundraising results they so desperately need.” Since retiring from the Channel 9 anchor desk in 2010, the Emmy and Edward R. Murrow Award-winner has devoted herself full time to the organization. Today, AmFund is a GuideStar Platinum-rated foundation that has donated more than $46 million to deserving nonprofits around the country and helps more than 500 nonprofits every year. Of her life’s work West says, “I had a thrilling career covering a variety of incredible stories. However, nothing compares to being able to help fund our nonprofit partners’ life-enriching and lifesaving work.”

 

Dr. Pamela Cates-Smith and Dr. Patrice Cates-Lonberger  

As early as 4 years old, twin sisters Cates-Smith and Cates-Lonberger knew they wanted to one day become doctors. Cates-Smith always had a desire to deliver babies and after losing an aunt to cervical cancer, a highly preventable disease, she was determined to become the OBGYN she is today in the hopes of educating and caring for women and their unborn children. Cates- Lonberger initially wanted to be a pediatrician but during her medical school clinical rotations she decided that she also enjoyed treating adults, which led to her becoming a primary care physician. Growing up in Gary, Indiana, the twins’ aspirations were often scoffed at by naysayers. However, their faith and encouragement from their family helped them stay the course. Their mother, Caren Jones, not only offered encouragement but also led by example. The single mother of four managed to earn a bachelor’s degree while working and caring for her family. Both sisters call her their hero and say they often reflected on her accomplishments whenever they felt discouraged. Wanting to encourage, empower and motivate other young girls to realize their dreams, the doctors founded the nonprofit Grace Girls. They chose that name because as Cates-Smith explains, “It is by the grace of God that we are where we are today.” They initially began Grace Girls back in Indiana, where it continues to grow through a YWCA in the area. The twins now have plans to further the foundation here in Central Florida with an ultimate goal of opening locations all over the country. Cates-Smith says, “We want to reach out to all the girls who need the empowerment and encouragement, letting them know they have the power within them to make their dreams come true.” Cates-Lonberger adds, “Representation matters. These girls not only need to hear it, they need to see it.”

 

Sharon Hagle

Hagle remembers being in sixth grade and listening to a school PA system in West Virginia when Alan Shepard became the first American in space in 1961. At that time, she had no inkling that she would one day go to space herself. However, this past March, Hagle and her husband Marc became the first married couple on a commercial space flight venturing 62 miles above Earth aboard the Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle. Hagle’s fascination with space and her desire to engage elementary school students, particularly girls, in STEAM+ (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics and environment) led her to launch SpaceKids Global in 2015. Over the last seven years, the nonprofit organization has reached nearly 100,000 young students through its hands-on projects, programs, competitions and partnerships with schools around the country. Hagle says, “The United States has nearly 3.5 million STEM jobs that need to be staffed by 2025. If we can get these kids excited about their future in space exploration and technology, they’ll be more likely to focus on some of these incredible STEAM opportunities.”

 

Lisa Kroger

For over 30 years, Kroger has been a child and family advocate. In 2000, Kroger joined Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida, one of the largest and most advanced behavioral health care organizations in the country. Her extensive knowledge in providing residential and community-based behavioral health care has helped the executive director ensure quality treatment procedures and expert care for children, adolescents and young adults struggling with mental health conditions and/or intellectual and developmental disabilities. She has led the development of innovative programs as well as the ongoing oversight of direct operations that provide support for local families. Kroger helped forge a partnership with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office to provide a co-responder approach to crisis situations through response from a law enforcement officer and a mental health clinician working in tandem to support the needs of the community. Of the collaborative relationships Kroger says, “I know we are stronger as a collective network of resources rather than one entity working independently, so I try to ensure we contribute the resources we have available within our expertise, rather than try to do it all.” 

 

Sherri Gonzales

After spending years working with youth in the foster care system—many of whom were in care because of fixable family issues—Gonzales grew determined to help these children before crises brought them into foster care. Now the regional executive director for Children’s Home Society of Florida, Gonzales oversees nearly two dozen programs throughout Central FloridaChildren’s Home Society of Florida opens doors to new opportunities so children, teens and families can find—and build upon—strengths so they may rise above challenges and realize their full potential. From counseling and mental health services to early childhood programs and Community Partnership Schools, Children’s Home Society of Florida is there for families so no one has to go through the tough times alone. Gonzales states, “As families grow stronger, children succeed, which results in a stronger community and a brighter future for our children and I can’t imagine anything better.”

These 12 difference-makers continue to make a lasting impact in Central Florida and beyond. […]Read More

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