Ten Thousand Villages of Austin hosted the 6th Annual International Women’s Day Awards on Friday March 7th of this year.
As a volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages, I often hand customers an Artisan Story about their purchase and tell them, “The story is the best part.” The same is true for International Women’s Day. The best part of this event is hearing the inspiring stories about how the work of these wonderful women has changed the lives of so many people and enriched the world.
Sara Hickman, Austin musician, and two-time winner of the International Women’s Day Award, emceed the event for the second year in a row. Sara’s charming wit on the microphone mixed with her intense passion for social issues is a great addition to the evening.
Let’s take a look at this year’s honorable mentions, finalists and winners…
Honorable Mention: Vanessa Stone founded the Amala Foundation in 2001 and has been serving as leader, spokesperson, facilitator, and teacher. The Amala Foundation works with a number of local, national, and international humanitarian service projects to provide programs for refugee and immigrant youths.
Finalist: Laura Donnelly is the co-founder of Latinitas, based in Austin and El Paso, TX. Established in 2002, Latinitas, whose mission is to empower young Latinas through media and technology, has been a vital part of young Latinas’ lives through after school programs, teen internships, Saturday and summer camps, conferences, and the very first digital magazine made for and by young Latinas—www.latinitasmagazine.org. The bilingual magazine provides a vehicle whereby these girls and young women not only see themselves positively reflected, but are also a part of the production.
Laura Donnelly thanked Austin for being open to her work. Latinas, especially women are underrepresented in the media and stereotyped. Her goal is to give Latina girls the tools needed to break down societal barriers and succeed.
Finalist: Sharon Lowe has been the Executive Director of Foundation for the Homeless for over 6 years; managing 11 staff members and more than 3,000 volunteers to provide services for thousands of homeless single adults and families. Sharon partners homeless children and adults with faith and community groups, and facilitates the donations of goods, facilities, and services.
Winner: Caroline Boudreaux founded The Miracle Foundation on Mother’s Day of 2000. She works to improve the standard of living for orphans living in rural India, because they are the some of the poorest and most under-served people of the country. Caroline lives not only to end their pain and suffering but to ensure they have access to clean water, nutritious food, healthcare, a quality education and a stable and loving home. The Miracle Foundation has evolved since it’s founding as an adoption agency to building orphanages to an innovative nonprofit that partners with existing orphanages to offer financial and training support.
Caroline was not able to attend because she was in India working with the orphanages; Heather Shaw accepted for her. In her speech Heather told attendees how children at the orphanages are given Room Mothers to care for them. She told us the children were asked what they liked best about their Room Mothers. One child said, “She loves us, just like a real mother would,” the other children enthusiastically agreed with him. Moments like that are why Caroline and The Miracle Foundation work as hard as they do.
Honorable Mention: Elizabeth Walsh has worked as a part of the Core Leadership Team of East Feast 2022 and as a Community Advocate for the Holly Shores/Edward Rendon Sr. Park Master Plan. She has worked with members of her neighborhood and the broader community to design a timeless, productive “food forest” in a new park redevelopment of Holly Shores in East Austin in an effort to provide Austin residents with access to healthy, local food.
Finalist: Sarah Richards is the Executive Director of the Colorado River Alliance and has helped conserve thousands of gallons of Texas Colorado River water. She has designed hands-on, outdoor water science field trips to teach elementary-aged children how to conserve water and why it is important. Sarah also conceived the plans for the Colorado River Alliance’s upcoming mobile water science classroom to educate middle school students on the importance of the Colorado River.
Sarah thanked all of her volunteers, including our wonderful Ten Thousand Villages Volunteer Coordinator, Jessica Uramkin. Sarah explained that all of our drinking water here in Austin comes from the Colorado River and even shared a few quick conservation tips.
Finalist: Lisa Jeffrey was the Lead Volunteer and Volunteer Coordinator for the 2013 Austin Community Tree Program. Through Lisa’s efforts more than 911 trees were distributed and planted in the Dove Springs neighborhood. She has helped to build community and encourage participation by speaking Spanish at public meetings and encouraging the use of Spanish language materials in the program.
Lisa was not able to attend, Ten Thousand Villages Volunteer and Program Manager of the ACT Program, Margaret Valenti accepted on her behalf. Margaret’s words overflowed with passion and enthusiasm as she told the crowd how hard Lisa works.
Winner: Robin Rather is the Founder of Collective Strength; a market research, strategy, and communications firm aimed at promoting environmental sustainability. Robin also serves on the Board of the Sustainable Food Center and is the Co-Founder of Envision Central Texas. Robin specializes in gathering community input and rephrasing environmental issues as economic and social ones to get a greater buy-in.
Robin not able to attend the event because she was with her son in Iceland where climate change is already having drastic effects on the ecosystem and economy.
Honorable Mention: Suzy Swingle is a volunteer at Bastrop Animal Shelter, Austin Animal Center, Austin Animal Services, Animal Trustees of Austin, Blue Dog Rescue, and Lizzy’s Hospice House Rescue. In the words of Sara Hickman, “That makes her a super-duper animal advocate!” Suzy’s work even has a phrase coined after it; when someone adopts an animal at her prodding, the workers at the shelter affectionately say they have been “Swingled.”
Finalist: Dr. Diane Crowe, Founder of Crowe’s Nest Farm, has cared for, rescued, rehabilitated, and provided sanctuary for thousands of orphaned, abused, injured, and neglected farm animals and Texas Wildlife for the past 31 years. Crowe also teaches children of central Texas the value of all living things through hands-on, life science educational experiences.
Dr. Crowe told the crowd that over 1 million children have been to her farm. She said, “We teach the children so they can go home and teach the parents.” She got a laugh from the audience when she told us, “All we do is feed and clean.”
Finalist: Michelle Stoeffler is the Board President, Dog Intake Coordinator and Rescue Coordinator of Pug Rescue Austin. She fosters pugs, screens adoption applications, writes policies and manages events. Michelle has greatly reduced the number of stray and homeless pugs in Austin and beyond through her development of networks to transport homeless pugs and her work to educate the public about spaying, neutering, and rescue.
Michelle thanked Kitty Bird, our Ten Thousand Villages store manager for hosting adoption events at the store. These events have resulted in more than 175 adoptions of pugs and mixes!
Winner: Missy McCullough is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Animal Trustees of Austin and Leader in the Wellness Clinic. In an effort to end animal homelessness and overpopulation the Spay/Neuter clinic has safely performed over 100,000 surgeries and their Wellness Clinic has provided services to over 212,000 animals whose owners would not have otherwise been able to afford them.
Missy told attendees in her acceptance speech that she is in her 21st year at Animal Trustees of Austin and it has been a labor of love since the beginning. She told the crowd the best part of her job is getting to say yes to people who cannot afford healthcare for their animal. People feel devastated, desperate and hopeless that they cannot care for their pets and Missy is able to take that pain away by saying, “Yes, we can help you.”
Missy also thanked Suzy Swingle for her tireless work to help animals and be a voice for those who cannot speak for themselves. “Suzy will do anything; she’ll pick up any animal any time day or night.”
Sara closed out the evening performing a song titled “Hopeful” that she wrote for a young man who had recently attempted suicide. She wanted him to know that there is hope and played the song for all of the women creating such diverse and intense hope for the planet and their communities.
International Women’s Day Awards is one of my favorite events to participate in with Ten Thousand Villages. Being in the same room with so many passionate and driven change makers is inspiring, humbling, and exhilarating. I’m grateful to be able to meet such amazing women and look forward to next year’s 7th Annual International Women’s Day Awards. You can see all the pictures from this year’s event on Ten Thousand Villages of Austin’s Flickr page.
~Rebecca Dull (Lead Volunteer)