The YWCA 2023 Milestones Awards at the Glass City Center

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

The YWCA of Northwest Ohio recently hosted the 28th annual Milestones Awards Ceremony, honoring women who have made significant contributions in various fields and have served as role models for others. The ceremony featured 10 honorees from different industries, including education, government, business, arts, sciences, services, volunteerism and an inaugural woman on the rise category. Each honoree shared her inspiring story of success and determination, leaving a lasting impression on the audience.

As the audience stepped into the luxurious grand ballroom of the newly remodeled Glass City Center, we were greeted by a symphony of sounds – the clinking of champagne glasses, the rustling of dresses and the melodic chatter of guests. The air was thick with the scent of fresh flowers, and the room was bathed in a golden glow, courtesy of the sun streaming in through the sparkling glass windows.

All around, the guests were decked out in their finest threads, with vibrant spring colors as far as the eye could see. The honorees, in particular, were a sight to behold – their ensembles fierce and fitting to each one’s own personality.

As the honorees were seated on stage, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and accomplishment wash over the room. After all, it wasn’t every day that the best-in-class women in Toledo are honored for their contributions to society, especially at an event as prestigious as the YWCA women’s luncheon. The small business colleagues, family, and friends who had come in support, were all buzzing with excitement, their faces lit up with joy and admiration.

Diane Larson of 13abc news took to the stage, her voice ringing out loud and clear, punctuated by the occasional burst of applause and laughter from the audience. She introduced Lisa McDuffie, president and CEO of YWCA of NE Ohio and 2011 Honoree -Woman of Distinction. McDuffie spoke about the rewarding work the YWCA does for women in need and the importance of women supporting one another, of lifting each other up and celebrating each other’s successes. And as I looked around the room, I realized that she was right – there was something truly special about this gathering of like-minded women and their colleagues, all dressed to impress and all here to honor each other’s achievements.

Amy Chang, Honoree for the Arts, principal cello of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and adjunct professor at the University of Toledo, stood ready to share her story.

As she began to speak, her passion for music was evident in every word she uttered. She spoke about the transformative power of music, and how it had helped her to connect with others and express her deepest emotions.

As a soloist who has performed in countries all around the world, including Taiwan, China, Japan, Canada, and the USA, Chang has a wealth of experience to draw from. But it is her work as an adjunct professor at the University of Toledo and her sought-after private studio lessons that truly showcase her commitment to passing on her knowledge and passion to the next generation of musicians.

Through her teaching, chang instills in her students the understanding that playing music is not just a skill, but a non-verbal language that can express the full spectrum of emotions. She encourages them to be courageous and vulnerable, using their instruments to tell their own stories and connecting with others on a deeper level. As Amy finished her speech, the audience erupted into applause, a fitting tribute to a woman who had dedicated her life to the transformative power of music.

Next to the podium was Ambrea Mikolajczyk, Honoree for Business, businesswoman and owner of ARK Restoration and Construction. Dressed in a beautiful lilac suit, Mikolajczyk stepped up to the podium with a quiet confidence, ready to share her story with the audience.

Her journey had begun at the University of Toledo College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, where she had pursued a career in pharmaceutical sales. But after marrying her husband Kevin in 2005, the pair decided to invest in real estate, purchasing two fixer-uppers in West Toledo in 2007.

Through hard work and determination, Ambrea and Kevin learned about products and techniques from manufacturers, hiring contractors to do the work they couldn’t handle themselves. And as their knowledge and skills grew, so did their real estate portfolio, which now comprises nearly 250 units valued at $20 million.

But Mikolajczyk was quick to credit her team of 22 real estate and construction professionals for the success of ARK Restoration and Construction. Together, they have renovated several structures throughout northwest Ohio and helped numerous clients with their homes, businesses, and commercial builds.

And the recent announcement that ARK would be the co-developer of the Spitzer Arcade and Nicholas Buildings, a $1.78M project that will preserve Toledo’s important historic architecture, was a testament to the company’s continued growth and success.

I couldn’t help but feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude towards the people who had helped her get to where she was today filling the room as she tearfully thanked her parents for their love and sacrifice. Her kids, colleagues, family, and friends – they were all there in the audience, their faces beaming with pride and love.

I caught sight of her children, their eyes shining with wonder and admiration, and I felt a fierce surge of maternal love well up inside the mothers watching. Seeing Mikolajczyk’s kids there, witnessing this moment of recognition for their mother’s hard work and dedication, was a tender moment to remember. As Mikolajczyk finished her speech, the audience was filled with awe at her journey and accomplishments. She had shown that with hard work, determination, and a strong team, anyone could achieve their dreams and make a positive impact on their community.

As the awards ceremony continued, it was time for Mary Sabin to take the stage and share her story. Mary Sabin, Honoree for Education, is a skilled fundraiser and the vice president of Institutional Advancement at Lourdes University.

The room hushed as she approached the podium, and everyone held their breath in anticipation of what she might say.

Sabin began to speak, her voice shaking with emotion, as she recounted the harrowing experience of suffering a stroke just a year prior. She described the fear and confusion that had washed over her as she struggled to come to terms with what had happened to her body.

But then, Sabin spoke of the silver lining that had emerged from this dark cloud. She spoke of the outpouring of love and support she had received from her friends and family, and of the newfound appreciation she had for the value of true friendship.

As Sabin spoke, tears began to stream down the faces of many in the room. Her story of resilience and strength in the face of adversity touched a deep chord within each of us, reminding us of the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing the moments we have with our loved ones.

Sabin’s words were a powerful reminder of the importance of balance in life – of taking care of ourselves and our relationships, even as we strive for success in our careers and other pursuits. And as she stepped away from the podium, embraced by the warm applause and admiration of the audience, it was clear that her message had touched the hearts of everyone in the room.

Next, Cecelia M. Adams, PhD, Honoree for Government,  stood tall and lovely in red as she took to the podium to address the audience. Her dedication to serving the community for over 35 years is not only impressive, but also inspirational. Her journey began as a teacher in the Toledo Public School system and later transitioned to serving on the school board. She then made the leap to City Council where she continued to make a difference in the lives of young people.

As she spoke, the audience listened in awe of her accomplishments. She shared her passion for advocating for youth, particularly in the development of the City’s new department of Parks and Youth Services. Her commitment to securing funding for the Police Athletic League to build a new multipurpose field, and her sponsorship of a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis was truly admirable.

Adams’ mother also received the YWCA award for Sciences  in 2011, making it a family affair. Romules Durant, EdD, superintendent of Toledo Public Schools, expressed his gratitude for Adams’ tireless efforts in education and government. The room was filled with a sense of pride and admiration for this remarkable woman.

As the afternoon went on it was time for Lori Hauser, Honoree for Government,  to grace the podium. Lori Hauser has been the CEO and Executive Director of Imagination Station over 20 years. During her tenure, she has overseen the museum’s transformation into a thriving community resource that has welcomed over 3 million visitors since opening.

Hauser shared that Imagination Station was able to pivot quickly during the pandemic and provide virtual content for the community. They were able to offer science-based virtual field trips and science kits to students learning from home.

Under Hauser’s leadership, Imagination Station has become an integral part of the Toledo community, offering science-based education and programming for children and adults alike. She credits the museum’s success to the dedicated staff and volunteers who share her passion for science education. As Hauser stepped down from the podium, the audience erupted into applause, inspired by her leadership and commitment to science education.

As the awards ceremony continued, it was time for Tina Butts, Honoree for Social Services, to take the stage and share her story. Tina Butts took the stage, radiating confidence and grace in spring coral. She began by sharing her personal journey of helping a family member with mental health difficulties and how it led her to become a beacon of hope for those struggling with similar issues. As the owner and CEO of Here’s My Turning Point treatment center and T-Bonds, Butts has dedicated her life to helping individuals get back on track and regain control of their lives. Butt’s sister Suzette Cowell and past 2019 Business Honoree, and Lucas County Board of Commissioner President, Pete Gerken, also congratulated “their” sister for her hard word and dedication. “Although Suzette is your real sister, I’m your brother-from-another-mother, –as you say, and I’m so proud of you,” said Gerken smiling.

Butts’ passion for making a difference in the community doesn’t stop there. She also co-founded “The Movement,” a group of grassroots advocates who are committed to empowering people by providing resources and support to help them overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Through their efforts, they have helped many individuals in Toledo and beyond to remove barriers and create a more sustainable and productive life.

As Butts spoke, the audience was moved by her strength and determination to make a positive impact. Her words resonated with everyone, reminding them of the importance of compassion, resilience, and the power of community. The room burst with applause, as everyone honored this remarkable woman who dedicates her life to serving others.

The energy in the room was electric as Kristi Hoffman, Honoree for Volunteerism, took the stage to accept her award. As a trailblazing host and executive producer of the first PBS TV segment of its kind in the 90s, Kristi had already made a name for herself as a pioneer in the media industry. Today, she continues to inspire and inform as the host and producer of the compelling business and lifestyle TV show “Business/Life360 with Kristi K”.

As Hoffman spoke at the podium, her passion for her work and her dedication to her craft were palpable. She shared stories of a powerful and inspiring experience, reminding us all of the importance of pursuing our passions and using our talents to make a difference in the world. Her commitment to excellence and her tireless work ethic are a testament to the power of perseverance and determination.

As she stepped away from the podium, Hoffman was met with applause and admiration from the audience. Her message of empowerment and self-belief had resonated deeply with everyone in the room, and it was clear that she had left a lasting impact on all of us.

Then it was time to honor the recipients of the new category – the honorees for Women on the Rise. The three honorees, Erin Baker, Lauren Clarke, and Kendra Smith, sat together in a video discussing what this inaugural and historic moment means to them.

As each woman took the microphone to share her story. The room was filled with the sound of cheers and applause from the audience. Erin Baker’s alma mater, St. Ursula Academy, had brought over 10 students to attend, and they, along with her TLCPL colleagues, cheered wildly as she spoke about the challenges her family had faced and how they taught her to always persevere on her journey to success. Baker led a system-wide model of servant leadership called, “The BIG IDEA,” a program for library staff to build, improve and grow in areas of inclusion, diversity, equity and access.

Lauren Clarke was also met with thunderous applause from her colleagues at Owens Corning, who had come out in force to support their fellow coworker. Clarke is a strategic marketing leader for world-renowned Owens Corning. She is mindful of engaging the next generation of thought leaders, committed to sustainability and innovation.

She seamlessly executed cutting-edge marketing campaigns that are at the forefront of industry trends. Clarke’s work translates into impact and the results of her efforts show in the company’s growth and success. As she spoke about the importance of mentorship and the role it had played in her own success, Clarke’s passion and dedication shone through, inspiring everyone in the room.

Kendra Smith, too, had a host of colleagues from Bon Secours Mercy Health who had come out to celebrate her achievements. As she spoke about the impact that her work is having on the community, it was clear that Smith’s dedication to serving others is the driving force behind her success. Smith has led the charge in helping local health systems invest more than $60M in social determinants of health initiatives and developed more than $25M in affordable housing projects for those most in need.

As the three women stood together on stage, surrounded by their mentors and families, it was clear that they were representative of the countless young women watching from the audience, eager to follow in their footsteps, and one day be on the rise themselves. Their stories of perseverance, dedication, and hard work were a testament to the power of determination and the importance of never giving up on your dreams.

As the ceremony drew to a close and the women each descended from the podium to the sounds of cheers and applause, it was clear that they had all left a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of everyone in attendance.

The YWCA of NW Ohio Milestones honorees represent the best of Toledo, Ohio. Through their dedication, resilience, and hard work, they have made significant contributions to their respective fields and to the community. Their stories inspire and motivate many to aim higher and strive for excellence. The YWCA Milestones event serves as a reminder that women can achieve great things and make a positive impact on the world.