The 29th Annual YWCA Milestones: A Tribute to Women

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

The Glass City Center, resplendent in its newly renovated glory, served as the radiant stage for the 29th Annual YWCA Milestones: A Tribute to Women, an event steeped in honor, recognition and the collective spirit of empowerment. Attended by community leaders, supporters and honorees alike, this prestigious event symbolizes a moment of unity and celebration, highlighting the significant contributions of trailblazing women across various fields.

As I made my way down the corridor overlooking the Fifth Third Field baseball stadium, I was captivated by beautiful large-scale photographs of each honoree. The inspiring gazes of these women seemingly guided me forward with determination and purpose. Persimmon orange, the emblematic hue of the YWCA, adorned every corner, infusing the space with warmth and vitality.

Lisa McDuffie, president/CEO of the YWCA of Northwest Ohio, expressed her gratitude as she announced that all honorees this year were bestowed with custom brooch pins designed by Ivan & Michelle of Harold Jaffee Jewelers.

“It is with great honor and appreciation that we present you with this circle brooch representing a woman’s continued work, set with seven diamonds in the YWCA insignia.”

In addition to the stunning brooches, honorees were also presented with proclamations from government officials, including the offices of Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Elgin Rogers, Jr. – District 44.

Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz himself underscored the significance of this recognition, emphasizing that it is the highest honor a public woman leader can receive in our city. Lucas County Commissioners Pete Gerken and Lisa Sobecki also thanked honorees for their unwavering dedication to Toledo.

Diane Larson from WTVG-TV, Channel 13, presented honorees, guiding the proceedings with grace and poise. Her words, a rallying cry for the transformative power of supporting women, echoed through the ballroom, setting hearts aglow with hope and inspiration.

Before the spotlight was individually cast on the honorees of the day, a moment of reverence was shared—a collective homage to the torchbearers who had paved the way. A thunderous round of applause erupted as both past and present YWCA Milestone Honorees walked together in front of the stage—a chorus of gratitude, respect, and admiration for their tireless contributions to our community.

Sheri Copanic, the steadfast Treasurer of the YWCA, shared a poignant plea, urging all present to join hands in creating a more welcoming atmosphere for the more than 250 children who seek refuge in our downtown Toledo flagship shelter each year by donating to meet the YWCA’s 15 million-dollar pledge. Her words resonated with a sense of urgency, a call to action that stirred hearts and ignited passions.

The Milestones Awards Luncheon stands as the largest fundraising event hosted by the YWCA of NW Ohio, fueling vital initiatives and programs that uplift women and families in need. With the planned renovations to the YWCA’s core facility, including the expansion of the shelter’s capacity to accommodate more families in crisis, we were reminded of the transformative impact of collective action and solidarity.

As the luncheon unfolded, each honoree took center stage, their stories weaving a tapestry of courage, resilience and unwavering dedication to their respective fields.

Starting with Arts Honoree, Ann Heckler. A luminary in the world of dance, Heckler’s passion for inclusivity and innovation shone brightly as she shared her journey. From humble beginnings in her neighbor’s dance studio to her current role as the Toledo Ballet Adaptive Dance Director and Outreach teacher, Heckler’s commitment to celebrating the beauty in every body type reverberated through the room. Her dedication to creating a space where all can thrive, regardless of ability, left an indelible mark on all who had the privilege of hearing her speak.

“Many of the students in adaptive dance are non speaking,” Heckler explained.

“To watch us dance is to hear our heart speak.”

Karyn McConnell and Valerie Thompson

Next, Business Honoree, Dr. Eleanore Awadalla, DDS, took the stage, her presence commanding attention as she recounted her remarkable journey from Egypt to America. Her narrative of resilience was deeply inspiring, woven with the thread of a family legacy steeped in medicine. With her father as a Surgeon and Anesthesiologist, her brother as a Reproductive Endocrinologist, and her sister as a Neurologist, the tradition of healing runs deep in her lineage. Furthermore, her own children continue this noble tradition, with her daughter excelling as a Periodontist and her son as an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon.

A respected dental professional, mentor, and advocate for women in business, Dr. Awadalla’s tireless efforts to uplift others were met with thunderous applause. Also, as a significant gesture, Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough officially declared March 19 as Dr. Eleanore Awadalla Day, for her dedication to community wellness in the city of Sylvania. Her poignant reminder of the importance of education, instilled in her by her parents, struck a chord with all who listened. “Work hard despite adversity,” she shared.

“Most importantly, love one another and the community we built together.”

Marie Latham Bush, Ph.D and Education Honoree, stood as a beacon of unwavering commitment to excellence and equity in the field of education. From her role as an administrator in Toledo Public Schools to her leadership as Owner + CEO of Latham-Bush Educational Consultants, Bush’s dedication to ensuring quality education for all was met with resounding admiration. Her call to future female educators to ‘stay the course and remember your purpose’ echoed throughout the room. She imparted upon us the guiding principles instilled by her parents and honed through years of educational experience:

“Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Don’t ever think having a degree makes you better than anyone else. Treat everyone the same, from the janitor to the administrators.”

Past Honorees – Clara Petty, Ireatha Hollie, Billie Johnson and Deborah Barnett

Next Catherine Hoolahan Government Honoree, a force to be reckoned within the realm of law, took center stage. “I started law school when my 2 boys were both in diapers. I was 35,” she shared.

Hoolahan offers legal support and advocacy for trafficked and exploited individuals, serving as a guardian ad litem for minors and offering counsel to adults. With over 27 years of experience in litigation, she has worked across various legal areas, including civil rights, criminal defense, and personal injury law. Notably, she has dedicated her practice to assisting survivors of abuse, particularly those affected by clergy abuse in Ohio.

Hoolahan worked for years with Ohio Senator Teresa Fedor, a former YWCA Milestone Honoree herself, to pass Senate Bill 235 which established human abuse in Ohio as a stand alone 2nd degree felony. In 2006 she was appointed to the Toledo City Plan Commission where she served voluntarily under six mayors, overseeing projects like Westgate Village, the ProMedica downtown expansion, the Warehouse District, and UT’s Student Housing Complexes just to name a few.

Her message to young women attorneys was, “Persevere, no matter the obstacles. Know you can do it. It may take you longer but it can be done.”

The spotlight shifted to Sciences Honoree, Dawn Buskey. As President of ProMedica’s Acute Care division overseeing 11 hospitals, she has steered the organization to unparalleled heights, with accolades such as being ranked #1 in the Toledo area by U.S. News & World Report’s ‘Best Hospitals’ report for the past four years. Buskey is President of Toledo Hospital and Russell J. Ebeid Children’s Hospital. Her dedication to fostering gender diversity within ProMedica’s executive team and her unwavering support for women in healthcare stands as a testament to her visionary leadership and unwavering commitment to excellence. “We have many women leaders at Promedica,” Buskey expressed.

Tracee Perryman, PhD, accepts her plaque

“Nearly 50 percent of our executive team are women and our nurse workforce is nearly 95 percent women. We are very proud of that.”

We then turned our attention to Tracee Perryman, PhD, Social Services Honoree, whose transformative initiatives have touched countless lives in urban settings. As the Founder+CEO of Center of Hope Family Services, she has spearheaded a myriad of programs aimed at improving life outcomes for underserved youth and families. From juvenile re-entry and delinquency prevention programs to workforce development initiatives incorporating parenting and life skills training, Dr. P’s visionary leadership has brought about tangible change. Moreover, her partnership with the Moses Project to reduce infant mortality underscores her commitment to addressing pressing social issues. Center of Hope Family Services provides access to innovative afterschool education, affordable mental health services, and cohesive family support, elevating the lives of entire families in Toledo communities. Perryman’s gratitude to her parents and her unwavering dedication to her mission radiated through her words. “First I would like to thank God for opening every door,” she expressed.

“As a 3rd generation educator and entrepreneur, I thank both of my parents Dr. Donald & Willetta Perryman for demonstrating what it means to parent for a lifetime.”

The spotlight then turned to Bishop Pat McKinstry, Volunteerism Honoree, for her lifelong commitment to ministry. With over six decades of service to her name, Bishop McKinstry has embodied the essence of selfless giving and spiritual leadership. Throughout her illustrious career, spanning 64 years in ministry and 34 years as a pastor, she has served as a beacon of wisdom and compassion, touching countless lives with her mentorship and guidance. Recognized as a mentor and life coach to numerous high-profile women in the community, Bishop McKinstry’s influence extends far beyond the walls of her congregation. Her message of faith, resilience, and the transformative power of vision resonated deeply with all in attendance, serving as a powerful reminder that with steadfast belief and unwavering dedication, anything is possible. As the Founder and CEO of Rise and Shine Academy and Mckinstry Midwest College of Theology, she has been a tireless advocate for education and community empowerment. “I get up every morning and ask God, ‘Who will I be able to bless today?'” she declared.

Vallie Bowman English, Bishop Pat McKinstry, Alethea Easterly, Suzette Cowell

“Leaders write your vision down. Though it may tarry, it will come to pass.”

As the event drew to a close, the stories of these extraordinary women lingered in the air, a testament to the power of resilience, compassion, and unwavering dedication to service. And as the applause filled the room one final time, a sense of gratitude and reverence washed over us all—a collective recognition of the profound impact that each of these remarkable women has had on our community and the world at large.

As Women’s History Month comes to an end, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the YWCA and all the remarkable honorees celebrated at this year’s Milestones event. Thank you for your dedication, your resilience, and your tireless efforts to make a difference. Your unwavering commitment to empowerment, advocacy, and service inspires us all to strive for a more just and equitable society.

Together, we continue to champion progress, elevate voices, and pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future.

Newly added as a separate event in 2024 will be YWCA’s Women On The Rise awards event hosted this August  recognizing 3 outstanding young change-makers making an impact early in their career. Follow for updates,