Wednesday, November 04, 2009

YWCA awards three with Women of Distinction Awards: one young woman with an emerging award

Caption - From left to right: Debby Ortman, Rebecca St. James, Sara Thomsen and Eleni Johnson (Photo by Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff).

Today I attended the YWCA's 2009 Women of Distinction award luncheon at the DECC. The room was packed with about 200 people representing Duluth businesses, non-profits and neighborhood organizations. Ellen O'Neil, executive director of the YWCA introduced the award ceremony and gave a brief background on each woman.

Sara Thomsen, one of those awarded, said, "If you can walk, you can dance. If you can talk, you can sing." She said that every person has his or her own song and dance to exude. She urged everyone to make a difference saying, "Make your own kind of music even if nobody sings along."

The group also heard from two young women living in the YWCA Spirit Valley Home. Those young women were Katie Vujcevic and Dorothy Annamitta. Both women have infants Annamitta gave a tearful account of learning to care for her baby and her goal to become a strong native Menominee woman. She fought bouts of depression and said, "I still struggle everyday, but when I see Asia's (her baby) smile it is all worth it."

Those recognized were:

Debby Ortman
- community organizer. Debby has been a community organizer for over 25 years and active in the League of Women Voters for 10 years. She has played a key role in the community as an advocate for the importance of protecting the environment through citizen participation.

Rebecca St. George - law student at Hamline University. Rebecca worked for Mending the Sacred Hoop/Domestic Abuse Intervention Program for 10 years. During that time she was a Native Women's Advocate and recently coordinated a Safety and Accountability Audit of the systems response to Native women reporting sexual abuse in and around Duluth.

Sara Thomsen - director of Echoes of Peace Choir. As the founder of the choir, Sara has committed all concert proceeds to benefit community organizations that work on social justice issues. Using music to inspire, engage and motivate, Sara captures the imagination and heart of choir members and the general public.

Eleni Johnson - age 21, was honored as an emerging leader. She is active at the Women’s Resource Action Center and a strong advocate for the safety of women and for women participating in their communities.”