On April 18, the Zonta Club of Flint was host to the Genesee Regional Women’s Hall of Fame 10th Annual Awards Dinner held at the Flint Institute of Arts. Inductees include women whose achievements (past and present) have made a lasting and positive impact on our community. The 2019 Inductees include: (Historical) Claire Isabel Mott White, Sister Claudia Burke, and (Contemporary) Stephanie Confer, Judy Ebbot, Linnell Jones-McKenney, Mindy Prusa and Shelly Sparks. Zonta International is a worldwide women’s service organization of executives in business and the professions working together to advance the status of women.
2019 Contemporary Inductees
From 1986-2005, Stephanie enjoyed an acting career with Actors Inc. and Pandemonium Players, performing in movies, industrial films, Reader’s Theater, stage plays and commercials, all while raising two daughters on her own. Her talent earned her a “Best Actress” award. She took her first radio job in 1999, helping to start an unknown Flint station – WRSR, Soft Rock 103.9 – and made it a success. She enjoyed two decades as an on-air Flint radio personality, helping people and making them laugh.
“I am overwhelmingly honored and humbled to be recognized for my accomplishments done through the love of our community amongst these amazing women!” Stephanie exclaims. “I will cherish this prestigious award.” She volunteers with many charity events, including the Diaper Drive, Adopt-A-Pet of Fenton, CMN, Pink Night, Voices for Children Advocacy Center, March of Dimes and many more. Often sharing the story of these organizations during her morning radio broadcasts, she always found a way to amplify their message to generate support for their causes.
A true community champion, Stephanie has been honored with many awards for her community service and advocacy. She is the mother of two daughters, Jackie and Taylor, and grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren: Jolie, Hadley, Hudson and Oakley. Those who know her call Stephanie “a wonderful friend and supporter.”
Born in Edgerton, WI, Judy currently resides in Flint with her husband of over 50 years, Richard (Dick) Ebbott. One of a few brave women concerned about the unmet needs of women in their community, she co-founded Every Woman’s Place in 1975. The diverse group of founders had one thing in common: their knowledge of and concern for the problems that confronted many women. They met with representatives of the Department of Social Services and the United Way to address primary problem areas: employment, assistance in crisis situations, assistance in knowing where to get the help and information they needed, and emergency child care. The group unanimously decided that a center for women was needed. The philosophy was and still is to serve the unmet needs of every woman, including those least able to help themselves – the economically disadvantaged, minority women, those over 45, those with a disability or without a high school diploma. Hence, the name Every Woman’s Place was chosen.
“I was lucky to be trained by the Junior League of Flint in the ‘how’ of working with community organizations,” Judy says. Every Woman’s Place is the foundation and predecessor of Flint’s very own Young Women’s Christian Association’s (YWCA) SAFE-House Shelter, and the YWCA’s program for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. In the late 1980s, Judy served on various boards and committees supporting the work of the YWCA of Flint, remaining in those roles for over 20 years.
“My work with Every Woman’s Place and the YWCA allowed me to advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and for those quiet women and children who need our voices,” Judy adds. She even received the Rotary Club of Flint’s Paul Harris Fellowship, in recognition of her dedication to lifting up our community’s women and children.
Judy has also been involved with the St. Luke’s New Life Center since its inception and is still a mentor of women and girls seeking a GED. Additionally, she is an active and a longtime sustaining member of the Junior League of Flint, a group committed to promoting volunteerism, developing the potential of women and improving the community through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. Its purpose is exclusively educational and charitable. Judy is the embodiment of this mission. “I believe our world needs the talents of 100 percent of men and women to help find answers to our current and future problems,” she concludes.
Flint’s first female basketball player to ever compete professionally, Linnell Jones-McKenney now inspires the youth in our community to be dreamers and doers. She is a motivational speaker, life coach, personal trainer, School of Champions director, assistant coach for the Flint Monarchs (women’s pro basketball team), four-time Hall of Fame inductee, and athletic manager at the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village.
Linnell grew up on Flint’s north side with six brothers and a sister. At Flint Northwestern High School, she earned Most Valuable Player, All-Conference, All-City and All-State honors. A high school administrator once told her to give up and that there were no college athletic scholarships for women. She held on to her dream and continued on the path of basketball.
Linnell ultimately earned a full college scholarship, and her talent eventually allowed her to compete in the 1980 Olympics. She became Flint’s first woman to play professionally in the Women’s Basketball League (WBL) when she was selected as the fourth pick in the 1980 draft by The Streaks. She later played pro in Italy after the WBL folded. There is a national “Linnell Jones-McKenney” day in Italy. Her list of on-court accomplishments is vast: three-time MVP and five-time All-Star in Italy; one of the first of 15 Americans to play in the European Women’s Professional Basketball League. Her success makes her an important pioneer in Flint’s storied sports history and a role model for Flint youth.
Linnell suffered a major knee injury that brought her back home to Flint. She married and had two daughters, Constance and Kimberly, who each earned college basketball scholarships. Meanwhile, she continued inspiring others to dream. For over four years, she was Activities Coordinator at Whaley Children’s Center (WCC) and created WCC’s first-ever basketball team, which is still a key activity that helps motivate, empower and lead the children to success. She still mentors some of the kids from her time at WCC, inspiring them with the message that their past does not define their future.
“To be recognized as an activist and as a worker with the youth in our community is a dream being realized,” Linnell says. Today, she is a coach and mentor through her School of Champions Sports Academy program at Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village. In the School of Champions program, there is room for every child to “dream their dream” which is what Linnell strives to bring to Flint youth. In Flint’s My City Magazine, Linnell was quoted, “Playing basketball and working with young people are my passions.”
Linnell hopes to build a youth activity center in Flint to help inner-city teens focus on their dreams of going to college, excelling in their talents, having positive values, self-discipline and leadership skills. She continues to inspire others with her wisdom about life, education, sports, pursuing dreams and obtaining goals. Linnell adds, “the most important goal for me is that our youth have the opportunity to dream big.”
Mindy was born for her role in social welfare. The daughter of a social worker and a General Motors employee, she learned how to care about people and work hard from a very young age. Her parents instilled in her the importance of generosity and compassion for others and she continues to model these values to her own son.
Professionally, Mindy has worked with thousands of families over the years in many capacities, including Foster Care, Child Protective Services, Maltreatment in Care, and Prevention. Through this work, she has experienced the vast needs as well as resiliency within our community, something for which she has developed a true passion. “I feel so honored to be among all of the amazing women who have received this recognition, but I would have never gotten to this point without all of the children I have worked with over the years,” Mindy shares.
Now president and CEO of Whaley Children’s Center, Mindy says her true passion has come to life a she helps provide a safe home to some of the most deserving kids. She is known to walk the campus daily to check in on “her kids” and staff, join in on random dance parties and meeting various daily needs from getting ready for school to planning adventures. While the Whaley mission is “for kids to be kids” and to have a home, Mindy has said many times that she feels as though she, too, has found her home and is truly part of a family at Whaley.
“Each child and their story have shaped me into the woman I am today,” Mindy adds. “Every single one of them has impacted me and pushed me to be the best person I can be.”
Outside of work, Mindy’s compassionate nature has found many outlets. A lifelong resident of Genesee County, she regularly supports local agencies and gets involved whenever she can to help make an impact. Her unwavering love for the homeless community has prompted her into action on countless occasions. Over the years, Mindy has found small ways to provide support to the local unmet needs, from bringing her staff to serve meals at the shelters, to personally delivering meals to needy people on the roadside.
While she has had many roles over the years to provide compassion and love throughout this community, her favorite role is being a mom to her son, Logan. Mindy takes on this role with the same passion as she does everything else, from cheering on the sidelines to cooking big, homemade meals. Her greatest joy is watching her son grow to be as compassionate and generous as she was brought up to be.
Shelly was born in Mt. Morris, one of seven children. Her parents, Ted and Arlene Sparks, were strong, militant, and instilled morals and values in their children at an early age. Shelly graduated from Beecher High School in 1981 as an honor student and with several basketball accolades. As a blue-chipper, she had over 60 scholarship opportunities, for both academics and athletics. She chose to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, where she excelled at basketball.
After earning a Bachelor’s in Business Management, Shelly began a career in hotel management in Atlanta, GA. She worked at Halliburton Engineering for 14 years and taught math in the Houston Community College System. She earned a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University Phoenix in 2005. For two years, she was Document Control / IT Manager at Exxon Mobil, and traveled extensively abroad. All during her travels, God would tell her that she would be back in Flint doing something in the community.
“What being inducted into the Genesee Regional Women’s Hall of Fame means to me is that I am fulfilling the mission that I was put on this earth to do,” Shelly says. “I am always appreciative of people who believe in me and my push for a greater Flint.”
In 2008, Shelly returned to Flint to begin her new mission as a community advocate. She began by writing grants for small nonprofits that could not afford a grant writer. She was successful and decided to start Dare 2 Dream, a small business startup and grant-writing service, which helped clients secure millions of dollars in grant funds.
Shelly joined Evergreen Missionary Baptist Church and met Pastor Daniel Smith, who had a vision of how the church should serve the community. Shelly put the plan to action, and in 2014, they formed the nonprofit Evergreen Community Development Initiative and partnered with two other organizations. In 2015, Shelly wrote a proposal to purchase the former Bunche Elementary School and later, a business plan for startup cash and a grant for funds to open the New Flint Development Center at the site.
Today, Shelly is CEO of the Evergreen Community Development Initiative and the executive director of the Flint Development Center – a place-based operation that allows other organizations to realize their dreams.
In 2005, Shelly was inducted into the Greater Flint African American Sports Hall of Fame for basketball and, in 2017, her high school team that won the 1980 state championship was inducted into the Greater Flint Sports Hall of Fame.
Shelly takes pride in all of her life’s achievements, but mostly for helping others fulfill their dreams. She really believes that “from whom much is given, much is expected.”
Shelly adds, “it’s a great honor and I want to thank Joyce Hagerman and the staff for believing in me and the work that I am doing in the community.”
2019 Historical Inductees
Born Mary Virginia, Sister Claudia made her Perpetual Profession as a Franciscan Sister on September 8, 1951. She was first assigned to Flint in 1960 to serve the staff of Catholic Charities. In 1964, she earned her master’s degree in social work and returned to Catholic Charities to minister as a social worker. Sr. Claudia became familiar with the treatment and rehabilitation of people experiencing substance abuse.
Ministry in Flint became Sr. Claudia’s life, and Flint was her home and family for 45 years. People who knew Sr. Claudia never questioned her love and devotion for the city’s people. She was known for her passion for justice – of particular concern was equal housing for all. When she stood before a judge to fight discrimination, her arguments were so persuasive, the judge suggested she should have been a lawyer.
When Flint experienced an economic downturn, Sr. Claudia created the North End Soup Kitchen and organized the Displaced Workers Center. Additionally, many described her as a tenacious woman, especially when it involved service to the poor. She enjoyed quite a reputation in the community and was often likened to Mother Teresa. After a brief illness, Sr. Claudia passed away in May 2010.
A quiet, “back of the house” philanthropist, Claire championed programs for children, young people and the arts, both nationally and in her home community of Flint. Born and raised in Flint, Claire’s concern for her community was demonstrated daily, not only through financial generosity, but through her many hours of volunteering on local boards and committees.
From 1996-2014, she served as a trustee of Flint’s Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, established by her grandfather in 1926. She was also the chair of the Isabel Foundation and president of the C.S. Harding Foundation, both Flint-based, family foundations.
Claire was a longtime board member of the Flint Institute of Arts, where at age four, she took her first of many classes. She became an accomplished artist and ceramics instructor. In 2005, the FIA named its classroom wing in her honor. At the time of her death in 2014, she served on the museum’s Collections Committee and previously chaired the Building and Art School Committees. She served on many local and national boards and received several awards, including the Community Foundation of Greater Flint’s 2006 Libby Award for her work on behalf of women and girls.
Claire always put the needs and interests of family and friends before her own. Family members describe her as a humble servant who generously shared her time, talent and good fortune with others.
Photography By Kayce McClure and Provided by Zonta Club