Making an Impact

When President Jimmy Carter declared a week in March of 1980 as Women’s History Week, he proclaimed, “Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” With growing support nationwide, by 1987 Congress had declared March as Women’s History Month to formally recognize the contributions of women to significant events in history. Many women here in Genesee County have made a significant impact on our community. My City Magazine shines the spotlight on just a few of the local professionals who strive to make a difference. ♦

impactfulwomen-5Lennetta Coney

A good steward

Lennetta Coney is the Executive Director of College and Community Advancement/President of the Foundation for Mott Community College. She also serves as the fiscal agent for two outside nonprofit entities. “I am a convener.” says Lennetta. “I bring people together for the purpose of collaboration, problem-solving and deriving strategies which advance the College’s mission.” Most of her days are spent interacting with people, speaking before groups, making presentations, talking with donors or persons interested in the College, interacting with students, chairing meetings and preparing proposals. “My communications skills are tapped constantly,” she laughed. “All day, I am faced with decisions – managing people and budgets, as well as properly stewarding my donors’ money. I constantly look for the intersection between providing the joy of giving and the current needs and demands of MCC.”

“With the Foundation being considered the fourth funding stream for the college, it is essential to promote steady growth,” Lennetta says. She represents the College as a major community partner and all collective efforts are aimed at advancing the work of MCC within Genesee, Lapeer and Livingston Counties. “My quest is to strengthen the Foundation to the point that its endowment is large enough to meet the annual scholastic and programmatic needs of the college,” she says.

Lennetta’s long-term vision is to continue building a strong alumni support base for MCC. “Our 90-plus year institution has such a rich legacy and a multitude of alums across the country,” she says. “Many have left the state but still value the foundation that our community college provided. It is my mission to make sure that the Foundation provides all who wish to gain educational competency the resources and access needed to realize their educational goals.” She adds that as Mott College provides educational opportunity, her fervent wish for our community is to seek ways to retain students, “so that career opportunities and a quality lifestyle is something that can be realized here as opposed to departing.”

I’m inspired by …
“My mother has been my most inspirational role model and has had the most profound impact on me. She is the one who instilled ethics and a passion to succeed. I look back at the words of wisdom imparted – Edith Bradley was preparing me to be a ‘take charge person.’ Years ago, she gave me a greeting card that said ‘When I look into your eyes, you are everything I wanted to be.’ I kept this card and will cherish it forever, because I realize I am who I am because her principles and passion live in me.” ♦

impactfulwomen-7Kathleen Gazall

Making downtown a better place

For Flint native, Kathleen Gazall, giving back to her community is a priority. She is the manager of Gazall Lewis & Associates, Architects Inc., a Downtown business founded in 1968 by her father, Robert. Her brother, John, has been the president since 1999. Kathleen says the staff is like family and they all give back to the community in some way.

Not only is she proud of her family’s business, Kathleen is very community-oriented. She is involved with Friends of the Alley, a nonprofit organization focused on beautifying Buckham Alley. FOTA is currently planning the 5th Annual Buckham Alley Festival, an event started by Kathleen and a couple other folks over a burger and a beer at The Torch. “We thought it would be cool to shut down the alley and have a music fest,” she laughed. They knew they were onto something when 1,500 people attended the first one. Actively involved with the Downtown Development Authority, she is a volunteer and committee member for many of their events, as well as other Downtown festivals. “You can find me every year selling papers for Old Newsboys of Flint.” she laughed. “It’s always cold but I really do enjoy it.” She helps raise funds for Priority Children and Flint River Watershed Coalition, among others, and is a former Greater Flint Arts Council board member. “I also plant 100 tulip bulbs every fall, randomly and anywhere I can dig a hole Downtown!” she exclaimed.

For the family business, her long-term vision is to continue designing for the community. “We have a birds-eye view of the Downtown revitalization right outside our window,” she smiles. As for community involvement, she’d like to keep the momentum going. “I want to do whatever I can to show my love and support for Flint,” she says. “I remember when nobody wanted to come Downtown, and look at it now! There is always something going on, something to do.”

Her biggest challenge? “I have to remind myself on a daily basis to be more patient,” she laughs, adding that the biggest reward is taking an idea, talking about it and watching it become real. “My reward is being able to step up, help out and give back,” she says. “It’s how I was raised. I always ask myself, ‘How can I do more?’” Kathleen also enjoys living Downtown. “I’m at the forefront of everything – the restaurants, the events and the Farmers’ Market,” she says. “I totally love urban living; I’m meant to be Downtown; I am exactly where I should be.”

I’m inspired by …

“Memories of my mom inspire me. She had incredible strength and I realize that more and more, especially as I get older. She would be proud of all her children. We’re all so different but carry the same values. We are committed to this community and willing to go the extra mile to make Flint a better place to live and work. As Audrey Hepburn said, ‘As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.’ ♦

impactfulwomen-2Anne Grantner

Closing the gap on homelessness

There is no “typical day” for Anne Grantner, the President and CEO of the Shelter of Flint. She may have a quiet day spent researching new programs and returning phone calls. Other days are filled with meetings with community partners, board members or staff. “Every day is different, and that keeps it interesting and exciting!” Anne exclaimed. Her long-term vision for Shelter of Flint is to see it continue to grow. “For 32 years, Shelter of Flint has helped low-income and homeless individuals and families achieve independence and stability,” says Anne. In October 2013, Shelter of Flint moved to a new facility and nearly doubled the capacity of its emergency shelter. As a steward, Anne believes it is her job to continue to steer the shelter down the path of expansion. “I do that by looking at opportunities for us to increase programs, for both housing and supportive services,” she says.

The Shelter of Flint consistently reports 90 percent success in positive housing destinations for clients. Maintaining that leadership requires a strong vision as well as seeing concepts through until they are tangible realities. “I would like us to continue to work to close the gap in homelessness,” Anne says. “As a bridge builder in our community, I continue to work closely and effectively with community leaders and decision makers, key funders, board members and clients of the Shelter to ensure that we close any gaps in services that would benefit our community.”

The challenge is not having enough time in the day to accomplish everything. “The Shelter is a fast-paced environment and there are so many people to help,” Anne says. “The biggest reward is watching our clients who have faced tremendous adversity get so excited when the time comes for them to sign their lease; and knowing the children we serve will leave here with a safe, stable place to grow up.”

I’m inspired by…

“Naming only one woman who specifically inspired me would leave the list incomplete. Certainly, my mother was and is instrumental in shaping who I am. So too are the colleagues I work with and the strong women who are leaders in our community. I give credit to all the women who have come before me – women that I may or may not have known. Those women opened doors and paved the way and are contributors to the growth of all women.” ♦

impactfulwomen-3Katrina Khouri

Building our children up

Katrina Khouri, Director of Development at Whaley Children’s Center, oversees the communications, outreach, volunteerism and fundraising of the Center. On a typical day, she works with her team developing communication pieces, giving tours to supporters, spending time with volunteers and the children, and attending special event committee meetings and evening community events. Her vision is to develop a strong group of community advocates who are a unified voice not only for the children who live at Whaley, but for all survivors of abuse and neglect, as well as for those kids who did not survive the terrible crimes inflicted on them.

“I envision the continued growth of our therapeutic and residential treatment programs that build our children up with life and social skills they need, but haven’t yet developed because of the painful situations they were born into,” says Katrina. “Because so many of our kids have been dealing with adult issues for most of their lives, they haven’t had a chance to just be carefree kids whose only concerns are passing a spelling test at school or hanging out with their friends again.”

The goal of the Center is to establish a continuum of care that is trauma-informed in the children’s everyday living, education, and in clinical therapy that extends past their time at Whaley. “If we can identify and help these children quicker, then our community will be raising more principled and successful youth who are contributing to the community rather than draining it,” says Katrina. The biggest reward is working with the kids. “When they are not struggling, they are so much fun, so sweet and so bright,” she says. “They just need attention and giving it to them is what I love.”

The big challenge is resources. “There is a lot that we want to do at Whaley, but in my opinion it’s not happening soon enough,” she adds. “I’ve always been a little impatient, though.”

I’m inspired by…

“My mom. She was not only beautiful, but intelligent, warm, and generous to so many people. She taught first grade for over 30 years at Homedale Elementary School in Flint. I remember her coming home and telling me stories about the kids in her classroom. Whenever a child had a breakthrough in reading (which was her specialty) she would feel so accomplished and proud to have taught them. She was an incredible mother who taught me wonderful life lessons in the short 18 years that I got to spend with her.” ♦

impactfulwomen-4Kay Schwartz

Connecting with the community

As the director of Library Services at the Flint Public Library, Kay Schwartz spends much of her time connecting the library with the community. In a typical week, she may meet with potential partners about collaboration opportunities and with other community CEOs to talk about how their organizations can address community needs such as literacy. She also meets with people who may be interested in supporting the library financially or in other ways. “My vision is that the Flint Public Library will become the go-to place for technology-infused learning and creativity for all ages,” she says. “The library is the best starting place for people to both experience and experiment with new technologies, or anything else they want to learn, because we serve everyone free of charge.”

Kay says that the transformation of the library will support Flint’s Master Plan and its goals of fostering a job-ready workforce and developing youth. “I am incredibly optimistic about Flint’s future because of the energy and hard work I see being done every day from the neighborhood level on up,” she says. “No one is sitting back and waiting for the city to do something – people are engaged in making change themselves. It’s an exciting time!”

The challenge is managing money and resources. Because of the economy and the decline in Flint property values, the library has to provide services on a much smaller budget than before, notes Kay. The biggest reward of her job is watching children’s story times and seeing the young ones fall in love with books and stories. “Reading opens up the world for a young person,” she says. “The sky’s the limit!”

I’m inspired by…

“I have quite a few female ‘heroes,’ among them my mother, who undertook everything she did with her own high standard of excellence, from cooking a meal to doing her job assisting a corporate CEO. My other inspirations are two women I worked for early in my career, Linda Holloway and Peggy Jury. Their leadership, coaching and mentoring helped me grow enough that I was ready to become a CEO myself when the time was right.” ♦

impactfulwomen-1Reta Stanley

Finding a mentor for every child

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Flint, President/CEO Reta Stanley is one busy lady. “Every day is a new day with new opportunities and new challenges,” she says. Her daily responsibilities include checking in with the management team to review program, fundraising, marketing and financial priorities, and preparing for and attending community, board and staff meetings. She supports fundraising activities and measures successful volunteer recruitment and public relations efforts, as well as working with various affinity groups to increase productivity. During the past few weeks, she was been busy planning and organizing a major fundraiser, Bowl-for-Kids Sake. Several new initiatives are also in the works such as the Youth Workforce Opportunities Initiative and My Brother’s Keeper.

BBBS of Greater Flint has celebrated 70 years in the Greater Flint community. “My shared vision with our Board and staff is to build agency capacity to provide mentors to every child who needs and wants a Big Brother or Big Sister to change their lives for the better, forever,” says Reta. “Our community’s strength is in the people who live, work and volunteer to make a difference.” The long-term vision is that each citizen assumes their individual responsibilities to give generously of their time and talents, being aware of issues that have long-term implications to the health and well-being of the community. Reta says this can be achieved by teaching our young people at an early age the importance of service.

What Reta finds rewarding about her job is the successful one-to-one mentoring matches that have proven long and enduring – in which the youth are graduating from high school and pursuing higher education. “The greatest reward is when their dreams and purposes are realized and they are in their chosen careers leading productive and fulfilling lives,” she added. One of the biggest challenges faced by BBBS, however, is the lack of volunteers. “The number of youth who need mentors continues to grow,” she says, “and while there are hundreds of community members who step up and volunteer, the number does not match the number of youth in need.” Currently, 391 kids are waiting for someone to spend time with them, share experiences and help them reach their full potential.

I’m inspired by…

“My 84-year-old mother is my inspiration. My friends would always say, ‘I love your mother.’ And I never really understood that the uncensored honesty she would share whether you asked her opinion or not helped so many look at their lives and seek to do better for themselves. She grew up with strong family values and ethics and instilled those in her four children, their friends and even sometimes strangers. For her, having a successful life is not that hard if you make good decisions based on a strong sense of purpose. Her ‘tough love’ has grown to be a great inspiration for me.” ♦

impactfulwomen-6Cecelia Winkler

Prepare deaf students for the world, not shield them from it

As the Principal of the Michigan School for the Deaf in Flint, Cecelia Winkler strives to uphold the school’s mission which is to prepare its students for life in the world, not shield them from it. Skills in English literacy and American Sign Language are the building blocks for success both in the classroom and beyond. Cecelia is responsible for the academic and residential programs for the students.

“My long-term vision for MSD is that it will continue to increase in population and become a place that supports deaf education for other students and educators all over the state!” Cecelia exclaimed. “We also work with teacher training programs and interpreter training programs to be a site for practical experience for those who are in university programs for teaching or interpreting.”

Cecelia’s biggest challenge is making sure MSD students and parents are fully informed of the daily activities on campus, regardless of their distance from it. “But the biggest reward is working with a population of students and parents who are actively engaged and who fight for their children to be treated equally,” she reports. Another challenge is making sure the students’ linguistic needs are met in an American Sign Language (ASL) rich environment and that they receive their Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

I’m inspired by…

“We stand on the shoulders of giants … The women who have inspired me are Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Mother Teresa and Maya Angelou.” ♦


Comments are closed.