Cassie Barlow, Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz, Kim Duncan, Neenah Ellis, Chris Saunders and The Dayton Chapter of The Links, Incorporated are YWCA's 2019 Women of Influence honorees.

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YWCA Dayton Women of Influence Awards Luncheon honored seven individuals/groups who have made a lasting impact on the community. 

There are women with influence, and then there are women who move mountains.

For the 22nd year, the YWCA Dayton Women of Influence Awards Luncheon honored female leaders who “have made a lasting impact on the Miami Valley through their dedication to, and support of, the YWCA mission of empowering women, eliminating racism and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.”

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The sold-out event took place today, March 21, at the Dayton Convention Center,  22 E. Fifth St., Dayton. 

There were seven honorees, including The Dayton Chapter of The Links, Inc., that will receive the lifetime achievement award. 

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The 2019 honorees are (biographical information provided by YWCA Dayton):  

SHERI “SPARKLE” WILLIAMS 

Sheri "Sparkle" Williams Dancer, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company
Photo: YWCA Dayton

Williams is a role model for defying stereotypes for women of all ages. Williams began her professional dance career as child and has continued to dance professionally well into her 50s with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company.  Despite the average dance troupe member being half her age, she continues to be the premiere dancer of the group, in addition to being the strength and fitness coach.

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In addition to dance, Williams is very involved in the community as a mentor to children and physical fitness trainer for many. She has mastered the training of her own body and now unselfishly shares the knowledge she has acquired with others. She works tirelessly in schools and as a choreographer for youth-based creative arts programs in the community.

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Williams has received numerous awards throughout her career, including the JOSIE Award, Fisk University’s Excellence in Artistry Award, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District, the coveted New York Dance and Performance Award, and the 2014 Ohio Governor’s Award for the Arts.

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NEENAH ELLIS 

Neenah Ellis General Manager, WYSO Public Radio
Photo: YWCA Dayton

Ellis has been the general manager of public radio station WYSO 91.3FM in Yellow Springs, Ohio, since 2009. Prior to that, she worked in Washington, D.C., for 30 years as a public radio producer.

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Ellis began her career at National Public Radio, where she was a producer and writer for the daily news program “All Things Considered.” Her work for NPR won the Alfred I. duPont/Columbia University Award and three George Foster Peabody Awards, broadcasting’s highest honor. At a time when media was dominated by white males, NPR was, from the beginning, different — there were, and still are, many strong women in leadership roles working for NPR. Ellis was mentored by these women, including radio legends like Susan Stamberg.

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Her diverse portfolio includes traveling to Sarajevo in 1994 to produce war documentaries and spending 15 years interviewing Holocaust survivors for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s oral history collection. In 2002, she published “If I Live to be 100: Lessons from the Centenarians,” based on her NPR series about people who are 100 years old. The book was published in five languages, became a New York Times best-seller, and has sold more than 100,000 copies.

Ellis put WYSO on a path to stability and increasing prominence by introducing an innovative approach to journalism: a training program in 2011 called “Community Voices,” a six-month course that teaches the art of radio storytelling. At its core, “Community Voices” is about inspiring and empowering local citizens to tell their own stories.

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She has been honored with The University Station Alliance Madison Hodges Innovation Award for Public Media Advancement (an Edward R. Murrow Award) and has served a long tenure on the Board of the Association of Independents in Radio (including a stint as president), as well as time on the Public Radio in Mid America and Film Dayton boards.

THE DAYTON CHAPTER OF THE LINKS INC. 

The Dayton Chapter of The Links, Inc. will be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award at YWCA's Women of Influence Luncheon.
Photo: Classic Expressionss O

The Dayton Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, was founded in 1949, making it the first chapter chartered in Ohio and the second chapter chartered in the central area of the United States. The Links are dedicated to positive, impactful and productive projects that contribute to the educational, civic and intercultural growth of the Dayton community. Since its founding, The Dayton Chapter of The Links has donated more than $1 million to organizations in the Miami Valley and delivered more than 2,000 hours of community service.  

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Notable projects include establishing the Hospice of Dayton Caring Touch Salon, starting the African-American Community Fund Scholarship Endowment for Wilberforce University and Central State University students, and furthering the Books Alive! Literacy program for elementary students that simultaneously provides support for refugee and newly-immigrated children.

To date, 11 members of  the Dayton chapter have been recognized as YWCA Dayton Women of Influence, and two members have served on the Board of Directors.

The Links, Incorporated, is an international nonprofit established in 1946 with a membership of more than 15,000 professional women of color in 288 chapters located in 42 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, and the United Kingdom.

CHRIS SAUNDERS 

Chris Saunders Community Philanthropist & Global Advocate
Photo: YWCA Dayton

Saunders’ tireless efforts to build peace, understanding, and more inclusive communities have impacted the Miami Valley — and the world.

Beginning in the mid 1980s at the height of the Cold War, Saunders as a board member of Crosscurrents International Institute, led ten citizen diplomacy, or people-to-people, trips to the Soviet Union in an effort to bring understanding between our two countries. The U.S. State Department refers to exchanges of this sort as “Track II Diplomacy” and credits them as an integral part of the demise of communism in Russia in 1991.

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In 1996, she founded the Miami Valley Episcopal Russian Network (MVERN) and built linkages with a village church near St. Petersburg, Russia. Eventually this became the largest and most active parish partnership in the country with 13 Miami Valley Episcopal and Orthodox churches participating. As MVERN’s president and travel chair, Saunders organized 19 cultural exchanges and mission trips to Russia, taking nearly 300 people, including 118 teenagers to Russia. At the same time, she was a member for 12 years of the Episcopal National and World Mission Commission, which works to transcend boundaries of race, color, politics and sexual orientation.

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For 16 years as the Dayton Art Institute’s volunteer Travel Coordinator for Art Trek, she organized and led 130 art-focused trips, 30 of which involved international travel and connected Dayton travelers with foreign citizens.

Saunders has been on the board of the Dayton Council of World Affairs and was a member of the first civilian delegation to Sarajevo, Bosnia, one year after the end of that tragic war, and later served as a member of the Peace Accords Steering Committee. As volunteer coordinator for the Dayton Peace Museum’s exhibitions, she developed or organized many large exhibitions and programs on topics ranging from the Peace Corps to quilts. She is also an active member of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Junior League of Dayton.

Saunders often describes herself as a “professional volunteer;” her love of music and art led her into both professional and volunteer leadership roles in Columbus, Toledo and Dayton. Her career began as assistant to the director of the Columbus Museum of Art, helping to start their docent program, one of the first in the country. She went on to serve as director of development for the Toledo Orchestra and devoted many years of service to the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, serving as president of the Philharmonic Volunteer Association and chair of the successful cookbook, “Mud Pies and Silver Spoons.”

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RABBI KARREN BODNEY-HALASZ

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz Senior Rabbi, Temple Israel
Photo: YWCA Dayton

In role as senior rabbi of Temple Israel, Bodney-Halasz focuses on social justice, compassionate care, inspired worship and relationship building has enriched both Temple Israel and the broader Dayton community. She is the first woman to hold the role in the 168-year history of Temple Israel, which is Dayton’s largest Reform congregation.

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Bodney-Halasz has an overarching goal of creating a community in which all feel recognized and welcome, starting at Temple Israel, and then expanding to initiatives within the Dayton Jewish community and the community at large. She sits on the board of LEAD, Leaders for Equality and Action in Dayton, which works to improve the lives of Dayton residents through structural change. She also works with the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism as part of RAC Ohio’s core leadership team, translating global thinking into local action. Rabbi Bodney-Halasz established a women’s Torah study group at a local coffee shop, coordinated a civil rights trip for teens, and led a group of 20 congregants on a week-long humanitarian trip to aid the Cuban Jewish community.

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Rabbi Bodney-Halasz is a member of the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Women’s Rabbinic Network. She earned a bachelor’s degree in comparative literary studies from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.

KIM DUNCAN 

Kim Duncan Founding Partner, Elements IV Interiors
Photo: YWCA Dayton

With a belief in giving back to the community in which she lives, Duncan has made a major impact on many nonprofit organizations in the Miami Valley. Her version of “retirement” is a focus on reinvesting in our community and introducing countless individuals to deserving causes.

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Duncan founded Elements IV interiors, a commercial interiors business, in 1990 along with three partners. Under her leadership as CEO, the company grew to a multi-million dollar organization. Prior to the company’s sale in 2012, Elements IV was recognized three times on INC Magazine’s “500/5000 Fastest-Growing Privately Held Companies in America” list, awarded the Dayton Business Journal’s Minority Business of the Year and Community Supporter Award, and awarded the Better Business Bureau’s Eclipse Integrity Award. She championed the company’s LEED Silver-Certified corporate headquarters renovation and has lectured on both business ownership and sustainable design at University of Dayton, Stebbins High School, ITT Tech, The American Institute of Architects Dayton and others.

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Duncan has been a mentor to fellow businesswomen through the Bridges to Success program with Women in Business Networking and Dayton Business Journal’s Mentoring Monday, connecting with other like-minded women to help each improve their business skills. She has served on more than two dozen boards and committees and was named a Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce Volunteer of the Year and a Dayton Daily News Ten Top Women 2013.

CASSIE BARLOW 

Cassie Barlow Chief Operating Officer & Interim President, Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education (SOCHE)
Photo: YWCA Dayton

Barlow is the Chief Operating Officer of the Southwestern Ohio Council on Higher Education. Through SOCHE’s multiple workforce development programs, Barlow is focused on workforce needs across Ohio, primarily in the aerospace and defense industry and STEM disciplines. At SOCHE, she leads internship programming as well as faculty and staff conferences and workshops. 

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Thanks to her time in the military, she is familiar with leading multiple activities. She was the 88th Air Base Wing and Installation Commander at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. In that role, she commanded one of the largest air base wings in the U.S. Air Force with more than 5,000 Air Force military, civilian and contractor employees. 

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Barlow retired from active duty as colonel in 2014. She was commissioned in 1988 as a distinguished graduate of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Following graduation, she was assigned to her first of 13 assignments spanning the world.  

Barlow earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Georgetown University, a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Chapman University in Orange County, Calif., and a Ph.D. from Rice University in Houston. She also earned master’s degrees in military operational art and science from Air Command and Staff College in Alabama and in national security from Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C.

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