Woman of the Year
The Woman Of the Year is presented annually to a local woman who has made a significant contribution to others and her community.
National Business Women’s Week® is a BPW Foundation signature event started in 1928 that recognizes the achievements of working women throughout history. Each year during this week, the BPW Foundation salutes exceptional female leaders in the workplace. The celebration of NBWW (National Business Women’s Week®) has helped to promote leadership roles for women and to increase opportunities for their advancement professionally and personally.
Similarly, Youngstown BPW carries on this tradition by honoring one outstanding local woman in business each year during NBWW with its Woman Of the Year dinner and award ceremony, which doubles as a fundraiser that supports the Dr. Anne McMahon Scholarship Award. During the event, the YBPW Woman of the Year is honored for her achievements as YBPW pursues its vision of the empowerment and advancement of women through education and mentorship by providing resources for a future leader of our community to achieve her educational goals through our scholarship.
If you’d like to donate to or sponsor the Woman of the Year event, you can learn more below.
History of the Woman of the Year Award
The YBPW Woman of the Year Award was first bestowed in 1966 to Esther Hamilton, an outstanding columnist for the Youngstown Vindicator with years of service to the community. In the 1980s, the Woman of the Year Award was transformed into the Athena Award when YBPW partnered with The Vindicator to bring the first Athena program to Youngstown. As the program and award ceremony grew in size, the Vindicator and eventually the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber took over the award program.
In 2011, YBPW chose to reinstate the Woman Of the Year Award. Since then, the club has reached beyond its membership to look for female leaders in the community that have achieved in their career, mentored others, and worked as advocates for equity for women.
Sharon Letson 2022 Woman Of the Year
Sharon Letson was hired as the first Executive Director of Youngstown CityScape when the organization started in 2005. With Ms. Letson as executive director, CityScape evolved from a group
of 20 volunteers meeting annually to clean up downtown, to a thriving center city Community Development Corporation that commands over 650 volunteers a year, maintains 215 flower pots, 24 garden beds, supports 22 community garden organizations throughout the city, and plants and cares for over 35,000 plants downtown annually!
Under Sharon’s leadership, CityScape’s creative partnerships have transformed the look and feel of Youngstown. City Scape has developed projects ranging from flower bed creation and public art installations to the redesign of Wick Avenue, our “Cultural Corridor.” With Sharon overseeing the project design, Wick Avenue became Youngstown’s first successful downtown corridor redevelopment project in over 20 years, and set the design bar for the $10.8M in reconstruction work currently
underway on Fifth, Front, Commerce, Federal, and Phelps Streets.
CityScape’s long-term commitment to the revitalization of Wick Park (over $1M in upgrades over the last 14 years!) has been done in conjunction with the City, the Rotary Club of Youngstown, YSU, the
community, and non-profit partners from across the Valley. CityScape has partnered with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, the County Land Bank, Youngstown State University, and a host of
public and private entities on projects that make our downtown pop!
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Streetscape Day, a quarter of a century of convening volunteers and partners to beautify downtown, the gateways, adjacent neighborhoods, and parks. This unbroken chain of positive volunteer action is the direct result of Sharon’s determination and
creativity. And CityScape continues charting bold and challenging new directions! Most recently, the organization purchased the last urban greenhouse in the city of Youngstown and started CityScape at Briel’s. This venture will expand the growing space and build a community-based business, create meaningful job training for women in Youngstown’s returning citizens’ population, keep precious financial resources within greater Youngstown, and sow the seeds to help rebuild the local economy.
Ms. Letson is currently President of the Rotary Club of Youngstown, District 6650. She agreed to take on this added responsibility in 2022 in particular because, for the first time ever, the International Rotary President is a woman. Ms. Letson was so energized by this prospect that she felt compelled to
accept an opportunity to serve.
Previously, Ms. Letson worked as the Director of Youth Leadership Mahoning Valley, a Credit and Collections Relations Manager for an Interconnect Supply Company, and a Patient Account
Representative for a large Pittsburgh hospital. Ms. Letson is married to Attorney Dan Letson, and her most significant work has been as the mother of daughter Abby and son Danny, and grandmother to Abby and her husband Nick’s twin boys, Warren and Mitchell.
Thank you to our Sponsors
2021 Woman of the Year: Leah Merritt
As President and CEO of YWCA Mahoning Valley since July 2012, Merritt has worked to provide impactful services for women, families, and marginalized persons, especially those of color, emphasizing affordable housing.
Leah Merritt has served in many roles since joining the organization in 1994. Through the agency’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, she focuses on equity and social justice.
She also serves as a Board Member for the League of Women Voters of Greater Youngstown and chairs the budget committee as the past Treasurer. In addition, she is a Board member of the Warren Kiwanis, Co-Chair Elect for the Ohio Council of YWCAs, and a proud member of the Social Justice League.
YBPW has a long history of partnering with YWCA for various events. Its mission of educating and empowering women in the Valley often intersects with Merritt and her team’s work. “Not only has Leah been a leader in our community with her work helping women and families, but also she’s been an avid supporter of the work YBPW has done. We’re so excited to be able to honor her as this year’s Woman of the Year,” states Rene Butler, YBPW President.
2019 Woman of the Year: The Rev. Gayle Catinella
Secretary of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Ohio, Secretary of the Board of Help Network, Co-Coordinator of the Greater Youngstown Community Dialogue on Racism, Co-chair of the Community Foundation’s Healthy Community Partnership on Food Access, a member of the Police Chaplain Corps, and a member of Rotary.
The Rev. Gayle Catinella was born and raised in Chicago and suburbs, graduating from Hinsdale South High School and the Loyola University of Chicago. Following graduation, she worked for a year for the church in Belize, and upon her return, she joined the staff of the St. Francis Catholic Worker House in Chicago, a homeless shelter.
During this time she also received a Master’s Degree in Social Work. After a short stay running a similar shelter in Rock Island, Illinois, Catinella and her family moved to a farm in Northeast Nebraska, where she worked as a clinical social worker and was adjunct faculty at Wayne State College in Wane, Nebraska.
During this time she felt God’s urging to pursue her call to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. After finishing a Master’s Degree she was ordained in June 2002 and went to work as assistant Rector at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. In 2004, she accepted a call to be Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Berea, OH, where she served happily for 10 years.
In 2014, Catinella has offered a call to St. John’s Episcopal Church in Youngstown. Since her arrival, she has fallen in love with this community, made wonderful friends, and found great meaning in the works of justice in the outreach of the church. St. John’s is involved in the neighborhood, with YSU students, in efforts to combat racism and provide food access, and in supporting the arts.
Catinella is the proud parent of Paul, Tim, Jacob, Katie, Philip, and Martin, and grandma to JD, Jayden, and Christina. She considers this her most wonderful accomplishment.
2018 Woman of the Year : Stephanie Gilchrist
Executive Director of Inspiring Minds of Youngstown
Stephanie Gilchrist, Mahoning Valley native and Youngstown resident is the Executive Director of Inspiring Minds of Youngstown. Inspiring Minds is a nonprofit outreach organization that works with underrepresented youth in our community and aims to engage, inspire and empower students through education and exposure to new experiences.
The organization was founded in 2006 in Warren, Ohio by Deryck Toles; and made its first geographic expansion to Youngstown, Ohio in 2015 and in the summer of 2018 expanded to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Gilchrist is a long-time community collaborator. Before coming to Inspiring Minds of Youngstown, she was most recently the Project Coordinator at the Youngstown Business Incubator for Tech Block Building 5, overseeing the $5.7 million project. She then served as the Director of the Women in Entrepreneurship Program, where she assisted over 50 women entrepreneurs with the resources to operate their businesses.
Gilchrist earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Youngstown State University. She also completed the Executive MBA program through Strayer University’s Jack Welch Management Institute.
In addition, Gilchrist, alongside her husband of 26 years, owns Ryan’s Chair Barber and Beauty Salon which has been in the community for over 20 years. Together they have two sons, Ryan and Ian. They attend Second Baptist Church in Warren, OH and she serves the youth there as well.
2017 Woman of the Year: Shirley Christian, Esq.
Local attorney with Reminger Co., LPA, and prior Mahoning County Common Pleas Judge
Attorney Christian was selected due to her years of professional leadership, commitment to our valley, and relentless advocacy for women. While maintaining a full law practice, she also served on the Board of Commissioners on Grievances & Discipline; chaired one of the Probable Cause committees of the Grievances Board; served on the Board of Governors with the Ohio State Bar Association; has served as President of the Mahoning County Bar Association; the committee to evaluate Ohio Supreme Court candidates and was recently honored by Community Legal Aid for her service in establishing a Legal Aid clinic. Shirley has also served as a mentor in the Ohio Supreme Court Lawyer to Lawyer Mentoring program for the past five years.
2016 Woman of the Year : Rebecca Keck
Executive Director of SMARTS in Youngstown, OH
Becky was chosen for her years of professional leadership, advocacy for youth education, and her ability to overcome obstacles. After the SMARTS program was cut from Youngstown State University’s College of Fine & Performing Arts, Becky was determined to keep the program alive. Through the support of community leaders, families, and donors, she re-opened the program in November 2014. Becky has also served the community in various leadership positions, including the Board of Directors for the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, Mahoning Valley Historical Society, President of the Rotary Club of Youngstown, and many other art, youth, and civic organizations.
2015 Woman of the Year : Julie Vugrinovich
Licensed REALTOR & Property Professional at Howard Hanna Real Estate
Julie was selected for her leadership qualities and constant work to improve the lives of young women in the Mahoning Valley. Julie was an active board member for several area organizations, including Northeast Ohio Adoption Services, Homes For Kid’s Child and Family Solutions, YWCA Warren, American Cancer Society, League of Women Voters Trumbull County, United Way of Trumbull County, American Heart Association, Betty’s Angels, Warren City Federation of Women’s Clubs, and Trumbull County Federation of Women’s Clubs. She was Advisor of the GFWC Ohio Warren Juniorettes, a volunteer organization for young ladies ages 12 to 18, which she founded in 1996 in memory of her sister who died at the age of 16.
2014 Woman of the Year: Becky Dearing Wall
VP, and Treasurer, Dearing Compressor & Pump Co.
Becky was selected for her role in the growth and financial success of Dearing Compressor and expanding its skilled workforce, which had grown from 40 in 2005 to more than 200 in 2014. She is also an active volunteer in the community. She was the 2013 chairwoman of the United Way of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley.
2013 Woman of the Year: Liz McGarry
Director of Development, Hospice of the Valley
Liz helped raise more than $7 million to aid in establishing new care centers for the terminally ill in northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. She also has a long list of professional associations and volunteer work. She is dedicated to improving overall life in the Mahoning Valley.
2012 Woman of the Year: Dr. Cynthia Anderson
President, Youngstown State University
From teaching part-time to becoming the first female president at YSU, Dr. Anderson first started serving students in 1968. She has given back to the community through mentorship, her positions on nonprofit boards and all her student programs at YSU.
2011 Woman of the Year: Traci Miller
Owner, Color 3 Embroidery
At the time, Miller’s company had recently expanded into a 12,500-square-foot building in downtown Warren. Miller also does business coaching through the Growth Coach and is president of the board of directors of the YWCA of Warren.
Become a Sponsor or Donor
Support the Woman of the Year and/or the Youngstown Business & Professional Women’s Club by making a donation or an in-kind donation to the Club for the event or sponsoring the event through the purchase of a program ad. All monetary gifts will contribute to running the event and will fund scholarships that provide financial assistance to deserving women pursuing higher education in the Mahoning Valley
$1,000 Platinum Sponsor
- Gold benefits with 2 additional dinner tickets for the event (total of 4)
- Special large signage
- Full page program ad (8.5″ x 5.5″)
$500 Gold Sponsor
- Silver benefits plus (2) dinner tickets for event
- Half-page program ad (4.25″ x 5.5″)
$250 Silver Sponsor
- Company recognition at event and on Facebook page and posts
- Patron listing in program
Inquire about Sponsorship for 2022
Sponsorship/Basket Raffle– Janelle Fumerola, firstname.lastname@example.org, (330) 360-3242
Mystery Box/Wine/Drop Off– Dee McFarland, email@example.com,(330) 853-7858,
Reliable Consulting Group LLC, 6810 Market Street, Suite 101, Youngstown, 44512
WE THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
Preserving History. Maintaining Tradition. Changing the Future.