They are women who have made their mark in a variety of Southcoast arenas and YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts honored them on October 24, 2019 as “Women of Distinction.” The Women of Distinction Awards recognizes outstanding women in our region, whose lives, leadership, accomplishments reflect the YWCA’s Mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. They are recognized for their exceptional commitment to improving the lives of women and girls through their leadership, advocacy, and community service, while achieving success in their career fields. This year’s Women of Distinction awardees include Ms. Celia Brito, owner of Celia’s Boutique, Ms. Sarah Herman, Head of Our Sisters’ School, and Ms. Marlene Pollock, organizer for Coalition for Social Justice. They will be joined by this year’s Spirit of Leadership Award Winners, the YWCA Girls Exclusive Program, as well as the winner of the Yvonne M. Drayton Award winner, Ms. Jane Gonsalves. Lastly, for only the second time in the awards’ history, three men will be recognized as “Men of Distinction”: Mayor Jonathan Mitchell, Senator Mark Montigny, and Representative Antonio Cabral.
The owner of Celia’s Boutique located in downtown New Bedford, Ms. Celia Brito has successfully owned and operated a minority-woman-owned business for seventeen years. Celia’s Boutique has become one of the most prominent upscale stores in New Bedford and throughout the region. While she brought all her skills and experience from her previous positions at Polaroid, it was her intuitiveness, her tenaciousness and her ability to communicate with her patrons, local city offices and the community that made her business the success it is today.
Ms. Brito was celebrated alongside Ms. Sarah Herman, Head of Our Sisters’ School located in New Bedford. With more than 20 years of experience in private and public settings, her commitment to education and social justice has never wavered. Sarah eagerly continues her work at OSS, a school with a clear mission, a commitment to diversity, and a student-centered approach to education.
The third and final 2019 Woman of Distinction Awardee is Ms. Marlene Pollock, Lead Organizer for the Coalition for Social Justice. A fierce social justice advocate, Ms. Pollock has participated in a variety of local and national activities and helped found the Coalition for Social Justice in 1994, which has since become a powerful progressive grassroots organization. In addition, Ms. Pollock taught History at Bristol Community College for over thirty years, and was nominated this year by one of her former students!
This year’s Spirit of Leadership Award recognizes the YWCA Girls Exclusive Program for their creation of the Justice Flow advocacy project aimed at ending period poverty in Greater New Bedford. The Spirit of Leadership Award honors a young woman for her academic and career achievements, community service, advocacy, support of efforts that benefit women and girls, and commitment to the YWCA Mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. Last fall, middle school girls enrolled in the Girls Exclusive Program created an advocacy project they named Justice Flow, and they are dedicated to ending period poverty and improving menstrual hygiene management education. Their advocacy project has been featured in the Teen Vogue, the Boston Globe, the Standard Times, and Commonwealth Magazine. Most importantly, all of their advocacy work has led to actual systems change when last spring New Bedford Public Schools began a pilot program at Keith Middle School to expand access to free menstrual products in three bathrooms. The girls are recognized for their advocacy project which argues that no one should have to miss school, risk their health, or compromise their dignity because of menstruation. Thanks to these girls, the City of New Bedford is at the forefront of the menstrual equity movement in the United States.
The Yvonne M. Drayton Award is named for the former YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts Executive Director, who retired in 2007 after seventeen years of service to YWCA Southeastern Massachusetts. This award recognizes a YWCA volunteer whose commitment to the YWCA and community at-large has been extraordinary. This year, the YWCA is thrilled to honor Ms. Jane Gonsalves, a long-time advocate and supporter of the YWCA. The former Vice President and now Assistant Treasurer of the YWCA Board of Directors, Ms. Gonsalves is passionate about working to empower women and girls, and she frequently mentors young women and girls about her political career and community involvement. As the first woman of Portuguese descent to be elected to the Office of City Council President in New Bedford, Ms. Gonsalves is truly an inspiration to all women and girls in New Bedford who are committed to improving and elevating their community.
This year, the YWCA is thrilled to award three Man of Distinction Awards to honor men who truly embody and support our Mission of eliminating racism and empowering women: Mayor Jon Mitchell, Senator Mark Montigny, and Representative Antonio Cabral. All three men are being recognized for their role in ensuring the successful 6,550 square foot expansion to the YWCA Standish House. This unique expansion combines the YWkids School Age Program and the Residential Program, which features eight single room units for low-income, single women as part of the YWCA’s permanent supportive housing program. The YWCA is forever grateful to the continued support, advocacy, and commitment demonstrated by these three local community leaders. Their persistent determination to see this campaign succeed epitomizes the YWCA’s mission to ensure peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.
Click here to see more photos of the event of the YWCA Facebook Page!