Meet our outstanding 2016 nominees for Woman of the Year
Sonya Arrington, Founder of Mothers Against Teen Violence
Nominator: Veronica Rexford
In January of 2010, Sonja Arrington’s 19 year old son, Steve, was shot and killed. Knowing she had to do something to turn this tragedy into something positive, and determined to work to reduce youth and gun violence, she formed Mothers Against Teen Violence. Along with representatives from youth services agencies, Sonya developed a program for troubled youth, the Leadership Endowment Accountability and Diversity (LEAD) program which started with a handful of students in 2012. Since then more than 300 students have passed through the program. In 2014, Sonya ran for City Council in hopes she could further her work with the community and troubled youth and won. She attends virtually every Take Back the Site Vigil sponsored by the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Sisters of St. Joseph, and Sisters of Mercy. At these vigils she reaches out to the mothers and their families to give encouragement and share their pain. Sonya is a tireless advocate for youth, mothers who have been touched by tragedy, and for the reduction of gun violence. She has encouraged the women of the Erie community to reach for their potential.
Safia Kassir, Advocate and Speaker for the LGBTQI Community; Owner of On Trend Social Marketing
Safia Kassir is an advocate for gay women in the Erie community. She attempts to educate those who discriminate, judge, stereotype and bully women of all ages based on their sexual orientation. Her hopes are that she may change negative and misconceived perceptions of gays, and give hope and dignity to those who are misjudged and who struggle to love themselves. She has spoken at Edinboro University’s Women of Word (WOW) event on the misconceptions of being a gay woman. Safia volunteers her time and talent to help women of HER P.O.W.E.R, a networking group for women. She is also a volunteer for The Caring Place and organizes events for The Coffee Club Divas, another networking group for women. She is steadfast in her focus to help her fellow sisters to live a life of love and acceptance through understanding that can only come from the education of all people.
Amanda Kochirka, Business and Technology Commercialization Consultant at Gannon University’s Small Business Development Center
Nominator: Lesley Ridge
In her role at Gannon University’s Small Business Development Center, Amanda Kochirka serves as an advisor to local small business owners and entrepreneurs looking to fulfill a dream of owning a business. Personally she has recently been nominated to chair the Athena Circle of Trust mentorship group for young professional women. In addition to this role, Amanda has supported women throughout the business community through her service to Athena Powerlink. For over six years, Amanda has served on the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” committee in various leadership roles. Amanda’s mother had battled breast cancer and about a year ago, passed away from ovarian cancer. This only motivated her to become a huge contributor and leader in the Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and cancer support in the Erie community at large. She has spearheaded many initiatives with the annual Gannon University Women’s Basketball Pink Zone game and committee. She continues to be an active member of the Gannon Cancer Support group. Amanda rose above a time of tragedy in her life of losing her mother and turned it into a passion and service to support women suffering from cancer, as well as their caretakers.
Mary Jo Cline Szewczyk, Founder of S.O.S. for Kids; Administrator of Ongoing Clinical Services for Erie County’s Office of Children and Youth
Nominator: Tammy Owens
As Director of Children’s Services, Mary Jo Cline Szewczyk she saw the impact drugs, alcohol, physical violence, and emotional abuse has on the lives of children and teenagers. Food and housing were among the services for these youth; but neither public assistance nor household income could provide nurturing for one’s interest, passion, or hobby. In response to this need, she created a non-profit organization called S.O.S. for Kids which provides children and teenagers with items and classes to develop a particular talent at which they normally wouldn’t have the chance to achieve. For the past 20 years she has funded this program with a huge summer garage sale. S.O.S. also fosters things that money can’t buy; self esteem, and joy. Mary Jo selflessly donates her vacation and personal time to this project. Her hopes are that S.O.S will create careers sparked by being the recipient of a musical instrument, a football or basketball, or a cake decorating class. S.O.S. may give a troubled youth a therapeutic outlet for any situation in their life. Seeing the joy and happiness that S.O.S. gives to the youth is payment enough for Mary Jo.
Carolyn Taylor, Director and Co-Founder of Mission Read
Nominators: Keith Taylor and Daniel Taylor
Carolyn Taylor is the Co-Founder of Mission Read. Carolyn is a mother of three and a Certified Dyslexia Tutor who has remediated 75 students in the nine years she has been certified. As a high energy, caring and empathetic woman, she is driven to tirelessly advocate for children who suffer from dyslexia. Carolyn co-founded Mission Read to provide free reading remediation to disadvantaged youth in Erie. She is fighting to provide services to a population that is underserved . Carolyn assisted in the development of Pennsylvania State Legislation to recognize dyslexia as a learning disability. She has also helped with legislation to fund pilot programs within the state, like the program at McKinley Elementary here in Erie. Carolyn knows that by providing remediation to these children, they have a chance to increase their confidence and self esteem, which in turn will allow them to succeed and accomplish greater things in life.