Evanston, IL, August 30, 2016 — YWCA Evanston/North Shore today announced the recipients of its 2016 YWomen Leadership Awards. The awards, which will be presented at the YWomen benefit dinner in Evanston on October 13, recognize women who have made an impact in women’s empowerment, racial justice and social change.
The 2016 YWomen honorees include:
Julie Smolyansky, president and CEO of Morton Grove-based Lifeway Foods. In 2002, at age 27, Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held company. Since then, Smolyansky has not only presided over a period of expansion and growth at Lifeway, she also has used her leadership position to spotlight issues affecting women and girls, including violence against women, human rights, nutrition, and maternal health. Smolyansky has produced several documentaries addressing these topics and she recently founded Test400k, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the nationwide backlog of untested rape kits and advocating for victims of sexual assault.
Evonda Thomas-Smith, director of the Evanston Department of Health and Human Services. Throughout her more than 25-year career in public health, Thomas-Smith has worked to address the social inequities that impact health and improve access to healthcare for all. Her leadership, advocacy and knack for building relationships led to the opening of the Erie Family Health Center, the first federally qualified health center in Evanston, providing access to medical, behavioral and oral health services for thousands of medically underserved families. Thomas-Smith also is a staunch advocate for women’s health. She launched the “Women Out Walking” program in Evanston to encourage healthier lifestyles and physical activity for women.
Amita Lonial, learning experiences manager at the Skokie Public Library. Lonial is interested in the intersection of public libraries and social justice, and she focuses on creating innovative ways to deliver programs and services that build resilient and equitable communities. Last year, she was part of a team that led a four-month program at the Skokie Public Library called “Voices of Race.” This program centered on the exhibit, “RACE: Are We So Different?,” a partnership between the Illinois Holocaust Museum and YWCA Evanston/North Shore. It included reading, conversations and hands-on activities that not only celebrated diversity but also tackled issues of race and racial equity. Lonial is being honored as a YWomen Young Woman of Promise.
The YWomen Leadership Awards were created by YWCA Evanston/North Shore in 2008 to recognize, support and promote women’s leadership and the impact women have in bringing social change to our local communities. Purchase tickets to the event at www.ywomen.gesture.com.
YWCA Evanston/North Shore works to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families, and strengthen local communities. It serves more than 10,000 people annually in northern Cook County. Learn more at www.ywca.org/evanston.