Four local residents honored as 'Women of Inspiration' by the YWCA
Celebrating 110 years of serving the people of Genesee County, the YWCA held its first Women of Inspiration Awards brunch on Saturday at the Batavia Country Club.
Honored were Rev. Roula Alkhouri, pastor of Batavia First Presbyterian Church, Maureen Notaro, principal at Jackson Primary School, Marci Redband, accounting specialist at Tonawanda Valley Federal Credit Union, and Jacquelyn L. Swinarski, a retired teacher and community volunteer.
Rev. Roula Alkhouri
In 2000, Alkhouri made history as the first Syrian-American woman ordained in the Presbyterian Church. She has served the community as a strong advocate for building bridges between people, according to Donna Blake, who nominated her for the award. Blake said she is committed to YWCA's mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, and freedom for all. She created Los Samaritamnos, a group that provides food, transportation and support for detainees released from the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia.
Led by Alkhouri, Batavia Presbyterian has built supportive relationships with Crossroads House, Jackson School, Justice for Children, the Alzheimer's Association, and the Little Free Pantry.
During the pandemic, she encouraged her congregation through regular online video messages and services, and members of the congregation encouraged others by delivering cards to nursing home residents.
In her acceptance speech, Alkhouri admitted she was "down in the dumps" because both her father and mother had recently passed away and her brother was diagnosed with cancer.
"I was at a low point," she said. "All I wanted to say was, 'No, I'm not inspired at this moment.' But then I remembered the power of community. And that's the word that I want to leave you with today -- that community is so important for all of us."
Nominated by co-worker Brian Sutton, Notaro was honored as a role model for students and staff of all ages.
"I have worked with her for five years and I have witnessed students flock to her, admire her, and strive to make her proud by listening to her sound advice and guidance," Sutton said.
Notaro credited her mother, a single mom, with instilling in her and her sisters a sense of empowerment.
"She taught me and my sisters that the world could be ours if we were determined and persistent and never gave up on our dreams," Notaro said. "She taught us that everyone has a story and never to dismiss what someone has to say, and that everyone deserves the right to be respected and treated respectfully. She taught us never to judge anyone and to have an open mind. She taught us that all people are equal and that what matters is how a person treats others. I realized that my mother surrounded us with strong supportive women and led by example."
Redband was nominated by her husband Tom Redband.
"When I read the nomination criteria for the Women of Inspiration, which includes how the nominee inspires others, how she serves as a role model for women and girls, how the nominee contributes to her community, and how the nominee promotes the mission and vision of the YWCA -- it was a no brainer when I read this," Tom said. I immediately thought of Marci Redband."
He praised Marci, who has coached high school sports -- including alongside her husband until a season ago at Elba in basketball -- since college graduation, as one of the best female role models he has ever met.
He said she contributes to her community as a coach, including that Elba girls basketball team, which won five straight sectional titles under the combined leadership of the Redbands.
"Marci's passion and drive were to encourage and lead these young women to not sell out themselves to society's expectations of what women are supposed to do and act like, and instead push themselves to become their best selves," Tom said.
Marci said that 10 years ago, she was struggling, struggling to get through college, and a counselor encouraged her to reach out more. Marci responded by pointing how involved she was in her church. The counselor told Marci she needed to get out of her comfort zone.
The next day, she got a call to become an assistant softball coach at Elba.
She said sometimes God places something right in front of you and you've got to do it.
"The biggest lesson that I took from (being a coach) was that consistency, and showing up and being a calm face for some of these young women, is the best thing that you can do for them," Marci said. "It was a life-changing moment for me. And it was how I met my husband."
Jacquelyn L. Swinarski
Swinarski was described as the "energizer bunny" of Robert Morris when she taught kindergarten there for 30 years. She was a role model for other teachers.
She organized the annual 4th-grade Architectural Drawing Contest for the Landmark Society. She was active in the Batavia Teachers' Association. She's volunteered at Crossroads House and organizes the Mega Garage Sale. She volunteers in the community more than 50 hours a week. And, she's been involved in fundraising at St. Joseph's School.
Swinarski encouraged people to treat other people better and to volunteer.
"When you volunteer, you give yourself to others," she said. "When someone does something to you, it's wonderful for a moment but then it's gone. When you do something for someone else, you always find people that are gracious, and loving, and you make more friends."
Millie Tomidy-Pepper, executive director of the YWCA presented Synia Morrison, a senior at Batavia High School, with the first ever Frances G. Francis Scholarship. Francis was founder of the YWCA in Genesee County,