Women honoring women: WISE Tribute Honorees receive recognition for good works

Several local women are getting the recognition they deserve Wednesday.

The 2014 WISE Women of Blair County tribute honorees are: Dorothea Nelson of Hollidaysburg, Patricia W. Savage of Hollidaysburg, Helen Rossi of Tyrone, Karen Harkless Duffett of Hollidaysburg, Dawn Morden of Altoona, Sarah Donley of Altoona and Alice Lawrence of Altoona.

“The mission of our organization is to empower women and eliminate racism through collaboration, service, and education,” treasurer Diane Osgood wrote in an email.

In the last five years, WISE (Women Involved in Scholarship and Empowerment) Women of Blair County, which operates through the Central Pennsylvania Community Foundation, has provided more than $30,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations and $60,000 in scholarships to Blair County women “who are pursuing post-secondary education and who have overcome adversity in their lives,” she said.

The “annual Tribute dinner recognizes seven outstanding area women who have demonstrated excellence and leadership in promoting the awareness of the significant role of women in the economic growth and quality of life in our community,” Osgood said.

The honorees from the previous year choose from community nominations those to be honored this year. The WISE Women of Blair County Board of Directors select who will receive the honor for Lifetime Achievement.

Alice Lawrence

Lawrence, who retired from Warnaco after 36 years, was chosen as this year’s Lifetime Achievement tribute honoree.

She has served or is currently serving on organizations including the NAACP, the Salvation Army and the Blair County Community Action Agency, a biography from the organization said.

Lawrence said being among the other recipients is a “fantastic honor.”

She believes in human kindness: “Helping somebody with a smile or even a few little words or visiting with somebody that maybe they’ve never had a visitor or anything, and it really helps,” she said.

Former Blair County commissioner Donna Gority wrote of Lawrence: “She is always very dedicated to the betterment of our community and works continuously for the empowerment of women and the elimination of racism by her actions, not just her words. She certainly exemplifies the mission of WISE Women of Blair County.”

Karen Harkless Duffett

Duffett, Altoona Area School District elementary school counselor, is this year’s recipient of the Education honor.

“Karen contributes every day to the lives of future women as she dedicates herself to supporting, listening to and understanding young girls to grow and learn in healthy ways,” nominator Jolene Grubb Kopriva wrote. “You may recognize some common themes running as strong threads in her career and life: building self-esteem in young women, valuing family, strength building, mentoring and relationship building.”

Duffett feels honored she was picked this year for the WISE Women education award, she wrote in an email.

“As someone who has attended the dinner in past years, I know I am joining a group of very accomplished women,” she said. “I have always been proud to be an employee of the Altoona School District and have enjoyed working with such dedicated and committed professionals.”

Sarah Donley

Donley, 16, who will receive the Rising Star honor, created the Sarah Donley Sharing is Caring Fund after a 2011 Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh stay for kidney failure, Ann Benzel of Altoona wrote in her nomination of Donley.

During her stay, Donley discovered how some children were left alone because their family could not financially afford to be there and learned about “the implications of families unable to afford health insurance,” she wrote.

“It was then that Sarah felt she was put there for a reason and vowed to return home and work diligently to raise funds to help children and their families in need,” Benzel wrote. “As a young woman, Sarah is an inspiration to all women. Her undertaking of this project at the young age of 13 and her continued commitment to the project speak to the positive impact her work will have in this community.”

Donley is honored to receive the award, she said.

“It makes me want to be a leader in my community and it is great motivation to go on and carry out my charity and help others,” she said.

Dawn Morden

Receiving the honor for Nonprofit/Government, Morden, Altoona Area High School KIND (Kids In New Directions) program facilitator and teacher, established the nonprofit Brian Morden Foundation in honor of her son who died from Ewing’s Sarcoma in 2003.

“Instead of falling apart, Dawn gathered strength and decided to fight,” wrote nominator Sherry Buck, former principal of McAuliffe Heights Elementary.

Among Morden’s efforts: the declaration of Septem-ber as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and Brian Baskets and Brian Bags, which are filled with items such as snacks and toys and given to patients, families and staff at pediatric oncology units.

“I certainly appreciate the honor, which is truly to be shared with numerous community organizations and volunteers who have continued to fight Brian’s fight against childhood cancer with me,” Morden wrote in an email. “I am always grateful for any opportunity to raise more awareness about childhood cancer and the need to do more in the fight against it.”

Helen Rossi

Rossi, a community volunteer for the Bellwood-Antis Public Library, Bell Mansion Apartments and St. Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen, will receive the honor for Community Service Volunteer.

Rossi said when she first got the call about receiving the honor she said she couldn’t accept it because it wasn’t her place to do so and because of the ceremony falling on a Wednesday in Lent, but she eventually came around in order to help recruit for the organizations she helps.

She couldn’t do it alone, she said, naming fellow volunteers Pat Partner, Jeanne Snare, Terry Wyland and Lois Focht.

“Mrs. Rossi goes about the town, listening to tales of broken hearts, abandoned families, faithless spouses and human misery with an understanding, loving heart,” nominator Sarah Helen McCloskey wrote. “[Her] values are formed by the faith she has lived her whole life. She cares for the least, the last and the lost.”

Patricia W. Savage

The Business & Professional honor recipient, Savage is president and CEO of Allegheny Lutheran Social Ministries, Hollidays-burg.

“Part of the mission of Wise Women is to empower women,” Savage wrote in an email. “Recognition plays a large role in achieving that mission. I am deeply honored to be included among the women being recognized.”

Her vision and values line up with the mission of the organization, nominator Rebecca Young wrote.

“She is dedicated to providing programs and services to people of all faiths and cultures. Her love for education comes through in her acts, words and deeds,” she wrote.

Dorothea Nelson

Nelson, a supporter of numerous arts organizations including the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art, will receive the Arts & Letters honor.

She is honored the organization thought of her, and although she appreciates it, she doesn’t feel she deserves it, she said.

“I support the arts because I love the arts and they need help. I appreciate the wonderful talent we have in this area,” she said.

The local community has benefited from Nelson’s values and support of the local arts, nominator Florence Shuss wrote.

“Dorothea enjoys and supports artists from all cultures, races or backgrounds,” she wrote. “She truly enjoys opening the eyes of women to the art world and the wonderful and creative outlet art is. Her strong support of many different arts in our community shows her values in encouraging a better art world for our local women, children and men.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.