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YWCA Evanston/North Shore today announced the recipients of its 2016 YWomen Leadership Awards: Julie Smolyansky, Evonda Thomas-Smith, and Amita Lonial. The awards, which will be presented at the YWomen benefit dinner on Oct. 13, recognize women who have made an impact in women’s empowerment, racial justice, and social change.
President and CEO of Morton Grove-based Lifeway Foods, Ms, Smolyanksy at age 27 in 2002, became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held company. Since then, she 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. 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 is director of the Evanston Department of Health and Human Services. Throughout her more than 25-year career in public health, Ms. 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. 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, 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. She is being honored as a YWomen Young Woman of Promise.