YWCA honors leaders in social change, women advocacy

Stephanie Kelly, Assistant City Editor

The YWCA Evanston/North Shore presented awards Wednesday to three leaders and one organization in the community who have worked toward women’s empowerment, racial justice and social change.

At its annual YWomen Leadership Awards Benefit, the YWCA recognized Mary Morten, Gail Vierneisel, Kourtney Cockrell and the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center for their successes, according to a YWCA news release. The organization honored the women and museum in front of an audience of more than 400 people.

“My personal opinion is that when we highlight the impact that women leaders are having, it makes a connection to the people in the audience that they are actually indeed leaders too,” said Trimmy Stamell, the YWCA’s events and grants manager. “The women we highlight are not that different than a lot of the women in that room. We’re celebrating, not just highlighting, the power and the impact women leaders have.”

The YWCA created the annual event in 2008. In each of its seven years, the organization designates a committee to nominate various women in the community for the award and then discusses who should receive it, Stamell said. They aim to award women in different areas of impact, she said.

The honorees are recieving their awards for a diversity of reasons. As president of the consulting firm Morten Group, Morten has advocated for women, people of color and the LGBT community, according to the YWCA’s website. Vierneisel is an assistant state’s attorney who defends domestic abuse survivors. The Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center educates the public on the Holocaust and the hatred that began it, the website says.

The YWCA awarded Cockrell, Northwestern’s associate director of talent acquisition and resources, with the Lorraine H. Morton Young Woman of Promise Award, which is given to a woman under 35 who is working toward social change in her career. Cockrell works to provide education to students from nontraditional backgrounds, according to the news release.

“There’s a huge need here in Evanston and in Chicago, and I would really like to prepare these students to go on and to pave the way for their community and their families,” Cockrell said in the news release.

Morten said there is a connection that all the honorees share.

“I think that all the honorees have in common is intrinsic understanding of why it’s important to give back, why it’s important to be an active participant in the communities in which we live,” she told The Daily.

She said she was overwhelmed when she received the award. The benefit was one of the most thoughtful acknowledgements of her work that she had received, she said. They portrayed her work with care and precision, she said.

Morten said she hopes people remember to support the YWCA in the future.

“They cannot do this work without resources,” she said. “I hope people understand while they lift up the stories and lives of other women, our work really only matters because of the work that the ‘Y’ does.”

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