International Women’s Day: Colorado Women Who Inspire Us
Extraordinary Women Who Persevered Through the Pandemic to Lift Up Those Around Them
This year, the theme for International Women’s Day, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gender gaps that remain.
We needed to look no further than our own Colorado backyard to find Colorado women who inspire us in the time of COVID-19. Women statewide shared stories with us of the women in their lives who are doing extraordinary things. On International Women’s Day 2021, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado would like to honor and applaud them. They are nonprofit directors, store managers, essential workers, caregivers, coworkers, and volunteers. And they all persevered through their own challenges during the pandemic to lift up those around them.
Colorado Women Who Inspire Us and Those Around Them
Amanda Blaurock, Denver, Village Exchange Center founder
Submitted by Colleen Kazemi
Amanda has a full time job as an attorney. And the amazing nonprofit that she founded, the Village Exchange Center – a community center that offers critical programs for refugees and immigrants – is her passion. She has several social ventures in progress that will help support the immigrant communities long term. One initiative she has spearheaded during COVID-19, is Village Pantry’s expansion. Village Pantry is a Village Exchange Center food access program that benefits residents within 7 miles of the community center (predominately zip codes 80010, 80011, and 80012). The pantry provides groceries, prepared meals, toiletries, and diapers weekly. With the COVID-19 outbreak, they saw a drastic increase of participants. Amanda led a team of volunteers, including Social Venture Partners Denver to implement a number of automatic systems to allow them to scale operations, such as a delivery routing software automatic texts to collect data and notify beneficiaries of their appointments.
Juanita Chacon, Denver, Latinas First Foundation founding partner
Submitted by Marcia Romero
Juanita is a staunch advocate for the empowerment and advancement of women – especially Latinas. She has selflessly used her platform of community, networking, and collaboration to touch the lives of hundreds of women. She has accomplished this – not only in her 40+ years of community advocacy and leadership – but most recently as the co-founder of the Latinas First Foundation (LFF). As one of the trailblazing leaders of LFF, Juanita has successfully led this organization for 10 years, without a salary because of her desire to live out the mission of LFF – to provide Latinas with a future full of hope and opportunity, while connecting them to women who are the movers and shakers in their professional fields. Through scholarship dollars, the women are empowered to break cycles of generational poverty while opening doors to a new world that many of the women didn’t know existed. She embodies the theme of wind beneath our wings to drive a transformational change of women through education and mentorship. An organization like Latinas First Foundation did NOT exist until she put her vision into action to create this outstanding organization that showcases the contributions and accomplishments of Latinas in Colorado.
Lisa Ford, Denver, Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club staff member
Submitted by Liz Mannis
Miss Ford continues to be a support system for so many kids and families. She embraces those in her community and showers them with love and support, accepting them for who they are and who they can become. She does this each and every day no matter the circumstances. When the club, which is a source of stability and safe haven for so many kids, was closed due to COVID, she found ways to continue to connect with kids and provide them with the support they needed even more during this time. She coordinated Zoom wellness and programming check-ins, and even delivered food to families she knew would be suffering and lacking access to food and other basic needs. Miss Ford is a human angel, and she has impacted more lives than I can put into words. Anyone who knows her is lucky to have her in their lives.
Lisa Johnson, Denver, Girls on the Run of the Rockies founding executive director
Submitted by Lauren Pietrek
Lisa as a shero because she has been a beacon of leadership over the past year. She personifies the idea of wearing multiple hats and when life is as uncertain as it has been, she makes effective and deliberate decisions to ensure that our organization can continue to serve Colorado girls.
She values her employees and lifts us up by allowing us to use our talents or explore new areas of interest. Her belief in girl power and the future of women leaders is the energy we need as we look to rebuild in 2021!
Shontel Lewis, Denver, RTD board of directors
Submitted by Monica VanBuskirk
At the beginning of the pandemic, Shontel was the only member of the RTD Board of Directors who was advocating for safer practices for drivers and riders during the pandemic. She was tireless, creative, evidence-based, and raised awareness of all the solutions RTD could implement to keep drivers and riders safe. We are so fortunate to have her leadership on our transit board – she consistently advocates for the under-represented and her constituents. She is out in the community listening to them regularly – this then informs her platform and her conviction. She is smart, thoughtful, and one of the strongest people I know. I regularly find myself quoting her when I speak to others about holding ourselves to high standards of service.
Erin Pulling, Denver, Food Bank of the Rockies CEO
Submitted by Heather Lafferty
Erin Pulling is a strong female leader who puts those around her first. She is leading one of the largest human services organization in state, Food Bank of the Rockies, through a global pandemic with grace, wisdom, and compassion. She also is busy at home, raising 3 active children who love to bake and run.
She makes time for her family, friends and still has time to advocate for the causes she cares about. As a colleague and a friend, I admire Erin’s strength, courage, and thoughtfulness as a well-respected leader in our state.
Vanessa Roberts, Denver, Project VOYCE executive director
Submitted by Alma Urbana Torres
Vanessa has gone out of her way to make sure her team of 10 staff have access to paid sick time, mental health care sick time, access to coaching and counseling, professional development for all staff, and access to food and other resources. Vanessa had limited experience of working in non-profit but she has done a phenomenal job of transforming the organization so staff are prepared to face the challenges that have come our way. Vanessa is truly a visionary, she is compassionate and dedicated to her work and always uplifts and amplifies the voices of youth we work with. She has made it her goal to support our staff and youth grow into their leadership as the organization grows as a non-profit.
During COVID19, Vanessa led a community care package and emergency relief fund for our community members and also made sure that our staff have support to transition into remote work. With her leadership, Project VOYCE has been able to support immediate community needs while taking care of all staff, making sure all staff are still employed, and able to be humans at work. Her team is grateful for having the opportunity to work with such an incredible leader who transforms her staff into leaders of their own merit. As a woman of color who leads a healthy and strong non-profit organization, Vanessa is also a role model and coach for community, youth, and her team. Vanessa embodies equity with her work as a leader and makes sure everyone around her does as well in a sustainable and powerful way.
Lisa Taylor, Greeley, Immigrant and Refugee Center of Northern Colorado executive director
Submitted by CeCe Moreno
Lisa leads an amazing team in impacting the lives of many refugees and immigrants. Her organization (IRCNOCO) provides educational services, advocacy, and assists its clients with navigating all that Northern Colorado has to offer.
At the start of COVID-19, Lisa and her team developed videos in six languages to explain COVID-19 in five minutes (or less). This ensured that Spanish, French, Somali, Karenni, and Malay language speakers had access to vital information in such a crucial time. Lisa is extremely humble and will give all of the credit (including this honor) to her staff and directors.
Antoinette Nachel Vigil, Pueblo, Safeway store manager
Submitted by Cameron Lea Vigil
Antoinette, my mother, is my shero. She epitomizes what it means to work hard despite the circumstances. All in the past year, my mom has fought Stage III Breast Cancer, navigated the emotional and legal perplexities of divorce, and continued to work to ensure that her three children, me (24 Years old), Brandon (17 years old) and Anthony (7 years old), never missed a meal and were always provided for. Despite her high risk status amidst a pandemic, my mom persevered through both chemotherapy and radiation treatments, working the whole time because she wanted to save sick time for additional treatment that was needed outside of her double mastectomy procedure. Not but one week after her surgery, she mustered the strength and courage to walk into a courthouse, with drain pipes connected to her wounds, without hair, and with limited mobility, to finalize her divorce.
My mom was not only the first female Safeway Store Manager in Southern Colorado, but also the first LatinX to hold the position. Both of her parents struggled with alcohol abuse and ultimately, when she was 28 years old, my mom lost her father to suicide. Her continued perseverance, selflessness, determination, and capacity for love has always been inspiring to me and her attitude has been infectious to all those she meets. I learned how to be a self-sufficient, hard working, and selfless woman, because of the lessons and first hand observations I made while growing up. This is a woman who deserves all the recognition this world can give her, whether it be for her coming from humble beginnings, breaking glass ceilings, paving the way for females and LatinX, fighting breast cancer and providing for her family, or just for her being the best mom and role model that I could ever imagine.