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Sisterhood Spotlight

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Katie Rose
Miss Virginia 2023

As Miss Virginia 2023, Katie Rose has used her role to advocate for domestic violence prevention by empowering women with education and encouraging reform. Katie’s mission to instill the importance self-worth in young girls and equip them with the tools they need to break free from abusive situations has left a lasting impact on Women+girls throughout the Commonwealth.

In honor of the 2024 Miss Virginia pageant happening in June, this week we highlight Katie’s impact and learn more about her journey. 

At what point in your life did you decide you wanted to compete to become Miss Virginia? 

For seven years, I chose to compete in the Miss America Opportunity, because the program provides scholarship opportunities to women and truly prepares great women for the world and the world for great women. I first moved to Virginia to receive my undergraduate education from George Mason University in Fairfax, where I immediately fell in love with this state and learned to call it home. I realized that the Commonwealth was where I was meant to be and where I could make the greatest difference and impact on my community. Virginia quickly became the place where I wanted to live, work and raise a family. Because of this, Miss Virginia gave me the opportunity to serve the place that had become my home. It was my greatest honor to wear Virginia across my chest at the 102nd anniversary of the Miss America Competition and to have been able to serve my state for the past year.

Please share your motivation to focus on domestic violence and more specifically, the mental health detriment that it possesses to women and girls.

I am survivor of domestic violence, and it has become my mission to not only eradicate domestic violence through teaching Virginia’s youth the importance of knowing their self-worth, but also providing women and girls with the tools they need to avoid and break free from abusive situations. A large part of healing and eradication is to understand the enormous impact that unhealthy domestic relationships create both physically and mentally. Often times victims return to their abusers simply because they have no recognition of their own self-worth and have been psychologically abused and groomed to the extent that they believe the abuse is normal and that they caused it. Young girls grow up seeing this pattern of abuse and later recognize this behavior as acceptable, and young boys think that it’s okay. Emotional scars last far longer than fractured bones and bruised faces, but they are the last to be seen, recognized and healed. This year, I have been motivated to advocate for change through sharing my story and encouraging others to do the same, as domestic violence should never be a dirty secret that we refuse to address.

What made you want to target your lessons on identifying, building, and maintaining healthy relationships to elementary schoolers? What are the benefits of learning about this in early childhood?

I chose to target my lessons to elementary schoolers, because they are the most vulnerable with the greatest opportunity to begin to change the cycle of abuse. Often times our elementary school students do not realize how great they are and that they are the future of our Commonwealth. It is our obligation to instill in them the importance of treating one another with respect and kinds and to allow them to know that they are worthy of nothing short of that. The benefits of learning this in early childhood allow our children to form healthy relationships early and expect nothing less in their adult lives.

In your role as the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (ABC) School Liaison, what are the are the primary issues you are addressing and what should parents share with children about responsible consumption of alcohol?

Virginia ABC’s message is all about making healthy and positive choices. I identify who our trusted adults are, what a leader is and how to become one. I also educate our youth on substance abuse prevention and share with them the adverse consequences that occur when using and abusing drugs and alcohol. I personally believe that parents are responsible for teaching our children not to consume alcohol until they are twenty-one years of age and that the consumption of tobacco and other substances (that are not prescribed to them) should not be tolerated nor permitted. Modern medical research is suggesting that people under the age of twenty-five suffer much more serious medical and psychological issues as a result of consuming such substances especially before their brains have even fully developed. Therefore, parents need to be educated, as well.

Are there women that you feel served as role models for you as you stretch to become a leader and advocate for others?

Our First Lady of Virginia, Suzanne Youngkin, has served as a role model for me for the last three years. When I first started competing in Virginia, she welcomed all the contestants with her inspiring words of wisdom. This speech immediately gave me the purpose and encouragement that I needed to know that I was right where I needed to be. The way that our First Lady is so steadfast in her faith has also motivated me to do the same. FLOVA is a class act, and I have strived to do and be the same way for other young women to follow. This year, I have been authentically true to Katie, and I have had the most success throughout the Miss Virginia Opportunity by doing and being just that. The Miss America Opportunity is all about empowering women to be their best through our sisterhood. The First Lady’s message of always uplifting and encouraging women to lead and inspire one another through sisterhood has given me someone to look up to in my current role as Miss Virginia. I am excited for the next Miss Virginia to have all my love and support, because that’s truly what this organization is all about. I have been able to come into my own this year by trying to lead through the Lord’s plan that he has for me and by embracing sisterhood in everything that I have done. This is exactly what I have learned to do through my time knowing our First Lady.

Another strong woman in my life is my favorite College Professor, Terri Markwart. She is the sole reason that I chose to pursue a career in politics. Her message allowed me to not only embrace the fact that there is a place for women in this space, but to become a leader and inspiration to others in doing so. Terri has done so much and has uplifted me in a way that has allowed me to have a servant’s heart.

About Katie Rose

Katie Rose, Miss Virginia 2023, is a Magna Cum Laude graduate of the George Mason University with a B.A. in government and international law and minors in legal studies and dance appreciation. In May, she received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Richmond School of Law. Katie has interned twice with the White House and three times on Capitol Hill and has served as a Policy Fellow for the Office of the Virginia Governor. An advocate for domestic violence prevention through empowering women and enabling reform, Katie is also an ambassador with the LAWS Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, and stays involved in domestic violence support initiatives through the Commonwealth. Katie’s goal is to empower women to become the best version of themselves and to regain their power and strength to break them from abusive situations. Prior to her title of Miss Virginia, Katie was involved in the Miss America’s Teen program for two years and competed at the state level a total of seven times before winning the crown. She competed in the Miss America competition in January 2024, where she performed ballet en pointe for talent.

Sisterhood Spotlight

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Touch Pen
Owner of Touch Pen Custom Sewing

After fleeing Cambodia to start a new life in America, Touch Pen began her journey as a business owner in Virginia. With resilience, determination, and a strong work ethic, Touch has grown her business tremendously, notably providing services to the restored Virginia Capitol, the White House, and most recently, the Virginia Governor’s Mansion.

Beyond her talents, Touch sets an example of kindness and strength. Read on for more about the amazing story of Touch Pen.

Please tell us about your story.

I was born in Cambodia in Kampot Province in 1959. I lived with my mother and my 9 siblings (I was the 7th child). At age 7, my mother died, and my father took me and a brother to live with him. My stepmother was cruel, putting me to work before and after school and on weekends. There were times when the only food I had was provided by a caring neighbor.

We were very poor. I owned 2 sets of clothes and received one pair of shoes per year. But my father was always supportive and said he would provide for my schooling. I was always the top student in my classes and my dream as a child was to be a physician.

In 1975, when I was 16 years old, the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, creating a cruel and oppressive government. They closed the schools, relocated all city dwellers to “farms” (including my father and me), and confiscated all belongings. I was forced to work day and night on a Khmer Rouge farm where we all wore black clothes and sandals. There was little food to eat and no medical care. They separated children from parents and arranged forced marriages. I was separated from my father during this time. 3 million Cambodians died under Khmer Rouge rule.

In 1979, after the Vietnamese occupied Cambodia, I met my husband and in 1980 we decided to risk the walk through the minefields to the Thailand border. We walked at night and hid during the day, sleeping on the ground. It took 3 days to reach the border. In Thailand there were UN refugee camps. The Thais were not welcoming, and we moved to 3 different camps to escape Thai rockets fired at us. The last camp was safe but initially there was no shelter. We slept on the ground and the UN personnel provided us with food and water.

My husband and I worked in the camp, each receiving $100/month which was paid to us in the form of food and clothes. To obtain cash, we could sell some of our food, receiving half of what we paid for it. We needed cash for stamps as we were writing to the embassies of USA, Canada, France, Australia, Japan, and New Zealand seeking asylum. There was no option to return to Cambodia where we would have been killed. My two children were born in the refugee camp.

In 1984, we were successfully interviewed for admission into the U.S. and our family was transferred to a refugee camp in the Philippines. At this refugee camp we were given basic preparation for life in the U.S. and waited for sponsorship to be admitted into the U.S. as refugees.

After 3 months, sponsors were found through St. Bridget’s Catholic Church. Five families together committed to the financial and support responsibilities required of a sponsor. The U.S. government arranged for our flights to Richmond and gave our family $1,200 to begin our new life in America.

How long have you been working with the Executive Mansion, and what has your experience been like throughout?

Our family of four arrived in Richmond on May 1, 1984. Our sponsors found us an apartment, provided clothes, furniture, kitchenware, beds and bedding, etc., and located medical care for us. They found a job for my husband after only one week and our sponsors provided him with transport to/from work every day until he was able to bicycle to work. After 4 months in Richmond and after finding childcare, I started my first job, in a factory making grocery carts.

After 1 ½ years, a sponsor found me a job as a seamstress at a business making draperies and valences for interior designers. After 12 years developing my skills there, I decided to start my own business, Touch Pen Custom Sewing, working out of my home. In 1993 my business had outgrown my home workplace, so I purchased a building and relocated my business there. I have 10 employees today. Some are refugees from Afghanistan. My business has provided window treatments for the restored Virginia Capitol, the White House, and most recently, the Virginia Governor’s Mansion.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. How do you honor your heritage?

I am active in the Richmond Khmer community and helped to finance the establishment of the Khmer Buddhist temple.

Each year, my husband and I return to Cambodia where we provide financial support to Cambodian school children trying to further their education. We do this with donations from my business and through the generosity of many clients. We offer clothes, school supplies, etc. to children who have very few resources of their own.

What advice do you have for Women+girls in the workforce?

I believe that friendliness, honesty, hard work, generosity, and patience are key attributes of a leader and to be successful. When I was young, I saw that studying and working hard in school was essential. Be observant in the classroom and workplace, learning from your classmates and fellow employees. Establish relationships with successful people, observe how they have achieved success.

About Touch Pen

Touch Pen has been providing custom sewing services to the Executive Mansion for nearly 20 years. Overcoming adversity with tenacity and grit, Touch is an inspiration to all. Touch’s masterful designs that adorn the windows, pillows and bed skirts of the oldest continuous Governor’s residence in the Nation remind us of the truth the American dream. Starting her career as a factory worker to becoming a successful business owner, Touch Pen is a shining example of the incredible fortitude and ingenuity women, Asian Americans, and Virginians alike exude.

Sisterhood Spotlight

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Elly Cetin
Firefighter and EMT with Hanover Fire-EMS

As a firefighter and EMT with Hanover Fire-EMS, Elly Cetin is a leader amongst her peers. Serving the citizens of Hanover with bravery and strength, Elly is a shining example of the Spirit of Virginia at work. This week we honor National Emergency Services week by highlighting Elly’s impact and story.

Can you tell us a bit about what you do?

As a firefighter and EMT with Hanover Fire-EMS, my primary role involves responding to a wide range of emergency situations, including fires, medical emergencies, accidents, and hazardous incidents. My responsibilities encompass firefighting, providing emergency medical care, conducting rescues, and ensuring the safety and well-being of our community. I work as part of a dedicated team, and each day brings new challenges that we tackle together with the goal of protecting and serving the community.

Additionally, I participate in ongoing training to maintain and enhance my skills, ensuring that I am always prepared for any situation. Community outreach is also a vital part of my job; I engage in programs to educate the public about fire safety, emergency preparedness, and prevention. This proactive approach helps to reduce risks and fosters a safer environment for everyone. Overall, my work is dynamic and rewarding, driven by a commitment to make a positive impact on the lives of the people in our community.

What inspired you to join Hanover Fire-EMS? What has inspired you to continue serving?

My inspiration to join Hanover Fire-EMS began with my time in the Army, where I developed a strong sense of duty and a passion for helping others. The camaraderie and teamwork I experienced in the military motivated me to seek a similar environment in the civilian world. During the peak of Covid-19, I chose Hanover Fire-EMS because it offered the brotherhood and sisterhood of the fire service and the opportunity to serve the citizens of Hanover County. The sense of camaraderie, the chance to make a real difference in people's lives, and the dynamic nature of the work attracted me to this career. What keeps me going is the impact we make every day, from responding to incidents to interacting with the community at public events.

Can you describe the unique challenges and blessings of being a woman in a male-dominated field like emergency services?

Being a woman in a male-dominated field comes with unique challenges, such as overcoming stereotypes and proving oneself in physically demanding situations. However, it also brings significant blessings. I've had the opportunity to break barriers and serve as a role model for other women and girls aspiring to join this field. The sense of accomplishment and respect earned through hard work and dedication is incredibly rewarding. Additionally, the diversity I bring fosters a more inclusive and supportive environment, enhancing our team’s effectiveness and camaraderie.

Why is it important to celebrate the men and women in Emergency Medical Services this week?

Celebrating the men and women in Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is essential as it recognizes their critical and life-saving contributions. EMS professionals are the frontline responders who provide immediate care during emergencies, often under extremely challenging and stressful conditions. This week is dedicated to honoring their dedication, bravery, and the indispensable role they play in our communities. By acknowledging their hard work and sacrifices, we not only show our appreciation but also boost their morale and foster a sense of community. Recognizing their efforts reminds the public of the vital role EMS personnel play in ensuring public safety and health.

What advice do you have for Women+Girls pursuing a career in the EMS industry?

My advice for women and girls considering a career in EMS is to pursue it with passion and determination. Don’t let stereotypes or doubts deter you. Build your skills, stay physically and mentally fit, and seek out mentors, male and female, who can guide you. Remember, your unique perspective and abilities are invaluable to the field, and your presence can inspire and pave the way for future generations. There are times that some skills, especially on the fire side do not come as easily to you as your male counterparts but find what works for you. Remember not to let societal expectations or stereotypes limit your aspirations. Embrace continuous learning and training opportunities to enhance your skills. Most importantly, be resilient and persistent, as the challenges you overcome will pave the way for future generations of women in the field.

What’s a piece of advice that has impacted the trajectory of your career?

A piece of advice that has significantly impacted my career is to 'never stop learning and to always be a sponge ready to absorb knowledge and information'. This mindset has kept me open to new experiences and continuous improvement. Whether it's acquiring new certifications, learning from my peers, or staying updated with the latest advancements in fire and emergency services, this commitment to lifelong learning has enabled me to grow both personally and professionally. In the fire service and EMS, things are constantly evolving. Continuous learning not only enhances your skills and knowledge but also keeps you adaptable and prepared for any situation. Embracing this mindset has helped me grow professionally and provide the best service to the citizens of Hanover County.

About Elly Cetin

Elly was born and raised in California and enlisted in the Army out of high school where she was active duty for four years. Elly moved to Virginia at the peak of COVID-19 and was hired in Hanover Fire EMS. Elly is the first female in the department’s history to be assigned operator of the ladder truck. Elly holds her bachelor’s degree in Fire Administration.

Sisterhood Spotlight

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Aponi Brunson
Assistant Director of Programs at SwimRVA

As Assistant Director of Programs at SwimRVA, Aponi Brunson helps students from all walks of life learn to swim. Playing a critical role in the expansion of the Learn-to-Swim program and Lifeguard School through SwimRVA, Aponi is working to ensure all people have access to this life-saving skill. In this Sisterhood Spotlight, Aponi shares about her experience as a swimmer and coach, along with advice for Virginia’s Women+girls (W+g).

Can you tell us a bit about who you are, what you do, and how you got involved with SwimRVA?

Swimming has always been a part of my life.  At the age of four my parents recognized that my brother and I had an affinity for the water and started us in swim lessons at our local YMCA.  By the age of seven I had joined the Richmond Racers Swim team and began competitive swimming.  I continued to swim throughout my K-12 years.  During High School and College, I was a City of Richmond seasonal lifeguard and during college lifeguarded for the Rappahannock Area YMCA.  My freshman and sophomore years at the University of Mary Washington I was a member of the Synchronized Swim Team.

I first joined the SwimRVA family as an instructor the summer of 2019, and made my coaching debut in 2021 as one of the Novice Assistant Coaches at the Church Hill location.  I have now expanded my coaching to Advanced Novice and Age Group.  In 2023 I was promoted to Programs Manager at Church Hill where I led my team in the expansion of the Learn-to- Swim program and Lifeguard School to the Church Hill location.   In addition, I made my Virginia High School League coaching debut with John Marshall High School’s swim team, a program that had not been active in 40 years.  This year John Marshall swimmers qualified, competed, and medaled in the Class 1 and 2 State Championship.

You have an impressive background in music along with your talents in swimming. How, if at all, do these two activities intersect?

Swimming is very rhythmic, and rhythm is the foundation to music.  For example, the timing of kick placement in relation to arms in swimming butterfly or breaststroke is something that can be felt rhythmically and heard.  The difference of how many kicks per freestyle arm stroke when swimming a 50-meter free vs. a 1600 meter free is also something that can be heard and felt.  This maybe something unique to me as I often view and experience the world in relation to music.  A more direct relation of music and swimming is with artistic swimming formerly synchronized swimming.  Athletes perform routines composed of artistic swim skills and in water acrobatics to music.  Athletes are judged on not only their execution of the skills, but also their artistic interpretation.

May is National Water Safety Month. Can you tell us why this is so important?

Water safety is a lifesaving skill and drownings and water related accidents are preventable.  In a city like Richmond, the River City, with so many bodies of water and access to public and private pools it is imperative that this skill is provided to as many folks as possible, so we decrease the likelihood of drownings.  SwimRVA's mission is to drownproof Richmond and with a concerted effort with other organizations in the aquatics field as well as philanthropists that value this effort we are making a huge impact.

What advice do you have for Virginia’s Women+girls interested in pursuing an athletic – or aquatic - career?

Representation matters and your very presence in the field of aquatics may inspire others to take a leap and do something they would've never dreamed of.  I would definitely encourage young women to continue to break those barriers and excel in the field of aquatics.  Aquatics is unique in that it is a sport that can lead to careers in aquatics.  You may start in swim lessons, but could become a swim instructor or lifeguard.  Or you may start on swim team and become a swim coach or even a manager for an aquatics organization.  If tech is your interest there are positions that are tech heavy in the field of aquatics.   As tech grows there is also a need for engineers and programmers to create technology that improves safety and efficiency of the many branches of aquatics.  There are just so many avenues you can go in the field of aquatics, but it all begins with water safety and access.

What is one challenge you have overcome in your life or career?

The most challenging aspects of any organization is effective communication of your mission to the right audience, getting boots on the ground (so to speak) to deliver the mission, and creating a financial system that can support the mission and its growth.  I don't think these are challenges that I have or any one person has overcome, but it is a daily challenge that we all fight.  Some days, months, or years are better than others, but if the mission is something you are passionate about it will help you to regain focus and continue to march forward.  SwimRVA's mission and vision is something that I am passionate about and gives me motivation to push forward on those tough days.

About Coach Aponi Brunson

Coach Aponi began swimming at the age of four and began her swim team experience with the Richmond Racers.  Throughout high school and college she was a City of Richmond seasonal lifeguard and while at University of Mary Washington she continued her aquatics journey on the synchronized swim team.  After earning her Bachelor’s in Music, for 12 years Coach Aponi served as the Assistant Artistic Director and Managing Director of GreenSpring International Academy of Music, where she led youth harp ensembles and was blessed to tour to Europe and perform in U.S. venues such as Carnegie Hall.  She then ventured into public music education with the City of Hopewell for three years and along the way earned her M. Ed. in Educational Leadership from American College of Education.

Coach Aponi first joined the SwimRVA family as an instructor the summer of 2019, and made her coaching debut in 2021 as one of the Novice Assistant Coaches at the Church Hill location.  She has now expanded to coaching Advanced Novice and Age Group.  Coach Aponi led her team in the expansion of the Learn-to- Swim program and Lifeguard School to the Church Hill location.  In addition, she made her Virginia High School League coaching debut with John Marshall High School’s swim team, a program that had not been active in 40 years.  This year John Marshall swimmers qualified, competed, and medaled in the Class 1 and 2 State Championship.  Coach Aponi is excited to continue, as well as facilitate the growth of SwimRVA’s positive impact in aquatics in Richmond City’s East End at the Church Hill Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club that she attended as a young child!

Sisterhood Spotlight

Cecilia Glembocki, Executive Director of the Virginia Egg Council
Cecilia Glembocki
Executive Director of the Virginia Egg Council

Cecilia Glembocki, Executive Director of the Virginia Egg Council and a skilled egg artist, has brought the egg and agriculture industry to center stage for the past four decades. In March, Cecilia presented Governor and First Lady Youngkin with an exceptional quilled and wooden egg for their annual Easter celebration. In this Sisterhood Spotlight, Cecilia discusses the importance of eggs and agriculture to Virginia, what brought her success and advice for Virginia’s Women + girls in agriculture. 

What is the mission of the Virginia Egg Council?

The mission of the Virginia Egg Council is to promote eggs as a high-quality protein product to consumers, health professionals, the food service industry and to school food service operators. The objective is to present the egg as an incredible product, a low-cost protein food, versatile and nutritious for all types of diets, occasions, and meal preparations.

Why is Agriculture important in Virginia?

Agriculture provides jobs for our people in the Commonwealth. Egg laying hens ranked 26th in the nation and 10th in commodity receipts in the Commonwealth. It highlights producers as responsible individuals who take their job very seriously. A great deal of respect goes out to the egg farmers in Virginia for upholding high standards of animal husbandry. I’ve seen firsthand how women gained recognition in various fields of agriculture and were respected for their achievements. The extension service plays a vital part in portraying agriculture to consumers, from backyard flocks to consuming and preparing nutritious foods.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them in your career?

Through the years, I’ve been faced with many challenges from the point where eggs were portrayed as a killer food to when eggs were said to be filled with viruses. So instead of illuminating lunch and learning programs for health professionals, we made egg white omelets which became a huge success. When covid hit our area, we had to stop all public programming but yet, our programs developed television segments about how to make comfort foods from home. New preparation ideas and themes were developed and challenged the consumer to branch out into new culinary fields with eggs as the focus of the segment. New ideas were presented to VDACS such as declaring May as Egg Month. The Egg council delivered power packed egg salad lunches to the hospitals in Richmond, Charlottesville, and the Fairfax County health department when they were dealing with a rise of covid patients. We treated them to an “Eggceptional” egg salad sandwich delivered and prepared by a caterer. They were singing praises to us for even considering the huge ordeal they had to deal with! 

What do you wish Virginia’s Women+girls knew about Virginia’s agricultural industry?

As an observer in an agricultural setting, I noticed a significant change in the leadership at the American Egg Board. At one time, there were a few women that sat on the AEB Board of Directors, but now there are many more young women assuming leadership roles in the industry. For the last three terms, the President of the American Egg Board was a woman. All these women had law degrees and expertise in agriculture. I see women using their agricultural background to easily fit into leading roles of research at Virginia Tech. I see many more women in poultry science. With a background in agriculture, the field is open to join in with communication skills, marketing practices and even nutritional fields would play an important role in agricultural jobs. These women have the ability to multitask and use their scientific knowledge to advance very quickly into managerial fields within the agriculture climate.   

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

As I look back upon my long career with the egg industry, I feel as though my career was so satisfying because people believed in me and challenged me to pursue projects and avenues I never would have believed I could have been so successful in. I realize that others who encourage a person to go beyond their capacities with a strong support system can lead an employee to go far beyond what was ever expected. This opportunity has provided me with a very successful career with fond memories, successful projects, dreams realized, and friendships made through networking and opened doors along the way.

About Cecilia Glembocki

Cecilia Glembocki has been working for the Virginia Egg Board as secretary and as Executive Director of the Virginia Egg Council for the past 44 years. Originally from Bristol, Connecticut, Cecilia made her home in Virginia in 1976. Starting in the Virginia Egg Council’s communications department, Cecilia’s journey to success began on her first day, after what she describes as “a short demonstration on how to present a bridal luncheon with champagne, eggs in pastry cups with a lovely hollandaise sauce on the side.” From there, Cecilia brought Virginia eggs across the country, serving unique and traditional egg dishes while educating the public about Virginia’s robust agricultural industry. Featured alongside celebrities like Howard Stern, Oprah Winfrey and Pat Robertson, Cecilia took the media by storm, appearing on local and national television and radio. Furthermore, Cecilia has worked alongside the American Egg Board for the annual White House Easter Egg roll for the past 42 years and was instrumental in starting the first Easter Egg Hunt for the Reagan administration. In 2019, Cecilia created and presented a unique egg design for First Lady Melania Trump using a quilling form of art, and notably decorated President Bush’s Christmas tree with egg ornaments during his tenure as Vice President.  

Throughout her decades of service, Cecilia has used her creativity and artistic talent to make eggs, agriculture and cooking practices a beloved part of Virginia tradition. As the final event in her career, Cecilia presented an egg designed for First Lady Youngkin at Richmond’s Executive Mansion. The wooden egg was crafted from hard rock maple wood with a laser engraved photo of Virginia’s Executive Mansion. 

Sisterhood Spotlight

Profile photo Kelly-Gee
Kelly Gee
Secretary of the Commonwealth

Kelly Gee was appointed by Governor Youngkin to serve as the Secretary of the Commonwealth, a multi-faceted position tasked with overseeing and managing the many intricate details of what makes our government function. In this Sisterhood Spotlight, Secretary Gee shares about her unique career journey, what drives her passion to serve, and offers advice for Virginia’s professional Women+girls.

What was your very first job, and how do you think it has shaped your career today, if at all?

I waited tables at a family owned Italian restaurant for many years in high school and college. It taught me the value of good customer service, honed my ability to multitask, and sharpened my memory. All skills important to my job today!

During Women’s History Month, what would you say to Virginia’s Women+girls who are looking to advance their professional career?

You deserve a seat at the table, so don’t be afraid to speak up. Also, empowered women empower other women. Regardless of whether you agree everything, women and girls should always support and encourage the success of other women.

Having served in various leadership capacities in the Virginia legislature, at the Virginia Lottery, and now in Governor Youngkin’s administration, what is a great piece of advice you were given -- or wish you were given -- when starting your career? 

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Put yourself in positions that stretch your skills and challenge your strengths. That’s the best way to grow professionally. 

What has been the most impactful part of your job as Secretary of the Commonwealth so far?

Leading a team that oversees such a diverse range of government functions. The many, varied responsibilities of the Secretary of the Commonwealth is largely unknown to the general public, but this secretariat oversees so many process and people-oriented tasks. If something doesn’t fall neatly under another Secretariat, you can trust the Commonwealth team to execute! I love coaching and leading our awesome team members so they walk away from this experience with increased skills. 

What drives your passion to serve?

Connecting people to resources they otherwise may have been unaware existed is my favorite form of problem solving. Our government should be transparent and accessible – but equally as important is bring awareness to what programs already exist.

What is one thing most people don’t know about you?

My father’s side of the family is Greek! I love Greek food, fashion and culture. My grandfather was very much like the dad depicted in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

About Kelly Gee

In August 2023, Governor Youngkin appointed Kelly Gee to serve as the Secretary of the Commonwealth. Secretary Gee spent the last decade in public service, including eight years as a senior staff member to General Assembly leadership and five years at the Virginia Lottery.

Her time in the legislative branch culminated in being named Deputy Chief of Staff to the 55th Speaker of the House. Speaker of the House is a constitutional office, the responsibilities of which transcend party labels. She became well versed in policy development, committee operations, and legislative process.

When Secretary Gee joined the Lottery in 2018, she served on the Lottery’s leadership team as the manager of government relations. She was responsible for managing the strategy and execution of legislative outreach efforts and played an active role in policy creation and implementation. In June 2022, she was appointed by Governor Youngkin to serve as the Executive Director. During her time as Executive Director, the agency reported record sales of $4.6 billion, record profits for K-12 education of $867 million, regulated sports betting activity that saw over $5 billion wagered in a fiscal year, and assisted in the opening of three of Virginia’s first land based casinos.

Secretary Gee holds an undergraduate degree in Government from the College of William and Mary and a Master of Arts in Political Science from Virginia Tech.

Sisterhood Spotlight

Profile image Dr. Octavia Reed Wynn
Dr. Octavia Reed Wynn
Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Bon Secours Southside Medical Center in Petersburg, VA

While nurses should be recognized for their service and dedication to caring for others every day, this week we take a special moment to stop and thank a standout leader in the field, Dr. Octavia Reed Wynn, for the many blessings she bestows on the patients and nurses under her care.

Please tell us a bit about yourself and your career. How did you get to where you are today?

I am a nurse’s nurse- I love taking care of nurses who care for the community. I started my healthcare career as a Patient Care Tech while attending nursing school at VCU. Upon graduating with a BSN, I immediately enrolled in the MSN program while working primarily as a Surgical Trauma nurse. After a few years working at the bedside, my journey shifted to a focus on Patient Safety and Healthcare Quality. I realized my passion for ensuring all patients received safe healthcare, free from errors or harm. I quickly became nationally certified in these areas (CPHQ & CPPS) and was progressively promoted into roles where I was able actively to expand my influence on care delivery. Just three years ago, I accepted the role of Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Bon Secours Southside Medical Center. This role has been exceptionally fulfilling for me for several reasons- it allows me to live out the Bon Secours mission of caring for the underserved, as Petersburg has been identified as the unhealthiest city in the state. Additionally, this role truly fills my cup as it combines my two passions- caring for nurses and promoting patient safety. No matter what role I’ve been in, I have always sought growth opportunities. I knew that I wanted to advance in my career and therefore would observe and assess those within my organization to identify roles I could envision myself holding one day. I would connect with these role models, learn from them, and leverage their influence as I worked to develop my own strengths.

What advice do you have for Virginia’s Women+girls interested in a healthcare related profession?

Healthcare is not an easy field to work in. Don’t misunderstand, there are some remarkable days- seeing a mom deliver a healthy baby or watching your team meet a Quality goal that will result in saved lives. But there are also some grueling days. Many patients seeking healthcare are receiving life-changing diagnoses, many are scared to be in the unfamiliar hospital environment, most feel vulnerable. Anyone working in healthcare is undoubtedly impacted by the burdens of others, and likely find themselves thinking about the tragedies and the unfortunate circumstances long after their shifts end. My advice for women/girls who are considering a career in healthcare is to do so for the right reasons. Ask yourself “am I motivated by doing good? Is my cup filled by pouring out compassionately? Am I comfortable caring for-not to be confused with providing care for- those whose beliefs are different than mine”? The answers to each of these questions should be a resounding yes. Healthcare (nursing) is truly a calling.

Finding joy in work is also important. Someone once helped me see how important it is to have a best friend at work- someone you can relate to, laugh with, and even cry with. This can make the best days better and the worse days more bearable. I’ve seen just how important this is and offer it as an additional piece of advice.

Who or what is your greatest inspiration?

My mom was a Registered Nurse. Before the days of uniform color standardization for healthcare workers, my mom wore the best scrubs! She had stylish scrubs for every single holiday, all different colors and even characters like our then favorite, Tweety Bird. In the late 1990’s, my mom was a victim of medical error. She never worked as a nurse again. Fast forward to when I was 18, having just lost my mother and pregnant with my first daughter, I knew it was nursing that would allow me to fulfill my purpose. Nursing would grant me the opportunity to work to make the industry that contributed to my family’s suffering, much better for the generations to come. My mom inspired me and now I live every day to do the same for my two daughters.

While I’ve spent my adult life without my mom, my dad has been such a source of both encouragement and strength. Having not graduated college himself, he worked his way into leadership and has given me some of the best career advice like “believe in yourself, even when facing challenges”. Often, he would simplify that by saying “you’ve got this”. His pride in me inspires me every day.

What would you tell your younger self just getting started in her higher educational pursuits/career?

There are so many things I wish I could go back and say to my younger self! Don’t be afraid to fail! Embrace failure as a steppingstone to success.

Take risks and pursue your passions even if the chair you’re sitting in seems a bit too big for you. 

Trust the process. 

And most of all, Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path (Proverbs 3:5-6). Keep your faith!

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them in your life and career?

I will call out two challenges I have faced and overcome.

I advanced relatively quickly in my career. The majority of those I’ve been entrusted to lead are older and sometimes have more experience in healthcare than I. This has led to a sometimes-self-imposed need to always perform well and work with intentionality to demonstrate that I truly belonged in the role I was so honored to serve in. Ultimately, this has kept me on my toes, forced me to stay prepared and to invest in myself. No matter what, I remain humble as a leader because I understand that you don’t inspire teams by showing them how amazing you are. You inspire teams by showing them how amazing they are.

When assessed locally and even nationally, it is apparent that diversity in executive healthcare leadership is lacking. As a minority, I have found it challenging to identify mentors who look like me and who have traveled the same trajectory I am on. I overcome this by cultivating relationships with senior leaders in any space I am given the opportunity and then staying in touch with them. I reach out with scenarios and ask for guidance or feedback, invite them to challenge my performance and to share their relative experiences. Additionally, I surround myself with those who are ambitious, visionary, and full of integrity, inspiration, and boldness, as they keep me grounded and remind me that despite any difference we may have, we have so much more in common. I am committed to being a coach and mentor to the next generation and find joy in offering them guidance, nuggets of wisdom and things I wish I’d known.

What do you wish Virginia’s Women+girls knew about the nursing profession?

I want women and girls to know nursing is a profession filled with opportunities for personal and professional growth. It offers a real chance to make a difference in people’s lives every single day, by providing compassionate care and support to those in need. Nursing is a profession that values empathy, critical thinking, and lifelong learning. Women play a pivotal role in shaping the future of healthcare as they are at the forefront of local and even global health challenges. Whether it’s responding to pandemics, providing disaster relief, or advocating for public health initiatives, the impact of nurses is profound and limitless. Overall, I hope women and girls recognize the diverse and impactful opportunities available to them within the nursing profession and feel empowered to pursue their aspirations in healthcare.

About Dr. Octavia Reed Wynn 

Dr. Octavia Reed Wynn has served as the Associate Chief Nursing Officer at Bon Secours Southside Medical Center in Petersburg, VA since March 2021. Octavia is a native of Sussex County and attended Sussex Public Schools. She earned both a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from Virginia Commonwealth University. A Registered Nurse (RN) for over 15 years, Octavia also holds a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from Averett University and a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) from Liberty University. Octavia is three times nationally certified, holding the prestigious Nurse Executive Advanced Certification (NEA-BC), Certification in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ), and Certification in Patient Safety (CPPS). Recently, Octavia was awarded as a Virginia Nurse’s Association Top 40 under 40 nurse for 2023. Her career passion includes the prevention of harm to patients and leading & supporting nurses who care for patients. Octavia is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated where she serves on the International Awareness and Involvement committee. She is the First Lady of Emmanuel Worship Center in Richmond, VA where she leads parishioners as they journey in faith. Octavia is married to the love of her life, John, and is the proud mother of two daughters- Tori and Sydney Grace. Octavia enjoys traveling, trying new restaurants and cuisines, volunteering with her church and sorority sisters, shopping, and spending time with her family. Octavia’s favorite scripture is Psalms 46:5- God is within her, she will not fall.

Sisterhood Spotlight

Profile photo of Allison with family
Allison Shelton

As Virginians continue to face various challenges that come with having a child or family member with a developmental disability, Allison’s outlook on life and inspirational journey serves as an important reminder to embrace all of what life has to offer with an open mind and grateful heart.

Can you tell us a bit about who you are, what you do, and some of the many 'hats' you wear? 

My name is Allison Shelton, and I am a stay-at-home mom to two wonderful boys, Declan (almost 12 years old) and Cillian (10.5 years old), whom I share with my husband Brandon Shelton. We have lived in Midlothian, VA, since July 2019. When our son Declan was born in April 2012, we learned he has the genetic condition Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS). This was a huge shock to us, as my pregnancy had progressed normally with no apparent concerns. We had never heard of PWS until the day of Declan’s birth, when the neonatologist raised it as a possible explanation for why our new baby was unable to feed on his own and needed to be in the NICU being fed by a tube. We were quickly thrust into a world we had not at all expected – Declan spent his first two months in the NICU as we grappled with all the implications of his diagnosis. PWS (1 in 15,000 births) is a scary sounding syndrome if you search it online; the hallmark feature is “hyperphagia” – insatiable hunger. It is the main reason individuals with PWS are often unable to live independently as adults – access to food must be strictly controlled and their diets must be managed to ensure optimal health. As we learned about all of this, we were also learning how to teach our tiny baby how to drink from a bottle – due to hypotonia (low muscle tone), almost all infants with PWS are unable to successfully nurse or bottle feed when they are born. Declan eventually had a g-tube placed in his stomach so that he could come home from the hospital. Once home, we became experts in administering tube feedings several times a day while also taking Declan to all of his specialist appointments, having Early Intervention therapy services at home, and giving him his nightly injections of Growth Hormone, the only FDA-approved treatment for PWS. This is when I began to don many hats in my role as a stay-at-home mom! I became an amateur nurse, an expert appointment scheduler/juggler, an expert insurance negotiator (it is not easy procuring specialty medications!), and an at-home therapist (practicing everything our Early Intervention therapist taught us!), to name a few! Just as we were settling into our life with Declan, we were surprised to learn we were expecting a second son – we had tried for so long to get pregnant with Declan, that the beautiful surprise of Cillian arriving 16 months after Declan truly completed our family. Over the years, Cillian has often been Declan’s best buddy, his motivator (he actually walked before Declan did), and our constant companion to doctor and therapy appointments. He was like our advance team, sprinting down office hallways and bursting into waiting rooms a minute or two before Declan and I would walk in! He has also provided a much needed sense of normalcy, as Brandon and I couldn’t devote all our time and energy to Declan; Cillian needs us just as much! Our life as a family of four these days quite resembles that of many others – the school routine, the sports schedules and other extracurricular activities – but layered with the intricacies of caring for a child with a disability. 

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month - can you tell us about your family and what this month means to you? 

When you have a child with a disability, especially one that is rare, you quickly realize the importance of raising awareness. You are the expert on your child – we discovered we often knew more about PWS than some of the doctors and therapists! You also learn the value of community. As soon as we heard the words “Prader-Willi Syndrome” when Declan was born, my mom Gail Frey began researching and came across information for an upcoming walk in Washington, DC, (we lived in the Virginia suburbs of DC at the time). She was so taken by what she learned reading through the website of the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research (FPWR) and the information for the DC walk, that she said, “Even if it turns out Declan doesn’t have PWS, I am going to this walk to support this amazing community and its cause to help people with PWS.” Barely a few days later, Declan’s PWS diagnosis was confirmed, and my mom led the charge for creating our first fundraising page. Declan – not yet out of the hospital for that first walk – was the top fundraiser that year for the DC walk. I attended that walk with my parents, while Brandon and his parents stayed with Declan at the hospital. Just a few days later, Declan had surgery to place his g-tube, and finally came home. Ever since that first walk, I’ve become deeply connected to the FPWR community – attending the annual walks and family conferences has given me the chance to meet and become friends with fellow PWS parents. As many of us would say, “it’s a club we never wanted to be a part of, but thank goodness we have each other!” Being with other parents who immediately “get it” is invaluable. I have made so many special friendships that have sustained me through the ups and downs of our PWS life. We are united in our cause to find treatments for our children that will enable them to live independently. This is why I am passionate about fundraising for PWS research, and I co-host the annual Washington, D.C., One Small Step for Prader-Willi Syndrome walk. Raising awareness and funding for research gives us hope that one day Declan and all those with PWS will be able to live full and independent lives. 

Do you have any advice for Virginia's Women+girls who have a child with a developmental disability, or are supporting a family member or friend on a similar journey?

Early on, fellow PWS parents advised us to take it one step at a time, and to enjoy our new baby – to try not to get too caught up in the “what if’s” and trying to look too far down the road. None of us can know exactly how our life is going to unfold, especially years into the future. Enjoy the moments, and also know that so much can change – what might not be possible today (in terms of therapies, medications, other advances), could be possible in the future. Parenting a child with a disability can be all-consuming; remembering to take time for yourself is so important. Even if it is just sitting down with a cup of coffee and listening to a fun podcast for fifteen minutes, that time can help you reset and recharge. If you are supporting a family member or friend who has a child with a disability, offering to meet for lunch, go for a walk, or just be there when your friend needs to chat, is so helpful. Having a moment with a friend can lessen the stress you might be feeling at that time. 

Do you have a favorite motto, quote or scripture that you would be willing to share?

I came across this quote recently which resonates with me: “Embrace the unique way your child is blooming – even if it’s not in the garden you imagined.” The author, Jenn Soehnlin, is also a special needs parent. My life as a mom has not unfolded in the way I might have expected, but I am still on a special journey that has given me the chance to find the joy and excitement in the small – and big! – accomplishments. I have learned to not take anything for granted – when your child with a disability achieves a milestone, especially one that is instinctive to a typical child, it is the most beautiful feeling.

Finally, as a mother of a child with a developmental disability, what is one thing you wish other people knew? Please share what is on your heart.

What we have learned in these twelve years is that while our son’s condition is a serious and complicated disorder, life can still be beautiful and amazing! Declan has persevered through so many challenges and is turning into quite the unique and special guy. Twelve years ago, I never could have pictured he would be thriving in school – in a general education setting – and demonstrating quite the zest for life! Things we didn’t know at birth if he would accomplish – as basic as walking and talking, learning to eat without a feeding tube, and on to reading and writing, have all come to pass. Declan loves music, game shows, has made special friendships with his classmates and peers, practices tae kwon do, and loves swimming and singing! But there are still challenges ahead, as we edge ever closer to adulthood. He talks about going to college and getting married, and having a job. Our dearest hope for him is that he will be able to do all of this independently, and will not be stymied by the challenges of PWS. In our PWS community, we talk about wanting our children to be able to “live life full” – in every sense of the phrase. 

About Allison Shelton

Allison was born and raised in Connecticut, and moved to Virginia when she started college at Washington & Lee University in Lexington. She was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and graduated magna cum laude in 1998 with a degree in History. Allison moved to the Washington, DC, area, and began working in Public Affairs at NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. She met her husband Brandon during this time, and they were married in 2004. Allison continued in her career at NCTA until the birth of her son Declan in April 2012. She was fortunate to be able to stay home upon his birth and diagnosis with PWS, as she and Brandon navigated their way into special needs parenting. Their second son Cillian was born in August 2013. The boys are currently in 6th and 5th grade, and the family has resided in Midlothian since summer 2019. Allison is active in both her sons’ schools through the PTA, and in her free time enjoys reading, listening to music, walking the family dog, spending time with friends, and relaxing with Brandon while watching a favorite TV show! From visiting favorite museums to strawberry picking at local farms, Allison and her family greatly enjoy taking advantage of all that the Greater Richmond area has to offer!

Sisterhood Spotlight

Rita McClenny
President and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation

Providing more than 210,000 jobs in our growing labor market and generating billions in revenue, tourism is a critical part of what makes Virginia thrive. Thanks to Rita’s standout work and leadership, the Commonwealth continues to lead as a top destination to live, work, travel, and do the things we love.

As President and CEO of Virginia Tourism and the past Director of the Virginia Film Office, you are an admired industry professional in some of the largest revenue generators for Virginia. What inspired you to pursue this line of work?

I love Virginia first and foremost, growing up on our family farm, I always understood how special the land is and how Virginia is a commonwealth filled with abundant treasures and natural assets. The work is about marketing our State’s legendary history, attractions and natural scenery with travelers from around the world and Virginia to experience as a destination for leisure and business travel.

The Virginia Tourism Corporation proudly states Integrity, Passion and Results as integral values to the corporation. What does this look like at Virginia Tourism and why are these specific characteristics so important?

These values guide our daily decisions, behaviors and how we meet our customers everyday through Virginia Tourism’s mission. Embodied in integrity is listening, understanding and transparency. Our passion comes through as proud Virginians promoting creativity, our reputation as a stellar agency and delighting our customers. Results are vitally important to measure our success and provide value that capitalizes on our strengths in the marketplace.

How did you overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how have you seen Virginia Tourism grow and adapt since then? 

VTC overcame the challenges of COVID by adapting to the difficult circumstances of an industry shutdown. Our agency utilized technology, communication tactics and we were creative in every way possible. After the pandemic, we deployed marketing funds to 133 localities across Virginia to accelerate the industry’s economic recovery. Those efforts were wildly successful and the state has recovered visitor spending to over $30 Billion in 2023. We are extremely proud of our resilience and fortitude. We never gave up or ceased marketing Virginia’s tourism assets domestic and internationally.

Did you always know you wanted to be an industry leader? Who and what inspired you throughout your career to get to where you are today? 

My inspiration comes from my upbringing to always do my best, show leadership, speak up, sit in the front of the class, be first to raise your hand to volunteer and assist others. My parents instilled these attributes from a very young age. I had a blessed and glorious childhood filled with joy and love. We were taught to believe in God and walk with confidence.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given, and how have you applied it in your life? (in and out of the workplace!) 

Think before you speak, simple advice yet highly effective. I use this lesson every day of my life.

In turn, do you have any wisdom for Virginia's Women+girls just getting started their careers or education? 

The world around us is complex and filled with choices every day we walk this earth. My suggestion is to take personal accountability very serious and know that words matter. Always have a solution if you want to make a difference in the world. Humility is a character trait that opens our hearts and minds to new ideas and our ability to change for continuous improvement. Serve as a consistent steward of your personal brand. Always do your best.

About Rita D. McClenny

Rita D. McClenny serves as president and CEO of the Virginia Tourism Corporation, a state agency charged with marketing the Commonwealth as a premier travel destination and film location. The mission of VTC is to expand domestic and international in-bound travel and motion picture production to generate revenue and employment in Virginia. A native Virginian, Ms. McClenny received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Fisk University. She was born and raised in Southampton County and presently resides in the City of Richmond. Under Rita’s leadership tourism has grown 5% year-over-year and the agency has received several industry awards: among them U.S. Travel Association’s Mercury Award and Afar Magazine’s Distinguished Destination Award. Rita has been recognized as a Virginia Business Top 500 Leader in the Commonwealth three years in a row (2021-2023). Tourism and film are instant revenue generators for Virginia. In 2022, tourism in Virginia generated $30 billion in direct spending, supported more than 210,000 jobs, and provided $2.2 billion in state and local taxes. Virginia was named a top state to both vacation and retire in 2023.

Sisterhood Spotlight

Janel Keaton

As a mother, grandmother, wife, friend and community leader, Janel is an inspiration to many. As Virginians continue to face various health challenges, Janel’s life and journey serve as an important reminder to stay positive, faithful and lead with love.

You served alongside your husband in building and pastoring a church. Was that what you aspired to as a little girl?
I grew up in a ministry family where life revolved around the church. My dad was a pastor and my mom a busy pastor’s wife. And while life was good, I can’t say that it was my dream job. What I did sense early on was that my life would be a ministry life. And so, after Troy and I were married, I wasn’t surprised that he entered the ministry and became the pastor of a tiny little inner-city church in Dayton Ohio. He preached and visited people in the community, and I cleaned the church and taught the children. We both took care of and mentored the youth group, and established early on that we were partners, and co-workers.  When we planted our current church at Smith Mountain Lake 18 years ago it was again a team effort.  Over the past 29 years it has been amazing to see how God has faithfully led us from that first place of ministry to where we are today.

As the mother of four, what is a scripture or motto that inspired you when you felt overwhelmed?

I think being a mother is the most important job I have ever been entrusted with. And I’m sure that every mom reading this would agree that it is equally rewarding and difficult.

I tried to remember that God saw me! Even in the mundane seemingly unimportant moments, he was there and what I was doing really mattered. And that helped me to realized how important it was to persevere in the tough times, to enjoy my kiddos and most importantly to seize every opportunity to teach them right from wrong.

Troy was a wonderful encouragement to me. When feeling stressed or overwhelmed with the craziness that accompanies parenting, we would talk it over and he was affirming and encouraging. We were in this parenting thing together.

What did you feel when you were diagnosed with cancer?

In November of 2020 life was good. I was a physically strong, active wife, mother, Mimi, and pastor’s wife. After experiencing some pain and wondering If I had cracked a rib exercising, I went in for a check-up. Things kind of spiraled quickly when I was told that I had stage IV metastatic breast cancer.

In those early days, to say that I was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Shock, fear, uncertainty—these words fail miserably at describing the emotions Troy and I were both experiencing.

I remember clearly however, crying out to God and asking Him to give me peace. I said specifically, “God, if you will give me your peace, then I can face anything.” I had spent my life reading the word of God, but it became alive in ways that I had never experienced. And as I saturated my mind with the truth I found in its pages, the peace of God flowed in and overcame the darkness.

Being given a terminal diagnosis has a way of distilling every thought and idea. It has made me yearn for what is true! Not what I feel, or what the opinions of others might be, but what is true. I have found this truth in the pages of scripture, and it has been the life giving, stabilizing foundation throughout the past three and a half years.

Is there a message for other women or girls who might be battling a life-threatening disease?

I believe one of the great enemies of our peace when we are suffering with a life-threatening disease is giving way to self-pity; of becoming so self-focused that everything revolves around me. And we forget about those around us who are also suffering. I have spent countless hours on the couch in the past three years watching the people that I love do the work that I wished I had the strength to do myself.

One afternoon my sister-in-law Julia came over with my nieces to clean my house. As they told me goodbye and walked out the door, I felt an unbearable longing to go with them. I wanted to step outside of my weak and diseased body and just walk away from my cancer—just for an hour. 
I know that these feelings are normal. But I have found that dwelling on what is not possible, robs me of experiencing the grace God wants to pour into my impossible situation.

A famous missionary, Amy Carmichael once said, “In acceptance, lieth peace.” And while I have fought this cancer with a vengeance; I dislike it; I pray that a cure will be discovered soon, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, I choose to receive and focus on the peace that God gives to me.

You made the decision to seek hospice care. Please share what is in your heart. 

Cancer treatment is exhausting. And to continue to pursue treatment when it is not working to destroy the cancer seems futile. 
I came to the realization that the effects of the harsh treatment were robbing me of my quality of life.

When I began cancer treatment, I was hoping to add some more years to my life. And I have been blessed to be present for both my son’s weddings, and to welcome four new grandbabies into the world.

I have peace about my decision to fight for different things now. While Hospice cannot add days to my life, it has added life to my days. And most importantly, I know that this life is not all there is for me!

My hope is in what is coming next. Heaven is real, and I want to spend the rest of my days both enjoying my family and looking forward to that reality.

About Janel Keaton

Janel Keaton is a strong woman of faith with stage IV cancer, who recently went on Hospice care. Janel has been married to her husband Troy, a pastor, for 34 years. Together they have shepherded three congregations. 18 years ago they planted EastLake Community Church at Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia. EastLake is rapidly growing, community involved, church family that includes an academy with 550 students. Janel is most proud of having raised two daughters and two sons. She finds her greatest delight in them and the 8 grandchildren they have produced.

Sisterhood Spotlight

Dr. Sandy-Chung
Dr. Sandy Chung
Founder and Medical Director, Virginia Mental Health Access Program

As the Founder and Medical Director of Virginia Mental Health Access Programs, Dr. Chung works hard to increase mental health care for children, adolescents and mothers throughout the Commonwealth. As Virginians continue to face unprecedented challenges in behavioral and mental health, Dr. Chung's dedication to serving our most vulnerable communities is more important than ever.

You have worked tirelessly on pediatric health issues throughout your career in medicine. Can you speak to what inspired you to pursue this line of work? 

As a child of immigrants growing up living in poverty, I know personally what it is like to have very little and struggle to ensure that basic necessities are available. My parents worked very hard throughout their lives, and eventually owned a successful Chinese restaurant in Virginia. Committed to ensuring that their children would have better lives, they stressed the importance of education to myself and my siblings.

In the fourth grade, I had to do a project on what I wanted to be when I grew up. A neighbor, who was a nurse, suggested that I should become a doctor and gave me supplies for my project including scrubs, a tongue depressor, and a stethoscope.  From that day forward, I was inspired to become a physician.  I loved working with children, so becoming a pediatrician was a natural fit.

Over my career, I learned that healthcare has many facets, including the business side of medicine.  Growing up in a small family business, I learned the importance of taking the best care of customers, creating a positive work environment for employees, and how to be resilient in the face of adversity.  As a perpetual volunteer and servant leader, I also knew that I wanted to help as many children and families as possible and was constantly looking for ways to achieve this mission.

In my practice, I became the managing partner early in my career and then in 2018, collaborated with other practices to create Trusted Doctors, a pediatric group of over 200 pediatric providers.  As CEO of Trusted Doctors, I can help take care of children and adolescents on a large scale through the amazing work of our excellent pediatric clinicians. On a statewide and national level, I have been inspired by those who have been pediatric leaders before me. Having held over 30 community, state, and national leadership positions in my career, I was most recently national President of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2023.  It has been a tremendous honor to work with and learn from pediatric colleagues from across the country and the world. Having the opportunity to impact the care of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults nationally has been my greatest honor. 

What has been the most impactful aspect of your career thus far? Are there any specific people or events that played a major role? 

Every day that a child is healthier because of something I have done or helped to create gives me the greatest possible joy.  I am particularly proud of being the Founder and Medical Director of the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP).  This program increases access to mental health care for children and adolescents, and now moms. As a nation, we are experiencing a crisis in access to mental health care. VMAP helps to address this by training and supporting primary care providers to identify and treat patients who are struggling with behavioral and mental health issues. VMAP also provides care navigation services to families to help them find mental health care in their communities.

In 2017, I had a 14-year-old young patient who had bipolar disorder.  His child psychiatrist had just retired. Initially the family could only find an appointment with a new psychiatrist four months later. As his pediatrician, we helped him to get an earlier appointment, but unfortunately while waiting, he ran out of his medication and had an exacerbation of his disease. During this flare, he got into a violent fight and tragically killed a person. This was a horrible event that made me realize that we needed to address mental health access differently.  The shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists needs to be fixed but this will take time.  Right now, we need to empower our existing clinicians who are taking care of children and adolescents every day.  Our clinicians who see pediatric patients - pediatricians, family physicians, emergency room physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants – all are overwhelmed with the numbers of young people who need help.  Families need access to care more immediately.  Their children cannot wait.

VMAP helps with this by ensuring that families can get help through their primary care provider, and I am so grateful to the Governor, the First Lady, the Secretary of Health, the state agencies, and legislators for supporting VMAP.

What advice do you have for Virginia's Women+girls pursuing a healthcare-related career? Further, has the environment evolved in any way since you began as a young woman in the workforce? 

Healthcare is an incredibly fulfilling field to be in. No matter what is happening in the world, people need healthcare. And we need more people in healthcare because there is a shortage of workers overall. 

When I started in medicine, there were more men than women physicians.  That trend has changed, notably in certain specialties like pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology. Working part-time is now accepted and, while there is more to be done, it is easier now to balance work and life in a career in healthcare. 

Having a mentor and sponsor can be helpful especially as you start your career.  Finding a woman leader who is in your healthcare field can be invaluable.  I have been fortunate to have several amazing female role models over my twenty plus years in medicine. To find a mentor, just ask someone who you would like as your mentor.  Do not be intimidated or afraid to ask. Chances are, they will be flattered by request. And if they cannot do it, ask if they know of someone else who could help you.  No one will advocate for you better than you. If you are unsuccessful with the first person you ask, just ask someone else. There are also organizations for each healthcare profession which can be an invaluable resource for finding mentors.  They are almost always looking for young people to become involved in their fields and their organizations.

This time of year, many people are beginning a resolution to get healthier in the New Year. In recognition of this and in honor of National Staying Healthy Month, do you have any tips for Virginians looking to embark on a healthier lifestyle in 2024?

Being healthy is so important for all of us. However, achieving good health can be a challenge for many. Here are some tips to help you be successful:

  1. Set small goals. It is important when you set goals to make them realistic and achievable. Start with taking your overall goal and breaking it up into much smaller pieces.  For example, if you want to start eating healthier and snacking less, choose one snack to address.  If you try to restrict all snacking, then that is unlikely to last very long. After you succeed at just one small goal for several weeks, then add another small goal.
  2. Figure out why. It can be helpful to look at what motivates you and whether or not there are underlying reasons why you have unhealthy behaviors. Is it related to emotions like boredom, stress, anxiety, or depression?  If so, getting professional advice about the underlying emotions from a doctor, coach, or therapist could be helpful.
  3. Give yourself a prize. Setting your sights on a reward can be another way to motivate yourself to be healthier. Set some short-term goals with rewards (for example, if I don’t eat a snack before bedtime today, then tomorrow I will watch another episode of my favorite show).
  4. Do this with someone else. Even if you are an introvert, we are social beings and naturally seek others.  Having support for your efforts can be helpful to keep you motivated, especially when progress is slower, or you are less motivated. Signing up for a group class, online support group, having a friend join you, or getting a coach can be effective.

And just remember, no one is perfect, and we all have moments where we may not achieve exactly what we want.  The key is to move yourself a little bit more towards better health!

As a shining example of hard work, leadership, and success among Virginia’s Women+girls (W+g), what might you tell your younger self just getting started in her professional life? 

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity this past year to travel the country and the world talking to people in various aspects of healthcare. Often I am asked by undergraduate and medical students what advice I would give to them. Here are some bits of advice I offer to anyone who is thinking about their future professional life.

I could not have predicted the path that my career took when I was in my twenties just starting my career. So, when you are young, try not to chart your entire career path.  Chances are that the right thing will happen when it is meant to happen.

Focus on what you can control.  Worrying about things that you cannot control will not be helpful and will only cause you stress.  Your thoughts ultimately will lead you to feelings and then to behaviors and actions. So, by focusing your thoughts on what you can control and finding a way to reframe your thoughts into positive ones, you will feel better and achieve more.

Say “yes” when opportunities arise. Over my career some of my most amazing leadership experiences stemmed from an activity where I was willing to say “yes” and volunteer for something where there was need. Take a chance, meet new people, and try different things. With an open mind and helping hand, you will fill your heart while making the world just a bit better every day.

About Sandy Chung, MD, FAAP

Pediatrician Dr. Sandy Chung has held over 30 state and national leadership positions, including AAP Virginia Chapter President and Founder and Medical Director of the Virginia Mental Health Access Program. She is the CEO of Trusted Doctors, a pediatric practice of over 200 clinicians in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia, and serves as Medical Director of Informatics at Children’s National Hospital’s Pediatric Health Network. Her passionate advocacy for child health and pediatricians has delivered major advancements in healthcare equity, mental health, EHR burden reduction, appropriate payment, physician well-being, and optimal child health policies. She is the recipient of multiple awards including March of Dimes Lifetime Heroine Award recognizing a lifetime of community volunteerism, the Clarence A. Holland Award for providing outstanding contributions to the community and demonstrating leadership in the field of political advocacy, and most recently Modern Healthcare’s 100 Most Influential People in Healthcare recognizing individuals who are the most influential individuals in healthcare the country in terms of leadership and impact. As an avid educator of the next generation of pediatricians, her publications include articles on telemedicine, virtual learning, and health information technology. Dr. Chung received her medical degree from the University of Virginia and completed her pediatric residency at the Inova L.J. Murphy Children’s Hospital. She has appeared in numerous media outlets including the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, NPR, Contemporary Pediatrics, and USAToday. Dr. Chung is the proud mother of four amazing children who teach her something new every day.

Sisterhood Spotlight

Kathleen Arnold
Visionary Advisor, The Lampstand

During this National Human Trafficking Awareness month we celebrate Kathleen Arnold, a stalwart advocate working hard to create a more safe and loving Virginia for all. Within her roles in the social impact sector, Kathleen is diligent in her efforts to create a future without trafficking and a society where survivors can thrive.

According to your mission statement, The Lampstand exists to "empower the lives of those vulnerable to and affected by sexual exploitation." What does this empowerment look like on a day-to-day basis, and what makes The Lampstand so unique in their efforts?

At The Lampstand, empowerment is a daily commitment that goes beyond words—it's about being there for individuals in tangible ways. It means providing a listening ear, offering resources, and creating a community that genuinely cares. What makes us unique is our focus on not just addressing immediate needs but building lasting resilience through personal connections and comprehensive programs.

What is your role as Visionary Advisor at The Lampstand? Have you always known this was the line of work you wanted to pursue?

As the Visionary Advisor at The Lampstand, my journey has been shaped by a profound calling that redirected my career path. Initially, I pursued a degree in nursing, driven by a deep desire to help people. However, in my freshman year, a transformative moment occurred when the Lord touched my heart, leading me to change my major to global justice studies.

This pivotal moment marked a shift in my life's trajectory. It was during my studies in global justice that I encountered the harsh reality of sex trafficking. The revelation resonated deeply, and I knew without a doubt that combatting sex trafficking would become my life's calling. Ever since that transformative experience, I have dedicated my life to fighting against the exploitation of individuals, working tirelessly to bring about positive change.

Now, as the Visionary Advisor at The Lampstand, I bring professional expertise and a personal commitment forged through a journey of faith and conviction. This role is not just a position; it's a continuation of a calling that has defined the course of my life. It's about translating that initial calling into strategic vision and innovative approaches to address the complex challenges posed by sexual exploitation.

Being a Visionary Advisor means dreaming big and translating those dreams into actionable strategies. It involves anticipating challenges, identifying opportunities for growth, and constantly pushing the boundaries of what is possible. It's about creating a future where exploitation is not just addressed but eradicated, and survivors can thrive.Together with the team at The Lampstand, we strive to create a future where the shadows of exploitation are replaced by the light of empowerment and justice.

What advice do you have for Virginia's Women+girls with a similar calling to work in the social impact sector?

To the incredible Women+Girls in Virginia with a calling for social impact, I'd say embrace your uniqueness and persist in your passion. Seek mentors who inspire you, stay open to diverse perspectives, and remember that even the smallest efforts matter. The journey may not always be linear, but each step you take contributes to meaningful change.

How has faith played a role in the progression of your career and life?

Faith has been the cornerstone of my career and life journey, guiding me through the highs and lows with unwavering strength. It's not merely a set of beliefs but a source of resilience, compassion, and a deep commitment to justice. In the realm of combating sexual exploitation, faith serves as both my anchor and compass.

Throughout my career, faith has played a transformative role in shaping my perspective and influencing my decision-making. It's the force that propels me forward when faced with challenges, reminding me of the greater purpose behind the work we do at The Lampstand. The values instilled by faith—compassion, empathy, and a sense of justice—have become guiding principles in my interactions with survivors and in the strategic direction of our initiatives.

Faith is not separate from the work; it's interwoven into the fabric of every effort to combat exploitation. It empowers me to approach each situation with a genuine desire to make a positive impact, grounded in a belief that change is possible. It fosters resilience in the face of adversity, fueling the passion to advocate for those who have experienced the trauma of exploitation.

January is Human Trafficking Awareness and Prevention Month. What can Virginians do to make an impact this month and throughout the year?

January serves as a powerful call to action for all Virginians to unite against human trafficking. Beyond simply raising awareness, the impact we can collectively make this month and throughout the year is significant. It's about transforming awareness into tangible actions that contribute to the ongoing fight against exploitation.

To make an impact, individuals in Virginia can start by educating themselves and others about the signs of human trafficking. Recognizing these signs is crucial for early intervention and support for survivors. By staying informed, we empower ourselves to be advocates for change.

Additionally, supporting local organizations dedicated to combating human trafficking is vital. These organizations often play a critical role in assisting survivors and working towards prevention. Whether through volunteering time, donating resources, or actively participating in advocacy campaigns, each contribution adds to the collective effort.

Advocacy for policy changes is another impactful avenue. Engaging with lawmakers to support legislation aimed at preventing and addressing human trafficking can lead to systemic improvements. By being vocal advocates, Virginians can contribute to creating an environment where exploitation is less likely to occur, and survivors receive the support they need.

The impact should not be confined to January alone; it's about fostering a culture of awareness and action throughout the year. Consistency in efforts, whether through continued education, support for organizations, or active advocacy, is essential for sustainable change. By staying committed beyond the designated awareness month, we contribute to a society where the fight against human trafficking is ongoing and impactful.

What else should Virginians know about the work of The Lampstand?

I want Virginians to know that The Lampstand is more than an organization—it's a family committed to eradicating exploitation. Our programs are not just about statistics; they are personal stories of survival and growth. By supporting The Lampstand, you're not just contributing; you're becoming part of a movement that believes in the power of every individual to create lasting change.


Kathleen Arnold is a dedicated advocate and leader in the fight against human trafficking, currently serving as the Senior Director of Programs for Safe House Project, a prominent nonprofit organization committed to combating modern-day slavery. With an extensive background in trafficking services, program development, and nonprofit management, Kathleen possesses over a decade of experience and expertise in addressing the complex needs of survivors. Throughout her career, Kathleen has held influential leadership positions within various nonprofit organizations, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to serving vulnerable populations. Notably, she played a pivotal role in establishing and directing the Lampstand, a safe home for children who have endured the horrors of sex trafficking, displaying her ability to create impactful initiatives from the ground up.

Kathleen's professional journey is complemented by an impressive array of certifications and affiliations within the anti-trafficking field. She is certified as a Mindset Instructor and Trust Based Relational Intervention Practitioner, equipped with specialized knowledge in Play Therapy, Restorative Circles, and Sexual Exploitation Treatment and Training Services. Additionally, she serves as the Visionary Advisor for The Lampstand Safehome and is a founding member of both the Roanoke Valley Human Trafficking Task Force and Aspire, a collective striving to eliminate racial and ethnic barriers to treatment and services for vulnerable populations. In 2020, Kathleen served as the acting chair of the Roanoke Valley Violence Prevention Council, further solidifying her commitment to addressing the broader issues surrounding violence and exploitation.

Kathleen holds a Bachelor's degree in Global Justice Studies from James Madison University and a Master's degree in Social Work from Radford University, where she was honored with the Excellence in Research award. Fuelled by her passion for social justice, Kathleen dedicates herself to effecting positive change in the lives of those susceptible to and affected by sexual exploitation. Through her remarkable leadership, unwavering dedication, and profound expertise, Kathleen Arnold embodies the spirit of compassion and advocacy in the fight against human trafficking.