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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

YWCA Spokane’s 2022 Women of Achievement honors local leaders as highest-ranking woman in naval history gives keynote

Retired Adm. Michelle Howard, the highest ranking woman in naval history, speaks at the 2022 Women of Achievement luncheon Thursday at the Davenport Grand Hotel.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Under a sea of pink lighting, the YWCA Spokane hosted the 40th annual Women of Achievement Awards luncheon Thursday, celebrating local community members for their dedication and contributions to the Spokane area.

“We’re gathered to celebrate the accomplishments for women in our community,” YWCA Spokane CEO Jeanette Hauck told the roughly 1,000 guests. “For the first time in history, we’re able to host this event during Women’s History Month. What a wonderful time to reflect on the many ways women here in our community strengthen and lift up others.”

Just last year, over 16,000 women in need accessed YWCA’s services to escape domestic violence within the Spokane area. Hauck also expressed solidarity with Ukraine in light of Russia’s recent invasion, and also recognized the devastation of COVID-19 and the impact it had on community efforts to alleviate domestic abuse.

The YWCA welcomed personal testimonies from Amber Miller, a woman who came to the YWCA in 2014 after leaving her abusive relationship. Miller received emotional counseling, financial help and more assistance through YWCA programs such as My Sister’s Closet, which provides clothes to those in need. In her emotional testimony, she thanked the YWCA for its commitment to her healing and assisting her in taking care of her two sons.

“Without counseling, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Miller said. “I get emotional because I was so scared, but they were there with open arms for you, anything that you need, and I think that’s why it has me so emotional, because I never had any support like that before.”

Retired Navy Adm. Michelle Howard, the highest-ranking woman in naval history, served as the keynote speaker.

Howard also discussed her personal journey to becoming the highest ranking female officer in the Navy, highlighting how her alma mater, the United States Naval Academy, was closed to women until 1976. Howard received her bachelor’s degree in 1982.

Throughout her 35-year career, Howard climbed the ranks and then served as the leading admiral behind the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips in 2009, the famous event known as the the Maersk Alabama hijacking. The siege ended when Phillips was rescued 240 nautical miles southeast of Eyl, Somalia. The event was immortalized in the Tom Hanks film “Captain Phillips.”

With an impeccable balance of comedic timing and relatable life lessons on honor, courage and commitment, values instilled in the Navy and throughout her life, she recalled moments where those values where tested, including leading more than 5,000 sailors at one time.

“I realized if I didn’t choose courage, and didn’t make an effort to talk to my captain, where would I find the courage to lead sailors into combat?” she said.

Howard wove in her personal life, sharing her mother’s advice to “start a fire with a single match” to encourage change in the world.

“What a wonderful way today to celebrate Women’s History Month, these leaders and to celebrate the fact that we all have our own match. We just have to have the courage to use it,” Howard said.

This year’s 40-year celebration highlighted six women who shine in their respective fields and serve Spokane.

Dawn Wolski, the Inland Northwest Opera’s former director, was honored with the Arts and Culture Award. The YWCA’s Business and Industry Award went to Nancy Mahoney of Dew Drop Sprinklers.

Hanncel Sanchez, founder and executive director of Mujeres in Action, received the Carl Maxey Racial and Social Justice Award.

In Community Enhancement, Fawn Schott was honored for her contributions to eliminating homelessness as a leader with Volunteers of America who spearheaded construction of Hope House 2.

Lee Williams was awarded the Education Award for her ability to use her profession as a teacher to master advocacy for child care and education.

Awarded the Government and Public Service Award, Alison Gregoire was the first woman to serve as a criminal chief for the Eastern District of Washington’s Untied States Attorney’s Office. Honored with the Science, Technology & Environment Award, Oludunni Oluwoye was celebrated for her groundbreaking findings in the connections between mental and emotional health. She is the co-director of Washington State Center for Excellence in Early Psychosis.

Sarah Dixit, the youngest of the group, was awarded the 2022 Young Woman of Achievement Award for her advocacy for the Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, and her work with the Asian Pacific Island Coalition.