Non-Profit to Celebrate Women’s Leadership in Worcester County
“For the last 28 years, recipients of the Erskine award have proven, time and time again, just what women leaders are capable of,” stated CEO, Deborah Hall. “They’ve blazed trails, shattered glass ceilings, and laid the foundation for future generations of women and people of color to succeed.”
With more than 125 welcomed into this esteemed sisterhood, this year’s recipients have reached exemplary levels of achievement in their professions. They have opened doors for young women and people of color and have broken down barriers. They have created positive change and inspired others to follow suit.
The 2022 class of Katharine F. Erskine Award recipients will be honored next month at the 28th annual Tribute to Women Luncheon on Tuesday, September 13, 2022, at 12:00 p.m. at Mechanics Hall.
This year we are honored to have Dr. Maya Rockeymoore Cummings as our guest speaker. She is the Founder, President & CEO of Global Policy Solutions; Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Public Policy and International Affairs Fellow; and author of RAGEISM: Racism, Ageism, and the Quest for Liberation Policy (Routledge).
Arts & Culture: Cheryll Toney Holley, Chief, Hassanamisco Nipmuc Band
As Sonksq (female leader) of the Hassanamisco Nipmuc Band, Cheryll Toney Holley advocates for economic and social justice in all aspects of her community including producing and distributing healthy foods, creating and encouraging connections for Nipmuc artists, pursuing land back opportunities and promoting cultural education for Nipmucs of all ages including language reclamation. Holley co-founded and currently serves on the board of the Nipmuc Indian Development Corporation (NIDC), an Indigenous non-profit dedicated to the well-being of Nipmuc people and the stewardship of Nipmuc homelands. Holley served for 10 years on the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs and is the former director of the Hassanamisco Indian Museum located on the tribe’s Hassanamesit Reservation. As a former nurse, she is one of the original architects of the Nipmuc Women’s Health Coalition which was the first organization in Massachusetts to advocate for culturally appropriate health care programs for Indigenous people. A member of the Worcester Black History Project, Holley is also a professional researcher, writer, and speaker specializing in African American and Indigenous peoples of New England.
Business & Law: Dani Babineau, co-founder & CEO of Redemption Rock Brewery
Dani Babineau is the co-founder & CEO of Redemption Rock Brewery, a small craft brewery taproom and cafe in Worcester, MA. Babineau herself designed and managed the brewery and taproom to function as both a place to drink good beer and community space. Redemption Rock is a registered B corp, meaning each decision the company makes has to take into consideration the social and environmental effects of running a business. Brewery workers are paid a living wage and tips are donated to community organizations, leading to more than $125,000 in donations to local nonprofits. By giving back to its community, this brewery creates a more inclusive and sustainable economy. Community partnerships allow them to empower others, whether it’s maintaining green space, feeding the hungry, funding programs for kids, providing arts programming, assisting immigrant communities, etc. Babineau participates in city-wide volunteer days through Working 4 Worcester, is a member of the Young Professional Women’s Association, and has volunteered with the Worcester Community Foundation.
Community, Social Services, & Government: Michelle Smith, CEO of AIDS Project Worcester
Michelle Smith, CEO of AIDS Project Worcester has been with the organization since 1994. She began her tenure at the organization in the role of Case Manager with multiple promotions over the years. Smith has served in her current role as CEO for 10 years and has successfully led the organization to expand the breadth of its services through innovative programming and visionary leadership. The changing world of AIDS/HIV (disease, stigma, treatment, and education) requires a level of adaptability, vision, and tenacity that she has consistently and impressively brought to her role. An AIDS servicing organization (ASO) like APW tackles a “taboo” subject that is most often not talked about, feared, and frequently misunderstood. Under Smith’s leadership, APW has consistently been at the forefront of bringing about much-needed awareness and education while also meeting the changing needs of consumers and communities across Central Massachusetts affected and/or impacted by AIDS and related conditions like housing instability, homelessness, hunger, unemployment, etc.
Education: Jennessa Burks, Educator & Freelance Artist
Jennessa Burks is an educator, activist, and self-taught artist in large-scale acrylic paintings and mixed media pieces, as well as public art murals. She has produced and delivered original artwork for over seven public art murals in the city of Worcester, including locations at the Boys & Girls Club of Worcester, the Main South CDC, University Park, downtown Fitchburg, Matheson Apartments, The Bridge, and in front of the DCU Center (as part of the Black Lives Matter Mural). Art is a passion Burks uses to express her emotion and amplify not only her voice but the unheard voices of her communities. As part of her work as an educator at Cambridge Public Schools, Burks worked collaboratively to develop anti-racist professional development opportunities for the district.
Additionally, she participated in equity/leadership work at her alma mater, presenting at the Alumni of Color Conference at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Health, Science, & Technology: Jodi Ashmun, Systems Engineering Fellow, Raytheon Technologies
Jodi Ashmun is an Engineering Fellow at Raytheon Technologies. She has over 20 years of experience at Raytheon as a Systems Engineer and Test Director making impactful contributions throughout her career in a variety of projects involving ship controls, radar, weather, and satellite communications. As a leader in her field, she has earned several certifications and has been acknowledged with numerous accolades for her work at Raytheon. Ashmun is an active member of the community through Society of Women Engineers (SWE), MABLE SWE Next middle school STEM group, American Corporate Partners (ACP) military mentoring, and Raytheon Women’s Network (RWN). She shares her knowledge and inspires others to dream big and reach their goals. She engages young girls and women to investigate and enter STEM fields helping to increase diversity. She has shown others how to overcome obstacles and make their dreams a reality through her support, guidance, and commitment to them.
Development & Communications Specialist