Congratulations to all of the recipients of the Y's 2017 Cause-Driven Leadership Awards. We look forward to recognizing these amazing individuals and all those involved in the Y at the 16th Annual Dinner & Auction. Learn more about the Y's work for foster ethical and principled leadership for meaningful change on our website at: universityymca.org. You can also learn more about the Y's scholarships and leadership recognition awards at: universityymca.org/awards.
Edward Nestingen Alumni Award: Julia Kellman
Associate Professor Emerita Julia Kellman retired from the University of Illinois in 2009 after nearly 20 years of professional teaching at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, University of Northern Kentucky, and finally at the School of Art + Design and College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While at the School of Art + Design, Julia took particular pleasure in developing and teaching graduate seminars that focused on auto-ethnography, feminist anthropology as a research model and creative non-fiction.
In 2009, Julia edited and published the acclaimed "Reaching and Teaching the Child with Autism through Art," with Beverly Gerber. She has published numerous articles, which serve as resource and inspiration for practitioners in the field of art education as well as many others interested in the role of art for wellness and social change.
In 2013, Julia was chosen by the National Art Education Association’s board of directors to receive the Council for Exceptional Children and Very Special Arts Beverly Levett Gerber Special Needs Lifetime Achievement Award for her career of “outstanding achievement and service” for special needs children.
Julia founded and taught the Expressive Arts program at Carle Hospital and Clinics for people with HIV/AIDS for many years, and currently serves as the chair of the Art @ the Y committee at the University YMCA. Julia is a diligent, thoughtful leader who tirelessly champions the role of art for change, and its exemplification of and contribution to the mission of the University Y.
Julia is largely responsible for bringing the Spring 2017 BED SHOE HOME project to the Y. Julia organized internationally-renowned artist Jane Gilmor’s monthlong visit, where Jane worked one-on-one with homeless members of the CU community to create authentic, heart-felt work culminating in a major installation at the Y. Julia also partnered closely with Professor Tyler Denmead to secure the prestigious Miller Comm award from the campus Center for Advanced Study, bringing both high visibility and significant funding to the project.
Both Julia's life's work and her current significant contribution to the University YMCA exemplify the values and mission of the Y. Julia Kellman is truly an alumna and volunteer who we should be immeasurably proud of and uplift and thank in any way possible.
Distinguished Service Award (non-student): Ricardo Diaz
For the past 6 years, Ricardo Diaz has been one of the most active non-student members of the University Y programs. Initially connected through students leaders in La Colectiva, Ricardo served as a mentor to YMCA students as they began exploring ways to engage in the issue of immigration on campus and in our community.
Soon after his initial involvement at the Y, Ricardo joined the Board of Governors, served as an officer of the Board and eventually became Board President. One of his most important services to this community has been the creation and development of the C-U Immigration Forum, where he currently serves as a Board member. Over the years, Ricardo has been a leader in our community around the issue of immigration, mobilizing the community around ending Secure Communities, pushing for comprehensive immigration reform, and encouraging our community to be more welcoming of immigrants.
Beyond his activities around immigration, Ricardo helped take the lead in supporting efforts at the Y to address issues of diversity and race. As Board President he led a year-long effort to keep the topic of race and how it impacts our interactions and relationships as an ongoing conversation. He willingly volunteers to help with various programs such as Dump & Run and La Linea.
But most importantly, Ricardo has demonstrated how to build a community at the Y that respects everyone’s contributions, lifts up the work of the students and challenges us all to make that extra effort to make our community a better place to live.
Distinguished Service Award (Student): Lorenzo Grego
Lorenzo Grego, a Senior in Psychology, first became a part of the Y as a volunteer with BikeFace. A passionate leader in his fraternity, Lorenzo challenged the group to see the Greek system as a potential place for outreach and developed a bike library system at his fraternity. He also actively pushed the organization to expand its events to appeal to a broader group of cyclists or those who might just be interested in cycling. Lorenzo is one of the most consistent volunteers at Sunday shop hours at the Urbana Bike Project and he has planned and initiated events like Bicycle Registration on the Quad and midnight rides.
Last academic year, Lorenzo volunteered to serve as the Student Board representative for BikeFace and was one of the most reliable and consistently thoughtful members. That year, his leadership and action on Student Board resulted in his election by his peers as President for the following year.
As Student President, Lorenzo has proved to be reliable and resilient, making it a priority to engage the rest of the Board on issues and events our student programs are organizing around. The staff frequently remark on his follow through on everything from writing the donation thank you letter to his detailed presentations on the work of StuBO at board meetings.
Lorenzo is a consistently positive voice with a strong vision for collaborative community, and the Student Board’s quick response to the rhetoric leading up to the election of Donald Trump was the result of the groundwork he had laid all semester.
Gerry Brighton Young Alumni Award: MJ Altman (nee Molly Stephey)
M.J. Altman received degrees in News-Editorial Journalism and Sociology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As an undergraduate student, M.J. (who went by Molly Stephey) was elected to run the SECS newsletter, Environmental Resources. Molly had the idea to turn the newsletter into an environmental magazine. The Green Observer has been a Y student group ever since.
Today, M.J. oversees the World Food Programme USA's multimedia projects, reports, op-eds and communications outreach. In addition to writing articles and editing videos, M.J. hosts #HackingHunger, a podcast that explores latest news and innovations on global hunger and food security through interviews with humanitarians, journalists and experts from the field.
Prior to joining WFP USA, M.J. worked as a writer-reporter for TIME magazine in New York, where she covered a wide variety of issues, including social justice, politics and the environment. She has also worked at the Smithsonian Institution, where she researched, wrote and pitched stories about indigenous history, art and culture as a public affairs producer. In addition to TIME and the Smithsonian, her work has been featured on MSNBC, CNN, The Huffington Post, the Associated Press and National Geographic.
Since graduating, Molly has served as an application reader for the Y’s Fred S. Bailey Scholarship program. M.J. has always been passionate about using media to raise consciousness and support action around the environment and social justice. Throughout her career, she has sought out opportunities that have allowed her to apply her skill as a journalist while also building awareness and inspiring action.
J. Fredrick Miller Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service: Ann-Perry Witmer
Ann-Perry Witmer, a faculty member in Engineering, has served as the faculty advisor of the University YMCA’s Engineers Without Borders Chapter (EWB) for several years. In 2002, Ann went back to school two decades after she earned her first two bachelor's degrees to get a degree in civil engineering. In 2013, Ann left her industry position as a consulting engineer to join the University of Illinois staff as an instructor with the IEFX (Illinois Engineering First-Year Experience) program. Ann also established the Honduras Water Project Course, a year-long, multi-disciplinary engineering design course in international service project development and implementation with a community in Honduras.
This past year, Ann spearheaded a course in Quito, Ecuador that studies the effectiveness of the EWB model of development and is working to identify a community-driven project in Quito. Developing and teaching these courses is in of itself impressive, but Ann was also on the List of Instructors Ranked as Excellent in Spring 2016, Fall 2015, Spring 2015, and Fall 2014. Currently, Ann is pursuing a Ph.D, focusing her research on developing a stronger understanding of conditions and characteristics that lead to long-term success and sustainability of engineering projects that serve the developing world.
Ann has been one of the fiercest faculty ambassadors of the Bailey Scholarship program, recruiting countless qualified applicants for the undergraduate, travel and internship scholarships. As the EWB project advisor, Ann is insightful, patient and proactive. Students admire her and consider her a “constant source of wisdom,” and she regularly gives workshops and other trainings for the program.
Ann has also shown exceptional leadership on the YMCA’s Global Engagement Committee, which she chairs. She is a source of careful consideration, engineering expertise, and project management all while working for a meaningful and fair partnership between two culturally and geographically distinct partners, the University YMCA and the YMCA of Sierra Leone.
Harold W. Colvin Award for Undergraduate Leadership: Monica Saavedra
Monica Saavedra wants to be an immigration attorney who advocates for just and humane immigration policy while helping others through direct service. Monica, a third-year student studying Global Studies and Spanish, started volunteering with the Y’s La Línea Community Helpline Program over two years ago through Professor Ann Abbott’s Spanish for Business course. Beyond the Y, Monica serves as the President of Mi Pueblo, a campus group that focuses cultivating conversations in Spanish. Monica is currently studying abroad in Costa Rica this Spring 2017 semester and plans to return to her love of volunteering at the Y during her senior year at the University of Illinois.
At the Y, Monica’s team leadership skills have flourished as she led the La Línea student volunteer team week to week as a YMCA Bailey Internship Scholarship recipient. Under this internship, she sought out other opportunities to learn about capacity-building through fundraising, communications, community outreach, and collaborated in the grant writing process for the program.
Beyond her internship, she continues to work with the La Línea program through providing resource referrals to clients as a phone operator. She has also taken advantage of leadership development opportunities that the Y has provided through key trainings provided by the YMCA of the USA and the Immigration Project on immigration policy and newcomer integration strategies.
Currently, Monica is helping YMCA staff apply for Department of Justice accreditation for the organization, which will allow the YMCA to provide limited but critical legal immigration services. Monica is a truly dedicated leader working for a world that is welcoming to all people, receiving communities and newcomer communities alike.
John W. Price Award for Volunteer Service to International Understanding: Hannah Jarman
Hannah Jarman, a Senior in Global Studies, has demonstrated her passion for international understanding since her first week at the University of Illinois when she joined the YMCA program Invisible Conflicts (IC). Invisible Conflicts, a small organization, supported the education of 12 children in Uganda orphaned by the civil war. The group did not have the membership to continue into the next year, so Hannah spearheaded an effort to integrate its social justice work and fundraising into the Y’s Amnesty International Chapter.
Now President of Amnesty, Hannah is incredibly dedicated to building coalitions, leading Amnesty to work with other campus groups to raise funds for and awareness of immigration issues, Haiti relief, and safe water issues in Detroit and around the world. This year, Amnesty plans to raise $2,000 for the White Helmets, the Syrian civilians providing vital medical care.
Beyond fundraising, Hannah keeps education and grassroots organizing at the heart of the Amnesty mission. She has lent her leadership to Amnesty’s Write for Rights campaign for prisoners of conscience, which has resulted over 560 letters written and collected for their cause.
In addition to her work at the Y, Hannah participated in an individual research project on humanitarian intervention, worked as an Intercultural Horizons intern, established a Chamber of Commerce in Masatepe, Nicaragua as part of the student group Enactus, and spent a semester studying and volunteering in Quito, Ecuador. This semester she has been working with Enactus on the Oasis project, a website that aims to connect immigrants to social services. She also volunteered to visiting the Sierra Leone YMCA this May to help start a self-sustaining business for youth in Sierra Leone.
Hannah is a unique, thoughtful and inclusive leader who combines modesty with persistence and drive and will undoubtedly become a significant change agent in the global social justice movement.