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Meet the 2021 Outstanding Women of NKY honorees, to be celebrated at virtual program June 8

On Tuesday, June 8 the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce Women’s Initiative, sponsored by PNC, will recognize its 2021 Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky honorees with a virtual celebration. The awards – sponsored by St. Elizabeth Healthcare – were established in 1984 by the late Nancy Boothe to honor women who exemplify notable achievement, outstanding service in their professions or to the Northern Kentucky community and the qualities of personal integrity, perseverance and leadership.

The virtual event will be broadcast free of charge. More information about the Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky awards, past honorees, and more, can be found online at www.NKYChamber.com/OWNK21

The 2021 Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky honorees include:

Emerging Leader Honoree
Rachel DesRochers
CEO, Grateful Grahams/Incubator Kitchen Collective

Rachel DesRochers

More than a decade ago, Rachel DesRochers began her journey as an entrepreneur and has since seen her passion grow into a thriving business that shares encouraging messages of gratitude. When Rachel created her company, Grateful Grahams, in 2010, she was a new mother who had recently been laid off. She stepped up for her family and her hard work paid off. Today, Grateful Grahams bakes more than 14,000 cookies a week and can be found at Kroger among other retailers throughout Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

In 2013, wanting to create a shared kitchen space to support entrepreneurs with an affordable, comprehensive approach, Rachel founded the Incubator Kitchen Collective. To date, the nonprofit organization has grown to three locations and helped more than 120 small businesses flourish. As Grateful Grahams continued to grow, Rachel saw a need in the community to build a shared-use commercial kitchen space. Her goal? To not only provide a kitchen in which food start-ups could rent space, but to build a community where they could learn, share and grow. She used her knowledge and resources to give food entrepreneurs a fighting chance to succeed in a traditionally tough industry.

If that’s not enough, Rachel decided to start podcasting and created the well-followed “Kitchen Convos,” and “In Gratitude” podcasts.

In addition to founding the Incubator Kitchen Collective and being its Board Chair since 2013, in February 2017, the City of Newport dedicated a Proclamation Day – “The Gratitude Collective Day” – to honor all of Rachel’s work.

“I am honored to be recognized as the Outstanding Women of NKY Emerging Leader” Rachel said. “Thanks to the support of the NKY Chamber, our community and my great team for this award, for which I am grateful.”

Outstanding Women of NKY Honoree
Nancy Grayson
President, Horizon Community Funds of Northern Kentucky

Nancy Grayson

Nancy Grayson has served as the President of Horizon Community Funds (HCF) since its inception in 2017. Given her long-standing service to the community and commitment to improving the region, her dedication to bettering the lives of others should come as a surprise to no one.

Nancy supports several organizations dedicated to improving education, promoting healthy family relationships and preserving both Kentucky’s natural resources and history. She currently serves on the Duke Energy Ohio and Kentucky Advisory Council, Endow Kentucky Commission, Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative Board of Directors, United Way Northern Kentucky Action Council and is the chair of the Metropolitan Club Board of Governors. This tireless service has resulted in several awards, including a 2018 Newsmaker Award from the Northern Kentucky Tribune and Cincy Magazine naming her as part of its “Power 100” in 2020 and 2021.

The Restaurant Relief Fund, a joint project of the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Northern Kentucky Tri-ED and HCF, proved why her work is so worthy of recognition. The fund made a total economic impact of just over $91,500, all of which went directly to local bars and restaurants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am deeply honored and humbled to receive this recognition,” Nancy said. “It is such a joy for me to serve our Northern Kentucky community and I am inspired by so many female leaders who have helped to pave the way for me and countless others. Without their bold leadership, support and friendship, I would not be where I am today, and I owe them a debt of gratitude.”

Outstanding Women of NKY Honoree
Danielle Amrine
Chief Executive Officer, Welcome House of Northern Kentucky

Danielle Amrine

Danielle Amrine has served as the Chief Executive Officer of Welcome House of Northern Kentucky since July 2017 and has worked tirelessly to execute her organization’s mission to end homelessness in Northern Kentucky. Her passion to help others has driven her career working in the nonprofit sector and has helped her lead Welcome House in its quest to promote stability, one person at a time.

Those who know Danielle are in awe of her energy, passion, honesty and intelligence. Her leadership has had a positive impact on Welcome House. Under Danielle’s guidance, Welcome House has seen significant growth that has increased the number of clients that the organization can now serve. It’s no surprise that the pandemic has had a major impact on homelessness in the region. Danielle has not backed down from this challenge; rather she has marshalled resources to serve the community’s most vulnerable population while strategically planning for the future.

Away from the office, Danielle’s community mindedness spills over to include serving as a youth sports coach, serving as the secretary at the League for Animal Welfare and volunteering with the Sweet Dream House Animal Rescue.

Her continued efforts on behalf of Welcome House have not gone without notice, resulting in Danielle being named a finalist for the Cincinnati Business Courier’s 2020 C-Suite CEO of the Year award. Welcome House also collected the 2020 Nonprofit of the Year award from Cincy Magazine.

“I’m terrible at accepting praise and normally respond with hilariously self-deprecating retorts,” said Danielle. “However, the OWNKY award is about as good as it gets, and I’m honored to be recognized with such an amazing group of women, both past and present.”

Helen Carroll Champion of Education Honoree
Irene Encarnacion
Senior Lecturer of Spanish, Northern Kentucky University

Irene Encarnacion

Irene Encarnacion has worked at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) since 1992, where today she is both a Senior Lecturer of Spanish and the Interim Executive Director of the Esperanza Latino Center of Northern Kentucky. Her community involvement includes numerous projects and committees, such as serving as a Ready to Read Covington ambassador and member of the NKY Justice and Peace Committee, among others. Likewise, her institutional service and leadership has led to her serving on several NKU faculty committees, both in the realms of Latino and general student body affairs.

Her commitment to better the community extends far beyond NKU’s grounds, however. She has assisted in numerous capacities at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati (including substitute teaching), packing and distributing meals through the Fitting Hunger Outreach Program and serving as an International and Community Hostess/Interpreter with the IHM Cultural Center Batahola Norte Nicaragua. Additionally, Irene’s involvement extends to projects involving diversity, visiting students from Mexico and honors writing workshops.

Her curriculum vitae provides glimpses of how strong her commitment is to higher education—undergrad and graduate studies—and seeing people of all backgrounds have opportunities to improve their lives. All of this has resulted in numerous awards and nominations throughout the course of her career.

“Latinos are humble by nature, but today I can’t be humble. I am (among) Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky because many other outstanding women of Northern Kentucky invested years of their lives educating me,” said Irene. “Although I never sat in their classrooms, it was in the streets of Columbus, Frankfort, and even Washington, D.C., that they taught me great valuable lessons. They guided me towards a one-way 30-year path of living with a purpose, but most importantly, they taught me that earth angels do exist.”

Henrietta Cleveland Honoree
Lee Ann Ernst
Nursing Supervisor, Coordinator of Infectious Disease Response Team, St. Elizabeth Healthcare

Lee Ann Ernst

Lee Ann Ernst is the coordinator for the St. Elizabeth Infectious Disease Response Team (IDRT) and a supervising nurse at the hospital’s Ft. Thomas location, where most of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) patients have been treated. Lee Ann has led this multi-disciplinary group since its inception in 2013, which was formed to respond to highly infectious diseases. She first joined St. Elizabeth Healthcare in 1982 and gained invaluable expertise while working in the Emergency Department and Nursing Administration.

Lee Ann graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from Mount St. Joseph University in 2007 and earned her Master of Science in Nursing from NKU in 2011.

She has put her education to practical use earning her certifications as both an Emergency Nurse (CEN) and Clinical Research Nurse (CCRC) in addition to becoming a certified Aerobics and Fitness Instructor from the Athletics and Fitness Association of America (AFAA). Lee Ann also serves on the board of directors for Care Net Pregnancy Services of Northern Kentucky. She has been nominated for several awards, including the St. Elizabeth’s I Care and Mount St. Joseph’s Leadership in Nursing honors in 2020.

“Being named the 2021 Outstanding Women of NKY Henrietta Cleveland honoree is very humbling especially to be included in this group of past and present remarkable women. I have a grateful heart for the opportunity to have made a difference and affect the outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lee Ann. “I believe each of us are put here for a specific reason. This recognition validates to me that my efforts and skills as coordinator of the IDRT were applied in the right way!”

Judith Clabes Lifetime Achievement Honoree
Susan McDonald
Vice President, Chief Nursing Officer, St. Elizabeth Healthcare

Susan McDonald

With more than 45 years’ worth of experience working in local hospitals, Susan McDonald’s vast knowledge continues to serve all those fortunate enough to come in contact with her.

Beginning her career at what was then known as St. Luke Hospital in Fort Thomas, Susan now serves as St. Elizabeth’s Vice President, Chief Nursing Officer. She also maintains a post as an adjunct faculty member at Mount St. Joseph University in its Nursing DNP Program.

Susan’s steadfast commitment to serving the Brighton Center community began in 2013 as a Board member. During her eight years of service, she has held numerous leadership positions with Brighton Center, including secretary, vice chair and chairperson of its Board of Directors. She has also volunteered as a Cor Vitae Society member of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association since 2012.

Susan has numerous certifications to her credit. She is an American College of Healthcare Executives Fellow (FACHE) and holds a certification in Executive Nursing Practice by the American Organization of Nurse Executives (CENP). Mount St. Joseph University honored her with the Leadership in Nursing Award in 2018.

“I am extremely pleased and honored to be chosen to receive the Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky Judith Clabes Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Susan. “As a lifelong resident of Northern Kentucky, it is very rewarding to know that I have been able to make a difference in the lives of others and a positive impact on our community. I am very proud to join the ranks of the exceptional women leaders who have received this award in the past … Congratulations to the other women leaders who are receiving awards this year.”

Nancy Janes Boothe Scholarship Recipients

Jean Schirtzinger
Gateway Community & Technical College

Jean Schirtzinger

Jean Schirtzinger is the 2021 Nancy Janes Boothe Scholarship Recipient for Gateway Community and Technical College. If her dedication to making a difference throughout Northern Kentucky wasn’t enough, her personal journey to overcoming adversity illustrates what being outstanding is all about.

A married mother of two, Jean and her family have spent countless hours volunteering their time and resources to Family Promise, an organization that helps homeless families stay together while getting back on their feet. In addition to serving in a leadership role for Family Promise, Jean has also volunteered at the Mary Rose Mission, the Rose Garden Home Mission and the Emergency Shelter of Northern Kentucky. She also belongs to a group that creates hand-made prayer shawls for service members.

At age 43, Jean overcame her biggest personal challenge, beating cancer. She underwent surgery and completed chemotherapy, all while continuing her volunteer work. Now, Jean is following her passion of helping children by following her dream of becoming a teacher. She is pursuing this dream with distinction carrying a 4.0 grade point average in Gateway’s Early Childhood Education associate degree program. She plans to transfer to Northern Kentucky University for her bachelor’s degree in Education.

“I am truly honored to receive the Outstanding Women of NKY Award and (am) most grateful for the scholarship. The scholarship will help me financially, to reach my lifetime dream of becoming an early childhood educator,” said Jean. “As an educator it will become my personal goal to help make sure that even our youngest children have their basic life-sustaining necessities met at home. Since I have volunteered in our local communities with the homeless, it will become my goal to teach tolerance and acceptance towards others in my classroom.”

Chandra Huff
Northern Kentucky University

Chandra Huff

Chandra Huff is the 2021 Nancy Janes Boothe Scholarship Recipient for Northern Kentucky University (NKU). Beginning her college academic career as a Gateway2NKU – a dual-admissions partnership between Gateway Community & Technical College and NKU – student, Chandra is studying to become a social worker. By simply looking at the accolades she has already achieved, it’s easy to see why she is more than deserving of this year’s Boothe Scholarship and is well on her way to achieving her career goals.

Earning her Associate of Applied Science in Human Services at Gateway with her Associate of Arts in Dec. 2019 and June 2020, respectively, Chandra utilized her time at the institution to serve others in many ways. This includes volunteering as a peer mentor to help students in a variety of ways addressing issues such as housing concerns, daycare, and food instability. This is in addition to making the Dean’s List each semester, serving as a member of Gateway’s suicide prevention team Project Care, volunteering at Brighton Center, and interning at the Homeward Bound Shelter in Covington. A mother of three, Chandra is dedicated to ensuring children who have been labeled as having disabilities, be they of a learning or physical nature, have the same opportunities to succeed as everyone else.

“When I was very young, I was diagnosed with a mental disorder…Being labeled as a young child can affect the outcome of your whole life – I would know. As I go through life, I have to defy my mind and realize that I can do things that this label makes me think I am not capable of,” she says. “I chose to earn a degree to have the opportunity to help as many children as I can to know that a label does not define who they are … I hope to start a ripple effect of possibilities that may never end. You are not what people label you. Instead, you are what you make of yourself.”

Anissa Bradley
Thomas More University

Anissa Bradley

Anissa Bradley is the 2021 Nancy Janes Boothe Scholarship Recipient for Thomas More University. The scholarship is presented in recognition of her outstanding achievement both academically at Thomas More and in recognition of her community service.

Graduating in the 2021-22 academic year as a double major in English and Communications, Anissa has the respect and admiration of many of her professors. According to her nominator, “Anissa is a young woman with a purpose, not just for herself, but (also) her young son and for the good of society as a whole. She will be an amazing ambassador for Kentucky, for young women, and for Thomas More University.”

Anissa’s commitment to helping and making a better life for others extends far beyond her reach as a single parent with a full-time college workload. While COVID-19 did not allow for many volunteer opportunities in the past year, Anissa has remained steadfast in her mission to giving back to the community.

Her service experience includes participating in former Ohio State Senator Eric Kearney’s Walk for Children’s Health from Cincinnati to Columbus, launching a service event with the American Breast Cancer Society, delivering meals on wheels to senior citizens during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons and volunteering for Toys for Tots.

“I received this amazing news on my birthday,” Anissa said.” It was the icing on the cake (pun intended). My son then woke me up screaming joyfully, ‘Happy Birthday, mommy!’ which also served as confirmation that God was working for our good. To that end, receiving the Thomas More University Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky scholarship award was a tremendous blessing in more ways than one. For that, I am truly honored!”

The 2021 Outstanding Women of Northern Kentucky Awards are sponsored by:

Title Sponsor: St. Elizabeth Healthcare
Presenting Sponsor: PNC
Silver Sponsor: Humana
Media Partner: Northern Kentucky Tribune
Education Partners: Toyota, Gateway Community & Technical College, Northern Kentucky University and Thomas More University

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