June 2017 Honoree
United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, director of education
Charter School of Inquiry, co-founder
Melodie Baker is the director of education at the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County, where she designs, implements and secures funding for evidence-based education programs. In 2014, she co-founded the Charter School of Inquiry, where she is also chair of community engagement and a member of the board of trustees.
When she was assistant director at Bethel Head Start, Melodie and Read to Succeed executive director Helene Kramer received a grant to implement early reading skills for Head Start children ages 2 to 5. The children, who started the program about 5 months below their developmental age, were 5 months ahead in reading after the program.
Melodie and Helene, along with two other people, founded the K-6th grade, Charter School of Inquiry, to take children from this disadvantaged background, build on early reading skills, and have them reading well through the third grade critical milestone. The school received enthusiastic backing from both the Buffalo Public Schools board and New York State.
Melodie earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations from SUNY Buffalo State in 2005 and got her master’s degree in executive leadership in 2008. She also recently received the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s Athena Young Professional Leadership Award.
Melodie and her husband, who is the principal at a Buffalo school, have five children (ages 8 to 18).
May 2017 Honoree
Smart and Simple Wellness
Nancy Rizzo is a speaker, group and personal coach, and author. Her story, published in Speaking Your Truth, Vol III, Courageous Stories From Inspiring Women, is about her journey – taking a leap of faith and facing paralyzing fear – as she quit her job and launched her coaching practice at a time when people were still asking, “Just what is a life coach?” She is a Certified Life & Mindset Navigation™ Coach who uses trademarked systems which have helped her clients change their lives. Nancy’s systems and toolbox are based on the art and neuroscience of change: retraining and rewiring brain habits, thoughts, and beliefs so one can get off that old default mindset and onto a new life story. “You are here for a purpose, and you are meant to be happy” is the foundation of Nancy’s coaching practice, Smart & Simple Wellness.
With over 30 years business experience and leadership across numerous industries and departments, Nancy specializes in, but is not limited to, coaching women business owners on their pioneering journeys. Nancy volunteers her time supporting and advocating for women in our community; she is vice president of ABWA WNY Chapter (American Business Women’s Association), serves on the board of directors, NAWBO Buffalo Niagara (National Assoication of Women Business Owners); and as secretary, Buffalo Niagara Chapter of NYS Women, Inc. Buffalonians Nancy and her husband of 42 years are blessed with two sons, a daughter-in-law, and recently their first grandchild.
April 2017 Honoree
Berardi Immigration Law, Managing Partner
Berardi Immigration Law is a business immigration law firm that helps individuals and corporations obtain work permits, green cards and citizenship.
After spending five years working with the former INS and six years at a large law firm in Buffalo, Rosanna decided to start her own firm in 2005. It was a huge risk, since she had a very secure job. Rosanna wanted to do things “my way” so she started her firm, alone out of an apartment in Williamsville. Twelve years later, they have 9 full-time and 3 part-time employees and offices in Buffalo, Toronto, Newport Beach, California and London, England.
Rosanna is proud of all the clients they have helped over the last 12 years. She says, "Last year, we had an incredibly difficult case that involved the separation of a 15-year-old boy from his mother. We were able to develop a creative solution and with the assistance of the local CBP office, reunite the family. It was one of the most satisfying cases ever."
Rosanna is a member of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce and American Immigration Lawyers Association; director, American Chamber of Commerce in Canada/Peel Niagara Region; and chair, AILA/Customs and Border Protection Liaison Committee.
Berardi Immigration Law is a big community supporter, working closely with The Ronald McDonald House and Special Spaces of Buffalo.
March 2017 Honoree
Chef, Big Big Table Community Cafe
Chef Mandy Bailey and her husband, Trueman Muhrer-Irwin, have been working on their nonprofit community café, Big Big Table, for four years. They plan for a welcoming place where people from all backgrounds can come together to enjoy a healthy meal, regardless of ability to pay. Mandy first heard of the concept in 2011 while she was working locally as a chef. Diners have the option to pay the suggested price for a meal, add a little extra, or pay less or nothing at all, and instead volunteer their time.
The couple has received private donations, including a 2016 fundraiser at Resurgence Brewery. They’ve also applied for grants, recently receiving a $2500 grant from the Pitch 10 competition sponsored by Next Generation United, where Mandy was among the ten not-for-profits pitching small business ideas.
All the pieces are in place: Big Big Table is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit; they have their kitchen equipment, purchased from a local nonprofit; Trueman’s not for profit experience (Program Coordinator at Compeer of Buffalo); and Mandy’s culinary skills (she will be the executive chef, planning meals and running the kitchen staff). The only step left is to find a space, hopefully in a neighborhood with a range of income levels, possibly on the West Side, where they can make a difference by providing access to nutritious meals.
The couple has pursued their vision since 2012, with early support from Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church and business training from the Westminster Economic Development Initiative. There have been setbacks, though, especially after Mandy traveled to Denver, CO, to learn from the community cafés located there and attend the annual OWEE Summit, a gathering for community café entrepreneurs to share ideas.
On her return from one of these trips, Mandy was diagnosed with a somewhat rare disorder called neuromyelitis optica, which is similar to MS, probably contracted as a teenager. Physical therapy, drug infusions, and a plasma exchange (similar to dialysis) have led to marked improvement, although Mandy uses a walker. Despite these physical setbacks, Mandy remains the same: outgoing, optimistic, and committed to “Everybody eats, everybody gives, everybody matters.”
February 2017 Honoree
Karen L. King, PhD
Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, Executive Director
Karen King was appointed executive director of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz in June 2016. She had served as the Commission’s co-chair and as a board member since 2013. She has also been closely involved in Commission initiatives and educational efforts such as Pay Equity and Women’s History Month. She is currently chairing the Women’s Action Coalition.
The Commission’s mission is to seek the elimination of discrimination in any form that may exist on account of gender; to fully utilize the potential of each citizen, regardless of gender, in order to preserve our democratic way of life; and to provide equal opportunities to all citizens, regardless of gender, in employment, education, health and mental health, housing, senior and social services, and before the law.
Prior to her appointment, King held several positions at the University of Buffalo, most recently as project director managing and overseeing projects and communications on Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership (ISEP) National Science Foundation Grant. UB partnered with the Buffalo Public School district, Buffalo State College, and the Buffalo Museum of Science.
She also held the positions of program assistant, Workforce Development, Center for Educational Collaboration and educational services coordinator while at UB.
King has a PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy from UB, received her M.S. in Higher Education Administration from SUNY Buffalo State and a B.A. in Sociology from Ithaca College.
She was board vice president at the Family Justice Center, 2015/2016 and part of the presenting panel at the 2015 Equity and Social Justice Conference at SUNY Buffalo State.
January 2017 Honoree
Ann-Marie T. Orlowski, LMSW
CEO, Cradle Beach
Our January 2017 “Woman in Leadership” is Ann-Marie Orlowski, the new CEO of Cradle Beach. Ann-Marie, a Lancaster resident, has 25 years of experience working in child welfare. She worked at Gateway-Longview, Inc. for 23 years and most recently was director of foster care and community based services at GA Family Services Foster Care Program. Ann-Marie was an adjunct faculty member at UB’s Graduate School of Social Work for 10 years, as well as a guest lecturer at various local colleges. She is a member of the Leadership Buffalo Class of 2012, and is a board member of Kaely’s Kindness Foundation.
She was seven-years-old when she was placed in foster care with a family that would eventually adopt her. Orlowski’s experience as a foster child and adopted child, and her time spent as a foster parent has given her a unique perspective when dealing with children throughout her career. Ann-Marie served as vice president of community services and director of foster care at Gateway-Longview Inc. And now she will head operations at Cradle Beach, Inc., which is located on 66 acres near Lake Erie in Angola. Cradle Beach Camp provides services for disadvantaged and disabled youth and works in collaboration with the Buffalo Public schools serving 270 children in five schools.