September 2017 Honoree
Founder and State Board President
Diana Cihak is the owner of Upper Edge Consulting, a grant writing firm, but her passion is WomenElect (WEPac), a volunteer based organization she founded to make a positive change in our community.
Founded in 2009 by Cihak and Virginia Davies, WEPac is a political action committee that runs the WomenElect program, a four month leadership development program that prepares women to run for political office. The United States currently have approximately 20% representation by women in our various political offices, while women are 52% of the population. Women win at the same rates as men, but women do not say “yes” to running for office. In order to get to gender parity WEPac encourages more women to step up and run. The WomenElect program helps those women who are involved in their community be able to take the next step and enter the political arena.
They encourage participants to take the class 2-10 years before they decide on an office to run for, giving them the time to build their networks of support and gain political experience in that time. Because of that timeline it has taken a long time to show that the program is successful. Their first candidate ran for office in 2016 and their first win was in 2017. Since then they’ve had five candidates run, with three wins, proving that the program works – it just takes time.
She says it’s been very humbling to see the support in other communities to bring the program to the entire state. Four months is a long time to work with these women and prepare them, and they ask each facilitator to offer two classes a year! But Diana has had women in communities throughout New York dedicate their time and considerable talent to help other women enter the political arena through the WomenElect program. She is proud, humbled and deeply encouraged that WomenElect will be able to make a difference in our political system.
Diana is board president of the Advisory Council, Women’s Business Center at Canisius College; commission member of the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women; and member of the Women’s Action Coalition (Women’s History Month planning committee).
August 2017 Honoree
Region 8 director | NYS Women, Inc.
Susan Mager, resident of Blasdell, NY, has maintained membership in NYS Women, Inc. and the former Business and Professional Women/NYS for 33 years. She served in many capacities on the chapter level, holding every office up to, and including, president president, Buffalo Niagara Chapter (former BPW/Buffalo) and past president of the former Hamburg/BPW. She served two separate two-year terms as Region 8 director. On the state level of NYS Women, Inc., Susan is the chair of the Athena Society, which works to help military women transition into civilian life by providing workshops on finance and budgeting, resume building, “dressing for success,” help with children, and creating a home in a civilian world. She is expanding its efforts by working directly with V.A.s and veterans groups statewide.
Susan is past state president, NYS Women Inc. (2012-2013); current Region 8 director, NYS Women Inc.; founding member of the Buffalo BPW Investment club; . She is the current chair of the Athena Society, NYS Women, Inc.
Susan is married to Paul Mager, celebrating 47 years of marriage this year. Her greatest joy is spending time with her grandchildren, Abby and Declan, and her son Jason and his wife Jaime. When she is not spending time with her family, she is the business manager for Williamsville podiatrist, Dr. Leon Ber, a position she has held for 35 years. Sue loves to travel, especially across the state for NYS Women, Inc.
July 2017 Honoree
Executive Director, Buffalo Arts Studio
Alma Carrillo’s wide-ranging journey to Buffalo – where she is executive director of the Buffalo Arts Studio – started in Mexico and then on to Texas; Notre Dame, where she graduated with a government international studies degree; a stint as office manager for the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Austin; Brown University, where she met her now-husband; and the Providence, Rhode Island-based Steel Yard, an industrial arts center and manufacturer of public art which fosters creative and economic opportunities, by providing workspace, tools, training and education, while forging lasting links to a local tradition of craftsmanship.
Alma is originally from Jalisco, Mexico; as a youngster, her family moved to Texas after the death of her father. Gifted in the STEM field, Alma started out as an engineering major at Notre Dame, but really preferred the arts. She eventually moved back to Texas and in 2001 she was hired as the office manager for the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Austin. It was in Austin that Alma’s interest returned to the arts. She realized that many local artists of color couldn’t find exhibition space. The spaces that did exist were more mainstream and the people who managed those galleries weren’t open to alternative or art they considered “too ethnic.” Alma returned to college, Brown University in Province RI, studying public humanities and cultural heritage, focusing on the connection between the academic and art world to the general public.
Alma’s husband had interviewed for a job in Buffalo; they moved to here in May 2013. And, she found her position at the Buffalo Arts Studio in the most “Buffalo” way possible: the woman who showed them their apartment asked the couple to her graduation party where Alma met the chair of the board for the Buffalo Arts Studio. Within a couple weeks Alma had joined the organization’s board.
Alma says, “I’ve spent my life since then trying to figure out a way to make the spaces that I am in more welcoming. How to expand the opportunities of arts access to a greater population and different, or non-traditional audiences. That’s why Buffalo Arts Studio was such a great fit for me when I moved to Buffalo.” Buffalo Arts Studio is an arts organization that creates community cultural connections through exhibitions, public art, and educational programs. It also provides exposure and affordable studio space for working artists. With over 20,000 square feet of space, they are able to offer 10-12 exhibitions every year, studio space for over 30 visual artists, art classes for youth and adults.
She says, “Buffalo Arts Studio transforms people’s lives through the arts. It has been a catalyst for self-empowerment and the cultivation of new ideas and actions that enhance our region. We are guided by the belief that art is for everyone and fundamental to a community’s well being, that artists need a safe and affordable place to work. We believe in the power of art to affect change.”
Alma serves on the Greater Buffalo Cultural Alliance Steering Committee, Brown University’s Public Humanities & Cultural Heritage, Advisory Board, is a member of Just Uniting for a Sustainable Future Creating (JUST Creating), and is a former board member of Hispanic Heritage Council.
She and her husband live in Buffalo with their 21-month-old son.
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.