The Chicago Sky has launched a new platform to honor inspiring women beginning in the 2016 WNBA Season. The #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award was created to recognize women that serve as an inspiration to others by making a positive impact in the community and redefining possible for those around them.
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May 19th – Sky vs Dream
For the second straight season the Chicago Sky are proud to honor inspiring women in the community with the #RedefinePossible awards. Our first honoree for the 2017 season is Michele Howard.
Michele is the scholarship manager for Chicago Public Schools and has helped a countless number of students further their education. In her role she supports, manages and drives systematic change to better serve more than 400,000 students in Chicago, ensuring that they have better access to scholarship opportunities. Prior to this role, Michele supported 60 south side elementary and high schools within CPS as a Network College and Career Specialist.
Much of Howard’s passion for furthering students’ education comes from her time working for the MDRC, a nonprofit education and social policy research organization, on the “College Match” Chicago project. The college match initiative helped develop her understanding of the level of support students and families needed to reinforce their academic strength and social capital in order to be considered for selective and highly selective universities.
Everyday Howard is motivated to help better the community around her. Where does this motivation come from?
“Knowing that everybody needs help. No man is an island, and it is so important for us to reach back and help students find their way. It’s about building, and community development. Knowing that everybody has a calling in their life and something that they are created to do,” Howard said.
Howard grew up in a house with secular and Christian educators, so from an early age she was instilled with a good foundation of values. Both of her parents have been driving forces in her career as an educator. She also credits some of her success to Dr. Joyce Brown, who Howard sees as a mentor in her professional career. Dr. Brown took Howard under her wing and introduced her to an opportunity to serve in the third largest school district in the nation.
What does #RedefinePossible mean to Howard?
“Not taking No for an answer. When you know that God has given you the vision, you must believe that you have been equipped to get the victory. Being firm in the calling and passion that is on your life provides the motivation to walk through the valley to achieve what is meant to be yours. You have to be willing to push pass what you don’t know and your fears, because ultimately, the go getters become the heavy hitters.”
May 28th – Sky vs Sun
Rebecca Darr, CEO of WINGS Program Inc, is the second recipient of the 2017 #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award. The WINGS Program is an organization that helps put an end to domestic violence by providing housing, integrated services, advocacy and education to victims. The goal of WINGS programs is to stop the cycle of domestic violence in our communities.
Darr began her tenure with the WINGS Program in 1999 as the Executive Director. In November of 2014, she was promoted to CEO. Under Darr’s leadership, WINGS has become one of the premier agencies in the region by tripling in size and providing more services to victims of abuse and homelessness.
Among Darr’s many responsibilities as CEO is sharing her passion and commitment with the WINGS Board of Directors, to foster the development and implementation of fundraising plans, programs and services that will assist women and children in escaping domestic violence.
Fueled by her passion and commitment, Darr recognized that there was a need for a safe shelter in the Northwest Suburbs and opened the first WINGS shelter in that region for victims of domestic violence in 2005. This accomplishment has allowed thousands of women and children within the region to escape from abusive environments to a safe space via the shelter. In addition, Darr spearheaded the opening of a second shelter in Chicago just last year, making WINGS the largest domestic housing agency in the state of Illinois. Since the opening of the new Chicago shelter in 2016, beds for domestic violence victims have increased by 36%.
Darr is extremely passionate not only on creating successful action plans for the issues of domestic violence, but also serving as a strong voice in Chicagoland area communities to break the cycle of abuse in families.
“To me, redefining possible means allowing young girls to have more opportunities to achieve their dreams and goals. Professional Teams like the Chicago Sky have helped show young women that anything is possible.” – Rebecca Darr, CEO of WINGS Program
June 1st – Sky vs Mercury
Rosemary Swierk is the driving force behind the success of Direct Steel and Construction as Founder and President. Direct Steel and Construction is a general contractor, construction management and owner’s representative firm based in Crystal Lake, IL.
As our third 2017 #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award recipient, Swierk credits her brothers with instilling the confidence and capabilities to overcome any potential gender biases. “Since my childhood, as they would captain the neighborhood games, they would always select me first or second to be on their team. I knew there was no pity party for me: they selected me because of my capabilities and for what I would be able to contribute to the team.
Swierk’s accomplishments can be found throughout the Chicagoland area with the design and construction of numerous industrial, government, and retail buildings. Outside of work, she is a State of Illinois appointee to the Small Business Development Center Advisory Board and has been honored by several notable organizations and publications including; Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Chicago Woman Magazine, Athena International, Small Business Administration and the Chicago Sun Times. In addition, Rosemary was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Women’s Business Development Center in 2014 and was the recipient of the 2016 EW Enterprising Women of the Year award.
Swierk’s time is devoted to not just work, but also to giving back to the community. Having developed a strong passion for helping other women-owned businesses succeed, Swierk connects with individuals from all walks of life daily. Whenever someone needs personal or professional assistance, she is there to provide support. Rosemary also spends countless hours as a mentor to the Boys Hope Girls Hope program, which is an organization that empowers children through education and holistic support.
So, what does #RedefinePossible mean to Rosemary Swierk?
“#RedefinePossible means that there are no barriers, borders or limits.”
June 18th – Sky vs Fever
The fourth recipient of the #RedefinePossible Women’s Leadership Award belongs to Paige Polakow. Polakow lives a busy life, as she is the Manager of Nursing Operations and also the Manager of the Staffing Office at Northwestern Medicine. Paige is responsible for a multi-million-dollar budget in collaboration with the CNO and CFO, and process improvement initiatives resulting in significant savings for the hospital.
Even with all her work at Northwestern Medicine, she still has time to run CryoPure Spa. Paige and her husband Tom founded CryoPure Spa in 2015. They specialize in localized and whole-body Cryotherapy, Full-spectrum Infrared Sauna Therapy and Celluma Light Therapy. These therapies, according to research and client experience, promote: recovery, inflammation and pain reduction, athletic performance, restful sleep, improved cognitive function, and have other benefits as well. In 2017, CryoPure Spa partnered with the Chicago Sky as the official cryotherapy provider for the team.
Where does Polakow get such a strong work ethic to live such a busy life? She gives all credit to her mother, and also names her mother her biggest role model.
“I grew up with a single mother, who worked a ton of jobs to keep our family together. I didn’t get to spend much time with her growing up, but she did a great job to maintain that motherhood and business acumen that was really outstanding to watch. She was the one who gave me my drive to do what I want to do, and be who I want to be,” Polakow said.
Outside of her work with Northwestern Medicine and CryoPure Spa, Polakow has volunteered with the Chicago Dance Marathon, Veterans, the WWO and the Red Cross. Though, she says her most rewarding work has come from starting CryoPure.
“The most rewarding thing to me is hearing the stories back from people that we impact. When we started CryoPure, we went into it wanting to impact the lives of those who had issues or athletes who wanted an additional form of recovery. What we found though is people would come in sobbing. For example, there was this woman, she was taking eight Advil a day. She was supposed to have a bunch of surgeries. She came in one day sobbing (after treatment) and told us it was the first time in her life she had felt good. Honestly, that gives me chills,” Polakow said.
So what does #RedefinePossible mean to Polakow?
“I think it means as we change through culture there are going to be different barriers that we need to break down. There are going to be different challenges. Right now I think the challenge is to really feel like equals. I hope it means that all of us are coming together to really redefine what is possible in our lives.”