CHICAGO – On behalf of Governor Rod R. Blagojevich and in commemoration of Women’s History Month, administration officials today honored several women with the Governor’s “People Are Today’s Heroes” (PATH) Awards in recognition of their tireless efforts to help people in their community. Deputy Governor Sheila Nix presented the awards during an event held at James R. Thompson Center, Chicago.
“Through their hard work, these selfless women have helped children and adults with disabilities, victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence, military members and their families, and have empowered thousands of women to become self-sufficient. Today’s PATH award recipients are history makers and we are proud to honor them,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
“Women’s History Month is a time to remember the many contributions women have made throughout the course of American history. Today, on behalf of Governor Blagojevich, I am proud to recognize these individuals as their efforts to help others in their community are an inspiration for all to follow,” said Dep. Governor Nix.
The Governor’s PATH Award recognizes groups or individuals who, through their hard work and commitment, have improved the lives of their community and have helped Illinois move forward in health care, public safety, education, environment, economic development and affordable housing.
The following individuals received PATH Awards:
Ann Ford, Executive Director, Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living (INCIL), Springfield
Ford has dedicated her life to empowering persons with disabilities to become full participants in society. A tireless advocate and strong leader, Ford worked for the National Spinal Cord Injury Association and served as Executive Director of two Centers for Independent Living in Illinois. As Executive Director of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living (INCIL), Ford is perhaps one the most significant advocates for Illinoisans with disabilities. Health care policy is a critical advocacy issue for Ford and is personally and professionally vital to her. After contracting polio at age five, she overcame countless challenges as she moved through the world.
Since its enactment in 2003, Ford has served as the Co-Chair of the Disabilities Services Committee-- which enhances the state’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the implementation of the Olmstead v. L.C decision. In this capacity, Ford has shown a unique ability to bring stakeholders from a wide variety of backgrounds together to make substantial policy changes for people with disabilities.
Ford was also instrumental in the passage of Illinois’ Medicaid Buy-In program and serves on the program’s statewide advisory committee advocating for expanded Medicaid coverage and universal health care in Illinois. INCIL recently introduced "Money Follows the Person" legislation in Illinois which channels long-term care funds into community services for people with disabilities.
Cindy Housner, Founder, Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association (GLASA), Lake Forest
Housner has dedicated her life to helping disabled children participate in sports because she firmly believes that the quality of life should never be limited by a physical or visual disability. GLASA actively supports and encourages the integration of individuals with disabilities and that these individuals should be encouraged to participate fully in both competitive and recreational sports. GLASA recognizes the importance of family and friends, so every effort is made to provide programming which allows options for the disabled participant to include these individuals in his/her leisure pursuits. Housner’s also seeks and develops dedicated personnel and facilities to support the delivery of GLASA programs. Through GLASA, Housner has striven to remove boundaries, elevate expectations and enhance self-worth in individuals with disabilities through participation in athletic competition and recreational activities.
Maria Socorro Pesqueira, CEO and President, Mujeres Latinas en Acción
(Latin Women in Action), Chicago
Pesqueira oversees Mujeres Latinas en Acción, a social service agency in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood that assists upwards of 7,000 families. Founded in 1973 to help runaway teens, it developed into an organization that assisted victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence. Today, as one of the nation’s longest standing Latina nonprofit organizations, it also offers child care, after-school tutoring, parenting classes, a variety of health resources and other assistance programs.
Pesqueira has made great efforts to help the Pilsen community. When she joined Mujeres Latinas en Acción in 2000, she had already spent eight years as development director of the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum, leading a capital campaign that raised $7.5 million-enough to build a new wing and establish an endowment. In February 2006, after Pesqueira revitalized the organization's fundraising, Mujeres Latinas en Acción moved into a new 14,000-square-foot, $3.4-million facility.
Pesqueira introduced a number of new programs: a mother-daughter leadership course, designed to help put the brakes on the burgeoning Latina teen-pregnancy rate; and Project Sanctuary, which provides a safe space for non-custodial parents to hold child visitations. There's a new satellite office in Cicero, and the staff has converted the organization’s former headquarters into a youth facility. Pesqueira serves on the boards of the National Council of La Raza, the Community Memorial Foundation and the Aetna Medical Advisory Board. She is also the co-founder of Latinos in Development.
Beth Piccolo, Director, United Service Organizations (USO), Great Lakes Naval Station, Great Lakes
Piccolo is a reserve Master Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps and a true inspiration among female military personnel. Piccolo made history in her early years in the Marine Corps by becoming one of the first females in her assigned Ordinance Specialty (MOS). In that capacity, she helps assemble and dissemble multiple different types of weapons alongside her male counterparts. Her superior performance led to her being named Ordinance man [woman?] of the Year which led to Marine of the Quarter and finally a meritorious promotion to Corporal.
Today, Piccolo serves as the Director of the United Service Organizations (USO) Center at Great Lakes Naval Station. In this capacity, she works a job that demands well over 40 hours a week and still maintains her reserve drilling status with the Marine Corps. As a Family Readiness Officer for her Marine Unit she is responsible for planning and coordinating overseas deployment send offs, homecomings, pre-deployment information gatherings, family days, Return and Reunion Briefings and handles media/press queries. For many years she has worked with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program, assisting in making the Holidays better for thousands of children. Piccolo fosters discussions with children’s groups about various topics from desert survival, respecting others and American Flag History and Etiquette.
As Director of the USO Naval Station Great Lakes Center, Piccolo works tirelessly to connect military families in need with the USO of Illinois Assistance Programs. For the last four years Piccolo has organized the shipping of hundreds of care packages to troops serving overseas. During the Gurnee Flood in August of 2007, Piccolo spent two days providing water, snacks and pizzas to the hundreds of volunteer sand baggers. Piccolo has served her country for almost 25 years and will continue to do so for many years to come through the USO of Illinois.
Janet Williams, Program Coordinator, Illinois Support, Training, & Employment Program (ISTEP) for Displaced Homemakers, Rock Valley College, Rockford
Williams is the Program Coordinator for the Illinois Support, Training, & Employment Program (ISTEP) for Displaced Homemakers at Rock Valley College in Rockford. The center empowers individuals who have experienced the loss of family income due to divorce, separation, loss of a spouse or a disabled spouse by facilitating them towards achieving economic self-sufficiency and independence. A displaced homemaker herself, Williams has volunteered numerous hours to the cause and identifies with the needs of others in similar situations
Since Williams joined ISTEP in January 2007, Rock Valley College has seen a tremendous turnaround in the counties of Winnebago, Boone, and parts of Ogle. Williams has assisted over 250 displaced homemakers with their education and employment goals and has successfully provided displaced homemakers with employment assistance, access to education and training and life skills development.