YWCA Charleston has selected its honorees for the 2023 Women of Achievement awards ceremony and luncheon to be held in February at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center.
The ceremony will be the 26th annual event to honor outstanding women who have made a significant impact upon their communities or within their professions. The awards also include an “Empowerment” Designation, which recognizes a woman who has overcome difficult circumstances to achieve her goals and a “Lifetime Achievement” category, which is given to someone who has made great strides professionally in their lifetime of service to the community.
The 2023 YWCA Charleston Women of Achievement honorees are:
• Dr. Tracy Wilkerson, Pediatric Dentist at Children’s Dentistry
Wilkerson grew up on Quarrier Street on Charleston’s East End and attended Piedmont Elementary School, Charleston Catholic High School and Vanderbilt University, where she earned a Bachelor of Engineering degree in 1996.
After working as a civil engineer, she decided to change her career path and follow in the footsteps of her father, Dr. Tom Wilkerson, to become a pediatric dentist. She attended the College of Charleston in South Carolina and the West Virginia University School of Dentistry, where she graduated with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree in 2002. To complete her pediatric training, Tracy finished a residency in Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Kentucky in 2004, where she served as chief resident. She returned to Charleston to launch her dental career, practicing as a pediatric dentist at Children’s Dentistry, which was founded by her father.
Wilkerson and Children’s Dentistry have provided financial support to and fundraising efforts for organizations such as the West Virginia School of Dentistry Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association of West Virginia, the Kanawha County Humane Association, the CAMC Foundation, the Raleigh County Humane Society, the Vanderbilt University Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, St. Jude’s Hospital, the West Virginia Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Program, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Lilly’s Place Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome Center, and the United Way of Central West Virginia, among several others.
For more than 17 years, Wilkerson has served on the Kanawha County Dental Health Counsel, which provides school-based dental care for children. She and her family have also participated in mission trips to La Digue, Matheux, Haiti, to provide care.
In recognition of her father’s commitment to the profession, Wilkerson established the Dr. Tom Wilkerson Scholarship, which she awards to patients in her practice who study in the field of dentistry or dental hygiene.
Wilkerson lives in Charleston with her husband, Rob Aliff, an attorney with Jackson Kelly PLLC.
• Karen Williams, retired educator and voting rights activistA retired educator, social justice and women’s right to vote activist, board member and community volunteer, Williams has been involved professionally in education since 1975. Her career began at Glenwood High School. Positions she held there included classroom teacher, Title 1 educator, Title 1 reading specialist, and Head Start director. She also taught at West Virginia State University.
Williams is a member of the Links Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Incorporated, Poor People’s Campaign, Rise Up WV, NAACP, WV Panhellenic Council and Our Future WV. She has served on numerous boards and committees.
Williams is a mother of three and grandmother to her first grandchild, Bryson.
• “Lifetime Achievement” award recipient Debby Weinstein, YWCA Charleston outgoing CEO
Debby Weinstein started her career with YWCA Charleston as a volunteer in 1982, becoming an employee a year afterward as an overnight advocate at the Resolve Family Abuse Program. She answered crisis calls and worked closely with the women who were seeking refuge from violence.
From the Resolve Family Abuse Program, Weinstein was promoted to program director at Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women and Families. At the time, Sojourner’s was a dormitory within the YWCA building on Quarrier Street. She helped grow the program from eight beds in two different locations on Shrewsbury Street until it moved to its current location on Washington Street in 1981.
A contemporary of Alicia McCormick, the director of Resolve Family Abuse Program, Weinstein later advocated for and developed a transitional housing program in her McCormick’s memory.
In 1997, Weinstein was named the YWCA Charleston’s executive director. During her tenure, she spearheaded the development of the Shanklin Center for Senior Enrichment and Empowerment Homes for Women. The center provides permanent homes to elderly women who have experienced abuse, homelessness or who have disabilities.
Weinstein will retire as YWCA Charleston CEO in December.
• “Empowerment Award” winner Chanel Hunt
Hunt has achieved personal, education and professional goals with the assistance and support of the YWCA Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women and Families and YWCA Alicia McCormick Homes.
Hunt has shared her background on the YWCA website, saying, “I was born in Bartow, Florida, and spent between the ages of 14 and 18 in the foster care system. At age 16, I became pregnant with my first child, and, by age 18, I had dropped out of high school. By age 19, I was married and had two children from that relationship.
“After the end of my first marriage, I started a relationship with a man who would become the father of my third child. Suddenly, he walked out of our lives just as easily as he walked in. While I was still pregnant with my youngest, I took a leap of faith and decided to move to Charleston, West Virginia.
“Many people ask: Why Charleston? Well, I sent out over 180 resumes for jobs across seven states — and I received six calls back from jobs located in Charleston, so here we are.
“Terrified — but ambitious — I loaded up my children and we headed to Charleston. On our way, my car broke down in Savannah, Georgia, but somehow we still made it to our destination. With nowhere to live, my children and I stayed at the YWCA Charleston Sojourner’s Shelter for Homeless Women and Families for about three months until we could find a place to call our own.”
Hunt eventually remarried, but found herself staying at the YWCA Alicia McCormick Homes after the marriage began to dissolve. “There, I made every single moment of peace count. I started to love myself. I loved my children, and I loved my work. I finally bought a car. I attended CNA school. I finally gained employment as a CNA. I started working toward my dream of opening an assisted living facility,” she said.
“Since leaving the YWCA Alicia McCormick Homes, I bought property for myself and my children, I upgraded my vehicle, and I will soon be enrolled in nursing school so that I continue to make my dream of owning and operating an assisted living facility a reality,” Hunt said.
In a YWCA release, event chair Ruth Joseck said it is the YWCA that is honored in recognizing these outstanding women. “As a women’s organization,” Joseck said, “we are pleased and proud to recognize the accomplishments of our honorees. The annual YWCA Women of Achievement awards luncheon is an opportunity to tell the stories of and applaud the personal and professional successes of our female community leaders and trailblazers.
“We invite the public to be part of the YWCA’s Feb. 24 event and to hear the inspiring stories of our Women of Achievement honorees.”
The 2023 YWCA Charleston Women of Achievement awards ceremony and luncheon will take place from noon to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 24. Proceeds from the yearly event will support the programs of YWCA Charleston and its mission of eliminating racism and empowering women.
YWCA Women of Achievement is the Kanawha Valley’s longest-running event devoted solely to recognizing the accomplishments and contributions made by women in the community.
Tickets and sponsorships are available online at www.ywcacharleston.org/woa or by calling 304-720-0541.