By Kym Klass Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.
The women stand out for what they believe in. For their work and its meaning. For their life -- and from it, how they give back to their community.
They are 10 Women of Spirit, and they encapsulate dedication, a desire to do good. They feed the hungry, mentor our future military leaders, they have found their place in the church and they provide outreach to the poorest and most underprivileged in our own backyard.
And they all believe that what they do is their calling.
In honor of Women's History Month, theMontgomery Advertiser recognizes 10 women in the River Region who demonstrate passion, leadership, creativity, and who are bold and confident in their approach to life and work. They are age 45 and younger, and cover all sectors in the community: business, nonprofit, government, education (K-12), education (collegiate), volunteerism, military, entrepreneur, religion, and a "wildcard" category.
They are Holly Caraway, Khristen Carlson, Catrina Cole, Robin Davies, Ashley Davis, Porscha Echols, Julia Henig, Traci Howell, Rhea Ingram and Angela Kornegay James.
Fighting for all Alabamians Holly Caraway, 33, government As the chief counsel in the office of the Senate minority leader in the Alabama Legislature, Caraway is passionate about her job for numerous reasons.
"I worked at a nonprofit that worked with children," she said of work she previously did in Birmingham. "I was an attorney working with domestic violence victims, so being able to transition into the government sector ... I get to work on policy that affects all Alabamians."
She has worked as the chief counsel since February 2012. Previously, she was a staff attorney at the YMCA of Central Alabama in Birmingham, and a staff representative with the Jefferson County American Federation of Teachers.
"I work with eight state senators that really hold the same belief system that I do," Caraway said. "And so it's wonderful to be able to go to work every day and work for people that fight for all Alabamians, whether it's access for quality public education, or quality healthcare, or access to mental health services. I get to work on a wide variety of issues."
Caraway received a degree in psychology from the University of Alabama in 2004. She also received her law degree from the University of Alabama School of Law in 2010. Also in 2010, she received her master's in business administration/strategy from the University of Alabama Manderson Graduate School of Business.
Feeding the hungry in schools Khristen Carlson, 45, nonprofit Carlson's mission started years ago while doing service work at a food pantry. There, she read a book called "Toxic Charity," which discussed treating chronic problems with emergency assistance. And when she thought about that concept, it bothered her more and more that perhaps she wasn't doing "things the right way, and that I wasn't helping people the way I really wanted to help people."
She began searching for positive ways she could help people. Positive ways, she said, that she could make a difference in people's lives. One of the things she kept going back to was food for children. So, 18 months ago, she started a nonprofit called Montgomery "Food for Kids" Backpack Program, and today serves 30 Montgomery school children at two schools.
Every Friday, school staff distribute bags anonymously into the backpacks of children chosen for the program through their principals. Packed is enough food for two breakfast meals, two lunches, two snacks and two fruits.
Food items include Nutragrain bars, boxed milk, powdered milk, canned pasta, canned meats, baked beans, chili, soup, vegetables, granola bars, raisins, craisins, goldfish, peanut butter and crackers, pretzels, and any canned fruit.
"The thing that really struck me was that this was not just a childhood problem, but there are studies that say that adults that are hungry as children are actually less prepared for the workforce when they get out there," Carlson said. "The stories are very hard to hear ... to have not made it in time for the free breakfast, and who have missed breakfast and are hungry and who are crying because they are hungry.
"As a mother with three children, it's a very visceral feeling for me. It hits me in the gut to think there are kids out there who are hungry."
The children in the program are chosen by their principals, Carlson said, based on their "appearance of hunger. In Montgomery County alone, about 76 percent of the kids who are in public schools, they can qualify for free and reduced(-priced) lunch. So this program can help a whole lot of people. Our program is really directed at those children displaying those signs of hunger."
How can you help? Commit to making a certain number of bags per month, or provide requested food that is placed in bags. Volunteers also can donate plastic grocery bags, or purchase gift cards from local grocers.
How else? To learn more about the program, and how and where to donate food, visit Montgomery "Food for Kids" Backpack Program on Facebook.
Shaping the future military Army Maj. Catrina Cole, 38, military Cole credits her parents for her passion for the military. They both served, and as Cole watched their "honor and respect" for the military, she decided to enlist at age 17, with plans to earn her college degree while serving.
Cole, who has served in the military for 21 years, is the executive officer for the Montgomery Recruiting Battalion, covering the state of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
"I've had a series of jobs in the military and have held ranks from sergeant to major," she said. "My passion is the ability to be able to reach out and touch our future. So anyone joining the military at any of the centers located throughout our footprint, to me, is our future military.
"So we get to see and shape the young men and women who volunteer and come and take up the reins as those of us who are seasoned now, and over 20, will be retiring."
Cole, whose husband is due home in June following a year-long deployment, has two boys ages 8 and 10, and manages a staff of 30 personnel and 200 recruiters spread throughout the Alabama footprint.
"I look forward to being more involved in the community as I hang up the uniform and transition into a civilian job," she said, adding she is involved with the Millbrook YMCA's basketball, soccer and youth programs.
Cole has lived in the region for about 18 months. She claims Miami as home, having lived there the longest. Born in Springfield, Ohio, and "what I find most interesting about the military that I tell people is that I've lived life on vacation. So I've never lived anywhere in my entire lifespan more than three years. Ever.
"It's been exciting. I've lived in Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Asia, Virginia."
Selling homes, building community Robin Davies, 42, entrepreneur When Davies realized the corporate world was not for her, the Realtor branched out, wasting no time in not only growing her company, Realty Connection, but forming relationships in the community.
"I like to find new ways, new innovative ways to do things," she said. "I want to find different ways for people to see your home. I've actually sold homes to people in England, Germany, site unseen, and that's the way I like to do business -- to make sure I can get the properties out there in any way that we can."
Davies, who lives in Millbrook, and whose office is in Prattville, is active in the Prattville Chamber of Commerce, having been an ambassador with them since 2007 and welcoming new businesses to the area.
"I try to offer things like getting business cards and fliers from them so we can give them to our clients and kind of help promote the community because the community promotes us," she said. "We also are very big in donating to causes. When we sell a home, we let our buyers or our sellers choose a foundation or a charity that is close ... to their heart and we make a donation on their behalf. It's nothing that costs them any money. It comes strictly out of the commission that the company keeps. It's very important to us to give back to our community in any way that we can."