Today we celebrate International Women’s Day. On this day, we wish to honor and applaud women in the Western Great Lakes Region who we see making a difference in their communities, leading the way, shining a light, bringing hope, inspiring others and much more!

The following eleven women were nominated by a Young Life staff member and have been selected as this year’s Western Great Lakes Women of the Year.

These are everyday women—mothers, teachers, coaches, mentors, leaders, pastors, advocates—doing important work and making a positive impact in their communities and in our world. While these women are not affiliated with Young Life in any official role, we recognize them as important partners with the ministry of Young Life as we seek to enter into the world of adolescents, bringing light and hope and the Good News to every kind of kid.

Congratulations to our 2018 Women of the Year! 

Kathy Boeve, Head of Autism Initiative Team at Fairway CRC

Nominated By Chris Curia: “Kathy is a fiercely compassionate woman who stumbled upon advocacy for persons with disabilities first through her own experiences as a mother. She is now the head of her church's Autism Initiative Team, through which an Autism & Sensory Family Support Group and a multi-sensory worship space have been developed.”

NiKeidra DeBarge, Project Coordinator of The Manasseh Project and Director of New Destiny Pathways

Nominated by Lateefah Gofoe: “NiKeidra gives me hope for the young women in the Grand Rapids who don't have traditional families or resources. The Manasseh Project is focused on ending the sexual exploitation of children. Her own non-profit, New Destiny Pathways, is a home for young ladies who age out of foster care."

Sara Delbene, Teen Director at Boys & Girls Club of Greater Holland

Nominated by Kyle Raak: “Sara (pictured right) displays a determination to love what Young Life would call “the furthest kid out.” Sara’s heart is for the kids who are far too often overlooked and underserved. It is through the grace and love she shows that makes kids know they matter. She cares deeply and never gives up on kids.”

Dana Doll, Executive Director of Treetops Collective

Nominated by Abby Verkaik: “Dana is the founder and the Executive Director of Treetops Collective. Treetops is a non-profit working with refugee women in our community—helping them to flourish, stand tall, and impact others. Dana is a huge inspiration to me and so many others as she models what it truly means to love your neighbor."

Christina Edmondson, Dean of Intercultural Student Development at Calvin College

Nominated by Lyn TenBrink: “Christina is one of those rare people you meet that is intelligent alongside relational. She “sees” a variety of people. Then she gently coaches people in their context. Her podcast Truth’s Table has been like a healing balm to me and women everywhere this past year and I am so grateful.”

Cailin Kelly, Entrepreneur

Nominated by Lateefah Gofoe: “Cailin is simultaneously an awesome Global Citizen and Native Daughter. She actively served on the board of Well House, a housing first non-profit serving GR's homeless population, is co-owner of Creston Brewery, and will soon open Boop de Boom Coffee Lounge in the Creston district.”

Laura Osborne, Minister to Children & Families at Third CRC, Campus Pastor for International Student Fellowship at Western Michigan University

Nominated by Jordan Palladino: “Laura strives to show Christ's love to international students from all walks of life at WMU. Many international students feel isolated, unwelcome and alone when they come to the U.S. and Laura works daily to make them feel loved, accepted and welcome!”

LaTarro Traylor, Community Leader/Advocate

Nominated by Lateefah Gofoe: "LaTarro has been instrumental in creating a space for Black Professionals to meet, build, and thrive. She has an extensive community relations and advocacy resume and is a trusted connector and bridge builder. She is the advocate we all need." (photo credit: Brian Hedrick)

Lisa Udell, Mentor and Coach

Nominated by Brianna Andrew: “Lisa is actively invested in the community of Forest Hills. She has coached volleyball at Forest Hills Central Middle for 21 years. She is not only a coach but a positive mentor, investing in the lives of students, making a lasting impact on who they are becoming.”

Lauren Van Keulen, Co-Executive Director for 3:11 Youth Housing

Nominated by Kevin Eastway: “Lauren is a game-changing leader, addressing the teenage homeless crisis in Grand Rapids. She is a voice for the voiceless and loves the Lord and her community in very tangible ways.”

Pam Van Putten, Coordinator of Mentoring & Internships at Hope College

Nominated by Chris Hofland: “Pam immediately sees the best in people and finds ways for them to use that best to impact others. Pam is the listener of all listeners. She's a mentor to hundreds, an encourager to thousands. Pam has been living her life for others for decades!"

"Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."

Matthew 5:16​
The Message