ST. PETERSBURG — The Gathering of Women, Inc. 2018 Men and Women of Distinction Awards Ceremony kicked off an amazing afternoon last Sunday, April 15. The St. Petersburg Country Club, located at 2000 Country Club Way S, was filled with family and well-wishers who came out to support the achievements of this year’s honorees.
The Distinction Awards are given to honor individuals who have tirelessly given their time, talent and expertise to benefit the community. These community heroes represent a broad range of activism that included health, culture, public service and business.
Andrida Hosey, the lead theater instructor for the fine arts program at John Hopkins Middle School, took over the Mistress of Ceremonies duties. This year’s entertainment was provided by saxophonist Henry “Hank” Ashwood and Deborah Figgs-Sanders, a woman who wears many hats in the community, was the guest speaker.
Each year, candidates for the Distinction Awards undergo a strict review process that starts in the previous year. To evaluate the nominations, a selection committee gauges all names within the context of community involvement, leadership, commitment, a concern for humanity and having an enduring and meaningful impact.
This year’s Roger and Renee Ambrose Education Scholarships were awarded to Kristofer King, Timothy Garner, Ennis Hill, Sariah Gardner, Kashonda Washington and Kurtisha Battle. These five local youths are eager to make a difference in the community and a scholarship is The Gathering of Women’s way of giving them a head start.
Arts, Culture & Heritage Award
Dr. Cody Clark
Born in Detroit, but raised in Titusville, Fla., Dr. Cody Clark is a member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and has had a long-standing career of more than 32 years with the renowned arts magnet program at Gibbs High School.
In 1980, he completed his bachelor’s degree in music and psychology from LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He completed both his master’s degree and his specialist degree in counseling education from the University of South Florida. In 2003, he finished his doctoral degree in children, youth and family counseling services at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale.
Clark is the key facilitator in bringing the Pinellas County Center for the Arts at Gibbs High School to the competitive level of excellence in arts education it now enjoys. For the past 32 years, he has effectively combined functions of key education stakeholders to help hundreds of students realize their potential and excel in their chosen field of art and/or post-secondary schools of choice.
In the fall of 2006, Clark joined the adjunct faculty at Argosy University in Tampa where he teaches graduate students enrolled in the school guidance and counseling program.
A member of First United Methodist Church, Clark is best known in the community as the premiere director of the Gibbs Gladiator Gospel Choir featuring such productions as “4 Little Girls, “Escorting Elizabeth: The Little Rock 9,” “The Murder Ring: Emmett Till Remembered,” “Remembering MLK, Jr.,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and most recently “The Cotton Club.”
A stage director and a music and stage performer himself, he is the recipient of many community awards and honors. He is both the district and the state winner for the Counselor of the Year 2012 for the state of Florida.
Health & Awareness Award
Dr. LaDonna Butler
A native of St. Pete, Dr. LaDonna Butler is the director of Clinical Services at the Pinellas County Urban League, an Infant-Family Mental Health Therapist at University of South Florida St. Petersburg – Family Studies Center and an adjunct professor at Springfield College in Tampa. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Springfield College and completed her doctorate at Argosy University.
She is actively engaged in the exploration of quality supervision and consultation models, which ignite a passion for life, serve as fuel for academic persistence and accelerate workforce preparation and integration for individuals entering the counseling profession. Her first venture into research affirmed her commitment to strength-based, culturally competent service delivery.
During graduate studies, she completed a heuristic inquiry of academic persistence factors of African-American adolescent mothers in kinship care. It was also through this research experience that she personally evaluated the academic supports the role of clinical mentoring and the social support networks available.
It was through this experience that she began to expand her interests from resilience and service delivery to at-promise adolescents to the factors necessary to successfully integrate into the counseling profession.
Her current research interests are clinical and academic persistence models for minority students in counseling programs, the integration of culturally diverse practitioners in professional networks, clergy/ clinician collaboration for mental health and minority faculty persistence factors.
She is the proud mother of five beautiful and brilliant children and wife to Minister Ulas D. Butler, who supports her beyond measure.
Recently she opened a community/clinical practice called “The Well” in south St. Pete, which provides clinical supervision, community connection experiences and counseling services. Hosting city officials, providing space for minority practitioners seeking to start their own practices, organizing conferences and hosting healing conversations, her center truly serves the community.
Young Woman of Distinction Award
The youngest of four children, Trinity Adams is a St. Pete native. She is the daughter of Rev. Troy and Nevida Adams and is a junior at The Boca Ciega High School where she is enrolled in the Medical Wellness Program.
Upon completion of high school, Trinity would like to attend a historically black college or university. Her first three preferences are Bethune Cookman University, Clark University or Spelman College.
Trinity’s career goal is to obtain a law degree and establish Adams Law Firm in Atlanta. Her involvement in the community includes:
• Medical Magnet Program – Boca Ciega High School
• Junior Reserves Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC) Cadet Private First Class
• Girlfriends Incorporated – Pinellas County Schools
Young Ladies of Christian Character – Friendship M.B. Church
• Northside Hospital – Volunteer
• St. Anthony’s Hospital – Volunteer
• Chinese Club (former member) – Pinellas County Schools
• Math Bowl (former member) – St. Petersburg College and Mt. Moriah M.B. Church
• Multi-Cultural Program – Pinellas County Schools
• Flag Football – Pinellas County Schools
• Nulites Program – Pinellas County Urban League
• Union Foreign Baptist Association
• Congress of Christian Workers
• Delta Sigma Theta Academy (former member) St. Petersburg Chapter
She is an active member of New Jerusalem M.B. Church where her father serves as pastor. Trinity participates in the youth ministry; sings lead with the youth choir, praise dance and choreograph dances and is a member of the mime ministry.
Along with her many services to her family and church, Trinity enjoys helping the less fortunate and enjoys caring for those who can’t do for themselves.
In her spare time, she enjoys traveling and shopping. Like most girls her age, she loves jewelry, clothes and shoes. Her favorite color is turquoise, and if she could, she would eat shrimp and chicken pasta daily.
Most importantly, Trinity knows that she is a Daughter of the King!
Young Man of Distinction Award
Daniel Edward Sanders
The son of Daniel and Deborah-Figgs Sanders, Daniel Edward Sanders was born 11 weeks premature weighing only two pounds 13 ounces on February 4, 2001. Although small, his eyes were big, bright and full of life. He could fit in the palm of your hand. Affectionately called “DES” by his family, he continues to grow and be a blessing to everyone around him.
Daniel has been educated in Pinellas County fundamental elementary and middle schools, where he excelled academically in the gifted programs. He is now a proud junior in the Pinellas County Center for the Arts program at Gibbs High School.
Some of his activities include chorus, 5000 Role Models, the Ethics Team, the wind ensemble and the orchestra. In the community, he participates with the AKA AKAdemy Pathfinder Program, mentors with Community Tampa Bay, plays the drums for Liberty Church and in the Men in the Making.
Daniel also enjoys playing the keyboards and composing classical music. He has participated with the Men in the Making in September Penn’s Power of Song production since 2016 locally, as well as the 2017-18 Los Angeles productions.
Known as “the Voice,” he has emceed events and programs such as the AKA Akademy Showcase and the Pinellas County Schools Inaugural Vyrle Davis Academic Excellence Awards Program. He’s introduced NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks on two separate occasions and just recently conducted a brief interview with Bay News 9 reporter Trevor Pettiford.
Most recently, he portrayed several of St. Petersburg’s African-American trailblazers celebrated during The Weekly Challenger’s 50th anniversary celebration “I AM” tribute. He has participated in several community conversations with notable dignitaries such as Congressman Charlie Crist and Mayor Richard Kriseman.
Daniel looks forward to a successful career as a voice artist or in broadcast journalism. He plans to either attend Florida A&M University, Florida International University or Stetson University.
The director of Strategic Community Partnerships at Raymond James, Ronald Diner’s primary focus is the Lunch Pals program that he founded. This program is a partnership between Raymond James and Pinellas County Schools where participants have lunch each week with an elementary or middle school student who can use the support of a caring adult, a mentor.
More than 1,000 children have been matched with a Lunch Pal from more than 60 companies and community organizations. The program has received awards of recognition from the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Association of Partners in Education and the Pinellas Education Foundation.
Diner has personally mentored elementary students for five years and is currently a Lunch Pal to two fifth grade students, with whom he has had lunch for three years.
On behalf of Raymond James, Diner also leads a partnership with Mt. Vernon Elementary School. In addition to having recruited more than 100 Raymond James staff members to mentor there, he meets regularly with the principal, focusing on objectives to increase student achievement.
Diner was formerly the President of Raymond James Tax Credit Funds, the leading provider of equity to developers of affordable rental housing nationwide. He serves on the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Suncoast and he has served as president of several other community organizations. Recently, the National Mentoring Partnership selected him as a finalist for the national 2018 Corporate Excellence in Youth Mentoring Award.
Community Activist & Leadership Award
Florida native Laura Bentz grew up in Miami before moving to Pinellas County. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Florida State University, a master’s degree from Florida International University and a Specialist in Education from Nova University.
After 35 years of working with the Pinellas County Schools as a classroom teacher and county supervisor, she retired and found more time to explore her passion for helping her community.
She is active on the Women on the Way Advisory Committee, Belle of the Ball, Clearwater Free Clinic Martinis & Matisse Fundraising Committee and GFWC North Pinellas Woman’s Club. She has been president of several professional and community organizations and has served on many boards and committees.
Bentz has volunteered for the last nine years as a CPR and First Aid instructor for several high schools that offer the Vocational Early Childhood Professional Certificate (ECPC). Students with an ECPC earn “staff credential” from the Florida Department of Children and Families to work in licensed child care centers after graduation.
Teen parents in high schools benefit from Bentz’s early literacy presentations. For the last eight years, she’s volunteered as a speaker, teaching teen parents about the importance of reading to children at a young age.
As grant chairman of GFWC North Pinellas Woman’s Club, Bentz oversees the club’s process of distributing funds to community 501(c)(3) organizations that make a difference in the community. This process has led to a better understanding of the needs of the community and the organizations that serve them.
Bentz has received much recognition both for her community involvement and professional accomplishments, including being recognized as Mrs. Countryside, GFWC North Pinellas Woman’s Club Volunteer of the Year, Pinellas County Schools Ambassador of the Profession Semifinalist and Top Ten Teachers, to name a few.
Community Building & Public Service Award
Born and raised in St. Pete, Faye Dowdell enlisted in the U. S. Air Force in 1974. She earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in military sociology while completing the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Maryland at College Park, Md.
While attending the university, Dowdell became a published author in sociological journals. She was then assigned to Sheppard AFB, Texas, for training and stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base in Germany. While assigned to Germany, she volunteered additional duty to provide free income tax services to military service persons stationed abroad and she served as an advisor to women.
Dowdell began her career in law enforcement in January 1985 as a US Postal Inspector. She also advanced through the ranks to Major in the USAFR. She was assigned as a special agent in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, and Bolling AFB, Washington, D.C.
She was then appointed as the reserve commander of the detachments in New York City and Holloman AFB, N.M., where she was involved in a car accident that ended her career in law enforcement. Major Dowdell received numerous military awards and medals including the Meritorious Service Medal.
She was actively involved in several associations prior to retiring to her hometown in 1996. She has a disability retirement but has continued to serve without pay. She has provided counseling services to veterans at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines. With the DAV Organization, she assisted many veterans with completing the necessary paperwork that is required to obtain veteran benefits.
Dowdell volunteered as an interim secretary at Academy Preparatory School and served a full term on the City’s Civilian Police Review Committee. She coordinated the Juneteenth Family Festival for the City of St. Petersburg for several years and is the author of a book children’s book entitled “Juneteenth.”
She now volunteers as the business manager and member of the board of directors for Hazley’s Music School.
Volunteer, Advocacy & Community Leadership Award
Jimmy & Eddie Jean Roberts
Jimmy and Eddie Jean Roberts both agree that hunger is a symptom of poverty, not the cause of a problem. They feel no one wakes up hungry without something else having gone wrong first in their lives.
Jimmy was raised in Waynesboro, Ga., and moved to St. Pete in 1984 where he worked at the Don Cesar and at Tropicana Field. He later gained employment with the City of St. Petersburg in the water resources department.
Born and raised in Graceful, Fla., Eddie Jean has been a hairstylist since 1977. She moved to St. Pete in 1998 and opened her own hair salon. The two were later united in marriage.
With encouragement from friends and neighbors in 2015, the Roberts formed a nonprofit hunger relief organization called MayMay & Katie’s Rescue Angels, leading the movement to end hunger throughout St. Petersburg. The food pantry is fondly named after Eddie Jean’s mother MayMay and her sister Katie.
The food pantry is located at the Lords House, 731 Queen St. S, and serves more than 150 meals daily to people in need and more than 39,000 meals annually. At any given time, someone may call them in need of food and they will immediately comply at least five days a week.
The couple is committed to working on a long-term hunger solution while continuing the work they do every day. There is much to do from their day to day efforts, to getting food in people’s hands, to solving hunger on a deeper level.
They started MayMay & Katie’s Rescue Angels because it bothered them to see so many hungry people and they wanted to do something about it.
Business & Innovation Award
Tangela Murph Bailey
A native of St. Pete, Tangela Murph Bailey is a 1980 graduate of Lakewood High School. She earned a degree in Technology and Programming from Pinellas Technical College, and after working in the corporate world for a few years, she decided to pursue a dream of her own.
For two and a half years, she sold books throughout the county at parties, festivals and other mobile events. She gained the confidence to take the plunge and opened up Reader’s Choice Books & Gift Expressions in November 2000.
Her store offers a variety of church supplies, adult/children books and puzzles, gospel music, greeting cards, African attire, Masonic and Greek Paraphernalia.
Bailey has received numerous awards, which include being nominated as a finalist for the “Business of the Year” by the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. She puts God first in her life, in all that she does.
Married to Bobby Bailey, they are members of the United Community Church. She is very appreciative of her family, friends and the community for their support over the years.
Her slogans are “Promoting Literacy One Book at a Time” and “We Bring Good Books to Life.” She offers discounts to book clubs and finds time for a children’s story hour.
Reader’s Choice Books & Gift Expressions is located at 4341 34th St. S, and is open six days a week from 10-6 p.m.
Joining Allegany Franciscan Ministries 2005, Eileen Coogan is the president and CEO of the non-profit Catholic organization affiliated with Trinity Health that is focused on improving the overall health status of individuals through increasing access to health services and information.
Guided by the tradition and vision of the Franciscan Sisters of Allegany, Allegany Franciscan Ministries focuses its efforts in three regions of Florida: Miami-Dade County, Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties and Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. Annually, the organization invests approximately $6 million in communities served.
Coogan has over 30 years’ experience in non-profit management and leadership. She is recognized for her skills in engaging board and staff, building relationships, embracing change and focusing on continuous, mission-driven improvement.
Prior to joining Allegany Franciscan Ministries, Coogan served as executive vice president at United Way of Palm Beach County, leading strategic change initiatives and creating significant partnerships with funding organizations, providers, and others in the community.
In the 1980s and early 1990s, she worked in Massachusetts, first with Project Bread–The Walk for Hunger in Boston, the area’s premier organization helping hungry and homeless people. She then served as executive director of LynnArts, a non-profit community arts organization dedicated to bringing the arts and the community together and supporting community redevelopment efforts.
Coogan has always been actively involved in the community, serving on a variety of boards and committees. She has held numerous leadership roles with the Blue Ridge Institute, is a member of the Tampa Bay Funders Forum and serves on the Community Benefit Council for BayCare and the Community Health and Well-Being Leadership Council for Trinity Health.
A graduate of Leadership Florida (Class XXXI), Leadership Palm Beach County and the Tampa Bay Partnership’s CEO Direct program, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Mount Holyoke College and holds a master’s degree in social work from Boston College Graduate School of Social Work.
Higher Education, Training & Development Award
Dr. Yvonne Williams
Currently employed at St. Petersburg College (SPC) in the office of Professional Development as an instructional designer/ facilitator, Dr. Yvonne Williams is also an adjunct professor at SPC and the University of South Florida. She was also the former area chair in the area of Research and Statistics at the University of Phoenix.
Williams holds a Ph.D. from the University of South Florida in Curriculum and Instruction with a cognate in Statistics and Research and an emphasis in Adult Education Training and Staff Development. She is also a graduate of St. Petersburg College Leadership Institutes-Leadership SPC and Delta Academy.
Her publications include a comparison of perceptual learning style modalities of African-American, European and Hispanic adult females as measured by the multi-modal paired associates learning test III and the Newtown Healthcare Access Study.
She has presented a Global Business Protocol Seminar at the University of Florida and many other notable presentations and workshops. Williams is a former Xerox sales rep and Digital Color Education Specialist as well as past CEO of her training, research and evaluation consulting firm, BYNTER Consultants, Inc.
A native of Waycross, Ga., Williams is an active member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. St. Petersburg Alumnae Chapter and ASALH. She is also on the board of Directors for R’Club and board chair for St. Petersburg College Reach Out Program.
The founder of Spirit of Tampa Bay Community Choir and a member of First Baptist Institutional Church, she is the recipient of numerous community service awards, a sought-after workshop facilitator, keynote speaker, event organizer and an advocate for student success.
She considers her most notable achievement as being the mother of one son, Benjamin, who is also a graduate of USF and an employee of Pinellas County Schools.
Education, Training & Development Award
Rohland E. Bryant
Born in Americus, Ga., in 1948, Rohland Bryant is one of 10 children. He is a proud graduate of Gibbs High School with continued studies at St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida.
Bryant has more than 42 years teaching experience with the Pinellas County School Board. He established the first plumbing program at St. Petersburg Vocational Technical Institute, now known as Pinellas Technical College (PTC).
He was the first coordinator and director of Training for the Public Works Academy, which was established in 1987. This program has received local, state and national recognition for its commitment to providing individuals with the opportunity to achieve success in public works careers.
Many of the graduates have now become successful leaders, supervisors, managers and directors in the public works sector. He has assisted in training well over 2,000 participants from all over the United States and from all walks of life.
Bryant has traveled all over the county presenting and promoting public works academies and public works careers and education. He has even contributed to the authorship of the stormwater manual that is used throughout the State of Florida.
For 13 years, he has served on the board of directors for the Achieva Credit Union where he presently serves as the audit chair. He spearheaded, through Achieva Credit Union, the Financial Literacy program that is presently being taught within the community of St. Petersburg and through the PTC.
His public service has included providing service for the Habitat for Humanity and for providing skills and service for the Carpenters for Christ Organization. Both of these programs have provided homes and centers for residents of the City of St. Petersburg.
His greatest satisfaction is being a caregiver for his 95-years-old mother who has been a source of strength and encouragement.
Family of the Year Award
Melissa & Wengay Newton
Wengay “Newt” Newton was born and raised in St. Petersburg with his seven siblings by his single, divorced mother. Early on, he learned the value of hard work, teamwork and perseverance.
In 2007, he was elected to St. Petersburg’s City Council and re-elected in 2011. In 2016, he ran for House District 70’s seat and became a state representative, where he currently serves residents of St. Petersburg, Hillsborough, Sarasota, and Manatee Counties.
Rep. Newton sits on the Health Quality Subcommittee, the Joint Select Committee on Collective Bargaining, the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and the Government Accountability Committee.
Always taking photos with his cell phone, he also owns a photography business.
Melissa was born in London, England, and came to the United States as a young girl with her parents. She has been living in St. Petersburg for 29 years and married to Wengay for 27 of those years.
She obtained bachelor’s degrees in computer science and business administration. Her education led her to a strong background in technology and project management positions. She worked for various companies such as Xerox Corporation, Electronic Data Systems and is presently working for First American Title Insurance Company as a project lead for the last 17 years.
Melissa also volunteers her time with her church choir at First Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church and offers her services as president of the Westminster Heights Neighborhood Association for the past four years.
Her hobbies include Zumba, taking long walks and reading. Both Wengay and Melissa enjoy their four children, six grandchildren and dog Toby.
Born and raised in St. Petersburg, Christopher Lampley earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice. Early in his career, he worked for the Department of Juvenile Justice for four years before becoming employed with the City of St. Petersburg Parks & Recreation Department where he has worked for the past 17 years.
During his 17-year career with the city, he has worked in various positions. He is the currently the Supervisor II at Gladden Park. Lampley also worked for Operation PAR Inc. for the past 10 years as a prevention specialist facilitating community forums and school functions, teaching youth the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
Lampley loves to work in the community and it shows through the countless hours he’s given to the youth sports leagues, community events and with his fraternity Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., where he is the first vice president of the Delta Omicron Sigma Chapter and the DOS Crescent Foundation, Inc., the fraternity’s 501(c) (3) organization).
Through his fraternity, Lampley is continuously giving back to the community through scholarships, their Adopt a School Program, community forums, mentoring boys and other activities.
He wants to inspire young men and woman by making a significant impact on their lives. This is evident in the time, resources and respect he’s given to countless youth in our community.
Gwen Reese Lifetime Achievement Award
Yvonne Reed Clayton
The fourth of six children born to Benton and Mary Clemons in rural Greenville, Fla., Yvonne Reed Clayton graduated from Gibbs High school in 1957. She earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in reading from Florida A & M University.
During her 34 years in the Pinellas County School System, she taught pre-k, kindergarten, first, second, third and seventh graders. Clayton worked as a curriculum resource teacher and a parent specialist with Title I. She also worked as a home/school/community resources teacher with Pre-K Early Interventions.
Frustrated by the number of black boys being labeled with learning disabilities and behavior problems in the public school system, she started the Yvonne C. Reed Christian School. For 16 years until her retirement, she gave countless amounts of students the head start they needed to be successful students.
The school had 60 percent of boys who performed on or above grade level and displayed a minimum of discipline problems. Parents were guaranteed their kindergartener would read before Christmas, and they ALL did.
After 50 years in education, Clayton retired in 2012 but continues to tutor free of charge at her home.
Throughout her storied career, she has won many awards and recognitions, starting with a four-year scholarship to FAMU for vocals, the Most Outstanding Teacher in America, NAACP Education Award, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award presented by the NCNW, just to name a few.
Clayton is the proud mother of one child, Kathy R. Butler.