By Marianne E. Weaver | Photos by Kathy Strauss
When Prince William Living launched its first Influential Women Awards three years ago, we quickly realized that this topic resonated with readers. Entries poured in, and the issue announcing the inaugural winners was one of our most-read to date. Choosing just five women from the impressive entries was no easy task for our judges, all past winners themselves.
Many women in Greater Prince William give of themselves to strengthen our community, leaving their marks on the business world and serving as inspirations to others. However, a few rose to the top: Yukiko Matsuo Dove, Karen Hawbecker, Kristina Schnack Kotlus, Mary Beth Michos and Pam Ryan.
Although each brings different gifts and talents to the table, they all share one common trait: They all use their connections to benefit residents throughout Prince William.
Yukiko Matsuo Dove
Thirteen years ago, Yukiko Matsuo Dove was living in Arlington when she and her husband found out they’d be having a baby in 2004.
“We needed a house,” she said. “My husband found a house in Montclair. We saw the house and decided that is it!”
She settled into their home. A second son was born in 2006. And a third two years after that.
All was well for the family of five for about two years. “My youngest son was good until he was 2 years old,” she said. “Then he lost it. He had lots of meltdowns, and he was not hitting his milestones. We took him to a pediatrician, and he was diagnosed. I had no idea what autism was until my son was diagnosed.”
The diagnosis, she said, was about the only thing she was given at that doctor’s appointment. She left with a referral to make an appointment with a developmental pediatrician. After searching online, she found some applied behavior analysis programs, but her health insurance didn’t come close to covering the costs, which she estimated at about $5,000 each month.
“No one helped me,” she said. “I was so isolated, and that was a problem.”
She went back to the internet and discovered that neighboring Fairfax County offered myriad activities and resources for parents of children with autism. She started attending those meetings and programs and then began talking with the leaders and founders of those programs, who helped her replicate them in her neighborhood. In the process, she discovered a community of Prince William parents who were also searching for the same information.
Dove has made it her mission to ensure no other parents are blindsided and alone after an autism diagnosis. She founded PWC Autism (facebook.com/pwcautism), a growing support group and network of more than 200 families and professionals connected to the condition of autism.
One of her most popular programs is a special-needs open pool swim at PWC Aquatic Center at Colgan High School (13833 Dumfries Road, Manassas). The special swim happens through April, and it’s free, thanks to sponsorship by the Parents of Autistic Children of Northern Virginia (POAC-NoVA) where Dove serves as a board member.
“Yukiko Matsuo Dove is a godsend to parents of autistic children living in Prince William County,” said Emma Young, who nominated Dove. “Kids, who are normally marginalized and their parents judged, find themselves in a supportive group of peers.”
Karen Hawbecker has witnessed lots of changes in Prince William since moving from Utah to Montclair in 1989: Roads expanded, neighborhoods created, and schools built. Unfortunately, she’s also seen an increase in the number of people in need throughout her community. Rather than write a check or drop off some old clothes at the nearest clothing resale shop, the associate solicitor for the Division of Mineral Resources at the Department of the Interior founded “Gifts of the Heart,” a free charitable event open to the public and hosted in Prince William.
“This event helps people unload the things they are not using, to really assess what they are not using and what they can give to others,” said Hawbecker. “I hear the most amazing stories of how people come in and find exactly what they need. Each year people look for places to pay, and I have to tell them, ‘You don’t pay.’”
Hawbecker started the free pop-up thrift shop eight years ago when she was president of the Woodbridge Stake Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, part of a worldwide organization established in 1842 for women 18 years and older to help those in need.
“I had heard that another church in Northern Virginia had started a clothing exchange, so I went to observe what they did,” she recalled. Armed with ideas and inspiration, she pitched the idea to her Stake, which is composed of nine congregations in the Woodbridge area. With their buy-in, members put the call out for church members to volunteer to run the shop and donate clothing, toys, bedding, shoes, furniture and electronics to her church at 3718 Old Bridge Road on a Friday night. “Saturday morning the doors opened at 9:00 a. m. We easily had more than 400 people waiting in line come in,” she said. “And it gets bigger each year.”
As successful as the “Gifts of the Heart” has been, Hawbecker is still looking for more ways to serve. “In association with the clothing exchange, we do a food drive that benefits Action in Community Through Service (ACTS) in Dumfries,” she said. “With this exchange we send out word, and in addition to clothing and other things, people bring some food for ACTS.”
“Karen has been and continues to be an example—to me personally, to all who know her, and to thousands she has led— of charitable service to community, commitment to work, and remaining positive and diligent through it all,” said Young, who nominated Hawbecker. “She quietly goes about serving, inspiring others to kindness and service and remaining focused on what is most important.”
Kristina Schnack Kotlus
At a time when all things political are controversial, Kristina Schnack Kotlus laughed and remarked that she has “the happiest job in politics.”
According to her boss, Virginia State Delegate Richard L. Anderson (R-51) who submitted her nomination, Kotlus— a lifelong Prince William resident—is a “broadly respected dynamo of human kindness.”
“I recognized Kristina’s immense talents early in my tenure in the state legislature and asked her to join our legislative team as a part-time employee of the commonwealth,” he said, adding that she is the Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator. “But she is not about ‘outreach’—she is about total immersion in the life of her community.”
Kotlus was hesitant to take credit. “My job is to amplify the other good things people are doing,” she said. “I am fortunate to have the platform and the reach to do that.”
She built that platform and reach 11 years ago when she founded PWCMoms, which now has more than 10,000 followers on Facebook and more than 2,500 on Twitter. The site highlights family-friendly events and activities throughout Prince William.
“We have a really transient area here, so it’s nice for them to have a place where they feel like they can get connected faster,” she said. “I feel like I am a megaphone—I don’t do that much, but I multiply what other people are doing. There are so many people doing so much good. They just don’t have the reach or the voice, so I look at my job as being the magnifier to tell people all the good things that are happening here.”
For example, on Fridays she highlights the work of local nonprofits, including ACTS, Colby’s Ride and Streetlight Ministries, connecting her followers with activities and volunteer opportunities throughout the county.
And, as Anderson noted, she did all this in the midst of fighting a life-threatening malignant brain tumor that required 16 hours of brain surgery, seven weeks of radiation treatments and months of physical therapy. After winning her battle, she conceived, planned and executed a fundraiser known as “Silver Sparkles Family Fun Day.” To date, the event has raised $10,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.
“There was no way that I couldn’t do something to give back,” she said, explaining that during her treatment and recovery, she was surrounded by friends, family and PWCMoms followers, who stepped up to cook meals and care for her and her family of five. “People say that in Northern Virginia, no one cares about their neighbors, and that is just not true. We were surrounded by people who wanted to love our family.”
Mary Beth Michos
Mary Beth Michos moved to Prince William for the job, but stayed to build a life. She started her career in Maryland as a critical care nurse and in 1973 began her shift into the fire and rescue field when she was hired by the Montgomery County, Md., Department of Fire and Rescue Services where she spent more than 21 years, rising to the rank of assistant chief. And then Prince William called.
“I was living in Maryland in 1994,” she said. “I moved here to assume the position of fire chief. I was the first woman fire chief in a metropolitan fire department.”
“Chief Michos has devoted her life to public safety with a direct impact on saving lives in our community by improving all aspects of rapid and efficient early response,” said her nominator, Nancy Kyme. “She has successfully fulfilled a leadership role traditionally filled by men (less than four percent of firefighters nationwide are women), and she remains an inspiration to women of all ages for her focused devotion and professional success.”
During her 13-year tenure as chief, she led a 450-person fire department, which works with 12 volunteer companies within Prince William County as a combination Fire-EMS system.
Although Michos retired in 2007, she immediately immersed herself in giving back to the community, taking a seat as the Coles representative on the Prince William County Department of Social Services Advisory Board, which is involved in all matters pertaining to public assistance programs and other social services.
“When I was fire chief, I was fortunate to get the resources and staff positions that I needed,” said Michos. “I saw where other departments were not getting the resources they needed, so I went to work serving as an advocate where I can.”
Michos has been a Lake Ridge Rotary member for 20 years and, according to Kyme, has held nearly every leadership position available. “She has chaired almost every committee and served in every officer position, culminating in her being president for two terms,” said Kyme. “This year she was appointed chair of a task force on homelessness.”
Michos also serves on the board of directors for the Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center. “I and two others represent citizens from the community,” she said. “We provide input to the board and then take the message from Sentara out to the community.”
Michos holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Columbia Union College. In 1997 she received a fellowship to the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and completed a master’s degree in leadership and innovation from Marymount University in 2004. She also holds a master’s certificate in executive coaching from George Washington University. In 2015 she obtained a certificate in positive psychology.
Although Pam Ryan does not live in Prince William, her dedication to serving others has benefited residents throughout the region.
“Pam is inspirational in so many ways, but I think the one word anyone that knows her would use is ‘passion,’ and it shines through in everything she does,” said nominator Bradley Marshall, an assistant commonwealth’s attorney. “Her passion for our community shines through the most when you think about the issues she has tackled over the years. From school breakfasts to educating parents about food choices for their families to giving a voice to the most vulnerable children in our community, Pam’s passion is not just for issues; it’s for people.”
Ryan credits her successes to the lessons and connections she made through Leadership Prince William. In 2013 she was serving as the director of development with the Northern Virginia Family Service and focused on creating an anti-hunger program. Wanting to gain a more in-depth understanding of the region and its needs, she applied to Leadership Prince William. What she walked away with, she said, are lifelong friendships with other graduates focused on improving the lives of Prince William residents.
“There is nothing you can think of that you want to get done that you can’t come up with a connection to Leadership Prince William,” Ryan said. In 2014 that was the founding of the Greater Prince William Food Council, on which she collaborated with two fellow graduates to fight against hunger through education, collaboration and the shared vision of a hunger-free community. She is serving her second term as chair of the council’s board of directors.
“Pam Ryan has worked to improve our community for years now while wearing many different hats,” said Marshall. “During her years with Northern Virginia Family Services and their SERVE Campus here in PWC, she helped create stability for hundreds, if not thousands, of hungry people right here in our community by developing the Hunger Resource Center.”
Ryan said SERVE gave her the opportunity to create an antihunger program, which served about 8,000 low-income individuals each year. Her department incorporated SNAP outreach and nutrition education.
“My greatest accomplishment was bringing true anti-hunger strategies into the work,” she said. “Giving someone a bag of groceries has an impact for a week, but connecting him or her to federal programs has a lasting impact.”
Today, she is the executive director at Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Children’s Intervention Services Inc. “My personal story is similar to that of some of the children we serve,” she said. “We are advocates for children removed from their homes.”
Marshall praised her accomplishments everywhere she has cast her efforts. “During her first year as executive director of CASA, she has done an amazing job fundraising and supporting the courtroom advocates through training and mentoring,” he said. “Pam inspires others not only through her words, but through her actions. She is on the front lines of the efforts, never dictating from a desk. Whether it’s selling bottled water on a hot day to raise money for the Greater Prince William Food Council, visiting various community groups to educate them about hunger-related issues or advocating for abused children here in our own backyards, she holds herself and others to high standards by setting the standard herself—the true mark of leadership.”
2017 Nominees in alphabetical order:
- Hala Ayala
- Denyse Carroll
- Jessica Dunn
- Mary Foley
- Payton Freeze
- Amiee Gold
- Karen Hawbecker
- Susan Jacobs
- Kimesha James
- Mercedes Kirkland-Doyle
- Yukiko Matsuo Dove
- Amelia May
- Angela McConnell
- Mary Beth Michos
- Beth Nelson
- Kristin North
- Rose Powers
- Dr. Sabrina Ricks
- Sandra Mclean
- Pam Ryan
- Kristina Schnack Kotlus
- Heather Steele
- Marvette Thomas
- Nancy Vehrs
- Meschelle Williams
- Pamela Wright
Marianne Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University. She lives in Gainesville, Va., with her husband and two children.