2021 Woman of the Year Recipients
After working as a commercial property manager Jana made the decision to stay home and raise her three children in 1993. In 2006 Jana and her husband decided they wanted to make a real contribution during the second half of their lives. Jana said, “I felt a need to look beyond myself.” That desire along with a scripture that defines her, “I will walk by faith even when I cannot see” from 2 Corinthians 5:7 led her to seek direction for where God wanted her to serve.
A door was opened to a country she knew nothing about. It was a place where the children were in need, and she discovered she had a passion to serve there. Their calling was to serve in Liberia, West Africa. She and her husband Todd started the nonprofit Containers of Hope where they bring hope and humanitarian aid to the less fortunate.
As Director of Containers of Hope, for the past 15 years she has led yearly team trips to distribute container loads of goods and over 36,000 filled backpacks to the darkest parts of Africa. They have built churches, schools, started a feeding program, support an orphanage, and more. Cannibalism, witchcraft, terrorist bombings, collapsing bridges, Ebola, all of these and more have been part of each trip and she believes a clear confirmation that she is where God wants her to be.
When she asked one little girl in a remote village of what she is thankful for, she replied, “I am happy to be alive.” A response Jana said we would never hear in the states. The lives of tens of thousands of orphaned and vulnerable children in Liberia have changed for good and the lives of the countless teenagers who have been part of our teams have been forever impacted by the work of Containers of Hope.
Redefining the second half of her life has been God driven and much needed after raising their three children. Using her God given faith has brought Jana to the darkest parts of Africa where the unreached people need hope. Making it about others has brought her fulfillment beyond her dreams
Maribel saw the need for a safe place for Santa Ana families to eat and play together which inspired her and Lambert Lo to found the Mix Academy (www.mixacademy.org) in 2014.
The Mix Academy has served hundreds of families, students, and those experiencing homelessness with free personal enrichment classes such as Visual Arts, Tutoring, Music, Martial Arts, Zumba, and Chess, taught by volunteer instructors.
Additionally, they began offering a weekly community dinner. For the last 6 years, they have fed over 116,000 people. The program further aims to foster leadership development within participants; over 50% have returned to serve the community.
As an immigrant child, who lived in a dysfunctional home and experienced a journey of abuse, neglect, torment, prostitution, and drug addiction Maribel understood what the community needed. As she explains “God was training me a long time ago. It was the pain that led to my destiny and has become my platform. Advocating for those that don’t have a voice and cheering them on to find their voice.”
Maribel is also an artist and founder of Bohemian Rose. Mommy to Rhiannon, Tyler, Ethan and Joshua, wife to Jack Toan and Global Initiatives Pastor at Newsong Church.
A local business owner, Dawn has been married to her husband for 28 years as they raise their special needs son, Vincenzo and his brother, Gianni.
She serves on the Board of Directors for the Palm Speech School for Autism (pbsfa.org) a charter school for students with autism from pre-kindergarten through high school.
Dawn has been an advocate for special needs families for over 20 years. She understands fully the struggles and challenges of raising a special child, bringing that child into adulthood and the worry that comes with an uncertain future. That worry included many families experiencing financial stress and even bankruptcy paying for needed resources. Dawn knew that wasn’t right and learned how to get the funding that special needs children are entitled to receive. That expertise is now available to families at Palm Beach School for Autism.
Dawn is also President Edventure Charter High School specializing in educating students with mental health and emotional issues (www.edventurecharter.org). The students at Edventure come from group and foster homes, as well as abusive families. Edventure has a school-to-work focus that prepares young adults for the world by equipping them with the academic, vocational, and social skills they need to become responsible and productive citizens.
Strength and hope are words Dawn she lives by and in her story with others, Dawn sets an example of how a mom can overcome adversity, help her child achieve milestones and her family find happiness. Becoming a special needs mom has made Dawn a better person. She often says, “Imagine a life where everyone saw each other as our kids do. The world would be a better, happier place.”