May 2018 Honoree
Founder & President
Sarah Bachwitz is the founder and president of Empower Camp, a new non-profit created to ignite young women’s inner power. It is a non-denominational camp program, open to all cultures, religions and backgrounds for young women ages 14-18.
Empower Camp was founded in the depths of the Gobi Desert. Yes, you read that correctly. The Gobi Desert in Mongolia. Sarah hiked 100 kilometers across the Gobi Desert without the comforts of home and realized that it is not the clothes she wears or her social media or anything else that defines her. Sarah says, “What defines her is her inner power. Her inner power got her through those nine days in the desert and her inner power will continue to allow her to chase her dreams and live boldly.”
Sarah has 12 years of experience as a camp counselor. She received a Bachelor of Arts in International Business from Ohio Northern University; in 2010 she studied Spanish language and literature with the Study Abroad Program at Universidad del País Vasco. Sarah has worked at HSBC since 2011 where she is currently a senior manager. She founded the HSBC US Young Professionals Association, completed the HSBC Group Graduate Leadership Program in the United Kingdom, and participated in Leadership Buffalo’s Rising Leaders program. In 2017 she was a recipient of Buffalo Business First’s 30 under 30 award.
Photo copyright: ©Jim Courtney
April 2018 Honoree
Women’s advocate and volunteer
Chair, Erie County Commission on the Status of Women Advisory Board
Secretary, YWCA World Service Council
Board member, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts
Originally from Allentown, PA, Joelle Logue has a BA in Political Science/English from the Pennsylvania State University and an M.A. in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has worked as a newspaper editor and advertising copywriter but her passion now is as an advocate for women’s issues.
Joelle volunteers with the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women, YWCA, and Planned Parenthood to build awareness and advocacy to improve the status of women and seek parity for women in all spheres of life. She is proud of the dedication and commitment each of these organizations takes in seeking a fair and just world when addressing women’s rights.
She believes in the guiding principles and values of each organization: the Commission on the Status of Women is dedicated to eliminating discrimination in any form that may exist on account of gender and providing equal opportunities to all citizens of Erie County. The YWCA World Service Council works for a fully inclusive world where justice, peace, health, human rights, freedom and care for the environment are promoted and sustained through women’s leadership. And Planned Parenthood is creating public policies that protect and support sexual and reproductive health, services, rights and justice.
March 2018 Honoree
Jill Spisiak Jedlicka
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper
Executive Director & Waterkeeper
Jill Spisiak Jedlicka life’s mission appears to be hereditary. According to Jedlicka, “My early environmental career was associated with education and outreach on the Buffalo River. Only then did I start to truly understand the significance of my own family history about this waterway. My great-Uncle, Stanley Spisiak, was known as “Mr. Buffalo River”, and he was a tireless advocate as early as the 1940s. His efforts led to groundbreaking state and federal legislation even before the Clean Water Act, and Stanley is renowned to this day for his early activism and success around Lake Erie and the Buffalo River. He worked with Senator Robert F. Kennedy and also hosted President Lyndon Johnson during his historic Buffalo visit in 1966. Through my work, and the work of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, we honor Stanley’s legacy through our own mission and vision of clean and healthy waterways in Western New York. (Coming full circle, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is a member of the international Waterkeeper Alliance – and Waterkeeper Alliance’s Chairman of the Board is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.).”
The non-profit Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper was founded in 1989, and its mission is protect and restore our water and surrounding ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. Executive Director & Waterkeeper, Jill Spisiak Jedlicka, says “Our work touches 3,250 miles of waterways throughout the 1,400 square mile Niagara River watershed, including Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.” It currently has 29 full-time employees, but originally started as an all-volunteer, grass roots environmental organization called “Friends of the Buffalo River,” and was run by a volunteer board until 2001.
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper reflects the organization’s second name change (August 2017). As Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper its work has included: creating a living infrastructure network to support life and vitality in the watershed through large-scale sediment remediation, habitat restoration, greenway development and green storm water management. Its most visible success has been its leadership efforts around the remediation and restoration of the Buffalo River, specifically serving as a cost-share partner and helping secure $75 million in local, state, federal and private corporation resources for contaminated sediment dredging and habitat restoration.
In 2015, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper was awarded the inaugural North American Riverprize, and in 2016 in New Delhi, India, it was awarded the Thiess International Riverprize, a global award for river basin management, from the Australian-based International River Foundation. The organization’s priorities for the next few years will focus on five major initiatives: Headwaters, Scajaquada Creek, Living Shorelines, Waterway Restoration, and Education & Outreach.
Jedlicka says, “Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper’s mission and work is a core component of my personal life, values and pursuit.” She serves as an appointee of Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature on the regional Great Lakes Protection Fund Board, and the New York State Great Lakes Basin Advisory Council. She earned a B.S. in Environmental Studies and MBA in Business Administration from UB, working previously as an Environmental Education Specialist for the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning.
February 2018 Honoree
SoPark Corporation was founded in 1981 by Robert Stevenson with just two employees. It has grown to 78 employees today. And later this year, current president and COO, Rupa Shanmugam will become the majority owner.
Raised in Kampar, Malaysia, Rupa attended the school where her father taught physics, and he was the one who encouraged her to pursue a career in electrical engineering. “I attended and received a diploma in Electronic Engineering from the Federal Institute of Technology in Kuala Lumpur. While attending college there, I was the only girl in the class for three years. For the next five years, I was the only woman technician when I worked in Singapore at Thomson Consumer Electronics, Western Digital and then Carsem in Malaysia,” Rupa shares.
Taking a break from work, Rupa went to Angola, Indiana where she graduated with a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Tri-State University (now Trine University). According to Rupa, “I was the only women engineer and later, manager. Through hard work, strong work ethics and having people not only believe in me but mentor me, I have advanced in various roles in manufacturing, from operator, technician, engineer, manager and now president/COO of SoPark Corporation.”
SoPark is Western New York’s largest electronics manufacturing service provider, supplying medical device manufacturers and high-tech original equipment manufacturers with circuit board, electro mechanical and custom cable assemblies, as well as, design for manufacturing services. SoPark is ISO 13485 certified for medical devices and AS9100 for space and defense. For more than 37 years, SoPark has been serving customers in over 15 states and four countries.
Rupa serves on the United Way Boards of Directors and the Women United Advisory Board and is a member of the Employ Buffalo Executive Committee and BNP Manufacturers Council Executive Committee. She is also a committee member with UB Women in STEM. Rupa initiated a program for those students, creating opportunities to work at SoPark and providing them with exposure to STEM by experiencing the electronics industry, operations, production, technical applications, and engineering. This past year, Rupa was instrumental in the formation of the first Western New York Chapter of Engineering World Health at the University at Buffalo.
January 2018 Honoree
Deputy Director - PUSH Buffalo
Rahwa Ghirmatzion was born in Asmera, Eritrea in the middle of a civil war. She came to Western New York as a refugee at the age of eight with her family, after living in Sudan. She was educated in Buffalo Public Schools and SUNY Buffalo State.
In 2016, she became deputy director of People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo), a community organization that works at the grassroots to create and implement a comprehensive revitalization plan for Buffalo’s West Side, with more than $25 million invested in affordable housing rehabilitation, weatherization and green infrastructure.
In this role, Ghirmatzion oversees the organization’s programs and day-to-day operations, which have grown to include housing construction, weatherization, solar installation, job training, and a youth center on Grant Street, as well as outreach and advocacy on public policy issues facing urban communities. PUSH employs 40 people and has renovated more than seventy-five high quality homes over the past seven years.
Ghirmatzion had served as PUSH’s director of programs, overseeing the growth of PUSH’s social enterprises and community development efforts.
“I’m proud of what PUSH has done to prove that everyday residents can lead the way in building a better Buffalo, with quality affordable housing and pathways to good jobs in emerging sectors like solar installation, weatherization and green construction. But there’s so much work ahead to move Buffalo beyond the legacies of racism and economic injustice that are so visible in our communities,” Ghirmatzion said.
For more than 13 years, Rahwa worked with community-based organizations in Western New York that promote community development. She was executive director of Ujima Theatre Company, a multi-ethnic professional theatre company whose primary purpose is the preservation, perpetuation and performance of African American theatre. Ghirmatzion was the recipient of the 2013 Community Leaders Arts Award from the National Federation for Just Communities.