Three Turlockers will be among the 14 honored this year as Outstanding Women by the Stanislaus County Commission for Women, an organization dedicated to supporting legislation and programs that address the needs of all women and children.
Jessica's House founding executive director Erin Nelson was named an Outstanding Woman honoree, and Pitman High student Taylor Beckwith and Stanislaus State student Sienna Samra were both named Outstanding Young Women.
When Nelson’s husband passed away, leaving her to care for two young children, it was only the support of friends and family that got her through. The experience led Nelson to become a certified grief counselor and to ask why there wasn’t a place to help children work through this challenging time.
Her dream caught the attention of Emanuel Medical Center officials who committed the resources to make her dream a reality. Nelson was named founding executive director of Jessica's House, a grief support program for children and their families, which opened in Turlock in April 2012.
"We started with 25 children and teens and since then expanded services to include young adults...We're now serving over 200 children, teens and young adults and about 90 caregivers. We support the whole family," said Nelson.
Jessica's House has also expanded its services to include programs within the schools and support for families affected by suicide and pregnancy loss.
"I feel like we are in a community that supports Jessica's House and surrounded by such support makes our community stronger," she said.
Nelson said she feels honored to have been chosen by the Commission for Women.
"I was really humbled because of all the women I know who are doing amazing work in our community...I'm so grateful that they chose me to have this award," she said.
She also believes in the Commission's work to invest in programs that help women and children thrive.
Turlock's two Outstanding Young Women are both very involved in their respective schools and philanthropy projects.
Beckwith is an active member of Pitman High student leadership and tobacco prevention education. She serves as president of the Interact Club, and maintains a high grade point average. Outside of school she collects 400 to 600 new or gently used blankets annually through her Blankets for Babies community project that she started when she was 11. The project was an outgrowth of volunteer experience with her mom at the Modesto Gospel Mission. Beckwith realized that the blankets for babies were gone too soon to meet all the need. A number of local organizations benefit from her work, with over 3,000 blankets being distributed over the years.
Beckwith also volunteers at Jessica’s House, at Soroptimist International of Modesto events, serves on the on the Turlock Teen Advisory Council and the statewide California Youth Advocacy Network.
Samra is a 2013 graduate of Pitman High School and is currently a pre-med student at California State University, Stanislaus majoring in biological sciences. An active volunteer during her high school years, she continued at Stanislaus State by joining the national sorority Alpha Xi Delta. Samra is now an advocate for Autism Speaks, the sorority’s partner charity. Last year the campus sorority raised $8,000 for autism awareness.
Samra is also a tutor and mentor for a number of pre-collegiate programs sponsored by Stanislaus State, including mentoring middle school students preparing for an engineering contest called the Future City Competition. Parents of the middle school students say that she directs and keeps the children focused on their assignments while allowing them to enjoy the experience.
Other honorees include: Terry Wheatley, Debbie Soro Adair;,Joyce Gandelman, Janette Garcia, Linda Lagace, Denise Nordell, Hattie Pope, Ruhi Sheikh, Carla Strong, Sue Zwahlen, and Mahima Krishnamoorthi.
The 37th annual Outstanding Women of the Year dinner will be held at 6 p.m. March 12 at the Assyrian Cultural Center of Bet-Nahrain, 3119 Central Ave., Ceres. Tickets are $45 each, and paid reservations are required by March 7. Tickets will not be available at the door. For more information about the dinner, call 209-404-4414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Dinner information and the reservation form can also be found at www.stanislauswomen.org.