The Woman of the Year awards have been given annually since 1983.
The "LaFrance Muldrow" Woman Making a Difference award has been awarded since 2014. Muldrow—a retired County social worker, community activist and longtime member of the Commission—made enormous contributions during her 40-year career. In both professional and volunteer capacities, she served to improve the welfare of socially and financially disadvantaged children and families, always promoting social, educational and cultural opportunities. She passed away in July 2013.
2021 Woman of the Year
Sharon Yvonne Blake, who was born July 5, 1950, in Washington, D.C., attended the March on Washington in 1963. Having participated in the 1963 demonstration, she was one of the African American students who integrated Frederick Sasscer Senior High School in Prince George’s County. Later, when Sharon attended Morgan State College (now University), she, along with her siblings, participated in demonstrations in Annapolis, Maryland for more funding for Morgan. Upon graduation, Sharon began her 43-year professional career as an Educator. In the year 2000, Sharon became the voice and face of 6,800 Baltimore City Public School teachers as President of the Baltimore Teachers Union, where she continued her lifelong fight to create a more equal and just Maryland and nation.
An Advocate for Education
Viewing education as critical, Sharon has served as a Commissioner on the Governor’s Commission on Service and Volunteerism and, in 2018, was a Candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. Concerned that Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) would not be awarded the remedy they were seeking, she joined in protest marches and worked closely with the “Save Maryland HBCU” leaders. Today, having educated citizens, via town hall and other meetings, about the more than 14-year-old federal lawsuit, Sharon serves as the Spokesperson for the Maryland HBCU Advocates. Sharon’s leadership and efforts led to a successful campaign securing the passage of legislation by the Maryland General Assembly to resolve the litigation favorable to the HBCUs. This result helped to ensure that a significant number of the citizens of Baltimore County will have an opportunity to continue their education at a Maryland HBCU.
Active in the Community
Sharon has also benefitted Baltimore County directly, through her volunteer efforts and service in the community. As a member of the Julian Branch of Baltimore County Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), Sharon has been a part of the annual Voter Registration Drive. In addition, during the 2020 Census count, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Sharon walked the community, knocking on doors and speaking to residents, to ensure every Baltimore County citizen was counted, thereby obtaining more federal funding for schools, roads, bridges and programs for its residents. As important, Sharon testified before the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in support of a bill that would give the Baltimore County Executive an additional appointment to the school board, a member who would be accountable to the County Executive. In addition, Sharon worked the polls in 2018, passing out, on election day, campaign literature supporting Baltimore County candidates for the School Board, the House of Delegates, and county Sitting Judges.
Sharon’s awards and recognition include: Coppin State University Eagle’s Award (2020); Instructional Leadership Series Certificate of Appreciation (2006); Baltimore City Community College Teaching Excellence Award (1993, 2004); Kathleen Kennedy Townsend Women in Government Service Award (2000); Maryland Student Service Alliance Fellow (2000); Baltimore City Council of PTA’s Teacher of the Year (1999); Finalist, The Kurt L. Schmoke Award (1992); Distinguished Fellow, American Federation of Teachers (1992); The Angelo Fortunato Award Northwestern High School Alumni Association (1988); Community Service Maryland Bar Association and the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1986); Resolution of Excellence Award Northwestern Alumni Association (1986); Certificate of Merit Office of Social Studies Baltimore City Public Schools (1978,1980,1986); Phi Alpha Delta Law.
LaFrance Muldrow Woman Making a Difference Awardee
Wannetta Renee Thompson was born in Saint Louis, Missouri, and moved to Baltimore when she was 2 years old. She lived in various parts of Baltimore City and graduated from Patterson High School in 1971. She worked at Goucher College, USF&G and Union Trust Bank where she met her late husband, Ramon Thompson. In 1977, she married and stayed at home to raise her four children. She and her family moved to the GardenVillage Community in June 1980. As her children began school, she became involved with the PTA at Elmwood Elementary and later at McCormick Elementary, where she became the PTA President. She later earned honorary life membership of the State PTA.
Unwavering Commitment to the Community
She began volunteering with the GardenVillage Community Association and in 1990, became the Executive Director. During her tenure, Wannetta made many substantial and long-lasting marks in the community and local schools. Notably, she created the annual GV Food Basket Program, Community Clean Up (Dumpster Day) Event, the annual Christmas Event, and many other community events and programs, providing a safe and fun environment for the youth and families in the community. Only a few of the many programs are listed here! In her tenure, she created and ran the infamous GV Steppers program, the Annual “Stepping Out Against Drugs and Violence” step squad competitions, the Youth Military Drill Team and GRMS Step Squad (both formerly at Golden Ring Middle School) and the FTTA program (From Teens to Adults—formerly at Overlea High School). All these programs contributed to the betterment of the community, namely the youth, and is a direct reflection of Wannetta’s unwavering commitment to the community.
Wannetta’s dedication to the community is long-standing. From the age of 12, Wannetta has directed gospel choirs, starting at United Baptist Church in Baltimore City. Her last run ended at Saint Matthew’s Catholic Church where she directed the gospel choir there for 25 years. She also was an active member of the Saint Vincent de Paul’s Society. Her love for youth and the community comes naturally for her. Through her humble service, all that connect with her have heard her say her favorite saying: “To God Be the Glory!”
Among many awards and recognition, Wannetta has earned the Honorable Benjamin L. Cardin Certificate of Special Recognition in 1994, the Bridge Builder Award in 1998 and the Verizon Community Innovator Award in February 2015. She has also received three Baltimore County Executive Citations, a Governor’s Citation, a Senate of Maryland Official Citation and a Maryland General Assembly Official Citation. She also earned her Associates of Arts degree and Bachelor of Arts degree, both in Business Administration from Strayer University in 2008 and 2012, respectively.
Young Woman of the Year
Michelle Sobambo is a graduating senior at Overlea High School and Sollers Point Technical High School. She has acquired her CNA certification, CPR and First Aid certification, OSHA certification, and is working on her Pharmacy Technician License. She is a straight-A student, earning a 4.6 Weighted Grade Point Average while taking three dual enrollment classes.
She is a member of several clubs including the Sollers Point Student Government Association, the National English Honors Society, National Honors Society, National Technical Honors Society, Overlea’s Helping Hands, Book Club, World Language Club, Girls Who Code, Yearbook Club and Health Occupations of America. She has also held multiple positions in a variety of clubs which include the President of Overlea’s Student Government Association, Secretary of African Society Association and Historian of National Science Honors Society. Participating in these clubs gave Michelle an environment to grow as a person. They taught time management skills, teamwork skills and, most importantly, responsibility.
A Passion for Volunteer Work
As a second generational student, Michelle found it hard to adapt to certain situations, such as finding a place to fit in, but with the help of her family and mentors, Michelle, during high school, found her passion for volunteer work. She has volunteered at her church’s Sunday school for the past six years, but these last few years, with the help of her teachers, she has been able to fulfill her passion on a much bigger scale. In this year alone, she helped organize a food, clothes and pet drive, created a mentoring group for underclassmen, and presented a slideshow to inform students about domestic violence. She plans to continue volunteering after high school and inspire those around her to volunteer also.
Sports has always been a positive outlet to express herself. It gave her the confidence to believe that she could do anything if she believed in herself. In Michelle's High School career, she has obtained the position of captain for Varsity Girls Soccer, Varsity Girls Softball and Allied Bowling. With this mindset, she was nominated as Overlea’s McCormick Unsung Hero.
Michelle had an interest in medicine since elementary school, but in the Summer of 2019, she had the opportunity to intern at Johns Hopkins Hospital. During this time, she found out what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. In the future, her goal is to pursue a career as an Orthopedic Surgeon. To aid her in her career goals, next fall, Michelle plans to attend the University of Maryland College Park while majoring in Biology on a Pre-Med track.
See more past winners below. Contact the Commission to learn about previous award winners for years prior to those listed below.
Woman of the Year
Alejandra Ivanovich was born in Caracas, Venezuela and moved to Central Florida at age 13 with her mother and sister for a better life.
Due to domestic violence, Alejandra moved to Baltimore where she found a new home and was able to receive services tailored to domestic violence victims. Later, she opened a small business and found a way to advocate for other victims of domestic violence. Alejandra helped victims with various things such as taking them to shelters and helping them complete peace order petitions.
A friend from Guatemala, inspired her to do a community forum for immigrant women and children. She partnered with the Northwest Hospital DOVE program and other organizations and over 200 people showed up and received many services from cancer screenings to legal help for their immigration cases.
She found her voice, found her power and became a community activist. Alejandra has organized rallies and community forums, and most recently became a member of the Baltimore County Democratic Central Committee, the Census Complete Count Committee and an official Community Outreach Volunteer with the Baltimore County Police Department.
Alejandra enrolled in the Community College of Baltimore County. Her vision for the future is to continue her studies to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science, and to be the best mother she can for her three children.
Alejandra plans to continue to advocate for all of those who do not have a voice and dreams. Her vision is to help make Baltimore County a place where every person can thrive and live their best life without regard to ethnic background or the color of their skin. She believes Baltimore County will set an example nation-wide of what progress, inclusion and opportunity is and that all of our residents and students will receive the best education possible.
Woman Making a Difference Awardee
Dr. Marlene Mahipat started from humble beginnings in Trinidad and moved to the United States in 1990 with $300 and two suitcases containing her entire life. Overcoming many obstacles, which included working three jobs and going to school full time, she persevered and completed her education to earn a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree from Sherman College of Straight Chiropractic in 2001.
Dr. Marlene Mahipat moved to Maryland in 2002 and started a company called Mediquest in Maryland in 2004 which has expanded to Florida. Mediquest provides chiropractic, physical therapy, and a holistic approach to wellness through nutritional guidance, genetic testing, hair, stool, and urine analysis, along with detailed blood work. This information is used to map and identify problems and deficiencies in the body.
Dr. Mahipat also founded Helping Orphans Prosper Everywhere (HOPE) in 2006, a non-profit human services foundation which focuses on assisting children and families in need, including the homeless, elderly and disabled. One of her programs provides children with mentorship and educational supplies. Each child’s progress is measured, evaluated and systematically tracked and recorded and then used to assist in the successful mentorship of other children and to set future goals.
Additionally, she started People Letting Every Animal Survive Euthanasia (PLEASE) in 2006, a non-profit pet foundation which focuses on helping otherwise healthy animals from being put to sleep and on-going projects to help low-income clients with food and vet bills for their pets.
Young Woman of the Year
Madelin has been involved with several different community support programs in Catonsville for several years, including the Night of Peace Family Shelter, Westside Men’s Shelter, and the Children’s Home. She also spends her free time organizing donation drives for several animal shelters across Maryland. Last summer, she interned alongside Congressman Elijah Cummings, which inspired her to pursue her interests in law and apply for an environmental law internship.
Academically, Madelin maintained a 3.66 unweighted GPA and a 5.03 weighted GPA at Catonsville High School, she was involved in basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, Art Club, Spanish Club, Feminist Club, Green Club, Comet Culture, and Student Sharing. She was also a dedicated member of the Spanish, Art, English and National Honor Societies.
She has accumulated over 700 hours of community service and holds many different leadership positions. Madelin was awarded the Commitment to Service Award in 2016 by the Service-Learning Coordinator for Baltimore County Public Schools, the Van Hollen Public Service Award 2020 by the United State Senate, and the President’s Volunteer Service Award 2019 by the Corporation for National and Community Service in recognition of her service work in her community.
In addition to her rigorous courses, Madelin also interns for the Mary Keyes Law Firm. Madelin is interested in majoring in international relations on a pre-law track, and hopes to one day become an immigration attorney and continue the pursuit of social justice for those in need in our communities.
Madelin also excelled in various sports through her high school career. She attended the MPSSA Student-Athlete Leadership Conference Invitation twice and received the Minds in Motion Award Scholar Athlete Award eight times. Madelin plans to attend the University of South Carolina in the fall to begin work on her undergraduate degree. She states, “It is an honor to selflessly serve my school and my community and I look forward to continuing to do so in this next chapter of my life!”
Young Woman of the Year Honorable Mention
Chesnie is a very motivated and intelligent young lady who has done an excellent job in all of her endeavors. She is certainly well respected by her teachers and peers because she consistently demonstrates her desire to help others and her commitment to being the best friend, student and person she can be.
Chesnie has participated in a challenging college preparatory program and this year she is taking five Advanced Placement courses. In addition, she has chosen to participate in the Project Lead the Way Biomedical Science program which offers a rigorous curriculum that includes extensive lab work and independent research. Her cumulative weighted grade point average is 5.20 and her class rank is 24 out of 393 seniors.
While maintaining excellent grades, Chesnie has also found time to participate in a variety of extra-curricular activities. She has demonstrated her outstanding leadership skills by being elected as Vice President for the Class of 2020, Secretary of the Kiwanis KEY Club, Treasurer of the Black Student Union and an Executive Board Member of the Girl Up-United Nations Organizations, where she hopes to empower women and raise awareness of the oppression women endure all over the world.
Through Chesnie’s involvement with numerous service clubs and honor societies she has had the opportunity to volunteer at the Reisterstown Crisis Center, the Baltimore Humane Society, as well as to collect donations for the Children’s Miracle Network.
Chesnie has also been integral in planning and coordinating an annual STEM night for our community to attend and she has served as a peer tutor throughout her years in high school.
Chesnie is truly a phenomenal young lady who has a strong work ethic and high moral character. She has somehow found the time to maintain employment while still excelling in school participating in her extra-curricular activities. Chesnie hopes to further her service after her graduation and plans to take her service abroad and improve the medical world through a career in the health field.
Woman of the Year
Aziza Sultana Khan was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States around the age of two. Starting in New York and moving to New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and eventually returning back to Maryland to lay down her roots for a future in Baltimore County. She can be thought of as a true, well-rounded American experiencing all that the U.S. has to offer.
Aziza is a graduate of California State University East Bay (formally California State University Hayward) and Towson University with a Masters in Geography and Environmental Studies. She then worked for the Department of Natural Resources and as an Assistant Parks Director in Wisconsin.
Aziza is the long time President of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Women’s Auxiliary Baltimore Chapter. She is the go-to person for any kind of assistance, not only advocating for refugees, but for all who are in need in Baltimore County. She personifies the Ahmadiyya Muslim Communities’ motto of “Love for All, Hatred for None” with her non-discriminatory helping hand, whether Muslim or not, whatever the socioeconomic or race of a person.
From providing housing for homeless women and their families until they are able to support themselves, rides for refugees to further their education or obtain driver’s license, or just lend a listening ear—Aziza has never shied away from any kind of assistance to anyone. Many would refer to her as their “adopted mother” or “adopted sister” for showing kin-level kindness and nature to those who she encountered. Aziza has spent the majority of her life helping alleviate discomfort and uneasiness in those who confide in her—whether family, marital or social issues. She has always shown the utmost discretion, patience, love and understanding. Opening her heart and home, opting instead to put the needs of others first.
When asked why she does all these things, she responded,“because I can’t help myself. It is all I have learned from my family as to how mankind is to be treated. I don’t know how to turn my back on someone who needs help, even if all I can do is offer a smile or a kind word.”
Aziza has been married for 39 years and blessed with three loving sons and two grandchildren.
Woman Making a Difference Awardee
Cynthia Mingo is passionate about serving her community and helping everyone in need. She joined the Turner Station Recreation Council in 2006 serving as the Ways and Means Chairperson. She successfully administered programs such as: “Breakfast with Santa,” provided toys, warm clothing and food baskets during the Christmas holiday; and “Easter Egg Hunts” for the community. She also assisted with fundraising for the sports programs held at Fleming Community Center. During Thanksgiving season she volunteered to serve the homeless and supplied food baskets to needy families.
Cynthia continued to provide for the community through intergenerational programs under the Baltimore County Department of Aging with programs such as: Intergenerational Mitten Tree, Easter Egg Hunt, Back to School Block Party Backpack Program, Harvest Fest and an Intergenerational Summer Program. Cynthia has held “Back to School” backpack drives every year for the community and homeless children attending area schools, along with volunteering with the Turner Station Food Pantry. Cynthia has also worked as a caseworker with the State of Maryland for Child Support Services, Maryland Payment Center, Thurgood Marshall BWI Airport, and Baltimore City Detention Center.
She previously served as Vice President of the Dundalk Senior High School PTSA and Ways and Means Chairperson of the Turner Station’s Rec Council. In 2017, Cynthia served as a Parade Judge for the Dundalk Heritage Parade representing Fleming Senior Center.
Since 2013, Cynthia has been the Director of the Fleming Senior Center where she has dramatically increased the center’s enrollment. Currently, she serves as a Board Member on the Turner Station Conservation Teams and Assistant Treasurer of the Turner Station History Center.
Cynthia’s community volunteerism is an extension of her discipleship as a member of St. Matthew United Methodist Church and a former member of Empowerment Temple AME.
Cynthia was educated in the Baltimore County Public School System and graduated from Dundalk High School in 1984. She furthered her education at PSI Computer Institute as a computer programmer receiving her Certificate of Completion in 1989. She is a single mother to her daughter, Dominique Lyons.
Young Woman of the Year
Haleemat Adekoya is a high school senior attending Milfold Mill Academy who represents all 114,000 students of the Baltimore County Public Schools serving as the student member on the Board of Education of Baltimore County.
Haleemat also serves as a member of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, and she hosts two shows on BCPS-TV: Hanging with Haleemat (about student clubs) and Chat Café (a student talk show).
At Milford Mill, Haleemat serves as the president of the Class of 2019, is a member of the National Honor Society, the National Technical Honor Society, and the Principal’s Advisory Board.
Her work in the community includes participating as an advisee in #BUILTBYGIRLS, an online STEM mentoring program; serving as a business program executive for Jennifer Ukegbu, LLC; acting as program coordinator for From Prison Cells to PhD; and leading Dare2Bee, a female empowerment organization she founded.
In 2018, she was one of 13 high school students to participate in the eight-week Johns Hopkins Internship in Brain Sciences, engaging in research of mental health issues like Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia for the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery. Haleemat aspires to become a child mental health advocate and educator.
To quote Baltimore County Public Schools Interim Superintendent Verletta White: “I have the opportunity to interact with Haleemat regularly, and in every situation, she is well-prepared, insightful and positive. Her intellect is well-balanced with her empathy and her commitment to making a positive difference in the world. She has already achieved so much and she has yet to graduate from high school. I cannot wait to see what she will accomplish later in her life and career.”