Fourteen young women attending Belleville high schools will be honored with Young Women of Achievement Awards during a ceremony Monday night. The youths were selected for the award based on their achievements in the fields of community service, academics, athletics and the arts.
The award ceremony's keynote speaker Adrian Bracy, the chief executive officer of the YWCA Metro St. Louis, plans to share her story of success. Bracy said she was honored to be selected as the speaker, because her purpose in life is to "inspire and enhance the lives of young women and girls."
Bracy, 53, realized at the young age of 14 years old that to be successful she had to make smart choices about who her friends were, she said.
Bracy explained letting only young ladies that shared her same passion and dreams of success into her inner circle was "critical to shaping" who she became.
Growing up in a tough neighborhood in Miami, Bracy said she saw "what the environment did" to her older siblings. "I realized if I don't make different choices, I could possibly end up down that road, and that's not the road I want to go down," she said. "In order for me to be successful in life, I need to have a different path and that was clear to me that it was the friends that I associated with."
Even now as an adult, Bracy said, "I am very careful who I have in my close circle. One wrong word to the wrong person, and your integrity/your reputation could be really tainted."
She said she hopes to instill in the 14 award winners the need to "make the right choice" and "associate yourself with people with the same goals you have." Bracy said she will also discuss the importance of networking, which is how she landed her job with the Miami Dolphins, and having a mentor -- "someone you can trust and who you can get advise from."
Before becoming the CEO of the YWCA in 2009, she was chief financial officer for the Arizona Cardinals. She also previously worked for the St. Louis Rams.
The Young Women of Achievement Awards are presented by the Rotary Club of Belleville in association with the Belleville News-Democrat.
The recipients of the Young Women of Achievement Awards in the academics category are as follows:
* Taylor Monken, the daughter of Jimmy and Teri Monken of Swansea, is Althoff Catholic High School's salutatorian, graduating with a GPA of 3.98; a member of the National Honor Society; and serves on the BASIC Youth Board and as an executive board member of St. Vincent de Paul.
* Haley Koch, the daughter of Steve and Arlene Koch of Fairview Heights, ranks No. 1 in her class of 550 at Belleville East; tutors for the English and Math Honor Societies; and volunteers at the Belleville Humane Society.
* Jennifer Stock, daughter of Robert and Margaret Stock of Millstadt, has maintained a 5.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale at Belleville West; is actively involved in extracurricular activities; and volunteers at Camp Rainbow, a camp for kids with cancer and blood related diseases.
* Madalyn Maharaj, the daughter of William and Amy Tyrala of Caseyville, juggles a slew of difficult classes at the Governor French Academy and is involved in varsity athletics and virtually every club at the school.
Award winners in the arts category are:
* Erin McCarkel, daughter of Kevin and Diane McCarkel of Belleville, has been active in arts throughout her time at Althoff; has been a member of the school's drama club since freshman year, performed lead roles in plays and musicals; and placed in local and regional competitions for her singing.
* Darneisha Coleman, the daughter of Gerald Betts and Michelle Cruise-Betts of Belleville, has a passion for theater. She has served as student director numerous times at Belleville East.
* Rebecca Rockwell, the daughter of Donald and Melissa Rockwell of Belleville, has been a member of mixed, concert and treble choirs all four years at Belleville West and has been a part of every theater department show since her freshman year.
* Cayden Hundley, the daughter of Angel Gee of Belleville and a student at the Governor French Academy, has performed in musicals such as "Annie" and "The Wedding Singer" and appeared in the production of "Tartuffe" and took on the lead role in Shakespeare's "The Tempest." She has served in various backstage positions as well and has 11 years of vocal training.
Award winners in the athletics category are:
* Ashley Gagen, the daughter of Tim and Diahnn Gagen of Belleville, has been a member of the girls' varsity volleyball team since her freshman year at Althoff and helped lead her team to win two regional championships. She also helped her varsity softball team win two regional championships.
* Miranda Lidisky, the daughter of Daniel and Janet Lidisky of Swansea and a student at Belleville East, won the golf sectionals and advanced to compete at the all-state and state levels. She is also ranked No. 1 in her class of 550.
* Anna Mernick, daughter of Dennis and Deborah Mernick of Swansea, has played in the tennis program all four years at Belleville West and served as team captain in 2012. She is a two-time Illinois High School Association state qualifier and a sectional doubles champion and was awarded "Sportsman of the Year" by the conference coaches for 2012.
Award winners in the community service category are:
* Madelyn McGlynn, the daughter of Mike and Claire McGlynn of Belleville and a student at Althoff, co-founded NETwork Against Malaria, a nonprofit organization dedicated to distributing and raising funds for malaria bednets in Uganda. She also writes a blog for the Huffington Post to inspire others to youth volunteerism.
* Jacqueline Yokoyama, the daughter of Doug and Lana Yokoyama of Swansea and a student at Belleville East, has assumed a leadership role in the "Fun with Learning" classes, where she helps adults with disabilities learn how to cook and play music and volunteers at Camp Independence in the sports rehab program for children with cerebral palsy.
* Taylor Keel, the daughter of Steven and Cynthia Keel of Millstadt and a student at Belleville West, helped create the annual Teeter-Totter-a-thon, giving $20,000 to local charities, as a member of the BASIC Youth Board. She is a senior leader in LifeSavers and Girls Learn International.
The 14 award winners will be recognized during a ceremony at 7 p.m. Monday at Bellecourt Manor in Belleville.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.