Young women to be recognized with achievement awards

News-DemocratApril 13, 2014 

Fifteen 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 event, now in its 10th year, was created by the Rotary Club of Belleville.

The award ceremony's keynote speaker Stephanie Leffler, CEO and founder of CrowdSource, said she plans to share her experiences with the young women and encourage them to take chances.

"You have to take risks," she said. "When you're young, it's a great time to take risks and try things that you're not sure if you're going to fail or succeed at."

Leffler, 36, a native of Fairfax, Va., launched her first company -- an online sun protective clothing retailer -- with business partner Ryan Noble, a native of Belleville, right out of college. They both attended Washington and Lee University in Lexington. They started the company and moved to Belleville, Leffler said.

Their next company -- MonsterCommerce -- was an ecommerce platform that grew to serve more than 8,000 small businesses. MonsterCommerce's annual sales exceeded $20 million, supported by a staff of more than 200.

Leffler spearheaded the sale of MonsterCommerce to NetworkSolutions in 2006 and then departed to pave the way for, which began as a reference resource and has grown into a network of websites covering thousands of topics, serving 70 million unique visitors.

Leffler most recently founded CrowdSource, the largest managed solutions provider in the crowd-sourcing space. is CrowdSource's parent company. Both are headquartered in Swansea.

"I always kind of imagined myself having a fairly traditional career path," Leffler said, but she's glad she took a chance and went the entrepreneur route. "When you are young just getting out of college, it's a great time to be risk takers if it's something you want to do. I hope that somebody can draw from that experience and do something great with it."

Leffler, who lives in O'Fallon with Noble, her husband, and their 2-year-old daughter, said she was "really honored" to be selected as the keynote speaker for the awards ceremony.

"Programs like this are great for the community and honor a group of young women that are extremely deserving," she said.

The recipients of the Young Women of Achievement Awards in the academics category are as follows:

* Renae Oelrich, Althoff Catholic High School, is one of four valedictorians at Althoff and the daughter of Lawrence and Lori Oelrich, of Shiloh. She competed with the math team all four years, serving as co-captain her senior year as they captured their third straight conference title.

* Emily Furlow, Belleville East High School, is number one in a class of 588 students at East and the daughter of Walter and Nancy Furlow, of Fairview Heights. She was recently named a National Merit Commended Scholar, placing her in the top 5 percent of all students tested in Illinois.

* Alyssa Pellmann, Belleville West High School, is ranked in the top 1 percent of her class and the daughter of Kurt and Mary Beth Pellmann, of Millstadt. She is involved in cheerleading, National Honor Society, tennis team, jazz band and student council.

* Martina Hukel, Governor French Academy, has been an asset to Governor French's academic teams, beginning with MathCounts in middle school, and has received numerous awards at regional and state science fairs. She is the granddaughter of Chuck and Tina Hukel, of Belleville.

Award winners in the arts category are:

* Alyssa Stephens, Althoff, has been active in performing arts and had the lead role in "Pinkalicious the Musical" her junior year and the major role of Sally Brown in "You're a Good Man Charlie Brown" her senior year. She is the daughter of Ron and Laurie Stephens, of Millstadt.

* Heather Hamilton, Belleville East, demonstrates leadership skills in all areas of performing arts and has served as student director of multiple choirs and the children's musical the last two years at East. She is the daughter of Larry and Theresa Hamilton, of Fairview Heights.

* Angel Riley, Belleville West, showcases her vocal talent as a member of the mixed choir at West and has auditioned for and been selected to the Quad State Honor Choir, American High School Honors Performance Series, District Choir, All State Choir and Opera Theatre of St. Louis Artist in Training. She is the daughter of Dwayne and Angelaanita Riley, of Belleville.

* Dyer Julia Pessin, Governor French, has appeared on-stage in productions of "Romeo and Juliet," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and "Little Women." She is the daughter of Sam and Lashley Pessin, of Belleville.

Award winners in the athletics category are:

* Rachel Kaltwasser, Althoff, is a scholar-athlete who is currently ranked fifth in her class of 100. She plays volleyball, basketball and soccer and has committed to play for McKendree University women's soccer team. She is the daughter of David and Marissa Kaltwasser, of Belleville.

* Montira Mosby, Belleville East, is a three-sport varsity athlete at East. She plays basketball and volleyball and competes on the track team and is the daughter of Raymond and Trudy Mosby, of Belleville.

* Blair Hollenbeck, Belleville West, has been a standout tennis player at West since starting varsity as a freshman through her senior year as a team captain. She is the daughter of David and Lissa Hollenbeck, of Belleville.

Award winners in the community service category are:

* Rachel Beyersdorfer, Althoff, is a member and leader of many school clubs including executive board member of the student council, president of the Rotary Interact Club and captain of varsity dance team. She is currently president of the St. Clair County Youth Board, a Passages Hospice volunteer and a volunteer mentor with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. Rachel is the daughter of Kevin and Valerie Beyersdorfer, of Belleville.

* Molly Thomas, Belleville East, is a student who maintains excellent grades while juggling a heavy load and extracurricular commitments. Last year, she volunteered to coach a "Girls on the Run" team at a local grade school. She is the daughter of Joe and Deb Thomas, of Swansea.

* Mahala Bryant, Belleville West, is a dedicated student and has volunteered more than 250 hours at St. Louis Children's Hospital and a local daycare. She received a gold-level Presidential Volunteer Service Award for her efforts. She is the daughter of Dawn Franke, of Belleville.

* Qeashaunda Johnson, Governor French Academy, has done much to impact programs designed to help underprivileged children including passing her experiences onto others through the Upward Bound Program and volunteering as a homework tutor and counselor at a residential camp for at-risk students. She is the daughter of Quiana Johnson, of Madison.

The 15 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

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