‘Exceptional’ women to be honored at celebration

Many local women have made positive contributions to the community but do not always receive recognition for what they do. Through its 5th Annual Exceptional Women Celebration, the Queen Ann Nzinga Center has discovered a way to achieve that goal while also providing influence on the girls in the local community.
The celebration, which will take place this month, will honor seven local women from three communities for the positive impacts they have made locally. The event coincides with National Women’s History Month. It also stems from the center’s P.R.I.D.E. program— which stands for Parenting, Resources, Imagining, Decisions and Engaging—and focuses on girl empowerment, said Dayna Snell, executive director of the Queen Ann Nzinga Center. Established in 2005, the program works with girls between the ages of 12 and 17, teaching them “how to learn to respect yourself, your culture, where you come from, your community, your elders,” and more. Snell said all of the center’s programs spring from that focus.
“We really wanted to put Women’s History month at the forefront,” Snell said. “It’s so the girls can identify with local women and see that can do anything.”
Andrea Wasley, a funeral director and managing partner of Bailey Funeral Home, is one of the “exceptional” women honored his year. A lifelong resident of Plainville, Wasley has played an integral role of the funeral home for 20 years now, marking her success as a licensed funeral director and embalmer, and ultimately a managing partner. She became a Certified Funeral Service Practitioner (CFSP) under the Academy of Professional Funeral Service Practice, and has served as a long-time member of the Plainville Rotary Club.
Tawana Graham-Douglas, who serves as an instructional leader for literacy at all three elementary schools in Plainville, also will be honored at the event. Douglas served as a second grade teacher before her current role, and also became 2012-2013 Teacher of the Year.
“I was thrilled,” said Wasley when she learned she would be an honoree this year. She added, she was also surprised by the recognition. “It’s a privilege.”
As a woman in the funeral industry, Wasley said she worked hard to get to where she is now in her career. When she first began her career, the funeral industry mostly consisted of men.  “When I started, there wasn’t many women in this industry,” Wasley said. “Now it’s grown drastically.”
Throughout her career, Wasley has remained passionate in her role at Bailey Funeral Home, building relationships with clients as she helps them throughout the grieving process. Wasley said this serves as an important part of her role as a funeral director, and through this role, she has come to know her clients on a personal level.
“When you help people…you really become a part of their family during those days,” said Wasley, adding she and her colleagues have kept in touch with the families even after the services are done. “We know they’re struggling weeks after the funeral.”
The celebration will consist of two parts, Snell said. First, the girls of the P.R.I.D.E. program will have an opportunity to interview the honorees, who will share their stories during a luncheon. After the luncheon, the girls and honorees will enjoy music from several performers, some of whom may be the girls themselves.
“The magic is to see the connection the girls make with the honorees,” Snell said, adding that the honorees are always women who are “extremely humble and are nominated by people who see things in them that they may not see in themselves.”
Wasley hopes her story will inspire girls and young women to stay committed to their goals despite the opinions of others.
“Be goal oriented and follow your dreams,” Wasley advised girls. “Don’t let anyone stand in the way of what you believe in.”
The girls also will honor the women by sharing information they learned from them during the interview. Snell said the girls and honorees ultimately develop life-long ties with each other.
“The program (P.R.I.D.E.) really makes a difference; it teaches the girls how to make friends, teaches them about self-esteem and ultimately allows them to meet people they may not have met in the past,” Snell added.
Five other women, Diane Defronzo, Arlene Palmer, and Karen Sagarino from New Britain, and Bonnie Pina and Donna Osuch of Bristol, also will be honored with Wasley and Graham-Douglas at the event.
This year’s annual Exceptional Women Celebration will be held on Saturday, March 22 at 4 p.m. at Trinity-on-Main, 69 Main St., New Britain.
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