Women In Leadership Awards Luncheon
June 14, 2018

CONGRATULATIONS to the WIL 2017-2018 Annual Award recipients!

Pinnacle Award - Kathy Schaeffer
Woman of the Year – Kimberly James 
Career Leader of the Year – Laura Tafoya
Community Leader of the Year – Jessica Ford
Outstanding New Leader - Jess McMullin 
Scholarship winner – Jessica Marberry 

Each year, Women In Leadership of Central Illinois recognizes members at the Awards Luncheon. WIL members are invited to nominate themselves or other members during the spring nominations. The WIL Awards Committee receives the nominations and award submissions. After award submissions are received, they are given to a panel of judges. Awards are then presented at the Annual Awards Luncheon in June.


The Pinnacle Award is new in 2018 and honors one extraordinary individual for her inspiration, dedication and significant contribution to the advancement of women in leadership positions or career. This award not only acknowledges inspiring leaders, and mentors, but those leaders who are creating a legacy by passing on their vision to women of the future.

Kathy Schaeffer is the Director of Business Development at Stellar Systems and has been an impeccable volunteer in our community for many years and so many of us have had the privilege of working alongside her. Kathy currently serves many different volunteer organizations including the American Cancer Society, Common Place, Peoria Riverfront Museum, Easter Seals, YMCA, our very own Women in Leadership, and so many more.

Kathy brings a wealth of knowledge about nonprofit volunteer work to each organization she serves. She is dedicated to each endeavor and gives selflessly. She has been a staple in the nonprofit community for more than 25 years. A few key comments from Kathy's network include:

"The passion, talents, and leadership skills she gives to every organization and project she is involved with are truly beyond compare." 

"Her dedication to making our community a better place and to the growth and success of other women make her incredibly deserving of this recognition."

"Central Illinois is a better place because Kathy Schaeffer lives, works and serves here. She is a strong leader, a caring friend, a hard-­working team member, and is a respected member of our community."

I feel so lucky to be serving with Kathy on the board of Women in Leadership. It is my greatest honor to present our first ever Women in Leadership Pinnacle Award to our friend… Kathy Schaeffer.

The Woman of the Year award recognizes Kimberly James for her outstanding professionalism, her community service, and her leadership and participation as a WIL member.

This year’s recipient is full of vision, compassion, determination, knowledge and collaborates with others with ease..and she’s from Tennessee! She had many lessons to learn as she made her way through her career path. Upon graduating with her MBA, she obtained a job that fulfilled her financially, but lacked the ability to make her happy. You may have even looked at her early working years as having a “job”, not a career. When she was 7 months pregnant with her first child, she was laid off. Facing the fear of the unknown, her self-­confidence and her personal belief quickly decreased. Can you imagine, a first time mother and now unemployed wondering how she will make this all work? This blow to her “ego” allowed for a shift in her perspective. She persevered through it all creating this fierce vision of who she wanted to be, and allowed her to now operate in accordance to her faith, family and personal and professional goals.

After her third child was born, she and her husband moved to Peoria. Starting over this time was much easier since she had already reinvented herself. Unifying teams of volunteers is no easy feat. Whether it was locally with the Girl Scouts or the Community Foundation, she continues to build teams within her organization that plays towards their individual strengths and personal skill sets. She readily supports individuals when they are struggling and is able to make those tough decisions when necessary. She remains engaged, intentional and committed to her personal and professional goals and encourages everyone on her team to do the same. She has been a key volunteer with Jack & Jill of America, Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Women In Leadership and St Paul Missionary Baptist Church.

Our recipient is a strong advocate of mentorship both of others and herself. She has mentored interns by providing them with real work experience and guides them through every step to ensure they are aware of why processes are the way they are. Keeping others connected in their respective industry helps them to see and experience a variety of opportunities through own personal career journey. Today’s recipient also believes in finding a mentor, she credits several women here today, Jessica Ford, Kathy Schaeffer, Betsy Bladel and myself as playing an important role in her personal and professional growth.

With a big heart for mentoring and empowering young women, this year’s recipient volunteers much of her time with the St Paul Baptist Church Esther Circle Ministry for girls ages 8-­18. As a volunteer ministry leader, she assists in the development of the curriculum and activities each year. Their goal is to create and deliver programming that encourages, inspires, and guides young girls on their journey through their spiritual and personal lives and develop a lifelong relationship with God, as well as learning valuable social and emotional skills that will lead them to be successful along that journey. Our recipient grew up in a female dominated family that lacked a positive male figure, and uses that to fuel her desire to give back to young girls and women.

She is a huge fan of WIL and loves being associated with this dynamic, committed group of professional women. She, like many others, attends our lunch each month and leaves feeling rejuvenated and motivated to conquer the day! Why? Because she is greeted by women who truly want to see her succeed and are helping equip with the personal and professional tools to make a difference in her career path and community. What a testament to our organization!!

Kim stated, “I always remember who God created me to be and that is what fuels me every day to give my absolute best at work and to all professional groups and tasks of which I am affiliated.”

Without further ado, please join me in congratulating Kimberly James, the 2018 Woman of the Year!

The Career Leader of the Year award recognizes Laura Tafoya for her outstanding leadership in her business or profession, her professional organizations, and her WIL participation.

This year’s recipient holds a Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice! Let’s learn a little bit about our recipient to see if you can figure out who this is! When she was 15, she began working at Ravina On the Lakes bussing tables. Continuously watching and learning how everything came together. How to problem solve on the fly, how to set up for events, how 2 or 3 cooks could prepare food for hundreds of people at a time. It was hard work, but she loved it.

From there she finished high school, obtained her degree and was hired out of college as a Start-­Up Operations Manager for Medi Weightloss Clinics in Peoria. She had ZERO experience as an entrepreneur, but quickly learned. From walking in the office doors with cement floors and wall studs to creating an office atmosphere that was seeing 40 patients a day within 2 years! She was responsible for all aspects of the business from recruiting, to payroll, to inventory control and landing her clinic among the top selling clinics in the US for supplement sales percentages. Everything she needed to know about opening and running a business, she learned from this career step.

She moved on to the Peoria CVB and learned to network with the pros. Combine all these career moves and experiences and she and her husband open up the restaurant ... Los Cabos and recently a second location!

There is no task to big or too small. She is adamant about doing what she asks of her team, as she admits to not being above any of her employees. From scrubbing toilets to working through P&L statements, sometimes in the same hour, it’s a “whatever it takes” attitude to make it all happen! The Food & Beverage industry is a hard business, so she realizes the importance of preparing the employees to be a future restaurant owner. One such employee, that they were ramping up to take on an Assistant Manager role, gave his notice and is now a co-­owner of another local establishment. While this was disappointing, she has become a huge resource/mentor for this former employee. He calls/texts when he has questions or just wants to bounce ideas off of her. How about that? Helping each other succeed!! So brilliant!

Our recipient credits her mother, Meg Williams and Kathy Schaeffer as two women who have helped shape the woman she has become. Ladies and Gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the 2018 Career Leader of the Year….. Laura Tafoya!

The Community Leader of the Year award recognizes Jessica Ford for her outstanding community service and leadership.

With hometown roots in Burlington, Iowa, this year’s Community Leader of the Year is no stranger to getting involved and volunteering her time to a variety of organizations.  As a youth, she realized the importance of starting at ground level within an organization and working her way up the ladder to lead a team. Starting In 2004, our recipient stepped up and helped lead a crew to deliver 800 Thanksgiving meals. This annual Thanksgiving tradition has continued for over 13 years! She now travels back home every Thanksgiving to ensure these meals continue. She indicated one year there was a young mother and her 3 children who had just escaped an abusive situation. She had no food, no stove, no microwave, no money. A call was placed for a meal, and even though it was after hours, our recipient agreed to cooking and delivering this mom and her children a warm Thanksgiving meal. As you can imagine, the mom cried and the kids cheers as our recipient put others needs before hers – as this act of kindness left her family of 40 people waiting just a little longer.

When we look at her local involvement, we learn that she has spent over 5 years with the Peoria Honor Flight. She participated in the inaugural Honor Flight – escorting and befriending her veteran, Tom.  They enjoyed a very long day together but their “date” didn’t end there. They built a lasting friendship that led to his attending at her wedding, in fact being the first guest to arrive, and many shared meals and memories. After such a powerful experience, she took on the position as Check-­In Coordinator where she manages 40 volunteers, 70 Veterans, over 70 Guardians, Medical staff, Bus Captains, TSA... and the list goes on and on!

As a child, our recipient was misdiagnosed with bone cancer. Facing leg amputation and chemotherapy, it was through St Jude and their resources and referrals that they learned she did NOT have cancer. As a result, in her adult years, she has now spent the last 6 supporting, fundraising and participating with the St Jude Telethon, personally raising over $7000 to help ensure that NO child and family receive a bill for their medical treatment.

She also dedicates time and efforts to Susan G. Komen as a team Captain for the last 6 years. Knowing she would one day be connected to someone diagnosed with breast cancer, she felt it was important to get involved. And sure enough, her co-­worker and a cousin were diagnosed, both underwent treatment and are doing well!

These are just a few of the highlights of some impactful volunteering our recipient has done. So, as you can see this year’s recipient not only continues to give back to her roots in Iowa but she is also giving back to our community right here in Central Illinois. Please join me in congratulating, Jessica Ford, the 2018 WIL Community Leader of the Year!

Chosen by the women in leadership board of directors, the Outstanding New Leader award recognizes Jess McMullin as a member who has made a noteworthy contribution to WIL over the last two years and has actively demonstrated her commitment and enthusiasm to the organization and our membership.

Our 2017-2018 Outstanding New Leader has a vibrant and inviting personality that has been such a great addition to our organization.  She is always willing to lend a hand where ever she is needed.  A few key comments from my fellow board members include:

"She is a symbol of what Women in Leadership stands for.  Engaging others, supporting them in their roles, and being an authentic leader".

"She has completely revitalized our social media presence on Facebook with informational and inspirational posts that have increased our visibility and has drawn more guests to our luncheons and various other events."

"She brings a positive attitude and jumped right in to her board position and mastered her duties quickly."

"She brings experience to the board that elevates our decision making and deepens our resources."

You have probably seen our award winner quietly taking pictures at various events.  Our award winner currently serves as Director of Sales & Marketing at SMG/Peoria Civic Center and is currently the Women in Leadership VP of Public Relations.

Jess is active in the community with Rotary Club of Peoria, the Illinois Society of Association Executives, Public Relations Association of Central Illinois, and of course, Women in Leadership of Central Illinois.  She is also a St Jude runner and belongs to the Sole Sisters Running Club!

We are overjoyed to have Jess as a part of our amazing organization.  It is my pleasure to introduce the 2017-2018 Outstanding New Leader award to…Jess McMullin.

© 2017 Women In Leadership of Central Illinois, PO Box 1521, Peoria, IL 61655  

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