Meet the 2020 Honorees
Young Womxn of Tomorrow
Onalaska High School
Claudia Delgado is described as a relentless advocate. She is also skilled in bringing others into important conversations, helps them to develop their own voice, and then empowers them to consider what a group of young people can collectively and collaboratively accomplish.
Claudia is a senior at Onalaska High School who actively participates in various clubs and organizations, including: Students for Dialogue and Social Change, Spanish Club, National Honor Society, Quiz Bowl, the City of Onalaska Arts Commission, and LINK Crew.
Claudia founded Students for Dialogue and Social Change as a way to help educate and give students a voice on current events and to foster meaningful discussion on how young people can get involved in making change. Based on the success of this club and her meaningful peer involvement, she is more hopeful than ever about having young people’s representative voices in future politics.
When Claudia is not busy with club activities, she is most likely spending time outside running, or hiking, practicing her saxophone, drawing, painting, or playing with her two dogs: Manny and Yogi Bear. Claudia will be attending a 4 year liberal arts college next fall. She will pursue a double major in Mathematics and Economics with hopes of using her education to simplify societal problems, analyze them from multiple angles, and share her findings with those who need help. She wants to continue to champion diversity of thought and ways to give everyone a voice, no matter the occupation she pursues after college. Congratulations, Claudia!
Young Womxn of Tomorrow
Holmen High School
Shantae Sheard is a dynamic senior at Holmen High School. Deeply passionate about equality, Shantae describes the deep impact that racism has had on her as a result of a racist incident last year. Lacking adequate support from school administrators, it was a critical time in her life that galvanized her into action to partner with a friend and a trusted teacher to create the Diverse Culture Alliance. As a place for minorities and allies to meet and have discussions about injustices in the school community, and country, Shantae’s goal with the Diverse Culture Alliance is to work on educating the community about racism and white privilege. This way, she hopes to ensure that others in the community do not have to experience racism. Congratulations, Shantae!
Sustaining Leader of Today
Caroline Wilker, MD
Mayo Clinic Health System
Dr. Caroline Wilker is the YWCA La Crosse 2020 Sustaining Leader of Today Honoree. Her exelplary leadership, passion and advocacy have substantially elevated efforts to affect necessary change within the Mayo Clinic and positively changing lives within the community.
Dr. Wilker has worked tirelessly over the last two decades to improve access to care, toward health equity, and in seeking social justice. She spent a year working full-time as a Lutheran Volunteer Corps member at the Zacchaeus Free Clinic in Washington D.C. While she was researching schizophrenia at the National Institutes for Mental Health (NIMH) she continued to volunteer in free clinics and homeless shelters. She has also volunteered in free clinics in St. Louis and Madison, WI. In Madison, she was a founding member of the HEALTH Free Clinic (Helping Educate and Link the Homeless Program – A Care Coordination Model for the Medically Underserved). She currently volunteers at St. Clare Medical Mission and was integral in securing a meaningful donation for patients to obtain dental care and supplies at Scenic Bluffs Community Health Center Dental Clinic.
In a leadership capacity, Dr. Wilker is respected by Mayo Clinic leadership as a member of the Executive Operations Team and in the community of La Crosse, Wisconsin – our community – in which she lives and serves. She is chair of the Mayo Clinic Diversity and Inclusion Committee in Southwest Wisconsin, is active at the highest level of leadership at Mayo Clinic in Southwest Wisconsin, and is chair of the Quality and Safety Committee. She considers health equity and social justice in each of these roles – ensuring quality measures are evaluated from a health equity perspective and that this data is used to improve health care access and equity. ensures that social justice, elimination of racism, empowerment of women and inclusion of all are central consideration of leadership conversations, policy development, and action. Dr. Wilker volunteers on the boards of the Greater La Crosse Diversity Council and St. Clare in addition to her clinical and leadership roles at Mayo.
She has introduced speakers at the La Crosse Women’s Fund, coordinated the White Coats for Black Lives movement at Mayo Clinic in Southwest Wisconsin, coordinated listening sessions around racism and health disparities and leads efforts to ensure women’ health and health equity remain the focus of conversations over time – this is something intrinsic to the nominee and a constant over decades. We are really fortunate to have such examplary leadership in Dr. Wilker with her unwavering dedication to using her influence toward the YWCA Mission - "Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women and Promoting Peace Justice Freedom and Dignity for All".
Dr. Wilker is also a dedicated wife and mum of two.
(Credit to Paul S. Mueller, M.D., M.P.H. Regional Vice President, Mayo Clinic Health System—Southwest Wisconsin Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Ethics, Mayo Medical School).
Olga Schleiter Memorial Philanthropic Award
Heidi and Scott Blanke
Heidi Griminger Blanke and Scott Brian Blanke were raised in Illinois and met at the University of Illinois. They married in 1977 and have three grown children and two grandchildren.
Scott spent his career at Mayo La Crosse as an otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon and retired three years ago. Since his retirement, Scott has become involved with Friends of the Library and looks forward to being even more active with that organization.
Heidi worked as an instructor at Viterbo University, as the executive director at WAFER, and most recently as a free-lance writer. She was on the YWCA board for six years and acted as secretary, vice-president, and president and is currently on the development committee. She has had the opportunity to serve on a number of nonprofit boards of directors during her 35 years in La Crosse and, once life returns to normal, will resume her volunteerism. Heidi is a member of Valley View Rotary and is on the board of Mississippi Valley Writers Guild. She and Scott both lead critique groups for the latter.
As the daughter of Holocaust survivor, and growing up among many, Heidi was made aware of racism at an early age. She and Scott recognize the systemic racism in the United States and wonder where their generation, which proclaimed peace, love & brotherhood, went wrong.
They look forward to their continued relationship with YWCA La Crosse and applaud the staff, donors, and volunteers who work hard to make eliminating racism and empowering women a reality.
Emily "Sis" Hutson Volunteer of the Year Award
The 2020 YWCA Volunteer of the Year Honoree is Michelle Richgels. Due to the cancelation of Circle of Friends this last spring, we'd like to honor her instead at this special YWCA La Crosse Tribute to Outstanding Womxn event.
Though she wouldn’t describe herself this way, people who know Michelle Richgels best would say she’s a consistent, optimistic, humble overachiever.
Since graduating with highest honors in accounting from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse, Michelle has developed an impressive resume in the world of accounting and financial analysis. (Little-known fact: Michelle worked as a financial analyst in the Netherlands for three years.) Today, she serves as controller at DBS Group, a design-build construction company based in Onalaska, Wisconsin.
Michelle is committed to the Greater La Crosse Community. She is especially passionate about empowering people on the margins of society and promoting self-sufficiency, so it’s no surprise that she serves as a Guardian Angel for Family & Children’s Center and as a member of the YWCA La Crosse board of directors.
In her spare time, Michelle enjoys days on the river and evenings around the fire with her husband Kelly and their 15-year-old twins Justin and Jenna. She is always up for a game of volleyball or a good book. Her most recent read is “Such a Fun Age,” a novel by Kiley Reid that explores race and privilege. She gives it two wholehearted thumbs up.
Congratulations on this recognition Michelle! Thank you for your truly amazing dedication and indespensable service to YWCA LaCrosse.
Community Project of the Year
Chaya Davis, Mia Davis, Diariana Herron & Brianna Washington
Logan High School
(Photos from left to right: Mia Davis, Chaya Davis, Diariana Herron, Brianna Washington)
This year's community project of the year award honors four young womxn living the YWCA mission through their collective work to eliminate racism and organize for community change. These honorees used their collaborative “voice” and leadership to highlight issues that were happening nationally and the inequities that they experienced locally.
Mia Simone Davis is a 14 year old freshman at Logan High School. As young activist in La Crosse County, Mia strives for racial equity in our schools and the community. She is the Vice President of the student organization Black Student Leaders. Mia's life goal is to be a social worker for families of color and students of color in school. Mia says, "I recently realized people of color were put in this system to fail. By being a social worker I will change the system. I will support families of color mentally, psychologically and financially and help lead them to fulfill their life goal and break the system of failing."
Chaya Davis is a sophomore at Logan High School. She is a founder/president of Black Student Leaders, a student based organization that fights for racial equality and fights against racial discrimination. Chaya is a young activist in the La Crosse community fighting for students of color to feel safe as well as racial equality. Chaya is the oldest child of 3 siblings helping out her single mom. Chaya's dream job is to be a nurse or the President of the United States. Chaya says, "As I’ve grown up I’ve learned that my voice and opinions are powerful and that I need to use them to make a change."
Brianna Washington is a 16 year old sophomore at Logan High School. Brianna is one of the co-Presidents of Black Student Leaders and has been part of this group for 4 years. She started BSL with Chaya Davis. Brianna is involved in Select Choir, Camerata, and Band. She work at Noodles and Company and enjoys traveling, protesting, being an activist, and meeting new people.
Diariana Herron is a high school activist. Originally from Chicago, Diariana moved to La Crosse in 5th grade. She really enjoys art and cooking and has 3 brothers whom she likes to try cooking different things for. Diariana has experienced a lot as a child dealing with divorced parents, depression, anxiety and terrible anger issues. Diariana says, "I realized one day, I wanted to do better; better for me and for my younger brothers, they mean the world to me really, so I fight and do my best everyday to live and do better for myself and others." Diariana enjoys hanging out with her friends and family and LOVES traveling with a passion, trying new things, and meeting new people. While those things can be scary sometimes, she still enjoys the adventures.
Congratulations Chaya, Mia, Diariana and Brianna we are so proud of your exemplary courage and leadership in the community of La Crosse.
Linda Riddle Community Advocate of the Year
Dr. Xong Xiong
Cia Siab, Inc.
Xong Xiong was born in 1979 in a refugee camp in Thailand. She came to the U.S. when she was 9 and has lived in the La Crosse area since. Xong has a Bachelor's degree in Art and Philosophy and a Master's degree in Education from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. She earned her Doctorate in Education from the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Her degree focused on Indigenous language and culture revitalization. Her research interests include international Indigenous people's movements, Hmoob women's critical research frameworks, Hmoob language and culture revitalization, traditional Hmoob oral knowledge, Hmoob education, and the threat of globalization to diversity, Indigenous languages and Indigenous cultures.
Dr. Xiong’s advocacy for Indigenous people’s rights led her and her late partner to create Widening the Circle, an annual education conference that focuses on the achievement gap of Hmoob and Native students in Wisconsin. In previous years, the themes of this two day conference have revolved around historical trauma, cultural competency, culture and language loss and revitalization, rebuilding healthier communities with Indigenous roots, and the intersection of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA) with patriarchy, racism, colonization, and oppression.
Dr. Xiong has been a longtime member of the La Crosse community and has close ties to the Hmoob community. Her advocacy for Hmoob women and youth started at a very young age when she would challenge unjust patriarchal practices that excluded her and her sisters. Dr. Xiong co-founded Cia Siab, Inc. in 2016 with the former staff of the Hmoob Center and local Hmoob community members; Cia Siab, Inc.’s mission is to build a culturally vibrant Hmoob community with Hmoob language and culture as the foundation. Through her work, she hopes to empower Hmoob youth to claim their voices and advance changes that will lead to a healthy and vibrant Hmoob community. This quote from an Australian Aboriginal activist best represents her life's work: "If we can imagine the injustice, then we can imagine its opposite, and we can have justice."
We are so thankful for the crucial work Dr. Xong Xiong does in our community!