Peoria NOW’s Year 2011 Women’s History Month Awards Ceremony

See the Journal Star's write-up* of the event. (*requires Adobe Reader to view)

Keynote speaker was Dr. Rita Ali, executive director of diversity at Illinois Central College.  Her theme was women mentoring women.

Following Dr. Ali's inspirational presentation, awards were given as follows…

Photo left to right: Ketra Mytick, PFD Division Chief Melanie Anderson, Barbara Miller, Jeanne Anders, Casey Schmitt, Doris Symonds.  Sitting in front is Dr. Rita Ali, keynote speaker for the event.


Photo by Ginny Nailing.


Ketra Mytich is being honored as a champion for women.  She has been a powerful force working to eliminate gender-related obstacles to credit, which has had the critical effect of enabling women to create their own businesses.    

Ketra was one of only 3 female practicing attorneys when she opened her law practice in Peoria in 1980.  So, she's witnessed a lot of changes since then. She was enraged by women's lack of access to credit.  

For example, back then, if a wife and husband owned a business together and he died, the wife needed a man to sign for a loan to continue the business.  A woman could only get a credit card if a man signed.  If the man died, even if the woman paid the bill faithfully for 30 years with her own money, she still needed another man to sign to continue the credit.  

A woman of action, Ketra co-founded the Peoria Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners and was active at the national level of this organization.  Through this organization and as an individual, she successfully lobbied for legislation which increased women's access to credit.  Ketra still remembers the bill:  HR5050.  

She also provided, and still provides, individual assistance to women facing credit discrimination and even offers educational opportunities about credit, including in high schools.

Through Ketra's efforts and those of her colleagues, today more than 11 million firms are at least 50% owned by women, and women everywhere use their own credit everyday, taking their access to credit for granted, oblivious to the important contributions made by foremothers like Ketra.

In addition to the aforementioned accomplishments, Ketra is also active in our community through a number of local organizations, including the American Cancer Society, Peoria City Beautiful, and the YWCA.  She has authored 3 books.  

She was recently recognized by Bradley University and WMBD as the first recipient of the Leadership Award for The Business Community.

The Peoria Chapter of the National Organization for Women is honored to recognize Ketra as a pioneer who blazed a trail of progress for women in such important ways with our Women's History Month Award.


We honor Melanie Anderson as a pioneer woman firefighter and for her encouragement of women and girls in the Peoria Fire Department.    

Melanie literally has gone where no woman has gone before.  As the first woman hired as a firefighter by the City of Peoria, which was in 1983, she has gone on to blaze many Peoria Fire Department firsts:  

  • Fire Engineer,
  • Fire Captain,
  • Fire Training Supervisor,
  • Battalion Chief of Special Operations,

and now

  • Division Chief of Fire Prevention.

She has become so highly respected by her colleagues, that her input is considered invaluable in the hiring and promotional processes within the Fire Department.  How wonderful to have someone with her perspective participating in the Fire Department's hiring process, and what a compliment to her judgment and the high regard of those with whom she works.

Melanie is not content with her own personal achievements, as fantastic as they are.  No, she is committed to forwarding the progress on to future generations.  

She actively encourages recruitment of women and minorities into the fire service.  

Furthermore, Melanie contributes to the community through her involvement with the Tri-County Urban League and with a program called ELITE, which is based in area high schools and through which mentoring is provided for at-risk youth.  

Melanie is a true pioneer of new opportunities previously unavailable to each young woman and little girl who wants to grow up to be a firefighter.  How many were told, throughout the ages, no, you can't do that?  No more!

She is an inspiration to all women entering traditionally male-dominated professions.

The Peoria Chapter of the National Organization for Women is delighted to honor Melanie Anderson with a Women's History Month Award for her many contributions to the advancement of women.


Barbara Miller is the current president of Illinois NOW, a task she accepted in 2010 when Bonnie Grabenhofer, then state president, was elected to the National NOW management team.  Barbara has also served as president of Peoria NOW for several years.

As State president, Barbara has reorganized the board so Illinois NOW could respond more quickly to lobbying opportunities and the needs of member organizations.  She has worked to support local NOW groups, especially those on university campuses.

Barbara is a social worker employed at a local clinic.

HARTS (Jeanne Anders accepting on behalf of)

There are a group of programs sponsored by The Center for Prevention of Abuse that are working with young people to end bullying and to help them learn how to build healthy relationships.

As the National Organization for Women, we've selected one of these programs to honor today because it focuses on young women and girls.  At the same time, we recognize the vital importance of all of The Center's programs that counter bullying and other unhealthy relationships, whether working with young women or men.  

The program we honor today is called HARTS, which stands for Helping All Relationships To Be Safe.  It was started in 2004 and has served over 1700 young women and girls from grades 3 – 12.  

In the HARTS program, groups of 10 or fewer participants meet once a week.  They also become actively involved in several community events and service projects, using the skills they have learned.  The 3 goals of the program are:

  • To offer young women and girls the tools they need to form healthy relationships with personal bouondaries.
  • To increase knowledge of self-empowerment and raise self-esteem by exploring a range of educational and occupational opportunities.
  • To offer an increased knowledge of learning how to respond and deal with violence at home, school, or in a dating relationship.

Just think!  Over 1700 young women in our community have benefited from this program, acquiring the tools to be able to live lifestyles free of violence!  That's real change!

Here are a couple of real life quotes about the program.

  • An 8th grade student reported:  "I used to cut myself but, because of HARTS, I no longer do.  Now, I know that I deserve better than that."
  • Counselor from Mark Bills Middle School:  "I'm so glad that you're here.  In a world of mixed messages for our young ladies, these girls really need you.  I know that, in the long run, a program like this makes the world a better place."

Accepting the award for this special program is a very special person.  Jeanne Anders has been the Supervisor of School-Based Prevention Services at The Center for Prevention of Abuse for 2 years.  

Previously, she was a Prevention Educator for 5 years, implementing the bullying prevention initiative in 9 elementary schools, and facilitating programming in child sexual abuse prevention and healthy relationships in District 150 and Tri-County schools.  She's obviously a woman determined to make a difference in the lives of young women and girls.  

The Peoria Chapter of the National Organization for Women is priveleged to present a Women's History Month Award to the HARTS program of The Center for Prevention of Abuse, to be accepted by Jeanne Anders.


Casey Schmitt is a dedicated middle school counselor who consistently goes above and beyond her job duties to encourage and enable her students to stay in school, to believe in themselves, and to pursue their dreams.  She works at Manual Middle High School in Peoria.  

Casey has contributed to the lives of her students in many ways, but today we are singling out her achievements in advocating, developing, and supporting programs and activities to enrich the lives of young women.  

Devoted to this mission, Casey runs several groups to help young women facing barriers to achieving their life goals.  These include groups for teen mothers struggling to complete their high school education, and other groups for young women in middle school with anger issues that impede their educational, employment, and relational aspirations.

Casey is known as an extraordinarily effective counselor who forms very tight bonds and trusting relationships with the young women with whom she works.  The young women are inspired by Casey's faith in them, as evidenced by her devotion to their issues and academic achievement.  

As an example. Casey's Principal told me of a recent experience in which a young woman in their school lost her mother in a tragic fire in their home.  Single-handedly, Casey organized a campaign to raise funds for this young woman and her family, raising several hundred dollars.   Largely because of Casey's support through this campaign and in other important emotional ways, this young woman was helped to overcome this tragedy in her life.  She is continuing her studies at Manual and has not strayed fron her personal goals.

One of her co-workers wrote of Casey the following:  "Compassionate, caring, loving, and devoted…skillfully she avails herself to students and their families in times of need or crisis.  Casey unselfishly serves, never expecting recognitions or honors…but assuredly she deserves both."

The Peoria Chapter of the National Organization for Women couldn't agree more. For her advocacy on behalf of young women, enabling them to remain in school, living the lives they choose for themselves, fostering belief in themselves, we are honored to present Casey with the Women's History Month Award.


Doris Symonds is a business woman with a passion for helping women to create small businesses.  

She's been a high school business teacher, then retired from Illinois Central College as the Assistant Director of Human Resources.  Retirement presented Doris with the opportunity to increase her commitment to help women fulfill their dreams to create their own small businesses!  Having your own business.  Being your own boss.  Running things your own way.  Following your vision.  That's woman power!  

In 2007, she founded the Ladies Who Lunch Their Businesses To Success networking group.  This group provides opportunities for women entrepreneurs to get together, to share information about their small businesses, and to discuss issues on how to run successful businesses.  

Also, Doris is President of TALK, which stands for Teaching and Learning for Knowledge.  It's a company that brings women together to create small businesses, networking, and making referrals.  She advises women about business growth and procures major companies seeking to attract the lucrative market segments of small women business owners.  

Doris has perfected the art of networking, the power of women working together to help each other realize their dreams.

Doris has received many awards for her leadership in the area of women's business networking and education.  For example, in June of this year, she will be honored as the Women in Business Champion of the Year by the United States Small Business Administration at a special event in Chicago.

To top it all off, Doris is an author and renowned public speaker, and she contributes the profits from these activities to local charitable organizations whose mission is to support programs for women and girls.

Doris has touched the lives of many women, enabling their dreams to come true. For her outstanding leadership and contributions to progress for women's equality, the Peoria Chapter of the National Organization for Women is honored to present Doris with the Women's History Month Award.

Dr. Rita Ali

Dr. Rita Ali is the Executive Director of Diversity at Illinois Central College.  Her broad professional experience includes work as a community organizer, vocational counselor, youth programs coordinator, director of multicultural student services, and information technology executive.  

Dr. Ali has been recognized locally and nationally for her work in establishing innovative diversity programs and instituting healthy community dialogue.  She has conducted extensive research in the area of mentoring.  Her published dissertation, The Relationship Between Mentoring African American Professionals and Their Perceptions of Career Success, documents the traits and characteristics of effective mentoring relationships.  Her book, Role Models:  Profiles of Successful African American Professionals in Peoria, Illinois, is a tool used locally to connect local African American youth with area role models.  She has collaborated with key leaders at the college and in the community to launch a comprehensive, aggressive strategy to effectively recruit and retain students of color in post-secondary and higher education programs and institutions.

Dr. Ali is a graduate of Bradley University, University of Illinois at Springfield, Capella University, and Walden University.  She holds a bachelor’s degree in Human Services Management, a master’s degree in Education Administration, an MBA, and a PhD in Organization & Management.  She currently serves on the board of the Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity (PCCEO) and on the City of Peoria Police-Community Relations Committee.  She is the Chair of the Manual High School Advisory Council and President of the King Holiday Committee of Peoria, Inc.