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Super Women 2024

These 15 exceptional females are leading the path toward a brighter future for our community as well as upcoming generations of women.

Orlando Family Magazine annually honors women in the local community who are actively contributing to positive change. Through their generous donations of time, money and expertise, these women strive to make a difference and improve the world around them. Whether by establishing nonprofits or supporting charitable initiatives, this year’s cohort of 15 remarkable women is bound to motivate and uplift us all.

Lashea Reaves, Founder and Executive Director, 8 Cents in a Jar
Reaves was just 14 years old when her mother died due to hospital negligence, leaving her father a single parent of four daughters. After a malpractice lawsuit, the family received a large settlement. However, it was all gone in fewer than 24 months and the family was living below poverty and on public assistance. In 2002, Reaves enrolled at Florida A&M University. At the end of her freshman year, she became a single mother and eventually homeless, sleeping on the couches of collegiate friends. While struggling to raise her daughter, she adopted her younger sister, due to her father’s admittance into hospice. He died the next year. In 2005, Reaves, a college student and domestic violence survivor struggling to provide for her family, took a third job at Hancock Bank as a teller. With encouragement from her boss, Reaves “decided to stop limiting myself to debt and an impoverished mindset and to open myself up to learning how to manage my personal finances and create a life I wanted to live.” Reaves graduated cum laude in 2007 with a bachelor’s in business management and a minor in economics. After graduation, she purchased her first home. “For the first time in my life, I was no longer a recipient of public assistance,” she says. She advanced her career in financial services as an assistant vice president and later managed relationships with investment advisors toppling assets of more than $3 billion while working at Charles Schwab, “all because I created a financial plan as a teenager.” In 2016, Reaves founded 8 Cents in a Jar Inc., an award-winning nonprofit that helps create opportunities for students in marginalized communities to achieve intergenerational mobility through financial education. Reaves says the organization “represents a new beginning for students to save money and eradicate the cycle of generational poverty.”

Lindsey Phillips, National Director of Customer Experience & Engagement, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida
With nearly three decades of experience in behavioral health care, Phillips began her career working with individuals with autism and developmental disabilities while pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of Central Florida. During her graduate studies at UCF, Phillips was given the chance to contribute to the creation of a groundbreaking program for preschool students with autism in Central Florida. This endeavor required a collaboration with Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health Florida, a nonprofit organization dedicated to assisting the most vulnerable individuals in our communities. Initially joining as a part-time behavior analyst to establish the partnership, she eventually transitioned to a full-time clinician role. Over the course of 25 years, she has held various positions at Devereux, with the last 10 years dedicated to fostering partnerships and designing tailored programs for individuals with special requirements. According to Phillips, the most rewarding aspect of her job is “to ensure access to care for those who need it most, and to work with people who share a common goal of helping children and strengthening families.”

Jocelyn Pichardo, MD, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer, Community Health Centers Inc.
Dr. Pichardo obtained her medical degree from San Juan Bautista School of Medicine in Puerto Rico and completed her premedical education at the University of Puerto Rico. With over 25 years of experience in primary care, she has focused on addressing the needs of uninsured and underinsured patients in various community settings. She has been a part of Community Health Centers since 2015. Before assuming the role of chief medical officer, Dr. Pichardo held the position of chief of quality, overseeing quality improvement and assurance functions within the organization. Dr. Pichardo is an active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians and serves on the board of the Physicians Society of Central Florida. As to what initially attracted her to the world of medicine, Dr. Pichardo says, “I’ve always been passionate about helping others and making a meaningful impact. Health care provides a unique opportunity to directly improve people’s lives by improving their health, which is what drew me in. The combination of scientific advancement and the chance to contribute to the well-being of others is incredibly inspiring to me.”           

Jan Edwards, Founder and President, Paving the Way Foundation
Following a profound trip to Ethiopia where she learned of human trafficking and exploitation, Edwards felt compelled to take action against these often-silent crimes. Upon returning home, Edwards began researching and discovered that Florida has “the third-highest number of calls to the national trafficking hotline, behind California and Texas.” So Edwards founded Paving the Way Foundation, which over the past seven years has educated more than 30,000 children and adults from Miami to Washington D.C., Arizona and South Dakota. Edwards has helped pass legislation at the state level and is working to pass federal legislation to keep kids safe online and raise national awareness about this horrific crime. In 2017, Edwards wrote, co-directed and produced the award-winning film, Trapped in the Trade, which “shines a light on how children are easily and intentionally recruited into the world of sex trafficking.” Of the work her foundation does, Edwards says, “Our programs do more than educate about human trafficking and online exploitation; they empower youth to take action, save lives by creating connection, and interrupt the ‘bystander’ effect.”

Belinda Ortiz Kirkegard, President, National Entrepreneur Center
Kirkegard is a nationally certified economic development finance professional and has a master’s degree in public administration. She credits her classes at the University of Central Florida for piquing her interest in public administration, saying “the material just clicked for me.” She adds, “Then I had an incredible opportunity to intern for Orange County Chairman (now called Mayor) Linda Chapin and my public service snowballed from there.” In 2021, she was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, which oversees both Orlando International and Orlando Executive airports. In 2023, she became the first Hispanic female president of the National Entrepreneur Center. With over 25 years of public and private sector experience, Kirkegard has exceled in her new role, in which she leads “the center that houses or provides access to infrastructure for 19 nonprofits to train, coach or offer networking opportunities to our small business community.” When asked about her motivation and inspiration, Kirkegard responds, “My children motivate me—I want to make this the best community for their future. Our small businesses inspire me—there’s something magical about the entrepreneurial spirit.”

Ashley Vann, Founder and Executive Director, Victory Cup Initiative
With a background in wealth planning and entrepreneurship and an MBA from Emory University, Vann has a practical and influential approach to philanthropy, challenging traditional norms in charitable giving and inspiring leaders to make a meaningful impact on causes close to their hearts. Over a decade ago, Vann recalls having “the honor of crossing paths with incredible nonprofit leaders at the Edyth Bush Institute, witnessing firsthand their unwavering dedication to serving the most vulnerable in our community. Their stories stirred something deep within me, igniting a desire to take action and make a difference.” She created the Victory Cup Initiative, with a commitment to advancing the efforts of nonprofit organizations in the Central Florida area. With a team of devoted storytelling coaches, quarterly leadership labs and the generous contributions of the Orlando community, the nonprofit has granted nearly $3 million to deserving organizations. In addition to her role as founder, Vann also serves on the board of directors for the Heart of Orlando Young Life and The Young Men’s Service League, further demonstrating her dedication to community service.

Deborah Wiggins, First Lady of The Hope Church
For more than three decades, Wiggins has been a devoted member of The Hope Church, and for the last 17 years, she has had the privilege of serving alongside her husband, Archbishop Allen T.D. Wiggins. Affectionately known as “Lady D,” Wiggins spearheads Hope Cares, the focused and intentional efforts of the ministry to provide social impact. During the holidays, she generously gifts blankets and socks to residents of a nearby nursing facility and hundreds of individuals supported by the Christian Service Center. Wiggins is also instrumental in organizing Souper Sunday, a canned soup collection drive that coincides with the year’s biggest football game, with all donations going to the Christian Service Center. Wiggins finds great joy in helping others and giving back, saying, “I love to see the change that takes place in a person’s life or the life of a family when we help them with something that they could not do for themselves. I believe we are blessed and should be a blessing to others.”

Marie Kuck, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Nathaniel’s Hope
In 1997, Marie and Tim Kuck welcomed their third child, Nathaniel, who was born with multiple special needs. Throughout his short but meaningful life, Nathaniel endured surgeries, therapies and required around-the-clock care. After his passing four years later, the Kucks decided to create Nathaniel’s Hope, an organization dedicated to celebrating kids and adults with disabilities—who they call VIPs—as well as educating and equipping the community with programs to assist and enrich the lives of VIP families, in honor of their son. Kuck explains, “We call kids and adults with disabilities VIPs because we believe that every life has value and incredible purpose.” Kuck, an ordained minister who previously served more than 10 years in youth ministry, oversees the full-time ministry staff and hundreds of volunteers. She passionately advocates and educates churches on the practical ways to embrace and integrate individuals with disabilities into their congregations. Kuck proudly states, “Nathaniel taught us that each life has value and purpose. What may appear to be imperfect in the eyes of humans is perfect in the sight of God.”

Amanda Chidzikwe, Founder and CEO, She-Lion Foundation
Growing up in a poverty-stricken and male-dominated community in Zimbabwe, Chidzikwe always had a strong determination to achieve success and create opportunities for herself and other young women. Her academic achievements led her to become a Nelson Mandela Scholar and she later moved to the U.S., receiving a scholarship to pursue her studies and entrepreneurial aspirations. In 2000, she established the She-Lion Foundation, which provided scholarships and funding to more than 80 young women from underserved communities in Africa, enabling them to further their education. In 2021, the foundation expanded its reach and began serving young women in Central Florida through a mentorship program, in addition to its work in Zimbabwe. In Central Florida, the organization offers mentoring services, including classes on women empowerment, self-confidence, life skills and career development, as well as educational and entrepreneurial/financial literacy classes for young women. The nonprofit is dedicated to the education, empowerment and liberation of young women. Says Chidzikwe: “Our main goal has always been to bring about long-lasting change, crime reduction, women empowerment and positive impact to Central Florida youths and the world at large.”

Karen Keene, Jennifer Johnson and Traci Smith, Founders, ATHENA Orlando Women’s Leadership Inc.
In 2012, Keene, Johnson, and Smith, three businesswomen from Orlando, came together with a shared vision to create ATHENA Orlando Women’s Leadership Inc. Their goal was to establish a program that would facilitate connections and conversations between women business owners and executives who were aspiring to leadership roles and those who had already reached the top of their careers. The organization offers three core programs, including the ATHENA NextGen Thought Leadership Series that launched in 2014. This program spans over eight months and aims to bridge the gap for emerging women leaders in Central Florida. Participants gather once a month for a roundtable forum, where they exchange ideas, build relationships and learn from successful female executives across various industries. With 450 alumni, the program is now celebrating its 10th anniversary, and many have described it as life changing and empowering. Additionally, ATHENA has made a commitment to give back at the college level by establishing an endowed scholarship with the University of Central Florida Foundation to support female graduate students. The organization has donated nearly $150,000 to the endowment through the proceeds from their leadership programs. The trio plans to offer their program in-house to area businesses. Says Keene, “We can serve as an extension of the company’s resources to mentor women leaders.”

Beth Schumacher, Christine Gould, Stacie Resnik, Members, Warriors on Water
Warriors on Water, Orlando’s sole dragon boat team comprising breast cancer survivors, was established 15 years ago. Breast cancer survivors Schumacher, Gould, and Resnik credit WOW for aiding them in overcoming the challenges of their illness. “We are there when our sisters need us with an understanding it is impossible to have unless you have stared death in the face as we have,” Resnik says. Each woman is at a different stage in her cancer journey, and participating in this sport has helped them regain a sense of normalcy through camaraderie, support and increased physical activity. Schumacher notes, “Many women have never been athletes and have been amazed at how competitive they are.” Gould adds, “As a nonprofit group we do a lot of fundraising to keep our boat ‘afloat,’ socially get together individually and as a team, but most importantly give back to the community as much as we can.” As the team grows in both numbers and skills, their aspirations expand as well, with their sights set on competing in the 2026 IBCPC Dragon Boat Festival in Lac du Borget, France.