Assemblymember Wallace Recognizes Local Women of Distinction

Nine local women were recognized for their extraordinary contributions to the community

Assemblymember Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster) recently honored several local women whose public service and support for the community earned them the title of Women of Distinction. The honorees were nominated by fellow community members during March, in recognition of Women’s History Month, and received the honor for their extraordinary contributions to first responder agencies, education, nonprofit organizations, community groups, and more.

“The Women of Distinction awards are an opportunity to recognize the unsung sheroes who are working hard to break barriers, support our community, set positive role models for girls and young women, and make Western New York a better place to live,” said Assemblymember Wallace. “This year, I had the privilege of honoring women who have done incredible work as first responders, community volunteers, educators, advocates, and more. I thank each of the honorees for all that they have done to serve the people of our community.”

The 2024 Women of Distinction of Assembly District 143 includes:

Jessica Calandra: the first woman to serve as the Chief of the Pine Hill Fire Department in the nearly century-old history of the fire company. Chief Calandra has protected and served her community as a Pine Hill firefighter for about a decade and risen through the ranks of the department. She serves alongside her mother, Connie, a longtime Pine Hill firefighter who currently acts as the emergency medical services captain, president, and commissioner.

Brandy Claar: a longtime volunteer for the Cheektowaga Warriors Youth Hockey Association who has currently serves as the registrar helper. She has donated her own funds and significant time to provide opportunities for young people to participate in youth sports.

Laurie Ferry: the Community Engagement Specialist for the Cheektowaga Central School District. Laurie has partnered with local law enforcement to encourage young people to make healthy decisions, collaborated with nonprofits like FeedMore WNY to connect students with volunteer opportunities to benefit the community, and assists with organizing veterans events to honor local service members. Her work has had a significant positive impact on the community and the Cheektowaga Central School District.

Cheryl Flick: a local foster parent and founder of the nonprofit WNY Foster Closet. Cheryl Flick and her husband have fostered nine children and adopted two of them, opening their home to help care for children in the foster care system. She founded the WNY Foster Closet, which provides clothing, toys, and furniture at no cost to local children in foster and kinship care.

Tiffany Lewis: the founder of Confident Girl Mentoring Program, Inc., a local not-for-profit. With Confident Girl Mentoring, Tiffany has helped local youth, primarily girls of color and teens from disadvantaged backgrounds, gain confidence and overcome issues ranging from coping with trauma to period stigma. Her work has helped improve confidence among numerous teens and young women, helping to set them on a pathway to success.

Gwen Mysiak: executive director of the P.U.N.T. Pediatric Cancer Collaborative. Under Gwen’s leadership, P.U.N.T. has helped numerous local families with the emotional, financial, and physical burden of a pediatric cancer diagnosis. Their work has helped give hope to families struggling with pediatric cancer and comfort to those who are grieving the loss of close family members.Gwen also oversees the Ultimate Compassion Program, which is working to establish a local grief center to help get bereaved families the support and services they need.

Marilyn Nixon: advocate for people with ostomies. Marilyn founded the Buffalo Ostomy Support Group to help Western New Yorkers who are struggling to adjust to life with an ostomy. The support group has been a valuable lifeline to individuals with ostomies. She is also a lifelong educator who worked as a teacher in Buffalo Public Schools for 35 years.

Stephanie Speaker: advocate for paratransit for people with disabilities. For about a decade, Stephanie has been a tireless advocate for Western New Yorkers with special needs. She has worked to expand local paratransit service and succeeded in passing funding for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority to study expanding the paratransit service area farther beyond existing bus lines.

Dr. Jenifer Willson: a longtime educator who has taught and trained mental health counselors for 25 years. She has educated countless mental health professionals through her tenure at the University at Buffalo, Medaille University, and Niagara University. Her work has helped to address the shortage of mental health professionals throughout our region and state, improving access to vital mental health care.