Jill Wilcox and Ruthe Anne Conyngham remember being surprised, but also honoured, when they were announced in their respective years as Women of Excellence award winners.
In 2015, however, the two are serving as co-chairs as the YMCA of Western Ontario honours eight new individuals with their 2015 Women of Excellence Awards. This year’s award winners will be announced Tuesday, Feb. 10, in the atrium of the YMCA Centre Branch (382 Waterloo St.).
For Wilcox, who was named a Women of Excellence winner two years ago in the business and professions category, the event — and the award — holds a special place.
“I can still remember the day I got that phone call. To be honest, I never thought I would win such a thing,” Wilcox said. “Being nominated was special, but to reach the point where you actually receive the award, it was pretty remarkable.”
Wilcox said it was “wonderful to be recognized,” but being recognized also gave her “a whole level of awareness” of the work being done in London by a diverse range of women.
The Women of Excellence awards are presented in an equally diverse number of categories, honouring achievements in sectors such as arts and culture, education and training, science and technology, sports and fitness, not to mention the business sector Wilcox was honoured in and the community and volunteerism category in which Conyngham was recognized in 2011.
For Conyngham, becoming a community volunteer opened up a different view of the community.
Before she started volunteering, Conyngham said she didn’t understand how important community involvement is.
“I was flat out surprised, but also delighted. I thought how incredible it was to be honoured this way,” Conyngham said. “I think it's important these women are recognized. It shines a spotlight on everything that is going on. I think that strengthens our community.”
Wilcox said it is important for women to have role models in the community. But also, the awards recognize women who are often “so humble, they just go about doing great things every day.”
Conyngham agreed it is important for women in the community to be recognized, particularly as even those involved in choosing the winners don’t always know what it is they do until their nomination is being discussed.
She points to sitting in with this year’s selection committee as it narrowed down the possibilities.
“When I think about the winners this year, so many of them have flown under the radar,” Conyngham said. “It was on the strength of their nomination, on the strength of their contributions. It didn’t matter they weren’t well known. I think that tells us we have a very vibrant community.”
Conyngham said being involved as co-chair has been “just as lovely an experience,” as it was to actually receive her own award.
Wilcox agreed, adding the YMCA has made things easy for them by having a strong team in place to ensure another successful event.
That success is important because in addition to honouring the women who will receive awards, the accompanying gala — which takes place this spring — also serves as a fundraiser for YMCA programming.
“We obviously want to get as many people out to the event as possible out; we want over 1,000 people,” Wilcox said. “In 2013 they raised about $163,000 for the YMCA Strong Kids program. So not only does the night recognize women of excellence, but also the fundraising allows kids to go to camps, attend programs they would not have otherwise been able to.”
For more information, visit http://ymcawo.ca/womenofexcellence. The 2015 Women of Excellence Gala will be held on Thursday, May 7 at the London Convention Centre.