Left to right: Silas and Stella Burke, collecting the award for their mother who was in Mexico, Nancy Schimmel, Ginger Ogle, Suzoni Camp (hidden), Hope McDonnell, Vicky Alexander and Linda Schacht Gage.

By Ginger Ogle

Seven women were honored last night at the 2011 “Outstanding Women of Berkeley” awards ceremony, sponsored by the City of Berkeley Commission on the Status of Women.

Established in 1978, the Commission honors women who “live, work, or learn in Berkeley” and who have “demonstrated a strong track record of volunteerism, or, if in a paid position, have gone above and beyond their regular duties.” The winners were nominated by someone who knew them and two additional references supported the nominations.

The awards ceremony was held in the public meeting room at the downtown Berkeley Public Library to a festive, standing-room-only crowd. There was a performance half way through by the a-capella group The Organic Women’s Chorus, who sang original compositions about gravity, and the delicious produce available at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market.

The seven awardees are:

Vicki Alexander MD founded the Black Infant Health Program (BIH), which has served more than 500 African American women in Berkeley with the goal of improving infant birth weight and premature births in that population. Dr. Alexander is an activist and author who has a lifetime commitment to ensuring the health of women and children.

Jennifer Burke founded the Young Artists Workspace (YAW) in 2000 when she noticed an unused building at Totland that she thought would be great for art classes. In the years since, she has provided low-cost art classes to thousands of Berkeley children, taught stage craft  and set design, and instigated teen guerrilla art installations.

Suzoni Camp is Administrative Manager at Options Recovery Services, a Berkeley substance abuse treatment center that serves more than 1,600 clients annually and seeks to break “the cycle of addiction, mental illness, crime and homelessness”. Suzoni came to Options originally as a client in need of help, and immediately volunteered to help others, overcoming her own addiction, and progressing to a manager position there.

Linda Schacht Gage has served on the Boards of the Berkeley Public Library Foundation, the UC Library Advisory Board, the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, The Daily Californian, and the UC Board of Trustees. She has won two Emmy Awards and awards from the American Bar Association for her political coverage. She was also instrumental in the renovation of the downtown library and four branch libraries.

Hope McDonnell was  honored for her non-profit work over the past 38 years, including founding the Berkeley Farmers’ Market, starting two health food businesses, and founding or co-founding five health clinics for the homeless, HIV clients, and youth at risk,  such as the Youth Suitcase Clinic in Berkeley.

Ginger Ogle founded the Berkeley Parents Network in 1993 as a UC Berkeley grad student, and saw it grow exponentially from a group of 14 EECS grad students, to what is today an online community of 28,000 local parents and a website visited by 30,000 people a day from all over the world.

Nancy Schimmel is a renowned storyteller and published songwriter in Berkeley who co-founded the Plum City Players at La Peňa, and was one of the co-founders of Berkeley’s Indigenous People’s Day. A volunteer at Washington Elementary School, Nancy continues to perform at fundraisers for local and international causes.

Guest contributor

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  1. Hats off to all these visionary activists! I met Nancy Schimmel years ago when she visited Antioch College on tour with 2 films about other local treasures — her mother, singer/songwriter extraordinaire, Malvina Reynolds, and my favorite photographer, Imogen Cunningham. I’m sure learning about their colorful lives in part inspired me to leave Ohio for greener pastures. And the quality of life is even better thanks to Ginger Ogle’s brain child, the Berkley Parent’s Network, which helps break the isolation of raising kids. Women like these honorees make me proud to call this home.

  2. These honors are well-deserved. Nancy Schimmel has been a true cultural trailblazer by keeping the stories and myths of California’s indigenous peoples alive in the minds of school children, and by gently satirizing public debate in song. Anyone who’s ever seen the work of Jennifer Burke’s students will know that she has an astonishing ability to imprint the world’s artistic traditions, cultures and techniques on her students. Ginger Ogle, you’ve turned the concept of neighbor helping neighbor, parent helping parent into a worldwide phenomena replicated in major U.S. cities and throughout the world! I am thrilled that your contributions have been recognized! Congratulations, all.