Our Board & Staff

Board Members

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Research Project Manager, Illinois Kids Development Study, University of Illinois

Mary Wakefield, President

Mary hails from the suburbs of Seattle, Washington and has worked and lived overseas in Italy, Turkey, and Mexico. She made her way to the midwest to attend graduate school at St. Louis University, earning a Masters of Public Health in their School of Public Health and Social Justice. She currently manages a research lab that studies environmental exposures and health outcomes for pregnant women and their children. In addition, she is very active in the Champaign-Urbana community, serving as: Vice President of the board for The Family Room; Assistant Chair for Placement Advisers (2019-2020) for the Junior League of Champaign Urbana; member of “Emerging Community Leaders Class” of 2019; and helping out parents of new babies as a volunteer with Sistering CU.

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Chief Advisor, Aerospace Engineering, University of Illinois

Laura Gerhold, Vice President

Laura Gerhold is the Chief Advisor for the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois. She also is a Medical Advocate for RACES, the Rape Advocacy, Counseling, and Educational Services. She is serving as the Vice President of the YWCA board. She chairs the governance committee and is a member of the marketing and development committee. Laura loves to travel and will take the opportunity to visit new cultures whenever she can. Laura’s passion to uplift women, eliminate racism and build a better community fits well within the mission of the YWCA.

Graduate Student, School of Social Work, University of Illinois

Jensy Joseph, Secretary

Jensy Joseph is currently pursuing a Master's in Social Work at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign School of Social Work. During her undergraduate degree, she had the chance to intern with the YWCA University of Illinois and soon after joined the team as a board member. She is a proud member of the marketing and development committee at the YWCA. Jensy had a wonderful opportunity to travel Europe for a study abroad program where she truly felt and witnessed the resiliency of women. Jensy has found that the mission and work of the YWCA starts with a dedicated team that embraces and supports all people in our community with real action. She has felt empowered by the YWCA to excel and stand out and that motivates her to empower others.

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Humanities Professor, Parkland College

Patti VerStrat

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Assistant Manager, Providence at Sycamore Hill Community

Veonia Gross

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Integrative Wellness & Life Coach, C A Better U

Bernice Dallas

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Assistant Attorney General, Illinois Attorney General's Office

Bridget Schott

Bridget Schott is an Assistant Attorney General for the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.   Prior to joining the Attorney General’s Office, she worked as a prosecutor in Champaign County, focusing on serious felonies, criminal sexual assaults and felony domestic batteries and other domestically related crimes.  It was there that she truly learned the resiliency of women, and became an advocate for women from all walks of life. Solidifying this for Bridget have been her two mission trips with Copper Creek Church to the Lisanjala area of Malawi in Africa, where she observed the strength and joy of women holding their families together.  Bridget has found that the mission and work of the YWCA will build that same resiliency, strength and joy in the women of our community.  Within the YWCA Board, Bridget serves on both the Finance committee and the Advocacy committee.

Legal Assistant, Antone, Casagrande & Adwers, P.C.

Vanessa Cheng

Vanessa Cheng is currently a Legal Assistant at a business immigration law firm based in metro-Detroit. She is also currently a Research Assistant for the CoronaNet Research Group, where she tracks government policy responses to COVID-19 and collects data across countries. Vanessa earned a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2020. During her undergraduate studies, she interned for the Chicago Bar Foundation's Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP), a legal incubator that helps new attorneys develop socially conscious law practices to service low and middle income Chicagoians. 

Vanessa also got the chance to intern for the YWCA when she was a student. Upon graduating, she soon after joined the team as a board member. She is a proud member of the finance committee at the YWCA. She found her internship experience rewarding and empowering as a student. Therefore, as a board member, she is motivated to advance the YWCA's mission to empower others.

Undergraduate Student, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, University of Illinois

Sharon Abraham

Sharon Abraham is currently a junior pursuing an Econometrics and Quantitative Economics degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. She is part of the Advocacy committee at YWCA as she strongly believes in standing up and providing a voice for those in need. She has previously volunteered in organizations that strive to serve marginalized communities, and has seen the effects of positive outreach firsthand and wishes to do so in the Champaign Urbana community. YWCA’s mission to empower individuals is one she strongly holds close to her heart, and seeing the positive effect their work has on communities motivates her to keep striving to give back to her community.

Staff

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Executive Director

Andrea Rundell

Andrea is unabashedly in love with the mission of “eliminating racism and empowering women.” Residing in Champaign-Urbana since 1992, and working as a professional in the nonprofit sector since 1998, she originally came to Urbana to work on a PhD in Philosophy, but was inexorably drawn to the high-stakes, lucrative world of local nonprofits. Andrea has worked on statewide healthcare advocacy, facilitated teen parenting groups, and been Vice President of Community Impact at United Way of Champaign County. Most recently she served as the Director of Programs for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank, and she continues to be passionate about hunger in the US. She proudly served as Chair of the local Human Services Council and was a founding member of the Latino Partnership of Champaign County.

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Program Coordinator

Kate Ross

Kate is a lifelong Illinoisan and University of Illinois alum. She is passionate about empowering women, destigmatizing mental illness, and dismantling systemic racism. Her local volunteering, past and present includes: mentoring a teen mom with The GOALS Project, serving families with newborns at Sistering CU and serving on the IDEA Women's Mental Health Advisory Board.

Program Coordinator

Denise Taylor

Denise has over 35 years of experience working in non-profit agencies focused on community health, child development, and public education, in Chicago and in South America. She holds Master's degrees in cultural anthropology and in public health/epidemiology and has a certificate in infant mental health.  Both personally and professionally, her work has been driven by a commitment to social justice from a feminist perspective. She is happy to be back in her hometown of Urbana to help disrupt racism and promote the empowerment of women.

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