2015 State Young Mothers of the Year

ALABAMA - ASHLEY McDONALD GANN

Ashley is a loving wife, proud mother of 1 (expecting #2 in August 2015) and hard working Chief Meteorologist. A Boys and Girls Club board member, she received her bachelor's degree from Auburn University's prestigious school of engineering before obtaining her master's degree in meteorology from Mississippi State University. An active member of her church, First Baptist Montgomery, Ashley will take any chance to travel, including mission trips to Cambodia and Uganda where she works with young girls to help prevent human trafficking. At church Ashley pours into the hearts of 11th grade girls as their bible mentor and is very involved in the preschool ministry. Ashley and her husband are childhood friends, turned soul mates; they even share the exact same birthday of May 11th (same year too). Ashley enjoys hot chocolate, a good book, and sunshine.

ALASKA - VALERIE OWENS

Valerie Owens was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska… a long time ago. She was lucky to have been born to wonderful parents who valued God, family, health, learning, and freedom. In the midst of attending college and majoring in education, she managed to travel and expand her horizon. She went to Northern Europe with a student group and stayed with local families. After a year of being a nanny in Maryland and Alabama, she served a mission for her church in Virginia. While back home to work in Alaska for a summer, she met the man of her dreams and married Dan Owens. They have four children who became an integral part of her life mission. She chose to homeschool her kids and teaches local community classes. Her family spends time involved in church, education, theater, music, and finding joy in all they can.

ARIZONA - COURTNEY GEHL

Originally from Mesa, Arizona, Courtney Gehl has had the privilege of an exciting young life! Growing up in a family of 4, Courtney traveled extensively throughout the world as a young adult, and was an accomplished athlete in school. Holding the record for the highest number of varsity numbers of any female athlete in the history of her high school, Courtney had a tremendous amount of success in both academics and athletics in high school and college. After playing tennis in college and graduating Suma Cum Laude from Arizona State University, Courtney jumped into the political arena working for Vice President Dan Quayle. After several years in politics, Courtney took some time away to attend Dallas Theological Seminary, studying Christian Theology. Falling just short of receiving her Masters Degree, Courtney moved to marry her best friend, Jason Gehl. Moving to Hudson, Wisconsin, Jason and Courtney began their wonderful life together. After 13 years of marriage and 5 children (ages 7, 6, 4, 2, 1), Courtney would consider herself the most blessed person on the planet. Her relationship with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and her husband Jason, have given her everything she needs to be who God has called her to be, a wife a mother.

CALIFORNIA - AMANDA NOLAN

Amanda Nolan was born and raised in Rancho Cucamonga, Ca. She married her High School sweetheart, Greg, and is mother of three children (twins, Luke, and Makayla, and Emily).Amanda graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Whittier College and completed her Multiple Subject Credential at the University of La Verne. During college, Amanda worked at the Whittier Boys & Girls Club while interning at Intercommunity Child Guidance Center. After college, Amanda worked as a Program Supervisor at Ability First and later as an Academic Instructor at OPARC. Amanda is now a stay at home mom, Founder and President of myTeam Triumph- Southern California Chapter, PTO President, business owner/partner of Party Perfect Event Styling, and member of Beta Sigma Phi.Amanda is a woman who supports her family while hoping to make a positive impact on the people and communities around her.

COLORADO - SHALYN HEATH

Shalyn always knew she wanted to be a mother. She was blessed to marry early in her life and to have five wonderful kids. Shalyn really enjoys the challenges kids bring as well as that of raising a family on one income. Most days she can be found at home managing those daily demands while still staying involved in her community. Shalyn volunteers in her kid’s classrooms frequently, has served on her neighborhood HOA Board of Directors, and currently is a volunteer leader of a large youth program at her church. Of all her accomplishments, her most-prized are having seen her children's first steps, heard their first words, and being there to wipe away their tears and offer words of encouragement. She truly cherishes the everyday moments, and watching her children learn and grow. Although motherhood hasn't always been exactly what she expected, she absolutely loves every minute of it.

CONNECTICUT - ORLI KATZ

Orli Katz was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1979. At the age of six, her family moved to Miami Beach, Florida and Orli attended a Jewish day school, where she began developing a deep sense of connection with God, as well as the skills that would eventually see her through to adulthood. In school, Orli discovered her passion for writing, acting, art and volunteer work. Orli is currently a licensed hypnotist under the auspices of the National Guild of Hypnotists. She uses her skills to help people achieve their goals by tapping in to the subconscious mind's unlimited capabilities.She is also a freelance writer, community volunteer and, most importantly, a devoted wife and mother of four precious children.  Although Orli works from home part time, she is a full time stay at home mom and she is grateful to God for all of the manifest blessings in her life.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA - LAYLI MILLER-MURO

Layli Miller-Muro is the Founder and Executive Director of  Tahirih Justice Center (www.tahirih.org), a national non-profit organization dedicated to protecting courageous women and girls standing up against human rights abuses in their communities and families through the provision of legal aid and public policy advocacy. She founded this organization in 1997, following her involvement in a high-profile case that revolutionized asylum law in the United States. She has led the organization in its service to over 17,000 women and girls. She has received numerous honors for her work, including being named one of the “100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs” by Goldman Sachs, and one of the “150 Fearless Women in the World” by Newsweek Magazine/Daily Beast. Ms. Miller-Muro received her JD and MA in International Relations from American University. She lives with her husband and three young children near Washington, DC.

FLORIDA - BETSY OPYT

PERSISTENT. This stand-alone word was given to a young 17-year-old Betsy (Bobel) Opyt by one of her gymnastics coaches. At the time she didn’t know why such a word tagged along with her throughout her life, but as an adult, mother, wife, and businesswoman, this is the word that defines all that she embraces in life. Betsy wakes up every morning with a purpose in life—she loves her family, has a passion for her career, and enjoys a wholehearted zest for life. She breathes energy and her undivided attention into each project she takes on. Betsy knew her calling in life when she was 14 years old: to become a registered dietitian, health coach, and motivator for change. Her main goal? Positively impacting lives. Betsy lives by these simple words: Your Focus Becomes Your Reality. Her persistent focus allows her to tackle anything life presents to her.

GEORGIA - NANETTE O’NEILL

Nanette's family adventure began in 1997 when she married Michael. She recently graduated from the University of Georgia with her Masters in Social Work. The Army stationed them in Missouri where Nanette began working as a therapist. She obtained her LCSW in 2000. Nanette participated in the Family Readiness Group and her local church. Their first child, Emma was born in 2001. Nanette worked part-time until they moved to Georgia nine months later. Nanette became a stay at home mom. While in Georgia, Nanette worked with the Family Readiness Group through the unit's deployment to Iraq. Michael separated from the Army and the family moved to Perry Ga. Nathaniel (2004) and Cecilia (2007) where born there. Since settling in Perry, Nanette has taught adult Sunday school, bible studies and leads an annual Women's conference (2006). She serves in missions. She is current working as a Guardian Ad Litem.

HAWAII - LAURIE HORITA

Laurie Horita resides in Pearl City with her Husband and 4 children. Laurie graduated from Kamehameha Schools Kapalama in 1997.  After returning from a mission in 2002, Laurie married her high school sweet heart, Joshua Horita. In 2009, Laurie joined the Parent Teacher Group at Pearl Ridge Elementary where she helps plan and organize fundraising events for the students. Along with her commitment to her children’s education, Laurie serves diligently in her church responsibilities. She also assists in organizing her children’s various soccer and dance teams as “Team Mom”. Laurie donates her time to the Boys Scouts of America and Hawaii Food Bank. In 2013, Laurie was diagnosed with Stage 2b breast cancer. After having 2 surgeries to remove the cancer, chemo therapy and radiation over the course of the year, Laurie is a survivor and inspiration to her family and friends.

IDAHO - ANNA McHARGUE

Being surrounded by a large, loving Sicilian family, Anna McHargue learned early the importance of family and family tradition. To this day, she loves the times when her own family is seated around a table, sharing in conversation, food, and daily life. Raised by a single mother, Anna is the oldest of five children. Throughout school, she earned good grades and played and enjoyed all kinds of sports. She attended Pepperdine University where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and English. After college, she moved to Northern California where she met her husband, Mike, to whom she has been married for 19 years. Later, she attended graduate school at San Jose State University and earned a Master’s in Higher Education.  Today, Anna is an editor with a local publishing firm. She and her husband live in Boise and have three children, Elena (14), Jack (12) and Gabriella (7).

KENTUCKY - HEATHER SPENCER

Heather Spencer was raised in Louisville, KY. She met her husband Greg, an army lieutenant, at her alma mater, Western Kentucky University. Married in 2000, they welcomed their first son Sam in 2001. Heather’s family moved to Fort Riley, KS in September 2001. At the end of 2002 Fort Riley was preparing for war, while Heather and Greg welcomed Ethan their second son. In the spring of 2003 Greg deployed to Iraq, returning to the states in 2004 only to be deployed again just 10 months later; days after the birth of their third son Gabe. In 2006 Heather and her family moved to Northern Virginia and welcomed three more children. Joel (2007), Abby (2009) and Daniel (2012). In 2012 the Spencers returned to Kentucky and in 2014 Greg retired from the army. Heather currently resides in Prospect, KY with her children and husband. Raising children and supporting her husband is Heather’s full time job!

LOUISIANA - RACHEL STUKER

Rachel Stuker was the second oldest of 6 kids and embraced the crazy lifestyle that comes with a big family. Rachel was a happy, care free child that enjoyed life and being social. As she grew, she dabbled in sports, music and dance. She chose to focus on dance because of the fun social atmosphere, and the physical and emotional challenge being an artistic dancer brought. She received her BFA with a Ballet Emphasis and often thought about the type of mother she would be, and how her natural characteristics would be beneficial in raising children. She had her first child in 2009 with her pre medical student, husband she had married in 2007. She spent the next 6 years, raising kids, moving to support her husband in his medical school career and teaching dance whenever possible while they moved to different places.

MARYLAND - ALYSCIA CUNNINGHAM

Alyscia was raised with a Caribbean heritage, her parents being from the island of Trinidad and Tobago. Her hometown is Corona, NY but she now resides in the Washington, DC area. Alyscia is a granddaughter, daughter, wife, mother of 3, sister, aunty, cousin and friend to many.  Professionally, owner of Uprising Builders, LLC, author and an accomplished photographer specializing in promoting our natural beauty because she believes the media does a good job of focusing on our insecurities by bombarding us with ads proclaiming that their appearance without enhancements is inadequate or faulty.  Alyscia has contributed to National Geographic, Discovery Channel, America Online and the Smithsonian Institution. She has exhibited her photography throughout the United States and her photographs have been published in several books. Alyscia is a master of her craft, and her calm and opened personality allows her clients to open up and show their inner selves.

MONTANA - LAURA McKEE

Laura McKee has resided in Montana her whole life. She graduated from Montana State University-Billings in 2000 with a Bachelors Degree in Sociology. She has worked full time as a State Probation and Parole Officer for over 14 years. She married Jason in 1999 and they have two boys, Kyle 12 and Quinn 7. Quinn was born with a rare Chromosome Deletion called 13q- and Laura has become educated and steadfast in her efforts to ensure Quinn and other children receive the services they need to assist them. She is the Parent Chair for the State Family Support Services Advisory Council (FSSAC). She is involved with her state Parent Center, is a member of the Billings Area Family Violence Task Force, is involved in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for both of her sons. And she always makes time to camp and fish with her family.

NEBRASKA - BARB SOLOMON

Barb Solomon juggles a very busy schedule. First and foremost in it is her home which consists of husband Steve, daughter Greta (age 17) and their two dogs which they adore. She is blessed with great friends and enjoys her time with them. She works full time as the Special Event and Volunteer Coordinator at the Center for People in Need. The Center strives to help low income individuals and families achieve economic self-sufficiency providing food, household goods, job training, ESL classes, help navigating health issues and much, much more. She is the founder of Clothesline. Clothesline provides free, current and stylish clothing to low income kids in middle and high schools. It requires constant sorting and distribution of clothes to maintain a complete inventory in the eleven school closets that have been built so far. The program continues to grow and serve more kids each year.

NEVADA - ERIN PHILLIPS

Erin moved to Las Vegas, Nevada in elementary school. She graduated from Bonanza HS in 1999 and moved to Reno, Nevada to attend college at UNR. She majored in psychology with a minor in political science. After graduation she married her high school sweetheart, Matt. Erin worked at a drug and alcohol rehab center and later became a psychiatric social worker before giving birth to her first son in 2006. After Jackson was born, Erin embarked on a new career, full time mom. Matt and Erin welcomed two more sons, Cooper and Lincoln, in the next five years. And in 2014, they became foster parents to a sweet baby girl. Erin is active in her community, raising community awareness about issues affecting parental rights, and forming the group Power2Parent. She is also active in the PLT at her children's school, as well as leading young moms in the community in a biweekly meeting called MOPS (mothers of preschoolers). Even with all the fulfilling activities Erin takes part in, she is most grateful for the opportunity to be a wife and a mom.

NEW YORK - TAMARA SOUTH

Tamara Nicole South was born June 28,1981 in Bronx, NY. She lost her mother at the age of six to A.I.D.S and her father at the age of thirteen. Currently, Tamara resides in Bronx, NY with her husband. Tamara lost both of her parents and she seeks to help others overcome bereavement of parents. Tamara received her undergraduate degree in Human Development from Binghamton University and her Master's degree from New York University. She is an active member in her church serving on scholarship committee, planning committee, and bereavement ministry. She is the President of Anti Suicide Campaign in Bronx, NY.

NORTH DAKOTA - ANNELI OSMOND

Anneli Osmond lives in Bismarck, North Dakota, with her husband, Steve, and their four children, Aili, Paul, Elyssa, and William. As the oldest of seven children, Anneli learned what it means to be a devoted mother by watching the positive example of her own beautiful mother. Anneli earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology. Along with this degree, she has worked and volunteered to help children and young adults with special needs. She also served a mission for her church in Scotland, through which she shared a message of faith and true principles that build strong, happy families. Presently, Anneli is a member of the Relief Society, one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world. She also spends time each week planning lessons and activities that guide young women to be righteous women, leaders, and mothers. Anneli loves family adventures, being creative, making her home beautiful, and being a mom!

OKLAHOMA - MEG ALEXANDER ILLE

Meg Alexander Ille was raised in Michigan but came to Oklahoma to anchor the NBC affiliate’s morning show in 1997. Three months later she met her now-husband Frank Ille and stayed. She has a B.A. from Colorado College in Political Science and a Master’s Degree from Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. She's a two time Emmy winner along with numerous other journalistic honors. Meg received the first-ever Honorary Bishop McGuinness High School Alumni Award for her volunteer work at the Oklahoma City school. Meg helped found the Oklahoma chapter of PlaySmart, an organization that raises money annually to send at-risk children to camp.  Meg is also active in many other community endeavors. She’s a member of Junior League, Kappa Alpha Theta Alumnae Chapter, Cotillion Advisory Board to name a few. She received the Oklahoma City Mayor’s Award for Disability Concerns in 2013 and is a speaker for dozens of events per year.  She is mom to son 13-yr-old Evan, 11 yr-old Izzy and 8-yr-old Alexandra. 

PUERTO RICO - MARIA SANTIAGO

Maria E. Santiago-Rivera was born in 1976 in Ponce, Puerto Rico. She was raised with good social, religious, and educational values. On December 24, 1997 she got married to Felix Aponte and is mom of Ashley and Marianelix. She got a Bachelor Degree in Education from the InterAmerican University of P.R. She started working as an Community Technician for one year. Then she started working with the Early Head Start Program as a Teacher. In 2003 she got an Associate Degree in Child Development. Though she has a family and works as a teacher, she do voluntary work. She was a Girls Scout Leader, Troop 375 of the Family Christian Church. The purpose of this organization is to develop girls leadership. She also works as a voluntary with UNETE, a non-profit foundation that helps children with cancer. She received an award in 2014 as the Teacher of the Year.

SOUTH DAKOTA - ELIZABETH KOERNER

Elizabeth Starzl Koerner was born and raised in Yankton, SD. It is a small town on the southeast corner of the state bordering with Nebraska. She is the 4th child of 8 children. As a child, she always enjoyed playing Little House on the Prairie with her older sisters. In 2001 Elizabeth was married to David Koerner. She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and an emphasis in early childhood. A few years later she received her Master’s Degree as a Reading Specialist. Elizabeth has now been teaching for almost a full 11 years. In her time she has taught Preschool through 8th grade. She and David are raising 3 girls ages 8, 6, and 3. She spends much of her spare time hosting family events for her many siblings and 25 nieces and nephews.

TEXAS - BETHANY PATERNO

Bethany Paterno was born in the mid 80s in the small southeast Texas town of Vidor with a population of 11,000. She was the youngest of 3 children and grew up in very humble circumstances. From a very early age Bethany was determined not to repeat the same mistakes she saw all around her. Coming from a broken home, with parents who made very poor decisions, she grew up quickly and learned to be self sufficient.  The importance of an education was not taught in her home and little encouragement was given to make good grades but Bethany was determined to make something of herself. She was the only one in her family to graduate from high school due to her self motivation and drive to achieve.  Shortly after graduation, Bethany met her husband and worked in ophthalmology while Marcus attended the local university until their first child, Jillian, was born in 2007.  Her second child, Luke, was born at the end of their 2 year stay in the Panhandle of Texas before moving back to the metropolis of Houston where she now resides.  Bethany has many identities with so many roles and she executes them wonderfully. She gives her all in every thing that she does and strives to improve upon everything that she touches.

UTAH - MARILYN BAZINET

Marilyn Knudsen Bazinet was born in Germany to a musical military family that would eventually expand to include 11 children. She was raised in San Antonio, TX where she graduated from high school with honors and then attended BYU in Utah. She served a mission for her church in North America, Europe and Africa. Upon returning, she completed a BS degree in Marriage, Family, and Human Development, married her best friend, Jacques Bazinet, and began work on a master’s degree in the same field. Marilyn completed her thesis project on ways to help families escape intergenerational poverty and delivered her first daughter, Jacquelyn, in the same week. Marilyn is now the mother of three amazing girls. She can be found teaching Sunday school, history, voice, and dance, or serving as President of the Board for Family Leadership Academy. She loves laughing, reading, discussing ideas, hiking, history, dark chocolate, and date night.

VIRGINIA - JEAN CHIANG

Jean is the President of Charlie Chiang's Inc., a group of restaurants and food manufacturing company started by her parents 40 years ago in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area. She graduated with honors from the University of Michigan (1994) and received a Masters degree in Accountancy at DePaul University (1995) while working for Deloitte & Touche LLP in the Audit division (1994-1997). While working for D&T, her client, EVEREN Securities hired her as an Assistant Vice President in Corporate Accounting (1997-2000). After getting married in September 2000, Jean moved to Hong Kong with her husband, Rock Fu, and worked as an Accounting Manager for the Equities Division of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (2000-2002). After two years overseas, Rock and Jean decided to return to Virginia to join the family business. Jean currently lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and two beautiful girls, Keira (8) and Vaughn (4).

WASHINGTON - APRIL HABERMAN

April was raised in the south and graduated in the top 10 in her class. Upon graduation, she took her southern hospitality all the way to Seattle, WA. It was there that she met her husband of 21 years. She spent over 12 years in the fast -paced wireless industry in sales, marketing and distribution. As much as she loved her career, she left her full time work to have children and help her husband open a private dental practice in their local community. She enjoys being actively involved in her children's school through the Parent Council, overseeing children's ministry at church and serving through various charities. Her greatest joy comes from seeing her children grow into faithful, serving individuals who have a love for the Lord and for others. She currently oversees Days for Girls Edmonds WA Chapter & loves running, singing and baking.

WISCONSIN - STEPHANIE ROGERS

Stephanie was born and raised in South Carolina.  When she was 8 her father’s career took them to Germany.  During that time, her parents made sure she saw every single country on the continent, touring castles and cathedrals until she would never want to see another one again.  Following their return to the States, Stephanie finished middle school, high school and college.  Swallowing her childhood aversion to castles and cathedrals, she returned for a semester abroad in Vienna, Austria.  This time she fell in love and returned Stateside to add a minor in humanities to her degree in Early Childhood Education.  She also returned home to marry her long time sweetheart, Ben.  After graduation, Stephanie taught first grade.  She and her husband then moved to Chicago, Washington DC, Pittsburgh and finally Madison, WI.  They have 5 children, the oldest diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in 2014.