Area’s ‘exceptional’ women saluted

Every year, for the last three years, the Queen Ann Nzinga Center has been honoring women in the local community who have “made their mark,” and somehow positively influenced their community.
The Queen Ann Nzinga Center is a non-profit organization devoted to emphasizing “artistic expression and collaborative interaction to enhance the growth of program participants.”
This month, the center is hosting the Exceptional Women Celebration to honor seven women in three local communities who have, in some way, made a positive impression on the community and its members.
Dayna Snell, executive director of Queen Ann Nzinga Center, said this annual celebration stems from the center’s P.R.I.D.E program, which is a girl empowerment program that stands for Parenting, Resources, Imagining, Decisions and Engaging. It was established in 2005 and works with girls between the ages of 12 and 17 and “encourages positive growth and development through structured arts and humanities activities,” Snell said.
March is Women’s History Month, and Snell said the center realized it does not get a lot of attention. Congress established Women’s History Week in 1981, and Women’s History Month in 1994. The Exceptional Women Celebration is a way to honor women as a whole, while showing the girls in the P.R.I.D.E. program women in their own communities who are successful.
“We want the girls to see women in their community as role models, and show them that they can be successful too,” Snell said, adding that the celebration has honored all kinds of women, from doctors and other professionals, to women who have been heavily involved in local organizations and making a difference in their communities and even done the “small acts of kindness.”
Mayra Sampson, of Bristol, was chosen to be one of the honorees at the celebration this month, and said she was “honored to be chosen.”
Sampson is the payroll and benefits manager in Bristol’s Comptroller’s Office, and is a union president, a former PTO (parent teacher organization) president, was on the Bristol Preschool’s Board of Directors, and was the first minority to be the chair of the city’s Democratic Town Committee.
“I’ve been really involved in my community and always am a big promoter of helping minority children advance,” Sampson said, adding that she is a lifelong Bristol resident, and is always here for her community.
She grew up in the “projects,” she said, and was a single mother as well, yet has still been able to succeed and make an impression on her community.
“I would tell younger girls to keep their dreams alive, and you will achieve them,” Sampson said.
Roberta Brown, Plainville Youth Services director, was also chosen to be recognized and also said she was “very honored” to have been chosen.
For over 30 years, she said in an email, “I have been working with youth, with the primary goal of positive youth development.”
Brown said she has created and developed programs that help provide the younger generation, both women and men, with skills necessary to become “positive contributing adults.”
Even though she works with both genders, she said she has facilitated programs and group work that have been specific to issues teen girls are faced with.
“I do believe that it is important to encourage and develop a young woman’s sense of self and prepare her to feel strong and confident about the choices that she makes,” Brown said.
Jarre Betts, director of programs and community relations at the Main Street Community Foundation in Bristol was also chosen to be recognized at the Exceptional Women Celebration, and said it was “a great honor.”
Betts was involved with the Main Street Community Foundation’s Women and Girls’ Fund, before it was a fund at the foundation. She said she has always been involved in grant writing and finding out what opportunities are out there for individuals. She said the immediate response funds, which are for students and families in immediate need, has been an area that has been rewarding for her.
“As children and families struggle, these immediate response funds help them get one step ahead,” Betts said. “It is a very heartfelt area to be involved in.”
She said she was looking forward to meeting with the girls involved in the P.R.I.D.E program, especially because she said she always finds it fascinating to see how the younger generation sees things and what their perspectives are.
“My advice to young girls would be to never stop learning,” Betts said, adding that you never know when there will be a “spark.” She also advises the young girls to always “put yourself out there,” to make sure you can learn as much as possible.
Dr. Angela Geddis, a board certified pediatrician in Plainville, was also chosen to be honored at the celebration. Geddis has been practicing medicine for 22 years at the Grove Hill Medical Center. She is a graduate of the Cornell University Medical School.
Dr. Nancy Holyst, also a board certified pediatrician in Plainville, was chosen as well. Holyst has 25 years of experience in medicine and received her medical degree from New York Medical College. She is the pediatrician of two members of the Queen Ann Nzinga Center’s programs, and is the physician representative for Bristol Hospital’s Child Protection Team. Holyst accepts patients with Title 19, or Medicaid, and “works as a partner with parents, has a wonderful bedside manner and gets to know her patients and their families,” a press release said.
Two other women from New Britain, Bessie Surratt, and state Senator Theresa “Terry” Gerratana, were also chosen to be honored.
The celebration, which is open to the public, will include live musical performances, poetry, dance, and tributes to the honorees, Snell said. The celebration will be held on Saturday, March 23 at 2 p.m. at Trinity on Main, 69 Main St., New Britain. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door, and are $5 for seniors over 55-years-old, and children under the age of 12.
To purchase tickets, visit www. or call (860) 229-2072. All proceeds will help fund Queen Ann Nzinga Center’s youth enrichment programs. For more information on the center, visit or email or call (860) 229-2072.
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