May 17, 2019, Adrian, Michigan – Ashley LaVigne, Social Media Specialist for the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Communications, received the 2019 Athena Young Professional Leadership Award in recognition of her involvement as person under 40 who has developed her leadership potential and mentored other women as well.
The award ceremony took place May 9, 2019, in Dominican Hall of Siena Heights University. Ashley was honored in front of her peers from the Offices of Communications and Development, members of the General Council, other Adrian Dominican Sisters, and community members she has come to know through her extensive involvement.
Amy Palmer, Director of Development for the Adrian Dominican Sisters and a long-time colleague and friend of Ashley, presented the award, noting Ashley’s involvement in the Lenawee County community since 2012. Ashley began as the Campaign and Volunteer Engagement Manager at Lenawee United Way, involved in fundraising, event planning, volunteer management, and marketing. She then served at Hospice of Lenawee as Donor Relations Manager. Ashley has worked with the Adrian Dominican Sisters as Social Media Specialist since 2015.
“When Ashley does something, she does it 100 percent,” said Amy, who also worked with Ashley at Lenawee United Way. She noted the many ways that Ashley has been involved in the community, not only as a professional working at non-profit organizations, but in her spare time.
Ashley became involved in the Kiwanis Club of Adrian, recently serving as president of the club. “While successfully juggling work, civic responsibilities, and home life, Ashley also showed them without a doubt that a young, female leader could do an outstanding job as president of the [Kiwanis] Club,” Amy said, quoting Ashley’s friend Rachael Carpenter.
In addition, Ashley became involved in the Adrian Area Chamber of Commerce, the Lenawee United Way Young Leaders Society and the Pillars Club, and enrolled in the Emerging Leaders program for professionals ages 22 to 35. The eight-month program offered monthly, day-long meetings that focused on leadership development in the morning and community development in the afternoon. After graduating from the program, Ashley served as facilitator for two years.
Amy concluded her introduction to Ashley by drawing on a quote from the great Dominican mystic and reformer, St. Catherine of Siena: “‘Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.’ May Ashley be an inspiration for all of us as we, too, be who God meant us to be. Ashley is certainly setting the world on fire and for that, we can all be grateful.”
In an interview, Ashley said a highlight of the award ceremony was “being surrounded by my family and friends and the community members who have influenced my life. What I hold dear to my heart are the people I’ve met throughout the past seven years, who I would have never met had I not been hired at United Way.”
Ashley said her key volunteer experience has been involvement with the Kiwanis Club, including the past four years on the leadership team. “One of my greatest challenges was when I served as President,” she said. “Being an introvert, it’s difficult to stand up at a podium in front of 60 people every week.” Another challenge was being “organized enough to lead the meetings and manage the expectations of 100 members. It was a tremendous learning experience, though.” Now Past-President, Ashley also serves Kiwanis as the public relations manager, on the Membership Committee, on the Club Board, and previously on the Community Impact Committee.
In the coming years, Ashley hopes to “continue serving Lenawee County in whatever capacity I’m able to, maintain the relationships that I’ve built, and continue to work hard for the organizations I love.”
Her advice to a young professional beginning a career in a new community? “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and ask questions. Find a mentor and join an organization that allows you to give back to the community. Be your authentic self.”
Also honored by Athena Lenawee were Londa Pickles, President of Gurdjian Insurance Group, Inc., in Adrian, recipient of the Athena Leadership Award; and County National Bank, recipient of the Athena Parthenon Leadership Award, for its commitment to developing the leadership and skills of women.
Athena Lenawee is a local chapter of Athena International. Inspired by the strength, courage, and wisdom of the Greek goddess, Athena International exists to “support, develop, and honor women leaders.”
July 3, 2018, Detroit – About 16 years after coming to the United States on sabbatical, Sister Emmy Chelagat Choge, OP, a native of Kenya, became a U.S. citizen during a formal naturalization ceremony. Accompanied by Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates, Sister Emmy joined new citizens from throughout the world in taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America and in receiving the certificate of her citizenship.
Sister Emmy, in a telephone interview, recalled the afternoon of June 18, 2018, when she and people from diverse nations filled a room in the Theodore Levin U.S. Courthouse in Detroit, waiting for the judge. “He was a very pleasant judge and made us feel welcome,” she recalled. “He started off by congratulating us and talking about the history of the United States. He just assured us that this is a land of immigrants.”
Sister Emmy was very touched on taking the Oath of Allegiance. “There were a lot of different accents,” she said. “It was as diverse as it could be.” She was also moved when the judge walked around the courtroom, presented each new citizen with a certificate of citizenship, and congratulated him or her.
“I pray that I can be a good citizen,” Sister Emmy said. She is particularly looking forward to voting for the first time in a U.S. election and has already filled out forms to receive registration material. “This country has made me feel at home,” Sister Emmy said. “I feel that I have been empowered, and I have felt the greatness of this country. I feel safe I feel empowered.”
At the same time, Sister Emmy feels a special responsibility to advocate for the immigrants who have not been made to feel welcome, those who have been separated from their families or placed in detention for entering without formal papers. “I want my voice to be heard,” she said. “I don’t think that anyone leaves their country, their family, their everything, just for nothing. I really feel for the people who are at the border. I was rejoicing in getting my citizenship, but my heart was aware that somebody else was suffering.”
Sister Emmy now holds a dual citizenship, and will be able to travel to and from her native country easily. “It’s a blessing to have dual citizenship,” she said. “I don’t feel that I’ve abandoned my homeland.”
Sister Emmy’s road to citizenship came 16 years ago, when, as a member of the Assumption Sisters of El Doret, Kenya, she attended classes at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, on a sabbatical. She knew Adrian Dominican Sisters Joan Mary, OP; Kathleen McGrail, OP; and Joanne Peters, OP, who had been in Africa during her formation. While on sabbatical, she also visited with Sister Cathy Olds, OP, who was also in Spokane.
At the invitation of Sister Kathleen, then on the General Council, Sister Emmy visited Adrian at Christmas 2003. With a scholarship offered by Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, OP, Sister Emmy attended Barry University to earn her Master’s of Science in Nursing degree. After her graduation, Sister Emmy sought a transfer to the Adrian Dominican Congregation. She entered the formal transfer process in 2009 and reaffirmed her vows as an Adrian Dominican Sister in January 2012.
As Sister Emmy journeyed from one religious congregation to another, she undertook a parallel journey to U.S. citizenship. “I first came [to the United States] with a student visa, and when I came to Adrian I had a religious worker visa and then applied for a green card.” When, after five years with a green card, she became eligible to apply for citizenship in November 2017, Sister Emmy went through the process, having her fingerprints taken in March and setting the date for her interview and citizenship test on May 24.
While completing her Master’s of Science Degree in Hospice and Palliative Care from Madonna University, Sister Emmy took on the added challenge of studying for the 100-question citizenship test. She noted the support of Adrian Dominican Sisters in this effort. Sister Carleen Maly, OP, director of Adrian Rea Literacy Center, gave Sister Emmy a CD of the citizenship material, which Sister Emmy listened to during her travels. Sister Attracta Kelly, OP, an immigration attorney, quizzed Sister Emmy on the questions.
In the end, Sister Emmy noted, she was only asked eight of the possible 100 questions on U.S. government, history, and the Constitution.
Sister Emmy said the process for gaining her citizenship ran smoothly. “We heard people talking about having a lot of problems,” she said. “I didn’t have any problem at all. Maybe that was because the Adrian Dominicans counseled me to get the religious visa and after that the green card.”
Still, Sister Emmy has faced some personal challenges along the way. “Although I have felt welcome in the Congregation, there have been times when cultural aspects have come in the way, and at times people have wondered why I could not go back to Kenya because ‘people there need you more than we do here.’ So, I have met a few obstacles here and there, but these have only made me feel stronger.” With that strength, she hopes to use her citizenship and her right to vote to advocate for other immigrants.
“I truly, truly feel myself blessed and I don’t take anything for granted,” Sister Emmy said. “I wrote a letter to the General Council and I would like to thank the community for sponsoring me. I just feel that I am truly blessed.”
Feature photo: Sister Emmy Choge, OP, new U.S. citizen, proudly holds the American flag. With her, clockwise from bottom left, are Sister Virginia King, OP; Associate Carol Hofer; Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP; Sister Kitty Kelly, OSU, sister of Sister Attracta; Sister Nancyann Turner, OP; Sister Catherine DeClercq, OP; Sister Attracta Kelly, OP; and Sister Carol Jean Kesterke, OP, Chapter Prioress. Photo by Sister Suzanne Schreiber, OP