BRAVA awards: YWCA honors women thriving professionally and personally

The 10 women honored for this year’s BRAVA awards braved the snow to be honored for their achievements. In front, from left, Kathleen Ryan Mufson, Susan Brown, Shara Israel and Dale Atkins. In center, Jennifer Port and Yumi Kuwana. In back, Linda Autore, Sandra Greer, Caroline Brecker and Joli Gross.— Ken Borsuk photo

The 10 women honored for this year’s BRAVA awards braved the snow to be honored for their achievements. In front, from left, Kathleen Ryan Mufson, Susan Brown, Shara Israel and Dale Atkins. In center, Jennifer Port and Yumi Kuwana. In back, Linda Autore, Sandra Greer, Caroline Brecker and Joli Gross.
— Ken Borsuk photo

The 10 women who were recipients of the YWCA of Greenwich’s 2013 BRAVA awards have all excelled professionally, personally and through community service, overcoming challenges along the way.

So you couldn’t expect anything as insignificant as a blizzard to stop them, could you?

Even with the forecast dire and the first flakes of the storm that essentially shut down Connecticut over the weekend starting to fall, the annual awards ceremony went forward without a hitch. Attendance was down a bit from past years due to weather concerns, but more than 150 people still attended, including U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36th District), to honor the eight award recipients, who were described as “dynamic and accomplished who have greatly enhanced our community” by YWCA’s board chair, Catherine Seasonwein.

Out of the 10 winners, six were from Greenwich. Dale Atkins, a licensed psychologist and relationship expert, Caroline Brecker, a managing director at JP Morgan Chase, Susan Brown, the chief nursing officer and senior vice president of patient care services at Greenwich Hospital, Joli Gross, the vice president, deputy general counsel and assistant secretary of United Rentals Inc., Yumi Mera Kuwana, the founding principal of Cook Pine Capital LLC, and Jennifer Port, a managing partner at Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara LLC, joined Stamford doctor Shara Israel, Norwalk’s Linda Autore, president and CEO of Laurel House Inc. Kathleen Ryan Mufson, director of corporate citizenship and philanthropy at Pitney Bowes, and Sandra Greer, vice president and senior portfolio manager for BNY Mellon Wealth Management, as winners of this year’s awards, which is the 37th year they’ve been handed out.

The winners all received citations from the YWCA as well as Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Frantz and First Selectman Peter Tesei, Gov. Dannel Malloy, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4th District), and Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen.

Adrienne Singer, president and CEO of the YWCA of Greenwich, said the annual event is one of the most important of the year for the organization and a key part of its mission to empower women. Each year brings in more and more nominations, something Ms. Singer said points to growing achievement for women in the area and awareness of the YWCA and the awards.

“These are women who have not just excelled professionally but give back to the community and act as mentors to other women and girls,” Ms. Singer said. “We want to thank them and honor them. People aren’t thanked enough in my opinion, and this gives us an opportunity to bring some very important women together.”

Among the winners, Dr. Atkins said she was delighted and honored by the award.

“To be honored for something you love to do is a remarkable thing,” Dr. Atkins said. “I think there are so many unbelievably deserving people that I was really surprised when they called me. I’m just floored, and I hope people will be inspired by all the people being honored to follow their lead in making a difference in the world through their work and through their volunteer activities. Maybe I can be an inspiring person, too.”

An author as well as a psychologist, Dr. Atkins has specialized in family relationships and has focused on women’s health issues throughout her more than 35-year career. She has also been a host on PBS and appeared on both CNN Headline News and the Today Show. She told the Post that she continues to do her work because she loves it.

“I try to help people, and I hope I can see change,” Dr. Atkins said. “That’s what I love about it. I get to see people. I get to learn from people. Everybody I engage with I learn something new about them, about myself and about the world. I’m a curious person, and I think that’s what I love about my work.”

The BRAVA Awards are something that Ms. Kuwana is very familiar with. As a board member for the YWCA, she has been a co-chair of the BRAVA Committee, handing out awards to others. This year it was her turn to be recognized, however.

“It’s a very special honor,” Ms. Kuwana told the Post. “The YWCA is so close and dear to my heart in terms of my passions and vision. They empower women and give us choices, and that’s so critical. To be able to receive this is so special. It’s very flattering. I just try to live day by day by my moral values, and a part of that is giving back to my community as I’m pursuing my career.”

Being able to receive this award means you’ve had to become an expert in what Ms. Port termed “juggling,” because there are so many responsibilities to manage. Not only has she been able to rise to the level of managing partner at a powerful Greenwich law firm, but she has also been able to raise a family and be involved with groups as diverse as the Greenwich Scholarship Association and the Transportation Association of Greenwich. For all the winners, the responsibilities of professional obligations along with personal and charitable ones means a lot of hard work, and yet all of them have been able to excel in their fields.

“Having come from the first class of female students from the college I attended and the first female hired at the Wall Street firm I went to when I graduated law school, the work part is in some ways the easier aspect of it,” Ms. Port said. “It’s the guilt when you can’t make it to the school function. But you just learn to do it, whether it means you’re up at one at night because you ran out at two in the afternoon to get to a soccer game or you do work from home if someone’s sick. You somehow make it happen. There’s no formula for it. You just do it.”

While the weather kept some invited family members away, Ms. Port was joined by her children who returned from college for the event. She said that made it extra significant for her to receive the award.

“My father always used to tell me that after he died, the most important thing he could leave me was a good name,” Ms. Port said. “Getting this award makes you feel as if you are firmly on your way to leaving that good name to your children.”

Being a mentor is a critical part of the criteria for a BRAVA Award, and it’s one that Ms. Brown says she takes very seriously.

“It thrills me because this is about helping other women,” Ms. Brown said. “My career has been dedicated to help women both in career and personally. To be honored by this organization is really, truly unique for me. I’ve been at Greenwich Hospital for 28 years and I love it there. It’s been a wonderful place for me to grow and help other people grow. It’s our responsibility to help the next generation become leaders and really be able to develop them so they can take our place. That’s our responsibility and our commitment to the future.”


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