Click the names below to see how these amazing Maryland women have seen the value of supporting—and being supported by—other women.

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Eliza Graham

If you’ve ever been in a meeting with Eliza Graham, you know her focus and her creativity. But those aren’t the only things she brings to the table as an entrepreneur, mental health advocate, and bridge-builder for good.

“I am an overall passionate person, which allows me to feel gratitude for all things and fully live in the moment,” Eliza says.

Because Eliza is the chief impact officer SHIFT, her moments tend to stay pretty full. With a career path that spans from sports apparel marketing to TV and radio broadcasting, executive membership management, creator of her own fashion jewelry brand, and seats on several nonprofit boards, Eliza doesn’t stop very often. But that doesn’t keep her from being connected—especially with other women.

“Since an early age, I have surrounded myself with a village of inspirational, resilient, and loving women – mothers, teachers, coworkers, professional females, and my most amazing girlfriends,” Eliza says. “I think it’s important to create an advisory council of women of all ages and backgrounds who will have your back and guide you through your life.”

When she reflects, it’s pretty clear why she thinks that’s important: women have helped shape her understanding of relationships, of kindness, love and respect. It’s because of those women that she has learned that life will have its challenges, and it’s how she responds to them that determines her quality of life. That’s an understanding she particularly likes to pass along to younger women.

Some understandings come slower than others, and Eliza says finding graceful ways to say “no” took a while for her. What made it click was her sense of what mattered most to her.

“Being clear on my priorities allows me to set boundaries that preserve my time and energy to work on what’s most important and lights me up.”

Monica Bradley

Monica Bradley knows the power of a woman’s compassion. For her, it shows up in a Yes.

Yes, when someone at her church asked her to champion a fledgling relationship with My Sister’s Place Women’s Center in 2015.

Yes, when some time with others around a dining room table turned into a bigger, deeper initiative to support the center’s ladies, who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, mental health challenges, unemployment and other barriers to a better life.

Yes, when a conversation with one of those ladies led to a tighter bond with her – and a regular bible study with a group of women.

They seem like small things – the sorts of yeses you say to a text or a phone call because it seems simple enough, and it makes you feel good. But those little yeses added up to a lot for the women who find support and resources at My Sister’s Place. When Monica first started volunteering to serve meals once a month, 34 women came to the dining room on Franklin St. to eat. Prior to the pandemic, it was more than 100 – and Monica was still serving.

When her daughter, Erin, was a student Elon University, she asked her mom about a chance for her and her friends to volunteer. The young women all stayed in Monica’s home for a week, preparing meals and going to My Sister’s Place to serve them.

 In 2017, Monica was My Sister’s Place Women’s Center’s Woman of the Year, honored for all she had done and serving as an ambassador for all the center could do. She still doesn’t think she deserved it.

“These are simple things,” Monica said. “An invitation, an idea, a question, a conversation; things that anyone can do. My answer was ‘yes’ to serve as God led and put opportunities in front of me. Those who I was able to put the opportunity in front of also said yes to serve. The reason for my yes to serve is the biggest one of all – the women themselves.”

“I am lucky to have worked with and for some smart, strong, compassionate women who felt strongly that they had an obligation to champion and sponsor other women.”

Jennifer Litchman, SVP for External Affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore

Jennifer Litchman

Jennifer Litchman is the senior vice president for External Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. 

Q: Do you have any woman professional mentors? What have they imparted on you?
Jennifer: I never had an official mentor — I just watched and learned from women whom I admired and I tried to emulate them. I am in awe of young women today who understand their power and use their agency in ways I never knew how to do at their age.

Q: What are your success habits?
Jennifer: I start the day with a gratitude journal, naming three things I’m grateful for. Sometimes it’s hard to choose just three! And I journal every night. I have a 10-year journal that allows me each night to reflect on that day and on the previous years. It really puts things into perspective when you can see how life has changed in a relatively short period of time. And a third habit is writing personal notes — to congratulate people on successes, to thank them for their efforts, or to let them know I’m thinking of them during a rough patch. And I love, especially, to write notes to women at UMB whom I’ve been watching — to cheer them on, tell them I’m proud of them and recognize them for their contributions and accomplishments. It’s important for people to know that they are seen.

Iya Dammons

Iya Dammons is the founder of Safe Haven Baltimore.

Q: What is the most important thing for women to know in order to understand their power and self-worth – even if their circumstances are challenging?  
Iya: Understanding your own power to not worry about what other people have to say – living in your truth – is the biggest thing that can get you through.  

Q: Do you have any women professional mentors in leadership positions? What have they imparted to you?
Iya: I have a few woman mentors who have leadership roles. They keep me fighting, keep me grounded, keep me elevated on life, and help me understand hurdles that are coming my way. They tell me, “It’s okay. Get up.”

Q: Why do you feel that it’s important to support women?
Iya: It’s always important to support women. You don’t know what someone’s going through, no matter if they look like they’re smiling or frowning. With the every day of being a woman in the workplace – trying to “de-masculate” areas that are male-dominant – we need to build women to make sure it’s okay to take on “a man’s job”, be yourself, go through things. Building women to be great women and great leaders is important.: 

“My women mentors keep me fighting, keep me grounded, keep me elevated on life, and help me understand hurdles that are coming my way.”

Iya Dammons, Founder, Safe Haven Baltimore

Laura and Abby Bouyea

Laura Bouyea has lived in Baltimore her whole life and has been very involved with Catholic Charities’ My Sister’s Place Women’s Center for several years, including serving as chair of the Women’s Leadership Council since 2015. Her daughter, Abby, is in 8th grade. She serves on her school’s student council. Abby loves to cook and bake, and Laura says she’s glad she can still make her three children happy with a bowl of homemade popcorn.

Q: How do you work together to serve the ladies at My Sister’s Place Women’s Center?
Laura: Ever since I joined the Women’s Leadership Council in 2014, Abby has shown interest in working with me to help the clients of My Sister’s Place. She first visited with me in March 2016 on a tour so she could tell her Brownie troop about the ladies while they made sandwiches. The first time she interacted with clients was when we hosted a morning of bingo at the center with her Junior Girl Scout Troup in the spring of 2018. That experience really stuck with her.

We are both passionate about social issues.  Helping My Sister’s Place allows us to do something tangible to make change rather than being frustrated by the way things are.   It also gives a way to support three causes that are very important to us – the City, the advancement of women, and lifting up those in poverty – in one place.

Q: How did you get interested in organizing meals?
Abby: I’ve helped my mom with meals, casserole parties, and volunteer events for years. More recently, specifically during the pandemic, I realized that I had the ability to organize my contacts in my neighborhood and at my school on my own, without help from my mom. I knew how lucky we were to be healthy and well-fed when that wasn’t the case for so many people.

Q: What inspires you about each other?
Laura: Abby’s passion. She wants to badly for things to be just and fair for people, and for everyone to have a chance. I try and show her that while one can’t fix everything for everyone, one can channel that passion in a productive way.

Abby: My mom inspires me with her drive and her work ethic.

Q: What do you want people to know about why this work is important? 
Laura: We know how challenging life can be even when one has a great education and a large, loving family as a safety net. It becomes increasingly clear as one spends time with the clients at My Sister’s Place that it doesn’t take that many things going wrong – a health crisis, a death, a divorce, an accident, an addiction – to suddenly find oneself food insecure.  We need to support one another both to help individuals and for the health of the community at large.  We want people to know that it is easier to help than they think and that even a small amount of time makes a big difference.

We also want people to know that by doing this together, we can support each other. While that is not the primary objective, it is a wonderful side benefit. We all need each other.

Nykidra Robinson

“You never know who’s watching.”

Nykidra Robinson says that’s how she found herself on the cover of Baltimore Magazine in February. Someone called her and said they wanted to talk with her as part of a 30-woman feature. “I thought it was going to be a collage and I’d be the size of a quarter.”

But the editors had other plans. The power of the black voice was a focus of attention, and they liked Nyki as a representative of that. But ask her if she had any “imposter syndrome” about ending up on the cover alone, and she’ll tell you this was always in the offing.

“We do vision boards and manifestations on my team,” she says. “Five or six years ago, I wrote down that I was going to be on the cover of magazines.”

When the founder of Black Girls Vote graduated from Frostburg State University, her first real job was working for the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods. She says she had never been interested in government or politics, but she grew so much personally and professionally from seeing the passion of people who want a better community that it laid the foundation for her to build her organization, which launched in 2015.

A first-generation college graduate, Nyki (it’s pronounced Nike – “like the goddess, not the shoe,” she often says) was shaped by her mother’s fortitude in the face of her father’s mental illness. This past December, her mother got sick, and Nyki’s planned 24-hour birthday visit from New York City to Baltimore turned into caregiving that continues today. For over a month, her mother was hospitalized. Due to COVID restrictions, Nyki was the only person allowed to visit. She was with her mother every day.

But she was also in the middle of a voter education campaign in Atlanta. She felt like she needed to be in too many places at once. That was a powerful moment, Nyki says, when she really needed help. It was the women on her team who gave it.

“You’re crying on the phone with people who are asking what they can do – ‘Just pray!’ – That feeling was indescribable,” she recalls. “But people on my team stepped up and went to Atlanta to do the things I was supposed to do.”

That time brought together two of Nyki’s passions – family and community – in a way that furthered the third: the empowerment of black people. Nyki says given the systemic racism that has oppressed them for so long, she’s passionate about seeing people win in a system that wasn’t built for them to thrive in.

With all the things that swirl around women now, the north star for Nyki is the best advice she ever got: Bet on yourself.

“We see so many things about what other people are doing, and we want to be like other people,” she says. “Comparison is a thief of joy. Bet on yourself. Know that if you continue to keep your head down and do the work, the right people will recognize you at the right time and the doors will open.

“I was talking to some young people recently, and I asked what inspires them,” she says. “One young woman said, ‘The woman I am going to be in the future.’ That resonated so much for me. Even through the trials and tribulations, the pain, the stress, I know there’s a greater purpose for me that is going to inspire others for generations to come.”

That’s how vision boards turn into cover stories for a woman with a name like the goddess of victory.

Ali Von Paris

Towson native Ali von Paris, 31, is from a family that arrived in the Baltimore area in the mid-1800s. She’s a born entrepreneur; her great-great grandfather started a moving and storage business that still exists today, and Ali launched and heads Route One Apparel, specializing in all things state pride and partnering with many iconic brands such as University of Maryland, Old Bay, Natty Boh, and Utz.

Ali has two fur children, Sasha & Riley, and a boyfriend, Mike. She serves on many boards she is passionate about – like Maryland Tourism board, Preservation Maryland, University of Maryland’s Business School, and a few others.

Q: How have women in your life shaped who you are today? Who is a woman that inspires you?
Ali: I have a lot of strong, confident women that have helped me shape the person I am today. The women in my life have made a very strong impression on me. As I’ve gotten older I realize more and more how the most significant women in my life have influenced me.

I would say both grandmothers and my mother have been the most influential. They taught me from a very early age many important lessons: be kind and respectful to others; the importance of helping and supporting those we love and hold dear as well as those that need it; the importance of family; to value my education; to work hard to build something I can be proud of; and take time to have fun and enjoy life.

My mother always went above and beyond especially as I was going through school to make sure I always got the best education and had every opportunity there was. My mother is my biggest cheerleader. She has the most outgoing personality of anyone I know.  In fact, she’s the type of person who can walk in an elevator with a complete stranger and become a friend before they walk off to their floor.  Thankfully, I inherited some of those traits and as I’ve grown up with my business, they’ve been invaluable.  

Q: What are you habits for success?
Most importantly, I make sure I am always organized – whether it comes to taking notes, organizing files, or structuring how I handle my projects and initiatives. I also make sure I delegate and involve the team wherever possible. I try not to overwhelm my personal workload because it leads to inefficiencies or delays. When I have a goal, I try to make sure I have tangible success metrics I can meet so I am always celebrating wins even if they are small.

Q: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Ali: The best way to predict the future is to create it.

You are in charge of your destiny for as long as you allow it. I have realized that society, in ways, is a façade. You are limited by your own doubts in your own potential. If you realize that the whole world is made up of a bunch of people still trying to figure it out, and that inventions, businesses and success are created by people just like you, you are less intimidated by just following status quo, so you can pursue your own goals and dreams.

Grace Callwood

Sixteen-year-old Grace Callwood is the founder and chairwoman of the We Cancerve Movement, Inc., a youth-led nonprofit organization that works to bring happiness and swift solutions to children in need because they believe happiness shouldn’t have to wait. Grace founded this organization when she was just seven years old, shortly after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Grace is in the 10th grade and plays the trumpet, French horn, and mellophone in concert band and marching band. Her favorite thing to do is making people happy.

Q: How have women in your life shaped who you are today? Who is a woman that inspires you?
Grace: My mom and my grandma are two women who have shaped who I am today. While growing up it was just the three of us until 2014, when my mom and now stepdad got married. My mom and grandma have always been examples of two strong women in my life. They both are hard-working, focused, creative, intelligent, encouraging, and forever my biggest supporters. They’ve always supported me, from having conversations with me even when all I could say was gibberish as a toddler, to practicing speeches with me, to helping me with time management. They’ve taught me everything I know and are a huge reason I’m the person I am.

Marsai Martin is a woman who inspires me. Her accomplishments and what she stands for are so amazing to me, especially because she’s also a 16-year-old black girl. She’s already won nine NAACP Awards and has her own production company. She and I are strong believers that there’s no age limit on service. I often strive for more and look for other youths who are making a difference.

Q: What are you passionate about?
Grace: I’m passionate about standing up for the underdog and the underrepresented. I’m passionate about bringing happiness and swift solutions to youth in vulnerable situations. I’m passionate about being a good business partner to organizations we work with. I’m passionate about learning about and listening to the needs of the people we serve to be sure we’re a blessing to them and not a bother. I’m passionate about advocating the message of no age limit on service and encouraging young people to not wait until they’re older to make a difference.

Carolyn Gutermuth

Carolyn Gutermuth recently retired from a position that allowed her to be active with My Sister’s Place Women’s Center, Catholic Charities’ Baltimore day shelter for women and their children experiencing poverty, homelessness, addiction and other challenges. She galvanized her colleagues to serve and give, and her passion for the center has only grown in the 17 years she’s been involved as a donor, volunteer, event committee member, and member of the Women’s Leadership Council. 

What makes you so passionate about My Sister’s Place Women’s Center?  

What I would say I am most passionate about at My Sister’s Place are the clients they serve.  I have heard client testimonials at the bingo events and the Annual Margaret Knott Riehl breakfasts. Their messages are so inspirational and speak about the hope and transformational changes that have occurred in their lives with the help and guidance from My Sister’s Place.  Hearing their stories, you know that My Sister’s Place is making a real difference.  Whether I am making a financial donation, purchasing items from their wish list, purchasing an auction item, or someday returning as a volunteer, all these actions collectively help to improve the clients’ chances of one day living independent, happy, and healthy.  

Margaret Hayes

Margaret Hayes is recently retired from the University of Maryland as the director of student services and outreach, and director of strategic initiatives at the School of Pharmacy, working with non-governmental organizations, government agencies, corporations and individuals around the world. Margaret was appointed to the School’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Workgroup and was a founding member and the administrator for A Bridge to Academic Excellence Middle/High School Tutoring Program (ABAE), and for the Student Section of the Maryland Public Health Association.

Margaret has long been a community servant and leader. She has served on the Ascension Saint Agnes Board of Directors, chairing the Mission Committee; the Patient Safety and Physicians Contract Committees; and Community Council. In October, she will begin her second term as the consumer member of the state’s Board of Massage Therapy Examiners, where she is chair of the Bylaws, Nomination, and Board Navigation Handbook Policy and Procedures Manual Committees. She has been a member of the Disciplinary, Conflict Resolution Conference, and Jurisprudence Examination Committees, and was a member of the Advocacy Committee. Margaret is a 2006 graduate of Leadership Maryland and has received numerous awards and recognitions including the Daily Record Maryland’s Top 100 Women Circle of Excellence.

Q: How have women in your life shaped who you are today?
Margaret: The women in my life have given advice, inspiration, correction and unconditional love. They taught me how to be grateful, be purposeful, be of service to the community, and be spiritual. Also, they taught me how to be a mentor, but also be mentored at the same time, how to inspire others but give space for their growth and development. These women were my family members, friends, and colleagues.

I also learned to not be afraid to take a chance on myself. Life is about fulfilling dreams; not at all times is it easy reaching those dreams. I learned to find my purpose. That there are women, and men too, willing help. Just ask. There are those who will appear to want you to succeed but will be discouraging. In those cases, remember that prayer and perseverance are yours. Sometimes you need to get out of your own way and let go and let God.

Be willing to give from the heart! Help others when you can. Give a smile. Share a kind word for no reason. Be a shoulder to lean and cry on. Be understanding and listen even in conflict and adversity. Make your thoughts and actions represent who you are, not who others want you to be.

Q: What are your success habits?
Margaret: These habits have helped me in life: using a network of mentors who believe in and challenge me to believe in myself; stretching to not shrinking from challenges; not being content with things the way they are; not being afraid of success; focusing on skills that are strengths and working skills that are challenging; believing people can be successful and spiritual at the same time.

Marty Voelkel Hanssen

Marty Voelkel Hanssen is a recently retired family law attorney and mediator. She has four brothers and one sister. Marty has three adult children and three young grandchildren. She loves to garden work out, and have fun.

Q: How have women in your life shaped who you are today? Who is a woman that inspires you?

Marty: My mother led by example – always working hard and encouraging me to push myself. She said repeatedly to me that we learn from our mistakes and that we should always go out of our way to make others feel comfortable. Mother Teresa always inspired me through her strong spiritual faith and commitment to serving others. Today, I am encouraged to see so many of our female youth take on stronger leadership roles in their communities and their willingness to grasp difficult challenges with sheer determination to find solutions.

Q: What are your success habits?
Marty: I like to have a schedule each day in order to hold myself accountable. I also feel it is important to challenge yourself and follow through on your commitments, regardless of how long or large they are.

Q: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Marty: Be humble. Count your blessings. Be careful what you ask for. Treasure each day and take time to smell the roses. Establish boundaries and stick to them.