[Madison365 is the exclusive media partner for the YWCA Madison’s Women of Distinction Awards.]

The annual YWCA Women of Distinction Awards, which will take place on May 30th at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, will be having a few new and exciting twists this year. For starters, it will once again be its own event and no longer paired with the YWCA Moxie Conference. By putting it back on its own date, the organizers believe that this will give the annual event more prestige.

YWCA Madison’s Women of Distinction Leadership Awards were first established back in the 1970s to increase community awareness and appreciation of the diverse contributions of women in the workforce and in the community.

“It’s our 45th year of celebrating the Women of Distinction Leadership Award and we want it to be a huge success,” says Women of Distinction Leadership Awards co-chair Verona Morgan. “The award was created in 1974 and there are 230 past Women of Distinction. Our goal is to recognize community-minded women achieving personal and professional success while doing impactful volunteer work to better the Madison community.”

Angela Russell (left) celebrates her YWCA Women of Distinction Award with Carola Gaines (another former winner) at a previous event.

The YWCA Madison is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Their annual Women of Distinction event began in 1974, when Louise Marston Conklin, a longtime editor of the Wisconsin State Journal, retired and decided to turn her retirement celebration into a benefit for the YWCA, on whose board she then served.

“Our goal is to raise $100,000 and have 600 guests at this year’s Women of Distinction Leadership Awards event,” Morgan says. “We are hoping to see a nice crowd … it’s an uplifting event full of camaraderie and sisterhood.”

Those 230 former winners of the YWCA Madison Women of Distinction Leadership Awards make up the YWCA Women of Distinction Academy. Many of them will be present at this year’s YWCA Madison Women of Distinction Awards which will have the theme of “Legacy.”

“We thought that having separate events might give the Women of Distinction Award a little boost and to just encourage people to bring folks who might be younger,” Women of Distinction Leadership Awards co-chair Corinda Rainey-Moore tells Madison365. “We’re asking everybody who comes to this year’s event to bring someone who is younger so that they can see what all these other women are doing in the community and that they are on track to be a Women of Distinction.

“We are looking for the women to bring their mentees – people that they think have promise and are working with them to try and pave the way for them,” she adds.

Morgan says that this year they will be adding the YWCA Madison Women of Promise Award for women who are age 30 and younger. The YWCA Madison really wanted to encourage the younger women who have been doing great things and didn’t want to have them competing for awards with established women who have been doing great things for decades.

“For young women, we want to find out who is the next trailblazer,” Jay Young, Marketing and Development Manager for YWCA Madison, tells Madison365, speaking of the new Women of Promise Award. “Who’s the next women to come? Who’s that young women of promise who is on her way? She may have not had all of the opportunities yet but she has the spark.”

“We really like to have young women who are doing some amazing things but nobody really knows much about what they are doing – unsung heroes,” Morgan adds.

The YWCA Madison is asking all of its past Women of Distinction Award winners to bring a young woman to the event.

“We are also going to bring mentorship back into the program. We’re asking our past Women of Distinction and their guests to bring a young woman that will really get some inspiration from attending and seeing the sisterhood of women,” Young says. “We really do want to have a two-generation approach to really bring young people into our work and have them supported by people who have been on the front lines of social justice for years.”

Madison-area community leaders celebrate at a previous YWCA Madison Women of Distinction Awards event.

Unlike previous years, the audience will not know who the YWCA Women of Distinction award winners are until it is announced at the event. Ten outstanding nominees and their friends and families will all be invited to the event and six winners will be chosen.

“There will be that element of surprise … kinda like the Oscars,” Rainey-Moore says. “We want all of the nominees to be feel really special. We want them to have a great experience.”

Following the luncheon, there will be a reception for the Women of Distinction Leadership Academy and the recipients.

“Back in April, we did an Academy gathering. We invited all of the women who have received this award and really talked to them and heard from them about what the award meant to them when they received it,” Young says.

“We’ve honored hundreds of women over the years from different areas and backgrounds and representing different communities,” Young adds. “So we really want to make sure that that shines through on our 45th with our theme of ‘Legacy.’ We really want to look at that rich history and say what has been the legacy of the women who have been honored as Women of Distinction.”

The YWCA has extended the deadline to submit nominees for Women of Distinction Awards to March 20.

“We really want to have a very strong group of finalists,” Young says. “We’re looking for a woman who is committed to community … a woman that is committed to paying it forward and giving back. So, we’re looking for women who have played a mentor role in their lives. We’re looking for women who have been trailblazers whether that has been through their professional lives or in the community.

“We’re looking for women who have truly used their lives to improve the lives around her,” he adds. “That’s a Women of Distinction.”

For more information on the YWCA Madison Women of Distinction Awards, click here or email Jay Young at jyoung@ywcamadison.org.