On March 26, The Young Women’s Alliance honored five incredible women leaders during their Beautifully Made art gallery showcase.

(l to r): Katie Coyne, Carol Thompson, Janice Omadeke, Vanessa Fuentes and Judge Aurora Martinez Jones

By Cy White, Beautifully Made event photos by Weston Carls

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Young Women’s Alliance (YWA) paid tribute to some incredible local leaders. Beautifully Made was an evening to remember. An event to commemorate and immortalize five women who’ve made important contributions to the Austin community. The event was equal parts fundraiser and acknowledgment of the powerful legacy these and all women of Austin have left. Local artists Marcella Colaveccio , Neena Buxani, Amanda Witucki, Sonia Ortega and Ella Nilsson commissioned the portraits. Standing YWA President Lauren Kaufman, VP of Events Sheridan Phillips and the five leaders honored answered questions about Beautifully Made and YWA.

The Women of the Young Women’s Alliance

Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Lauren Kaufman: I am the current President of the Young Women’s Alliance. As president, I am responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of the organization.

Sheridan Phillips: My name is Sheridan Phillips. I currently sit on the YWA Board as the VP of Events. I am a seventh generation Texan who thrives off the energy, food and incredible community in Austin.

How did you come to be involved with the Young Women’s Alliance?

LK: I moved to Austin seven years ago and was looking for a way to meet new friends and become more involved in the community. I never in my life thought I would end up being president. But the best part about YWA is you gain supporters who believe in you, even when you might not.

SP: I found YWA in 2016 when I was looking for a network of like-minded professional women in Austin. I work in a heavily male-dominated industry and do most of my work outside of Austin. So I was looking to get plugged into my community in a professional setting outside of work. YWA was the perfect answer to what I was looking for.

What about the YWA mission drew you to this organization in particular?

LK: YWA is the perfect blend of everything I was looking for in life: a community, an outlet to give back to our city, and opportunities to build my skills and confidence.

SP: One thing I always keep top of mind is self-development. I think it is important to surround yourself with people who, too, are looking to always move forward in a positive direction personally and professionally. YWA attracts members who are not only working to develop themselves professionally with workshops, listening to YWA monthly guest speakers at Speaker Series and creating conversation around professional careers. Members also have a common interest of self and community development. YWA has a strong philanthropic heartbeat that gives back to our community. We have community partners where members can volunteer. But most of all, we work to raise money to provide scholarships for girls in the Del Valley school district to go to college and pursue higher education. This environment of self-development professionally and personally alongside like-minded women is what drew me to the organization.

Anyone who says you can’t see a thought doesn’t know art.

Carol Thompson

How did the concept for Beautifully Made come about?

LK: I was taking a walk a year ago (when I do my best thinking) and kept trying to think of a way we could host an event that honored the women that make our city the great place it is. I felt it was important to not only highlight the change-makers in our community but also local female artists who add so much beauty to our city.

SP: When I stepped into the role of VP of Events and had my first meeting with President Lauren Kaufman, she expressed a desire to switch up our spring fundraiser event. She had a vision of some sort of gallery-style event with the theme of celebrating women. Those were the main two ideas that lead to the creation of Beautifully Made.

YWA has an incredible mission to help develop the next generation of female leaders. I thought this would be a great opportunity to honor and celebrate the current women leaders in our community. When the events committee sat down to brainstorm the event, we wanted a name that represented women and who we are in our community. YWA has a strong DEB (Diversity, Equity and Belonging) mission. It is top of mind that we are all unique and beautiful in our own way. We are all Beautifully Made.

How did you select which Beautifully Made women to highlight and which artists to work with?

LK: The women we highlighted were all women whose contributions have undoubtedly made an impact to our community and truly embodied YWA’s pillars of lead, educate, network and serve. We were fortunate enough to partner with atxGals, who helped us find amazing artists to partner with. We are beyond grateful for the artists and all they did to make this event memorable.

SP: I had two incredible committee chairs working in this event: Christina Phamvu and Yesenia Garcia. They were on a mission to identify five women leaders in our community. We wanted to find leaders who represented each of the four YWA pillars: lead, educate, network and serve. To include a YWA Woman of the Year who embodies all four pillars. After countless hours of searching, Christina and Yesenia created a list of women in the Austin Community who aligned with the four YWA pillars. From there, we selected five leaders to honor at Beautifully Made.

We connected with atxGALS, who announced the event to their artists. From there, we had five extremely talented artists volunteer to be a part of the event. YWA is so appreciative and grateful to the artists at atxGALS who gave their time and shared their talent to help make Beautifully Made come to life through their incredible pieces.

What do you want young women to take away from the Beautifully Made event?

LK: I want young women to see that change-makers come from all different backgrounds, industries and talents. But the thing they all have in common is giving back to the community and making the world a better place.

SP: I hope young women were inspired and able to take away that the sky’s the limit. We heard five women leaders speak at the event and tell a bit of their story. From council women to the Founder of YWA, we recognized a diverse pool of industries and passions. I hope this spoke to the young women in attendance. If you follow what you’re passionate about, seize the opportunities that present themselves and work hard, you too can be a leader in the community.

What are some of the most important initiatives YWA is working on that people should know about?

LK: YWA recently released a three-year diversity, equity and belonging strategic plan. We have committed to making sure that YWA is a space where all feel like they belong.

SP: Under the guidance of Bijal Patel, our VP of DEB, YWA has rolled out a strong DEB initiative. I think in today’s world it is so important to keep DEB at the forefront of all conversations. In order for women to join YWA and fully grow and develop themselves personally and professionally, they first have to feel like they belong. We want the members of YWA to feel like they can be their most authentic self.

Sky’s the limit, what do you want to see in YWA’s future?

LK: I see YWA continuing to be known as the organization in Austin to join if you are looking for a deeper sense of connection and growth. My biggest hope is for as many women as possible to gain the life-changing experiences YWA has given me.

SP: In this next term, I am stepping into the role of chief of staff under incoming President Leah Christensen. I am thrilled to be a part of her board and see where she takes YWA. Our current president has done a wonderful job catapulting YWA out of the pandemic rut and into an incredible time of growth. It is the perfect environment for Leah to step in and carry that momentum toward stronger community engagement, deeper member connection and an overall incredible network for women to plug into. I am excited to watch YWA members continue to grow and develop into the next generation of women leaders.

Beautifully Made: The Leaders’ Legacies


Carol Thompson

In the early ’90s, I hosted a handful of young women at my home. This group evolved to be Young Women’s Alliance. With a strong active YWA  board of leaders (guided by Cookie Ruiz) and a group of expanding and diverse woman. Thirty years later, YWA is 600 women strong, volunteering, leading, mentoring, encouraging and networking even during some sessions of golf. At that same time, I was the chairman of the Austin Chamber of Commerce Board (the third woman in 117 years). Added to that, I was one of the owners of five ComputerLand stores in Austin and San Marcos, and ABC Computer Rental Store with a partner.

What has the experience been like working with YWA for you?

The experience of working with YWA changed my life too. These multitalented and energetic women have been a blessing and a gift in my life. I have met with many members one on one for advice about life. With other YWA gals. We would gather as a group for a beverage at Chez Zee or Upper Crust to delve into many ideas about businesses, networking and connecting in our Austin community. In 2022, I find myself seeking them out to hear their thoughts on environmental concerns, housing, education. One of the former YWA presidents, Vanessa Fuentes, is now a member of Austin City Council. (Sign up for her newsletters!)

When you found out you were being honored at Beautifully Made with a work of art, how did you feel?

For me, receiving such a personal and personalized piece of artwork was awesome and thrilling!  My first call with artist Sonia Ortega visualized my life at a whole new creative level. She volunteered to be part of this project, partnering with atxGals., who found these unique and incredible artists. When I heard the news, I felt a sense of joy and so blessed that an artist was set to work on a piece of artwork with the theme of networking, especially for me!

What message do you want to send to young women who want to make a difference in the community?

Women who want to make a difference in their community should visit YWA for a meeting. Why? With 600 members, you are sure to meet women with whom you feel comfortable asking your specific questions.

Another idea is to attend a YWA meeting with a friend. Immerse yourself in activities you enjoy or ones that cause you to expand your comfort zone. The future of women’s leadership is part of our responsibility.

In the spirit of YWA and “Beautifully Made”: “Anyone who says you can’t see a thought doesn’t know art.”


Vanessa Fuentes

I grew up in an immigrant working-class family and now have the honor of representing the eleventh largest city in the country as the youngest council member on the dais. I took office amid the pandemic in 2021 and represent portions of South Austin and Southeast Austin. I began my career in the public sector as a legislative aide, focused on criminal policy reform and eventually transitioning to health care-focused advocacy and policy at a national nonprofit. I am a staunch advocate for healthier communities.

What has the experience been like working with YWA for you?

As a past president of YWA, I honed my leadership skills and cultivated a network of like-minded women committed to service and professional development. YWA provides an incredible opportunity for young women to know our Austin community while navigating diverse career fields. YWA exposes you to countless opportunities to make a difference.

The women of YWA stood with me at my wedding and were the first volunteers I had on my campaign for public office. I’m forever indebted to the organization and will continue to support its mission.

When you found out you were being honored at Beautifully Made with a work of art, how did you feel?

I was delighted to meet artist Neena Buxani and learn about her story and craft. She visited my office at City Hall. We discussed my favorite colors (purple!) and the calling I felt to serve my community. When I saw the finished artwork, I instantly fell in love! It was the perfect piece to complement my office and signify my journey as a leader. 

What message do you want to send to young women who want to make a difference in the community?

You can make a difference in our community by raising your voice on issues that matter most to you and your family. It can be a simple email, a social media message to your lawmaker or serving on a city board or commission. Your perspective matters! Our strength as a community comes from our diversity. Never be afraid to speak up and speak out.


Katie Coyne

I use her/she pronouns and am a proud and out queer, butch woman. I love enjoying music and nature, have a loving wife and partner, have two cute dogs and love connecting with people. Starting in December 2021, I became the first woman in the role of environmental officer for the City of Austin. I am responsible for guiding all long-term visioning and policymaking related to Austin’s environmental goals. I am also the assistant director of the city’s Watershed Protection Department over Planning, Monitoring and Compliance branch of divisions.

What has the experience been like working with YWA for you?

YWA is an amazing organization that I first encountered in 2019 when I won the Austin Under 40 Award in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction category. I couldn’t be more pleased to be working with them knowing that YWA is building the next generation of women leaders through their programmatic and fundraising initiatives. Every person I’ve interacted with is doing their part to change the narratives around leadership from competition to collaboration. Truly encapsulating the spirit of lifting each other up.

When you found out you were being honored at Beautifully Made with a work of art, how did you feel?

At first, I was excited. The idea that a part of who I am was going to be distilled into a visual representation was such a novel and fun way to connect a leadership award to creative expression. But when I met my artist I felt more emotional. Not only did I feel Amanda’s medium was so on target for my personal taste and aesthetic. But we also connected person-to-person through telling my story and being vulnerable. It was such a unique way of becoming connected to another human and made me feel seen.

What message do you want to send to young women who want to make a difference in the community?

I’ve learned the most about what it means to be a leader from both feminist and queer communities. I’ve learned that:

Love isn’t scarce.

Humans can magnify love with each other, with community and for our world that does not take away from our ability to love any one person or thing deeply. The only thing that is scarce is time!

Collaboration is far superior to competition.

The idea that it’s a dog-eat-dog world is an idea rooted in a capitalist, colonialist, male-dominated society of our last century and before. Women leaders do not need to look and act more like our historical, prototypical male leaders. We need to challenge the status quo, examine and call out problematic power dynamics and reinvent what good leadership means in ways that create more just, empathetic and resilient workplaces and communities.

We need to acknowledge that most people are interacting with the world from either a place of love or fear.

When fear governs our actions, it’s based on trauma, not a conscious choice. The only solution to meeting that fear head-on in yourself and in others is by leading with empathy.

One of the things we fear most, universally, is change.

That causes quite a conflict when we acknowledge that a whole lot about this world needs to change for us to have those more just, empathetic and resilient outcomes. We each need to commit to doing the individual and community work it takes to cope with change so that we have the courage to walk forward together to make good trouble.


Judge Aurora Martinez Jones

I am Aurora Martinez Jones, the 126th District Court judge in Travis County. I’m responsible for the oversight and administration of all Travis County Termination of Parental Rights lawsuits filed by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Prior to that, I served as the very first associate judge dedicated to the Travis County CPS Courts. So, I’ve been on the bench since January 2, 2015. My legal career includes extensive experience advocating for parents and children in the child welfare system. I currently run a trauma-informed court.

In 2018, I co-founded the Child Welfare Race Equity Collaborative and am committed to equitable, progressive, antiracist work and approaches to supporting the children and families who appear in my court. Currently, I am leading a community effort in a local pilot to reimagine the child welfare system, which supports highlighting the voices of foster youth and people with lived experience to make this happen. I have an incredibly supportive husband, Mitchell Jones, and we are proud parents of our two precious little girls.

What has the experience been like working with YWA for you?

I have had such an emotionally moving experience working with YWA. During the Beautifully Made event, for me, I was overjoyed to be honored in such a unique way. It was amazing to get to meet a local woman artist and to truly get to make a new friend. Connection with other extraordinary women in Austin is always beneficial. I am truly grateful to have been able to work with YWA.

When you found out you were being honored at Beautifully Made with a work of art, how did you feel?

I was very excited. When YWA revealed my painting, I felt completely seen. It brought tears to my eyes. I never set out in my work for recognition. I’m a public servant. But to have a work of art that so intimately portrays who I am and what is most important to me made me feel like the new friend I made (artist Ella Nilsson) truly embraced me with all my passion and desire to help my community and memorialized it in art. I will always be grateful.

What message do you want to send to young women who want to make a difference in the community?

Each and everyone woman with a passion and a desire should pursue making a community impact. It’s up to us to by catalysts for change and to support efforts to bring the change to fruition.


Janice Omadeke

I’m Janice Omadeke, the founder and CEO of The Mentor Method, easy-to-use software that helps enterprises build impactful mentorship programs. Originally from Washington, D.C., I moved to Austin in 2018 to establish my business.

I created The Mentor Method to cultivate authentic belonging in the workplace for everyone. Through our mentoring software and patent-pending algorithm, we help customers like Amazon, the Department of Education and Silicon Labs retain, engage and develop underrepresented talent. I wholeheartedly believe in supporting underserved communities. In addition to helping companies create inclusive cultures, I give back by serving on the board of The New Philanthropists and the Austin Forum on Technology.

What has the experience been like working with YWA for you?

Over the last two years, I’ve worked with YWA’s leadership team to build out their mentorship program. It was a match from the start. Both YWA and The Mentor Method are aligned in fostering meaningful connections through the proven power of mentorship.

Through my work at The Mentor Method, I’ve helped create thousands of successful relationships. Pairing what I’ve learned with YWA’s commitment to transforming communities, we are creating mentorship programs that are inclusive, engaging and support helping members become leaders who are opening doors for others.

When you found out you were being honored at Beautifully Made with a work of art, how did you feel?

Honored! It’s especially touching that I was recognized alongside Carol Thompson, CEO and founder of the Thompson Group. During my first year in Austin, Carol helped me get acclimated to the Austin ecosystem by introducing me to mentors I’m still in communication with now.

What message do you want to send to young women who want to make a difference in the community?

Be intentional with leveraging your strengths to advance underserved communities. Serve on nonprofit boards. (If you’re unsure which nonprofits are expanding their boards, The New Philanthropists board-matching program can help you). Mentor other women and underrepresented people. Mentorship is an impactful way to motivate, inspire and cultivate change.


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