Meet this year’s group of amazing, inspiring women

Photographed on-site at Chandler Center for the Arts

 

Heather Anguiano

Principal, Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary

 

The words Heather Anguiano strives to live by are, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” 

This principal of an elementary school dedicates herself to volunteerism serving on the executive board for Si Se Puede Foundation and as the district liaison of Chandler CARE Center, which provides free and low-cost dental and medical services to underinsured children.

“I have always enjoyed helping people and getting involved in my community. Being a teacher and administrator has allowed me to work directly with children and families while making a difference in their lives and preparing them for their future,” she says.

She truly embraces being that change she wishes to see in the world. 

“I have always had a passion for working with underrepresented populations.”—MG

 

 

Dr. Camille Casteel

Superintendent, Chandler Unified School District

 

Dr. Camille Casteel, Ed.D., is helping to spearhead an ambitious goal: to have CUSD become the best school district in the country by 2025.

Dreaming of a career in education since childhood, the wife of 48 years and mom of two grown daughters continues to fill that calling. Camille has been working with the CUSD since 1971, when the late Eddie Basha, Jr. helped her secure a place within the district.

“The talents and successes of our students motivate me daily,” she shares. “The commitment and dedication of our staff inspires me to work harder. The parents and community members who challenge us to be better and show their appreciation and support in numerous ways energize me.”

While life is “crazy busy,” she finds time for work, family and fun, including spending time regularly with her 93-year-old mom, who is her biggest inspiration.—MTE

 

 

Andrea Donnellan

Special Education Teacher, Weinberg Elementary School

 

Andrea Donnellan grew up watching her parents teach and knew she would follow in their footsteps. She witnessed their hard work and dedication, and viewed it as giving back, instead of just their job. Today, she’s a special education teacher and has been with CUSD for 21 years.

“Teaching becomes a part of who you are and how you live,” she explains. “It was a part of their [her parents] identity and has become a part of mine.”

Andrea is eager to have a positive impact on the next generation of educators, just as her colleagues and first principal had on her.

“Growing up, my parents often told me, ‘Fair is when everyone gets what they need.’ As a teacher, and a mom of two young children, this to me embodies what it means to be part of the greater good. To help where it is most needed, to assist others become successful, to ensure that everyone gets what they need to reach their personal best.”—MG

 

 

Melinda Gunther

Social Worker, Co-founder, Live Love Chandler

 

Melinda describes herself as a social worker by trade and a bleeding heart by nature. She moved to Chandler after living in Guatemala for four years. Seeing the hurt and struggles there, she felt compelled to help those in need in her new community.

“The stories I heard and the people I met are the reasons we launched Live Love in Chandler,” she explains. “I love watching neighbors connect with each other, care for one another, and work together to make a positive impact where they live.”

Live Love Chandler, a non-profit organization, partners with neighborhood leaders to build a stronger community.

Personally, Melinda just finished a grueling year fighting breast cancer.

“This journey connected me to a new segment of our community that I otherwise would never have ‘seen’ the way I do now. I continue to find myself connecting with women newly diagnosed who, like I did, feel overwhelmed and broken. The way my heart loves and cares for others is at the core of who I am,” she says.

Live Love’s next step is the development of two acres near downtown Chandler, which will grow to be the hub of neighborhood activities, offering a gathering spot for families, community events, vocational training, a community garden and more.—MG

 

 

 

Priya Kalra

Owner, Experimac Chandler

 

What a love of gadgets and tech knowledge did not provide to Priya was a guide to balancing work and family, but she learns quickly. With a business here and another in Africa, her husband travels a lot and she often feels like a single “mum” to her two girls.

Raised in a tight-knit community in Zambia, Priya feels everyone she meets has influenced her life, but her mother is the author of her lifelong mantra: Everything happens for a reason.

“Growing up my mum always said to me, ‘Everything happens for a reason,’ and I truly believe that there is a lesson to be learned in every situation!”

Priya took those words to heart after being diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago.

“I had two ways to deal with it. Either feel sorry for myself and have a difficult journey, or I could be positive and learn from the situation that life threw at me,” she says. “I chose the latter and came out stronger with a better version of myself.”

Her quest for answers inspired Priya’s Female Friday social media video series, where she interviews women entrepreneurs to explore why they started their businesses.  

“You never know whose story may help another woman take that step,” she says.

She recently organized a local Children’s Business Expo, offering local kids the opportunity to sell products they made themselves to the community.—GY

 

Paula Knight

Food Bank Manager, AZCEND

 

Paula Knight’s intro on Facebook simply states, “I love helping the community.” And she does just that as Food Bank Manager at AZCEND, helping change lives by assisting those who have fallen on difficult times.

“I love supporting the community. I can go home each day with a smile knowing I helped someone,” she says.

A typical day for Paula includes coaching volunteers and support groups on the services AZCEND provides, including emergency shelter, homeless services, the food bank, family resources, senior programs, and more.  Her team also collects food from 30 stores, organizing and distributing it.

Paula’s family and her work are deeply rooted in the community. A third generation Chandler resident, she is married, and has both a son and grandson.

What is the most rewarding part of what she does?

“To know that I helped change a life in the community, day by day.”—AO

 

 

 

Denise McCreery

Owner, d’Vine Gourmet

 

Denise loves to make people happy, and she’s grateful that she is able to do that every day as the owner of a specialty store featuring locally made gourmet foods and gift baskets since 2003.

“We make a little difference in everyone’s day when they receive one of our delicious gifts,” she says.

Married for 23 years, she started her business 16 years ago because she saw a lack of options for locally made gifts and was looking for a flexible schedule for her two toddler children.

A true asset to Chandler’s small business community, she is always ready and willing to mentor other small business owners and promote local.

“I have personally helped almost a dozen small food businesses launch,” she explains. “We let people use our commercial kitchen to establish proof of concept and are often advisors at start-up events and business organizations. I fully believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Denise is also known for her charitable generosity; one of her favorites is ICAN, which provides positive programming for local youth in Chandler.—MTE

 

 

Melanie Smith

Volunteer Coordinator, Chandler Police Department

 

Volunteering has been a constant thread in Melanie’s life. She reminisces about her grandparents, who took her to volunteer at their church when she was young, teaching by example. Her mother also encouraged her to be active and give back, and she did so through Girls Scouts, Key Club, as her sorority’s philanthropy chair, and by volunteering at a homeless shelter.

“I love giving back to the community, feeling involved and helping others,” she shares.

Melanie has been able to carve out a life of giving by finding her perfect job. Twelve years ago, she applied for the volunteer coordinator position at the Chandler Police Department—and she’s been there ever since.

“One of the benefits of my job is that I get to work with several non-profits in our great city. This allows me to learn about and work within various aspects of the community just by doing my full-time job.”

—MG

 

 

Aimee Stewart
Founder/Artistic Director, Chandler Children’s Choir

 

Aimee has made it her mission to guide and train young singers in the community.

“Music was always a huge part of my life,” she explains of her passion.

Raised in a musical family, she sang in choirs and played piano, guitar and violin in orchestras. Singing in the Salt Lake City Children’s Choir as a teenager opened her mind to the joy of classical choral singing.

When the Stewarts, along with their talented children, arrived in the East Valley, they recognized the need for a local children’s choir. So, in 2008 Aimee founded the Chandler Children’s Choir (CCC).

“I always knew I wanted to teach children,” she says.

Under her direction, the highly respected organization has trained almost 2,000 young singers. CCC singers are regularly selected to perform in national, regional and state honor choirs. The organization recently created an outreach program for a Title 1 school.

Aimee volunteers for many leadership roles in the community, and this July begins a two-year term as president of the Arizona chapter of American Choral Director’s Association.—AO

 

 

Kari Zurn

Senior Loan Officer, Academy Mortgage Corporation

 

You can take the teacher out of the school, but you can’t take the teacher out of, well, a teacher.

Kari Zurn spent 16 years as an educator before reinventing herself as a mortgage professional. And her gift for nurturing and giving is one she has continued with her second career by coming up with creative ways to give back to the community.

A 20-year Chandler resident, Kari is active with the Chandler Police Department’s community efforts, including Relay for Life, and along with her team, she hosts a biannual shred-a-thon that helps residents safely dispose of sensitive documents and prescription drugs. She is an organizer of many annual community events, including the Easter Egg Hunt, Free Pictures with Santa and a Holiday Decorating/Lighting Contest, to name just a few.

She is also the founding member of Arizona’s Heroes Home Team and Ocotillo Business Professionals, a networking group.

“If I could help save some heartache for others, it would be extremely gratifying,” says Kari, who is married and has two daughters. “I believe it stems from the educator that lies deep within me.”—GY

 

Jody Zvada

Owner, Care in Choosing, Senior Placement Services

 

When her grandmother needed assisted living services, Jody experienced firsthand the difficult process families in this situation face.

That journey quickly became the inspiration for the company she founded, which aims to simplify elder care options.

“The most rewarding part about what I do is seeing the positive impact a family has from the information and guidance I provide to them during an overwhelming and stressful time of transition for a senior and their loved ones,” she says.

Married with two sons, Jody has spent her 20 years living and working in Chandler assisting those in need. Swing Fore Hope, which benefits breast cancer research, and Chandler National Little League are among those efforts. She is also a recipient of the CUSD’s AAA Award for volunteering, and drives for Neighbors Who Care, transporting the elderly to appointments, shopping and other key errands.

“Chandler is a thoughtful, caring, productive, civic-minded community that I’m proud to call home,” she says.—GY