UMass Amherst Everywoman's Center

The Center for Women and Community
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CWC Award Winners

CWC announces the recipients of the 40th Anniversary Leadership and Advocacy Awards!


Janet Aalfs, former poet laureate of Northampton, is receiving the Arts award. This category recognizes the enormous positive impact that creative contributions have on our community. Janet E. Aalfs is a poet & writer, movement artist, community educator, performer, and international peace activist. A 7th degree black belt, she is a founding member and the artistic director of Valley Women's Martial Arts: Institute for Healing and Violence-Prevention Strategies, now in its 36th year. She has been a featured poet at the world-renowned Dodge Festival in New Jersey, and a teaching artist in Cape Town, South Africa. Her poems and essays have been published widely in journals and anthologies, including A Fierce Brightness: 25 Years of Women's Poetry (Calyx). Her most recent book of poems is Bird of a Thousand Eyes (Levellers Press).


Mary Kociela is receiving the Politics award. This category honors the political leaders locally, state-wide or nationally who have been working for positive social change.
Mary Kociela is Director of Domestic Violence Projects for the Northwestern District Attorney's Office. Mary has served in this position since 1997 where she has developed and overseen numerous prevention and intervention programs, most recently the High Risk Assessment Team for perpetrators of domestic violence. From 1984-1997, Mary worked at the New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, (NELCWIT) as the Sexual Assault Counselor/ Community Educator and for twelve years as the agency's Co-Director.


Arlene Avakian is receiving the Pioneer in the Field award. Being one of “the first” paves the way for others, both on a societal and individual level.
Arlene Voski Avakian is Professor Emeritus, former Chair and one of the founders of the Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies Department at UMASS, Amherst. Until her retirement she was an active member of the UMass community serving on many advisory boards including: the Women of Color Leadership Network, Social Thought and Political Economy Program, University Without Walls, Asian American Studies Committee, and the Five College Women's Studies Research Center. She is now very happily retired and living in Northampton.


The following women are receiving Social Justice Advocacy awards. The Social Justice Advocacy Award recognizes work that enhances diversity, social justice awareness and understanding, and creates social change.

Lisa Andrews works tirelessly for social justice at the intersection of motherhood and incarceration through the organization she co-founded, the Prison Birth Project (PBP). In response to learning that the new women’s regional jail in Chicopee did not have any services in place for pregnant women Lisa and her co-founder Marianne Bullock began meeting with women who were incarcerated. As a result two support programs for incarcerated mothers were started and have been maintained at the Chicopee Women’s Jail: Mothers Among Us and the Doula Program. Lisa is also raising two children and maintaining a garden that feeds her family.

Vira Douangmany Cage is a 38 year old Lao American, mother, wife and Amherst resident. She recognizes what is wrong in America and her solutions always entail organizing on the strengths of its people. Vira believes in the innate desire, sheer will, and determination of Americans to come together when there's a need and take collective action. Vira has experience with community, campus, labor and youth organizing. Most recently she successfully organized with the community, friends and family members to free her nephew from a wrongful murder conviction.

Linda Scott is a clinical psychologist and the Assistant Director for Consultation and Education (Outreach) at the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health at UMASS. A proud graduate of UMASS, Linda remains committed to giving back to the campus community, especially women and underrepresented populations, for example by training interns. She believes that she can help make change by providing support, guidance and hope to those in need. Linda is also a longtime summer volunteer in the kitchen at Camp Takumta, a camp for children with cancer.

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