Local female leaders who are paving the way in West Chester and Liberty Township
In February we asked readers to nominate local female leaders who are positively impacting West Chester and Liberty Township. We received an overwhelming response, selected a handful of women and added a few of our own picks to round out this amazing group of ladies. These profiles give you a small glimpse into the day-to-day lives of eight wonderful women.
Karen Williams loves fostering philanthropy through relationships. As Vice President of Donor Relations at the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty, Williams enjoys engaging with community members and seeing how this area has evolved over the last twenty years.
“It’s been remarkable to see the growth,” she says.
Williams strives to share the importance of giving back in the community, which is part of both her work and home life.
“Building a culture of philanthropy in the communities of West Chester and Liberty is a wonderful way to build a legacy for the young people to come,” Williams says.
The Public Servant
Public Affairs Officer Michelle Berling filled many roles in her 16 years with the West Chester Police. In June, she switches again, to Intelligence Officer.
“It’s a new learning experience each time,” she explains. “It makes me a better police officer—more well-rounded.”
Berling grew up here, influenced by her father, a volunteer firefighter lieutenant. She claims the fire and police departments as family. Her comfort with public service manifests in a friendly attitude.
“I try to be approachable,” Berling says. “I think it has helped the police department, as well as the community, to bridge the communication gap.”
West Chester Police Officer Maggie Clem always wanted to be in law enforcement. Some said she was too small; they didn’t know her big spirit.
“When I was a kid and I would tell people I wanted to be a police officer, they would pat me on the head and say, ‘Aw, that’s cute,’” she shares.
Others’ doubts only urged her to succeed. Clem’s dream was realized when she joined her hometown department in 2017, as the youngest and one of two women on the 84-member force.
“I went after it and here I am,” she says with a smile.
As Liberty Township Administrator, Kristen Bitonte is excited to be part of a fast-growing community with opportunities to help prepare and shape its future. Bitonte has been administrator since 2012 and says that every day presents a new challenge.
“My favorite thing is that every single day is different. I’m a person who likes order, but it is a good challenge,” Bitonte says. “I also really appreciate the amazing team we have.”
She believes that good ‘planning’ lays the groundwork for tomorrow’s successes. Outside of work, Bitonte loves nature and watching her sons play sports.
When she moved to Ohio last year, Diane Bray joined the Rotary Club of Mason-Deerfield, and began spearheading volunteer efforts, quickly receiving recognition for her activism. She began volunteering in her twenties by being a YMCA “Big Sister” to a young girl with whom she still communicates 40 years later.
Bray’s extensive international travels prompted her to join Dining For Women, a global giving circle to alleviate poverty, for which she founded a local chapter.
“I want to do my part, even if it’s a small part,” she says. “I want to give back because it fills my heart and soul.”
Amanda Ocariz teaches seventh and eighth grade English at Mother Teresa Catholic Elementary School (MTCES) in Liberty Township. Ocariz has been instrumental in developing the junior high program at MTCES since its inception in 2005. She co-leads a unique peer tutoring program, guiding teens in 52 hours of service with younger students.
Ocariz and her close-knit team place special emphasis on guiding students to become the best version of themselves.
“It goes beyond preparing our students for high school, college and the work world,” she says. “We want to empower them to positively contribute to society and shape the future.”
The Bridge Builder
Carmen Colón-Brown knows what it’s like to feel misunderstood and unwelcome; she is a first-generation Puerto Rican that grew up on the mainland during the Civil Rights era. As Pastor of Vida Eterna Iglesia Luterana (VEIL), a bilingual Latino ministry in West Chester, Colón-Brown works to bring God’s hope, love and empowerment to Spanish-speaking immigrants in our area.
“This ministry is all about embracing this community as human beings and welcoming them,” she explains. “I’m trying to get cultures to meet and know there’s everything to embrace and nothing to fear.”
Whether she’s working with her own children or helping teachers work with their students, Tina Pratt is always focused on learning. With a background in special education, she works as a behavior specialist for Lakota schools. She believes that parenting toward good behavior is a result of making everything a learning experience for children.
Pratt writes articles for Cincinnati Family Magazine, exploring her community with her kids and sharing what they find.
“We like to be on the go, and we find as many ways to embed lessons as possible,” she says. “I believe in practicing what I preach.”