The 2015 Salute to Women Awards Luncheon was held on Thursday, March 12 at the Great Northern Hotel in Helena, Montana.  The lunch was a tremendous success honoring fantastic women and raising money to support women and girls in Helena.  We thank our many sponsors and volunteers who helped make the event such a success.  

This was a transition year for the event.  The YWCA determined it did not have the staff time to continue to organize the Salute to Women.  Soroptomist International of Helena and the Big Sky Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association gladly stepped in and took over event organization duties.  The transition was seamless and the future of the event is bright.


Our 2015 Salute to Women honorees show us what we can achieve if we put our minds to it, take action and care deeply about the outcome and our community.  We congratulate all the winners and look forward to learning about their continued success.

This year’s awards and award winners include:

Ann Waickman, Executive Director Helena Food Share

YWCA Woman of the Year

Award Criteria:  The YWCA Women of the Year Award is presented to a woman whose professional and/or volunteer work supports, embodies and complements the YWCA Helena’s mission of eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.

Ann Waickman has served as the executive director of Helena Food Share since 2002.  During that time she has seen tremendous growth in the number of households served, from about 300 per month to 1500 per month.  In addition to the growth in number of households served, Ann has grown the other services of Food Share such as the Kid Pack Program and the Farmers Market coupons for senior citizens.  Ann has grown Food Shares financial support so that today, the organization is financial strong.  She is also creative in findings new ways to generate community support for food drives such as the annual Turkey drive and collaboration with the Carroll College Symphony Under the Stars canned food drive.  One nominator wrote, “Ann is truly a living example of the ideals the YWCA holds up, she advocates for social justice, knowing that food insecurity is not just, she is a role model of an empowered woman, and works to empower other women with her mentoring and leadership.  Ann Waickman, is, in all ways, the woman of the year.”

Paula Vander Jagt, Owner Van’s Thriftway, Helena

Salute to Women, Woman of Achievement Award

Award Criteria:  The Woman of Achievement Award is presented to a woman whose involvement and commitment to the Helena community works to improve the lives of women and girls which leads to social and economic empowerment.

Paula Vander Jagt, along with her family has owned Van’s Thriftway since 1997.  Van’s is a well-known supporter of many community organizations.   Recently Van’s and Paula were instrumental in raising funds to help Braveheart, a mini-therapy-horse who needed surgery to continue his therapeutic service to children.  Thanks to help from Paula and Van’s, Braveheart is now back to providing his therapeutic services to children.  She also offers product and services for events like the Lost and Foundation and supplying space in her store for Soroptimists to encourage customers to donate items to the YWCA’s Placer Pantry.  One nominator wrote, “Nearly every non-profit in Helena has benefited from the generosity of Paula…She knows the value of community, and the value of sharing and caring.”  Here employees chime in as well.  Saying they wouldn’t work for anyone else.  “She’s going to help you if you need it.”

Tara Fisher

Soroptomist of Helena Live Your Dream Scholarship Award

Award Criteria:  This scholarship is given to a woman who provides the primary financial support for her family and who is currently enrolled in a vocational program or an undergraduate degree program. This $1,000 scholarship is designed to help women further their education which will improve the lives of their families.

A little more than a year ago, Tara was attending Helena College working toward her LPN degree when her world fell apart.  She went through a divorce and fought to keep custody of her four-year-old daughter.  At the same time three close relatives passed away in Kentucky, where Tara is from.  She and her daughter were forced to live with friends to make ends meet.  But she persevered through it all and was able to complete her LPN degree and pass her State Boards.  Tara is currently working towards her RN degree and works at Urgent Care.  Her dream is to become a trauma flight nurse.

Katelyn Opp

ABWA Stephen Bufton Memorial Scholarship

Award Criteria:  This scholarship is awarded to a deserving woman who has chosen to further her education in support of her career.  This $2,000 scholarship goes to a woman attending a Montana College or University and has maintained a 3.0 or higher GPA.

Katelyn Opp is currently attending the University of Montana to become a teacher of the deaf.  She is the mother of four young children.   Katelyn gave up a full time job as a sign language interpreter for the Helena School District to return to school, which she says was a very scary thing to do financially. The family had to rely only on her husband’s income and some part-time money that Katelyn earned which made affording school difficult.  The ABWA scholarship helped Katelyn focus on school with less worry.   The hard work paid off.  Katelyn made the Dean’s list for her first semester.  It is Katelyn’s dream to create a better future through education for deaf and hard-of-hearing children.