Women Making a Difference

Get to know four influential women and the tireless work they do to improve our community

Article by Chris Watson

Photography by Terry Fravel and Sabrina Hall

Originally published in Canton Lifestyle

Mary Ellen Icaza - CEO of the Stark County District Library

How did you end up here?

I intended to work at an academic library until I interned at my local public library. I really enjoyed the spontaneity and impact of the work and improving people’s lives. After a few years though, I wanted to have a larger voice. That is when I took this opportunity in 2018, and my family moved here from Maryland. I work with my team to set our strategic vision. We pride ourselves in welcoming everyone and serving our community.

What is important about what you do?
Providing access to information and services that people might not otherwise have. For example, we are the Stark County affiliate of the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. If education is the pathway out of poverty, then early literacy is the handrail, and putting books in the hands of children is very important to me.

We have also been able to provide virtual programming, online media, Wi-Fi hotspots and tech support throughout a pandemic. I think it is important we exist to provide these services.

Any advice for young women?
There is more opportunity here than people might realize, so get to know where you live and become involved. Lean in and have a voice at the table!

Visit for more information.

Maiharriese Wooden - The determined woman behind Stark Blessing Box Initiative

Why did you create Stark Blessing Box Initiative?

I used to be a single mom, laid off because my employer closed and I needed welfare assistance. There are good people there, but the system reduces you to your income and is very dehumanizing. Although it was a brief period in my life, I will never forget how I felt.
I discovered blessing boxes while living in Columbus. If you need food or detergent, you take it. Nobody judges you for your situation. Anonymity preserves dignity, and that is important to me.

How has it grown?
Starting out it was just God and me filling a couple of boxes. Now I have great volunteers, 13 boxes in various neighborhoods, and hopefully 21 boxes by the end of 2021.

It can be difficult for people to trust something that is not yet a nonprofit, and I don’t blame them. Nonprofits mean rules and accountability, but also peace of mind for donors and volunteers. It is a work in progress for sure.

What counsel would you offer young Stark women?
Value yourself enough to care for yourself. That will allow you to take care of others. Once you do, all the beautiful things you want to accomplish will flow out.

Learn more at

Debra Neff-Maurer - Wearer of many hats at Girls on the Run East Central Ohio

How did you end up at GOTRECO?
I was drawn to Girls on the Run because I’ve witnessed bullying first hand, and I love that this program teaches girls to stand up for themselves and others. We build on confidence, competence, caring, connection, character, contribution and physical activity. I’ve been with the council for three years and became Executive Director in 2021.

How is the spring 2021 season going so far?
Great, all things considered! We have 395 girls registered which surpasses our goal of 300. I believe we would have close to 600 girls had circumstances permitted. We provide a safe and inclusive environment for them to be social and active. It is a noncompetitive program, so they can walk, run or hop to the finish line! Our Celebration 5K event is on May 15.

Care to share a GOTRECO lesson?
This is how we teach the girls to resolve conflict: Stop, breathe, think, respond and evaluate. First stop yourself from acting immediately, then take five breaths while thinking of ways to react. Next choose a way to respond and review how you feel about your decision. This has really helped me over the past year and I think we can all learn from it.

Head to for further reading.

Alivia Hershberger - The fun-loving founder of Simply Give

What is Simply Give all about?
It started with a Facebook page encouraging random acts of kindness, but quickly turned into a nonprofit outfit holding charitable events like Mardi Bra - a recurring event held the week of Mardi Gras. Women donate new bras, underwear and feminine products to local women’s shelters and youth organizations. We collected over 3,000 items last year!
There is also Strong and Courageous Cancer Outreach. We collect and assemble over 550 chemotherapy care bags to give to local cancer centers. Every care bag includes a handwritten note of encouragement that lets patients know they are loved, supported and prayed for.

Where do you find fulfillment?
Making a difference in someone’s life makes my heart happy. I have always loved the saying, “The smallest deed is better than the grandest intention.” Aspirations do not matter; we have to act on it, even if we start with a small deed.

Do you have some words of wisdom?
Chase your passions. Stop overthinking and go for it! When you have passion for something it will propel you into awesome things and experiences. Also, you can’t care what others will think. It is easier said than done but so important when you are pursuing your goals!

Follow Simply Give at

Related Businesses

Related Articles