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Wonder Women

4 Everyday Superheroes Who Are Changing the World

You don't need superpowers to change the world. 

Just a little bit of courage, determination and heart — no cape required. From aviation to education, these four extraordinary women are making a big impact in Houston and beyond. 

Join us as we celebrate the accomplishments of these modern-day heroes and learn how they are working to make our city and the world a better place.

Tahchiona Smith 

Pilot

Raiders Tigers Flying Club

It was 5 p.m., and the sun was setting. 

The sky was clear and the wind calm — the perfect day for 17-year-old Tahchiona Smith to take her first solo flight. 

“It was surreal,” the now 25-year-old Tahchiona recalls. “I was like, ‘You know what? I can do this.’ It gave me a boost of confidence that I was doing what I was supposed to do.” 

The moment was also special because she’s now one of the few Black female pilots in the United States. According to Sisters of the Skies, there are fewer than 150 Black women who are professional pilots.

While growing up in Houston, Tahchiona dreamed of becoming a pilot. She remembers going with her grandmother to watch planes take off and land at Houston’s Hobby Airport as a child. 

At 16 — while her peers were driving cars for the first time — Tahchiona started flight training. In fact, she took her first solo flight before learning how to drive a car and getting a driver’s license. 

Now she is a professional pilot for JSX. She also mentors aspiring pilots as a flight instructor with the Raiders-Tigers Flying Club, a nonprofit bringing diversity to aviation by offering low-cost flight lessons. 

 “I think it’s important to see people who look like you, doing the things you want to do,” she says. “That’s why I do a lot of mentoring. Every day I get to talk about my path, that’s an opportunity to be able to reach one and teach one.”

Learn more at raiderstigersflyingclub.org. 

Yuliya Kozhushanova 

World champion ballroom dancer

Dance Life Houston 

As 11-year-old Yuliya Kozhushanova glided across the ballroom floor during a dance audition in Portugal, the instructor noticed something special about the Ukrainian girl, who had only started dancing that year. 

The instructor told Yuliya’s mom how talented Yuliya was and that she needed to pursue a competitive dance career. By age 12, she was competing professionally.  

Fast forward to 2022, and that young girl is now a 27-year-old world champion ballroom dancer. 

But how did she get here?

Yuliya started dancing when her family immigrated from Ukraine to Portugal. She practiced day and night to perfect her technique. While this meant sacrificing school holidays and family vacations, it was a small price to pay to become a professional ballroom dancer.

“I was — and am — in love with dancing,” she says. 

Three years ago, she moved to Houston, where she met her husband, Dmitriy. In 2021, they opened a dance studio — Dance Life Houston — where they teach others how to dance. 

“My favorite part about teaching is that first lesson where my student tells me that he or she can't dance and has two left feet,” she says. “I know that after a few lessons my student will impress others, but they don’t know it yet.”

Yuliya has also turned her passion into a mission to help people in Ukraine impacted by the war. 

While Yuliya has learned her grandmother, who lives in Mariupol, is safe, the Kozhushanovas want to help get food and supplies to people in need. They are hosting free group dance lessons and accepting donations. 

“It’s terrible what is happening,” Yuliya says. “But we need to be strong and do what we can to help. Even if it’s just $1 every person can give, it’s enough.” 

To donate, call 731-408-6445 or email dancelifehouston@gmail.com. 

Laura S. Moore

Director

Nourish Program

“Let food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.” 

Many of us are familiar with this quote by Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, type 2 diabetes and heart disease are two of the leading causes of death in the United States. 

But did you know these conditions can be managed and often prevented with a healthy, balanced diet? 

Laura Moore, director of the University of Texas Health Science Center at the UTHealth School of Public Health Nourish program, is passionate about holistic nutrition. Her expertise is in nutrition, culinary arts and community garden education. 

However, her first passion was food and began while training at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. As a dietitian and chef, she knew a lot about food but not how to talk to patients in a practical way to help them make healthy lifestyle changes. 

After completing her master’s in education, her goal was to promote nutrition education that was sensible, practical and accessible for all people. So, her goal was to create resources to provide students, dietitians and other healthcare providers with the nutrition education and culinary skills necessary to teach patients and community members how to prevent health issues resulting from poor eating habits. 

The Nourish program features a food garden, teaching kitchen and simulation center, making it the first school of public health to have such a program. The additional components offer students a wide range of hands-on experiences that enable them to help people live healthier lives.

About three years ago, the idea to publish a fundraising cookbook was born. In December 2021, “How Good Food Works: From Seed To Plate” launched. 

Proceeds from book sales are dedicated to the Nourish program’s classes offered in underserved communities.

Learn more at sph.uth.edu/research/centers/dell/nourish.

Kerlin Sabogal

Founder and executive president 

The Courage to Bee

Terry Jones was 7 when he decided to help make his mom’s dream a reality. 

As a single mom, bilingual educator and school principal-in-training living in Houston, Kerlin Sabogal didn’t have much money but felt it was time to start a nonprofit to help underserved youth. Terry knew his mom needed money to open a bank account for the organization and offered to donate $40 of the $80 he saved from his allowance, making him the first donor of The Courage to Bee, Inc.  

“I always tell people you need to start from where you are with what you have,” Kerlin says. “There is never going to be a perfect opportunity to start something. You just need to do it. That’s exactly what I did, and my son was the first donor.” 

A former journalist, Kerlin came to the United States from Colombia in 2009, determined to learn English and build a career in education. The idea for The Courage to Bee, Inc. was born while traveling solo around the world and visiting impoverished countries. 

The nonprofit helps build a path to quality education for at-risk youth by providing free basic school supplies and life essentials, access to technology, and skill-building workshops. In 2019, Kerlin visited the Dominican Republic and saw there were students in need of help. 

In 2020, a pilot project launched in Houston, benefiting students in the local community and the Dominican Republic. Since then, the nonprofit has reached 500 students across four regions and is preparing to start its second pilot project in Houston. 

Terry is now 10 and his generous donation is a reminder that it only takes one small step to make a big impact.

“Many people think they need millions to give back, but you don’t have to have a lot to give,” Kerlin says. “You just need to give.”

Learn more at thecouragetobee.org

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