By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
In the month of March Women’s History Month traces its beginnings back as far as 1911. It was in 1980 that President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week.
Through the next several years Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as Women’s History Week. By 1986 fourteen states had declared March as Women’s History Month and by 1987 Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing President Ronald Reagan to proclaim March as Women’s History Month. Since 1988 presidents have issued annual proclamations designating the month of March as Women’s History Month.
Women throughout the United States are recognized in March because of Women’s History Month. In the City of Gary there are numerous women who have made significant accomplishments in various professional fields. Two women highlighted for their endeavors are President and CEO of Edgewater Behavioral Health Services Danita Johnson-Hughes and, O’Merrial Butchee, Director of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center.
Danita Johnson-Hughes is originally from Gary and a graduate of Gary West Side High School. She has been the President and CEO of Edgewater Behavioral Health Services for the past 20 years. Johnson-Hughes said being a woman and the head of an organization such as Edgewater is not difficult but a challenge.
She said, “It’s a welcomed challenge. The thing women in this type of field deal with is that they don’t have the same support system that males do. It’s more difficult for women to get people who can mentor them in similar positions because there are not many women that are CEOs. It’s easier to get men to work with them, coach them, mentor them or train them than it is for women. They have to do a lot of it on their own and have to seek out mentors.”
Johnson-Hughes said there are support systems out there that women can create for themselves that will help you when you need someone to bounce ideas off of, get advice from or people you can talk to when you are having trying situations.
She said, “The major challenge that we have is that living in Gary and working in Gary and trying to provide services to the people with the average income being so low. In the past most of the people we served didn’t have a paying source or insurance. We have been able to continue to serve many people that don’t have a paying source but the bottom line it hurts us. We still feel that’s why we are there and we have to make sure the people have the services they need. It’s all about community health and well-being.”
Johnson-Hughes said one of the many reasons they do their job is because in the past two years they have opened two programs, one program is the South Shore Commons opened in 2014. It is a 60-unit apartment building for people who are homeless. It gives them the opportunity to reside in their own apartments that they rent which puts a roof over their heads.
She said, “We’ve found that if people don’t have a roof over their heads, we can’t help them. The last thing they are thinking about is trying to get to a doctor’s appointment.”
Another project they are proud of is the Rapid Access Center that recently opened. The Rapid Access Center is a crisis stabilization unit like an urgent care unit. Johnson-Hughes said, “It is a place for people who are going through a psychiatric crisis or withdrawals from alcohol or drugs. Rather than go to a hospital or go to jail we take the burden off the hospital or jail. They bring them there, we get them medication and services so when they leave us they have a place to go.”
Johnson-Hughes said she has donated 20 years of her life to Edgewater because she is a product of the City of Gary and she wasn’t born with a silver spoon in her mouth. She said, “I know how it is for a person to need, to want and be hopeless. I’ve been there and done that. I feel it is my responsibility to give back especially to our community and to people of color. We as people go through a lot, but we are able to bounce back and a lot of times that bouncing back is because we have people who help us and support us throughout our lives. We feel like we are their family and we want to get them better, get them functioning and do what we can to help them to be successful in their lives.”
O’Merrial Butchee Entrepreneur and Business Leader
O’Merrial Butchee is the Director of the Gerald I. Lamkin Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center and Adjunct Professor at Ivy Tech Community College Northwest serving seven counties and four campuses in Gary, East Chicago, Michigan City and Valparaiso.
O’Merrial is a former treasurer of the American Can Company where she managed a portfolio in excess of $80 million. As an entrepreneur, author, business and community leader, she started a training and consulting organization where she experienced best practices and innovative works of clients like Johnson Controls, McDonalds Corporation, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and The Environmental Protection Agency.
She served as the interim chair of The Society prior to the election of Dr. Richard Sussman of ArcelorMittal and serves on several boards including a Board Governor for the Society, ECIER, Legacy Foundation, The One Region Board, EASE Mentoring Project and an officer of the Gary Chamber of Commerce.
Butchee, says she is the Matriarch of her family. She has three siblings that have given her 12 nieces and nephews. She said she and the family members that live in the area have get-together at least twice a month for dinner but the entire family gathers as one at least twice a year under her direction. Her hobbies are that she is currently writing a children’s book that will be green related for teachers to use under science and the STEM Program. She has already written two other books, one of the books “Hallie’s Comet” was co-written with Hallie Bryant, a former Harlem Globetrotter. Butchee said she doesn’t have any children of her own, but she loves what she does.