Released By Osceola County Community Outreach/Public Information Office
In honor of Women’s History Month, Osceola County recognized five women for their positive contributions to the community on Monday, March 11, 2019.
“These honorees exemplify the strength and diversity of the women in our community who lead through action, and share freely of their wisdom and compassion,” said Osceola Commission Chairwoman Cheryl Grieb. “These five women are role models for public service, and have dedicated themselves to making Osceola a better place – we are thankful for their continuing service.”
The impetus for the award started five years ago after Viviana Janer was elected to the Commission. Each commissioner selects a nominee for the award.
“It is more important than ever to honor these women who lead, inspire and empower us,” said Janer, who is currently vice chair of the Commission. “The accomplishments of this year’s group demonstrates how much women contribute to our society – not only as inspirational advocates and leaders, but also as a voice for those who need support and understanding.”
This year’s Woman Warrior honorees include:
· District 1, Sumer Lyn Grace, Agape Food Ministries: Sumer Lyn has been in the ministry for more than 9 years and has served at four churches including Church of Agape Love. She is one of the pastors and sits on the board of directors for Agape Food Ministries. Sumer Lyn learned of the need in Intercession City after a food distribution facility there shut down. It is her personal mission to meet the needs of Intercession City families and those in neighboring communities. The new food distribution ministry went from serving 22 families to 60 families a week – making produce, non-perishable items and bread available for distribution. The mission has continued to grow, providing resources to about 160 families, or about 470 individuals, each week. In Caddition, Agape Food Ministries has partnered with others in the community to create free, educational arts programs for children, which teach arts and crafts, painting, dance, American sign language, Spanish and much more. The ministry has been instrumental in assisting families with food needs during the holidays – helping more than 150 at each event. Sumer Lyn is a native Floridian, who grew up in Ocala.
· District 2, Martha Gens, Chief Deputy, Osceola Sheriff’s Office: Martha was working full-time as a 911 dispatcher when she found her true calling as a Law Enforcement Officer. At the time, she attending Valencia College, aiming to become a nurse. But following her heart, she decided to attend the Kissimmee Police Academy where she graduated at the top of her class. Martha started her law enforcement career on the road in patrol, later becoming a field-training officer and progressing to detective in the Tourist Crime Unit and the Criminal Apprehension Unit. In the Criminal Investigation Division, she worked cases involving Child Abuse, Sex Crimes and Homicide. Martha was promoted to Sergeant in 1997. She supervised Patrol units and oversaw recruit training. Martha went on to manage the agency’s Forensic Unit, Person Crimes, and Sex Crimes Unit. As a Sergeant over the K-9 Unit, she became passionate about working with canines and implemented new training drills and the bloodhound program. Promoted to Chief Deputy in 2017 by Sheriff Russ Gibson, she is the highest ranked woman in the history of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office — and is responsible for its daily operations. Martha was born in New Hampshire, moved to Osceola in 1977, and graduated from Osceola High School in 1983.
· District 3, Marcia Tompkins: A native of Winter Haven, Marcia grew up in Avon Park, and moved to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida. Marcia and her husband Tom started a development business in Kissimmee in 1973. Marcia graduated from law school at the University of Florida in 1980. The family business was the original reason Marcia went to law school – so she could serve as legal counsel for the business. But she soon learned that her true calling was to serve as a pro-bono attorney for organizations in Osceola County. After accepting a seat on the Board of Directors for Osceola Mental Health in 1983 at the urging of Edna Thacker, Marcia spent the next 35 years advocating for funding for mental health services in Osceola County. Marcia was instrumental in the organization’s evolution to become Park Place Behavioral Health, a 52,000-square-foot hospital that offers a variety of services to the community. She also served on the Valencia College Board of Trustees and was its Chair from 1995-97. During that time, she advocated for the College’s current location and construction of its first building at what is now a vibrant Osceola campus. Marcia serves on the Osceola Arts Board of Directors and hopes that art and cultural buildings will be funded into the future – accomplishing a goal of a committee she served on 20 years ago.
· District 4, Desiree Matthews, Deputy City Manager of Kissimmee: Desiree currently serves as second-in-command of the City of Kissimmee with an annual budget of $187 million and more than 750 employees. She has been an advocate and community champion throughout her life as a policy maker, public manager, and community volunteer. With almost 20 years of local government experience, Matthews has dedicated her life to helping people navigate processes and systems to achieve their goals and improve the community. A mother of two, Matthews believes that linking her personal, social and professional worlds has been critical in maximizing her impact on the community. She credits her mother, who was the first black female firefighter in Fort Lauderdale, with teaching her the importance of “character, courage and integrity. Her selflessness and commitment to her children were unwavering.” She is on the board for the Community Hope Center, which focuses on serving the homeless along Osceola County’s U.S. Highway 192 corridor. In addition, she helped secure more than $2 million in grants to build H.O.M.E., transitional housing for homeless women and children. Matthews is a lifelong learner and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Central Florida and a Bachelor’s Degree in Health Care Administration from Florida Atlantic University.
· District 5, Patti Loeding, Owner Myrtles Gifts: Patti has spent more than 30 years volunteering for various schools and organizations in St. Cloud and Osceola County. She currently chairs the Board of Directors for the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce. She also serves on the Board of Directors for the St. Cloud Main Street Program and is Chair of the Design Committee. Most recently she served on the inaugural committee of the Jingle Bell Ball – assuring that many Osceola County children woke up Christmas morning to find presents under their Christmas tree. Patti and her husband Dwight, owner of Creative Printing Services in downtown St. Cloud, have six children and nine grandchildren (ranging in age from 5 months to 13 years). Patti enjoys local history, her dog Marley, cat Jude, backyard hens, gardening and is an avid reader. She has a passion for St. Cloud and is beyond “St. Cloud Proud.” She is devoted to preserving St. Cloud’s rich history and quality of life, while keeping an eye on the city’s future, in order to maintain a community her children and grandchildren will enjoy for generations to come.