Roots & Wings Award

Our annual Roots & Wings award was established as part of our celebration of becoming a 501c3 non-profit organization in 2014. We wanted to formally recognize WGGS members who have labored with love in service to our girls (our roots), and our community partners who have consistently supported us through financial, and/or in-kind contributions. Roots & Wings recipients have changed girls’ lives for the better, and we’re so pleased to share why they’ve earned our gratitude and admiration.



Our second annual Roots & Wings awards will be given to Joanne Tobiessen, a founding mother and past Board President, and to Karen Kulak, of Kulak’s Nursery and Landscaping.

Joanne Tobiessen really is THE founding mother of the WGGS, having been inspired to start the group by a talk at a LWV convention given by a UN observer who worked with the International WGG. Joanne led the WGG for 11 years – from a small group of volunteers in 2003 to the non profit organization we became in 2014. Her vision for and dedication to the girls in Schenectady has been an inspiration for us all.

Karen Kulak, owner of Kulak’s Nursery and Landscaping, has generously donated over 100 flowering plants each year for the 7 years we have hosted out Celebration Dinner. These lovely plants help to decorate the High School Cafeteria where our dinner takes place, but more importantly, allows each girl in attendance to show her appreciation to the woman she has invited to this special event by giving her a plant to take home.


Our first annual Roots & Wings awards were presented to Laura Ladd Bierman, the executive director of the New York State League of Women Voters, and to Julia Helfman, one of our founding mothers.

We honored Laura Ladd Bierman and the New York State League of Women Voters Education Fund  with the 1st Annual Roots & Wings Award because, when the WGGS began, it was  a committee of the Schenectady League of Women Voters. The donations and grants WGGS received were deposited in the state league’s Education Fund, enabling our first funders to take advantage of the tax-exempt status.  We are grateful to the Schenectady League of Women Voters for giving us a fiscal home, allowing us to establish ourselves and eventually becoming our own 501 C-3 non profit organization. This support was invaluable as we started out under their umbrella.

We honored Julia Helfman,  who  through her dedication, innovation, passion and enthusiasm nurtured our roots, and shined her bright light upon us for ten years helping us to flourish and grow.  Julia was instrumental in garnering the funding needed as we began to offer more programs to the  girls in Schenectady, as well as setting the standard for what a volunteer group that cares about girls looks like.  We are where we are in large part because of Julia. It is with love and affection that we presented this award to Julia.