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Kansas City Women of Influence: Five Leaders Stepping Forward to Change Our Community

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Women are certainly the key influencers in the lives of their families. Many hold down the social calendar, oversee the household finances, serve as cook and medical caregiver and much more. Generally, they have the most say in huge monetary decisions such as buying a new home, purchasing a car and choosing the family’s financial planner. The HERLIFE Magazine Kansas City Women of Influence profiled this month guide not only their own families and loved ones but also their communities, extending their positive impact to the thousands who live here.

Rebecca Welsh
Rebecca Welsh of Centertown, Missouri, extends her influence to children around the world through her nonprofit, HALO. Its mission is to eradicate homelessness for children by providing much-needed long-term shelter and programming to give them basic life skills and a solid foundation for the future.

“I fight for children who live on the streets. There are thousands of children around the world and in our own backyards who are without their basic needs being met,” remarked Rebecca. “HALO was formed so we could be a foundation of a family for children without one, so that one more child could spend one less day alone. These are the neediest kids in our community, yet no one sees them. It’s shocking.”

Twelve years ago, Rebecca founded HALO, partnering with existing homeless shelters for children, teaching the children basic life skills for the future. She says many of these children are in survival mode every day, with no support to call upon. Much of her work is in Kansas City, providing housing for homeless youth with an on-site house mom who lives with them and teaches them life skills.

“We need to have more people join the HALO family,” noted Rebecca. “We must have volunteers to help us with basic administration and working directly with our youth. We need advocates willing to help with our initiatives. In Kansas City, there’s a huge need for shelters for young adults. It’s such a sad thing that you’re 16, sleeping on someone’s couch and don’t know where you’ll wind up.”

Wendy Doyle
Westwood, Kansas, resident Wendy Doyle is focused on eliminating barriers women face in achieving long-term economic self-sufficiency as she oversees the nonprofit Women’s Foundation. This organization promotes equity and opportunity for women of all ages by using research, philanthropy and policy solutions to make meaningful change. For the last 25 years, the Women’s Foundation has invested in the success of women and girls.

“At Women’s Foundation, we’re achieving results by empowering more women to lead in order to make a positive impact in our communities. Our civic research identified reasons women are underrepresented on public boards and commissions,” noted Wendy. “With these findings, we developed a solution and launched the Appointments Project, piloted here in Kansas City with Mayor Sly James. In two years, our Appointments Project has helped advance more than 30 women on city and statewide boards in Missouri and Kansas, which is critically important for policymaking. The Appointments Project has been recognized at the national level.”

Wendy added that women have a tendency to feel they need to be asked to serve, rather than volunteering on their own. However, it’s imperative that females show their enthusiasm and willingness to assist rather than holding back, awaiting an invitation. “Women should step up and serve; don’t hold back,” she shared. “If you are waiting for someone to ask you, the Women’s Foundation invites you to apply to the Appointments Project.”

Jackie Kincaid Habiger
Long-time Kansas City resident Jackie Kincaid Habiger influences others with delicious, healthy foods. She and her husband own Room 39 restaurants in Midtown and Mission Farms, Brewery Emperial in the Crossroads and Sasha’s Baking Company in downtown Kansas City. But what brings a quick smile to her face is her Future Foodies, which prepares hot lunches at Notre Dame de Sion grade school and high school. Her goal is to help kids form a foundation of healthy eating habits for the rest of their lives.

“Future Foodies provides healthy, made from scratch, preservative-free lunch options for kids, while sourcing local and organic ingredients,” she said. “It takes a lot to be in a learning environment all day long. I like to say you’ve got to put the good in to get the good out!”

Her journey began several years ago as she created ways to feed healthy food to her own children, now seven and nine, and she discovered the need to provide healthy food options to others. As mothers learned of her meal preparations, they asked for assistance and a business soon grew from there.

Jackie offers this wisdom for women seeking a way to make change. “I believe in putting your most positive foot forward. The better the energy you put out into the world the better your chances of getting good energy back,” she said. “Do something you love and believe in and follow your passion; that’s where the magic happens. Look for connections and support from the people around you to keep moving forward.”

Kathy Sudeikis

The next Woman of Influence brings happiness to others in the Kansas City community by sending them away. Kathy Sudeikis, Overland Park, is a vice president at Acendas Vacations, and she’s one of the top travel agents in the world. Her goal is crafting exceptional moments for her clients and their families as they explore the world.

“I have such a passion to share the opportunity to create memories of a lifetime with fun and unique ways to help families grow,” she remarked. “Tourism is a passport to peace because you find the world’s really the same. Everyone has dreams for their children and has bills to pay. It’s identical no matter where you are in the world.”

Kathy has made her mark on the travel industry, including an induction into the travel industry hall of fame. She was the third woman to serve as president of the American Society of Travel Agents. “Now, we have female presidents of cruise lines,” she shared. “The travel industry continues to add more women leaders, even though it’s been dominated by female travel agents for years.”

This wife and mother of three, including actor Jason Sudeikis, has experienced much during her decades-long career and advises women that they should never waver. “You can’t give up, because your dreams can become reality. You can be on Broadway or president of the nation or president of an association. Your time and place shouldn’t limit you,” Kathy remarked. “But as a female you have to pay your dues and be a giver to pass the obstacles that are in the system.”

Bayleigh Dayton

For our next Woman of Influence, persistence paid off in a crowning achievement. It took Bayleigh Dayton of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, three tries, but she finally won the Miss Missouri USA pageant in 2016. Adding to her achievement was the honor of being the first African-American woman to hold that title.

“I am an example of a young woman who had a dream to one day become the first African-American to hold the title of Miss Missouri USA,” shared Bayleigh. “This dream was not accomplished without hard work and perseverance and support from my family and friends. My dream became a reality on September 25, 2016, after three long, hard years of competing and preparing physically, mentally and spiritually for the pageant.”

Bayleigh’s shot at Miss USA comes in June 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Right now she’s hard at work training for the interview, gown and swimsuit competitions. She’s also focused on her overall fitness, physically and spiritually, as she takes on the responsibility of representing her home state.

“Some people told me to win a state competition I needed to move to Georgia, and I said no, that I wanted to win here in Missouri,” recalled Bayleigh. “It took a lot of persistence and I did win on that third try, not the first. I tell other women, just when you think things are impossible, they happen. Don’t give up.”

Whether we’re wearing a crown, preparing children for the future, encouraging others to serve, filling tummies with good food, or expanding the view of the world for clients to enjoy, we all have skills that can be used to help ourselves and assist others. Our influence not only extends to significant others and our families, but to our community as well. However, it is up to us to step forward and volunteer our experience and knowledge to make life better for those within our spheres of influence.