RICHMOND, CA — The Chamberlin Education Foundation celebrated this year’s Julie Wright Changemaker Award honorees with a community ceremony at its Richmond headquarters.
Stephanie Medley and Juanita Towns received the 2023 award, which recognizes courageous, equity-focused youth education advocates in West Contra Costa.
“I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to have been selected to receive this award in honor of such a beautiful woman, Julie Wright,” said Towns after accepting the award.
“Julie was a very courageous and no-nonsense type of woman in her advocacy,” Towns said.
Medley credited her local roots and the youth she supports as the reason she remains active in her continued advocacy.
“Receiving this award would not even be possible without the inspiration I see daily from young people,” she said in her acceptance speech.
“I grew up in West County, went to school here, I know the challenges faced by youth and their families, and I’ve seen and experienced the beautiful blossoms that we are,” she said.
Medley currently serves as Director of Youth Justice at the RYSE Center, where she has worked for over a decade. Towns recently accepted the role of School Community Outreach Worker in the Office of African American Student Achievement at West Contra Costa Unified School District. She also co-founded the Black Parents Resourse Center.
Each JWCA honoree received $5,000 in recognition of their service to West Contra Costa youth. In addition, the awardees were invited to direct $10,000 to one or more local, youth-serving nonprofit organization of their choosing.
The JWCA celebration welcomed over 40 guests, including the honorees’ families and friends. A broad range of education leaders, community-based organization leaders, and youth advocates from across West Contra Costa also attended. The event was the first in-person ceremony to recognize JWCA recipients. Last year, a virtual event honored the 2022 awardees due to lingering concerns over COVID-19 safety.
Both celebrations highlighted the importance of community connections and partnership among honorees who have dedicated their professional careers and personal efforts improving youth access to high-quality education options and other critical services that help them succeed.
“We don’t accomplish any of our goals in isolation,” said Dr. Stefanie Phillips, the foundation’s CEO, before introducing this year’s honorees.
“We work in partnership and in collaboration with many of you who are here this evening,” she said. “Without your dedication to West Contra Costa youth, we could not ever accomplish our mission to advance student success in this community.”
Founded in 2022, the Julie Wright Changemaker Award honors the life and legacy of Julie Wright, who served as the Executive Director of the Chamberlin Family Foundation from 2012 to 2018. Wright stepped down in 2018 after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She passed away in 2020.
Wright’s husband, Mike Wright, expressed his gratitude to the JWCA honorees for keeping Julie’s spirit of advocacy active in their work.
“Julie balanced the tension between being an optimist and a realist,” Wright said, remembering that during her life she remained “optimistic about tomorrow being a brighter day for kids and families in West Contra Costa, and realistic about the inequalities which need to be addressed to create that future.”
Towns and Medley were selected from a pool of nominees, and will serve on next year’s selection committee alongside Scottie Smith and Tana Monteiro, the first two to receive the award in 2022. Mike Wright will continue to participate in the annual award’s selection process in future years.
The foundation accepts nominations for JWCA honorees throughout the year on its website.
Stephanie Medley, 2023 Julie Wright Changemaker Award honoree. Video: Chamberlin Education Foundation.
Juanita Towns, 2023 Julie Wright Changemaker Award honoree. Video: Chamberlin Education Foundation.
About the Chamberlin Education Foundation
The Chamberlin Education Foundation supports initiatives that advance education equity and academic excellence in West Contra Costa public schools. CEF’s grants and programs support effective education leadership, high-quality curriculum and instruction, restorative student interventions, and help create and sustain a student-centered public education ecosystem.
Click here for more about our team, our vision, and our foundation’s guiding principles.