If these anxious times have you looking for some inspiration and uplift, today’s Sentinel has just the thing for you. For inside the print edition or online at SentinelSource.com you’ll find our annual publication honoring Extraordinary Women of the region.

In it are the compelling stories of 10 remarkable women who put the “extra” in extraordinary, and we are all the better for the notable lives they lead and their contributions to the community. They are doers and difference-makers. They are caregiving and collaborative. They are local and worldly.

This is our eighth yearly recognition of extraordinary women of the area. This year’s honorees have once again been nominated by readers and chosen by an independent selection panel. Of course, COVID-19 means we could not host, as in past years, an in-person event to celebrate those being recognized, but Wednesday evening we held an online event with videos featuring each of them. Those videos, together with a recording of the live-streamed event and the publication’s stories of each woman, can be viewed at www.sentinelsource.com/extraordinarywomen/2020.

The year’s Extraordinary Women — Cheryl Belair, Carol Hill, Jean Kayira and Ann Shedd of Keene, Susan Bemis of Marlborough, Jennifer Dassau of Marlow, Carlie Fischer of Richmond, Melissa Gallagher of Hancock, Amy Matthews of Peterborough and Kat (Boyd) Pickering of Swanzey — share characteristics of past years’ honorees. They are selfless and self-deprecating, and they express surprise, even discomfort, that anyone should consider them and their accomplishments extraordinary.

But extraordinary this year’s honorees are, and reading their stories will impress you, move you and inspire you. They range in age from the youthful twenties to retirement years. Their paths include a circle-of-life range of human experience, from volunteering to be surrogate and foster mothers to tending to those coping with end-of-life grief. They mentor, they collaborate, they persevere and, to use one honoree’s words, they “follow curiosities and take opportunities as they come.”

Those benefiting from this group’s many contributions over the years include children and families, neighbors with food insecurity, the elderly and isolated, and those coping with substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide. And, fortunately for the region, don’t expect any of them to stop. These remarkable women are life-learners and have, as another of them said, a “caregiving gene” that drives a can-do spirit and a restlessness to give back even more.

Given their many achievements, it’s no surprise they’ve stepped up their game during the pandemic. As Paul Miller, the Keene Family YMCA’s development and community impact director and The Sentinel’s former executive editor, observed while emceeing Wednesday’s online event, the onset of COVID-19 served as a call to action for them, and they’ve found ways to extend their reach despite social-distancing and other limitations.

Facing the added challenges of this challenging year distinguishes the 2020 Extraordinary Women honorees and makes them extraordinarily extraordinary. They show us all what a community can strive to be. And if their stories inspire you or others to stretch a little further to better the region, well, that’s yet another way in which this year’s honorees are extraordinary.

Recommended for you