SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — This month we are highlighting the finalists of our Remarkable Women initiative, as part of Nexstar’s celebration of Women’s History Month designed to honor the influence women have had on public policy, social progress, and the quality of life in the United States.

The contest culminates with the naming of the “Nexstar Woman of the Year” in early April. Based on nominations with criteria including community contributions, self-achievements, and family impact, here are NewsChannel 9’s four local Remarkable Women.  

Our Winner: Ellen Eagen

Ellen Eagen takes us on a guided tour of her passion project; Ontech Charter High School on Syracuse’s west side. It’s year-round with a summer work-student program. She is the founder of the school offering students a new way to learn.

Eagen is a lawyer with a focus on education law. She blended her two loves, creating an environment to reach students in fresh and innovative ways. “Times have changed. Children have changed. Needs of the community have changed, so the idea is to rethink what education is all about and how we do it,” said Eagen.

She says she wants students to think out of the box. The expectation is to come and reinvent yourself. The school helps its students who cannot afford school supplies or food to have access to it through an in-school pantry. 

“We have kids who go home and are parenting their siblings. I have children who don’t have enough food in the house. They are working, not just because they don’t have a job. Because they’re helping with electricity bills.”

Eagen wants to raise more than just test scores. She wants to see her students succeed in life. 

Our Nominees

Sheila Dion

She’s a remarkable woman who loves to share this inspirational quote by Lily Tomlin; “I said, somebody should do something about that. Then I realized I am somebody”

Sheila Dion is that somebody for many children in the Phoenix Central School District with her not-for-profit combating hunger; called Erin’s Angels. Sheila worked in the Phoenix School District and noticed certain students were asking for extra lunch food because they didn’t have breakfast food at home, or they wanted to bring food home for dinner.

Erin’s Angels is named after Erin Maxwell, an 11-year-old girl who often went hungry, and was neglected and killed by her step-brother in 2008. While Dion did not know her personally, she says Erin’s story moved her. 

“It just had a really big impact on the whole community and so I always tell people, you know, you don’t need to know somebody for them to inspire you. Erin inspired me and everyone that makes donations to Erin’s Angels every day,” Dion said.

Through her lunch program and partnership with the food bank, 120 students can be fed every weekend.

Bryn Carr

Not even a pandemic could stop Bryn Carr from being a tireless changemaker in our community. Carr’s passion for music was taken to the next level during the Covid shutdowns, sharing notes together during a spaced-out music program designed for adults and children.

“My brain thought, how can we help people who don’t have private music lessons, who don’t have access to these things? This wonderful experience,” Carr said.

Renting an instrument can be costly, but she used social media to collect hundreds of donated instruments to be distributed to people trying to learn.

The orchestra is just the first song of Carr’s community outreach album. She created an “Access to the arts” program to give kids and teens a taste of theater. When Bryn isn’t playing music or on stage, she’s outside helping people get access to fresh foods and vegetables. She created “Room to grow Cortland”.

Her family started a farm when they moved from England. She saw a need in our community for fresh food. She began a community garden, delivering garden beds to homes across Cortland County. “We provided everything that they needed. The tools, the watering can, the soil and the plants because that’s another obstacle – if you have an empty bed, it costs you hundreds of dollars to buy the plants and the soil,” said Carr.

Linda Townsend

Dr. Linda Townsend got her start at Cayuga Community college where she learned to be a contributing member of society. She earned a law degree and was elected the first woman chairperson of the Cayuga County Legislature. “I worked the first year and a half tirelessly trying to help out constituents. If somebody’s lawn needed to be mowed it was done,” Townsend said.

While teaching history to students at Port Byron, she also taught a younger generation to recognize the importance of honoring those who have served our country. “Every Veteran in Cayuga County got a letter from our students. We sent over 500 letters from students and it was interesting. There was some bonding that went on.”

Linda is always searching for ways to show daily gratitude to our Veterans. She helped bring a Veterans Memorial to Port Byron. She has made it her mission for the community to know the personal stories of our fallen warriors and understand their personal sacrifices for our freedom. 

“I just do the things that I think that come naturally that we try to help vets and do things for them and I’m hoping that what I did someone else will pick up on it and do something good to help others too, that’s the one thing. If you encourage someone to be a lifelong learner and a doer, then it makes society better.”

Thank you to our Remarkable Women who shared their stories with us.

“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” -Unknown