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Connecting North Alabama: Women Honoring Women (WEDC)

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Five North Alabama women will take the spotlight Tuesday night in Huntsville for the 20th annual Women Honoring Women event, hosted by the Women's Economic Development Council Foundation (WEDC).

"It's redefined my family's legacy for me to be a first-generation college graduate," honoree Ginger Harper said.

Harper is the senior vice president for First Horizon Bank. As an Athens State University graduate, she has had more than 20 years of experience in finance. She believes her education provided a foundation for her success. That is what the WEDC is all about — providing tools for women to not only succeed but thrive.

"We can continue seeing these women fulfill their goals, their dreams of higher education and becoming a graduate," Harper said.

Huntsville-native Dawn Stanley wants to prepare the next generation of leaders. She is currently a deputy director with NASA. Stanley wants young women to know it is not all about the accomplishments you achieve.

"Sometimes a fall down is a setup for a step up, and so it's an opportunity for you to use those challenges and those experiences to make you better," Stanley said.

PeggyLee Wright goes by a similar motto.

"When things aren't great and they suck — 'cause life will suck sometimes — you throw your arms around it and you embrace it, because if you don't embrace it, it will embrace you," Wright said.

Wright is a former U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk pilot. She now owns and runs a consulting business, The Company You Keep. Wright takes pride in having a woman- and veteran-owned small business.

"I cannot tell you one time in the military that I sat there thinking, 'This is tough because I'm a female,'" Wright said. "I thought it was amazing since I was a female, and I just enjoyed my career to the fullest."

Patty Sykstus' life goal was not to run a nonprofit. She worked for Huntsville Hospital for several years but eventually chose to stay at home and raise her three sons. However, in 2012, her oldest son was studying at Auburn University and approached her about his opioid addiction.

"We cried," Sykstus said. "We certainly worried. We were scared, we were anxious, we were nervous."

It has been nine years since he began his recovery. In that time, Sykstus has dedicated her time to helping people struggling with substance abuse. She co-founded Not One More Alabama.

"All I can ask you to do is watch my feet and watch where I go, because I hope that my actions and how I move forward and how I take the organization forward is something that people can feel good about," Sykstus said.

Education has always been front and center for Christie Finley. She knew from a young age that she wanted to teach. Now she serves as Huntsville City Schools superintendent, but it was in 2020 that she faced her biggest obstacle yet: the Covid-19 pandemic.

"What doesn't challenge doesn't change you, and I think that actually walking through that, making sure that our students are safe, our teachers are safe and our staff are safe was a priority," Finley said. "... I learned so much from that."

All these women would not be where they are today if not for the adversities they have faced.

"Continue to learn, continue to take those risks, because they got you in the position you're in right now," Finley said.

WAAY 31 is a sponsor for Women Honoring Women. It is the foundation's largest fundraiser of the year.

To learn more about WEDC, click here.