Wonder Women

Celebrating the women that help SJC thrive

It takes a lot to keep the community running, and more importantly thriving. Nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and individuals with kind hearts are at the core of San Joaquin County’s success. But while we know these organizations are making a difference, we often overlook the powerful people behind the causes. From CEOs of important nonprofits to founders of programs that enrich the community, some of the people making the biggest difference here are women. And not just any women, women so great they have earned the title of Wonder Woman 2020.

Cathi Woods-Bacher
Founder of LeadHerShip

For 25 years, Cathi Woods-Bacher made a career serving as the CEO and COO of several nonprofit organizations across the county including the Todd Beamer foundation, a 9-11 charity for children who lost a parent during 9-11, and Girls, Inc. in Delaware. “While in Boston I was selected as the Tanner fellow to Harvard Business School’s social enterprise program,” she says.

After moving to California, Cathi suffered an accident, slipping on the stairs and going over the handrail. As a result, she spent one week in ICU, five weeks in the hospital, and underwent five initial surgeries. During her fall she broke several ribs and punctured her lungs. Over the past eight years, she has undergone 12 operations. As a result, she had to step back at work, but living on disability wasn’t what Cathi wanted for her life. So, she started LeadHerShip, a Lodi-based organization aimed at empowering women.” LeadHerShip was birthed by not being reduced by what had happened to me, but to empower females to embrace that they are powerful, purposed, and priceless,” she says.

With the help of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, Faith Community Church, and Diede Construction, Cathi connects with woman in the community who need support and hosts classes to help them achieve their full potential.

Outside of LeadHerShip, Cathi is also involved with the Rotary Club of Lodi. She will also attend the RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Academy) camp to help the girls embrace their voice and find ways to make an impact in their community.” I truly thought my accident would be the end of my career, but instead, it increased my passion to not give up and keep going,” Cathi says. “The surgeons who see… all the titanium ribs, collar bone, and rather large computer implanted in my back, they call me the bionic woman.  Now I can answer that I am a Wonder Woman.”

What is your main mission through your outreach work?
I love encouraging, equipping and celebrating strong females of all ages.  When I was a young girl and I would see someone getting bullied, I would go over to talk to them and try to make them feel comfortable, even to this day.  If I see someone at a social event alone, I will go over and introduce myself.  I soon realized my purpose was to encourage women to learn more, dream more, and influence more. 

What do you hope to achieve through your work in the community?
Through LeadHerShip, I wanted to have every female who completes the course to feel powerful, purposed, and priceless.  Powerful because she knows anything is possible… Purposed, because she wakes up with purpose and she engages in the very things that ignite her passion… priceless, because she embraces her unique voice and shows up and never gives up.

For More Information on LeadHerShip: (209) 452-6526   LeadHerShip.org


Kay G. Ruhstaller
Chief Executive Officer, Family Resource & Referral Center

For Kay Ruhstaller, her position at Family Resource and Referral Center (FRRC) is more than a job. When Kay was young, she faced adversity of her own. “Personally, I overcame my adverse childhood experiences through dear friends and their families, [and] teachers and mentors who equipped me with protective factors of support that allowed for resiliency and success in life,” Kay says. “I will never be able to fully repay them but I’m driven to work as hard as I can for children and youth in honor of the gratitude I carry for them.”

            That explains why advocating for children and families is so important to Kay. With the Teen Impact Center in Stockton and a preschool named Joan Richards Learning Village, FRRC is able to help San Joaquin County families better their lives and give children a healthy start. Overall, the organization provides childcare referrals and assistance to eligible families along with a multitude of family strengthening programs and services. “The key ingredient in our organization and for me personally is kindness,” Kay says, a trait she personally learned from her mother and father-in-law.

To add to her long list of noble ventures, Kay also served on the First 5 San Joaquin Children and Families Commission for ten years before being appointed by Governor Newsom to the California Early Childhood Education Policy Council in 2019. She is also the current Financial VP for the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce and co-founder of San Joaquin Children’s Alliance, as well as a member of SJC Children and Youth Task Force.

Why is the FRRC so important to you?
At FRRC, we are saving and changing lives. There are many success stories of individuals who [are] earning a better living because of help with childcare. Teens have returned to the Teen Impact Center and communicated that it saved their life. 

What do you hope to achieve through your work in the community?
There is a vast body of evidence and research that shows the undeniable link between early investments in young children and their readiness for career or college.  My hope is to help create a dedicated local funding stream for children and youth so that we can continue to invest in children as early as possible with as much as we have to offer. 

What do you most want people to know about you?
I’m a warrior for children. Wonder Woman is my favorite DC superhero, not a big surprise.  The wonder behind this woman is the amazing team members at FRRC who are committed to serving children, families and childcare providers in SJC. Our diversity is our strength. I love San Joaquin County. 

Where does your sense of duty and giving back to others stem from?
My husband Donald and I are committed to service for children and youth. Our two grown daughters, Katie and Rebecca, are strong young women, earless enough to be kind.

Lindy Turner-Hardin
Executive Director, Child Abuse Prevention Council

For Lindy Turner-Hardin, her work with children is about serving those who cannot speak up for themselves. At CAPC, her role as executive director is to support staff in strengthening families and protecting children through programming and other resources. “The work of the CAPC gives people the tools and skills they need to find a better path. And maybe most importantly, we give people hope,” Lindy says.

            Through the CAPC and her outside work with the Children’s Alliance, where she works alongside Kay Ruhstaller, Lindy is proud to invest in families in the early years, giving them a chance to find a positive path together before it’s too late. In addition to protecting children from abuse, one of Lindy’s missions with outreach work is to keep kids at the forefront of conversations about policies and funding, championing for their well-being in every situation. This includes helping foster kids as well through the CAPC-sponsored Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program that finds volunteers to advocate for kids in the system. “We know that if a foster child has a CASA in their corner, they are more likely to defy the odds of dropping out of school, being homeless when they age out of the system, unemployed, and a being a parent before age 21.”

            Despite her long list of accolades, Lindy is uncomfortable in the spotlight. Honored as a recipient of the 2019 Athena Award, she says winning made her feel “varying degrees of honor, humility, pumped, grateful, and guilty. There are so many women in this community much more worthy of this honor.”

What is your main mission/objective through your outreach work?
I wouldn’t be so bold as to think that if I was not doing this work, then who would, but I do believe that each of us is charged with a purpose.  And through some divine plan, and sometimes in spite of ourselves, work that needs to be done is put in front of us.  And if we don’t do it, we might miss our purpose. 

What do you hope to achieve through your work in the community?
My blue sky goal is to eradicate child abuse. Short of that, we are working hard to convey to our community that we all play a role in child abuse prevention. And if we all embraced that role, San Joaquin County would be a safe, nurturing, and wonderful place for children to live and thrive.

Why is the CAPC so important to you?
Well, first of all, and of course – children!  But beyond that, I’ve always had the backs of the underdog or those who can’t speak up for themselves.  This world is not very kind to children and families who have not been afforded the opportunities others have enjoyed. 


Lori Daugherty
Board member at St. Joseph’s Foundation

As the story goes…one door closes and another door opens. At age 51, Lori’s husband Ron was diagnosed with colon cancer and for the next nine years he battled his illness and all Lori could do was be his advocate, dedicating her time to finding the best doctors to manage his care, which she found at St. Joseph’s hospital in Orange County.

After Ron passed, Lori was on her own road to recovery, part of which included a vacation in Hawaii one-and-a-half years after his death. There she met Scott Daugherty a fifth-generation Stocktonian. “It was a life changing moment,” Lori says. In April 2013, Lori left Southern California to move to Stockton and marry Scott.  Missing her relationships with family, friends, and clients she joined the Stockton Golf and Country Club Thursday ladies golf group. This was a place she could be of service, serving on the board and co-chairing the annual golf tournament called “Chip in for the Cure,” which benefits the St Joseph’s  Foundation. For the past three years she has held a spot on the St. Joseph’s Foundation board, a seat she was offered after her efforts with “Chip in for the Cure.”

In addition to putting on events through the foundation that benefit St. Joseph’s Hospital, Lori continues to inspire health and healing in those suffering. One way she does this is to take her therapy “dog-in-training,” Brie, to Somerford, an assisted living home for memory care residents in Stockton, once a week to visit residents, a proven positive for those struggling with memory-related illnesses.

Why is the St. Joseph’s Foundation so important to you?
St. Joseph’s is important because it’s our local hospital and where I want to go if I or my family [or] friends need hospitalization. I want it to be the best in our area bar none.

What is your main mission through your outreach work?
My mission is to be an advocate for the hospital. It can only achieve excellence through community involvement.

What do you most want people to know about you?
I am a person who made a new home in Stockton and I appreciate all the wonderful and generous people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. I really do believe the Dignity Health motto: “Hello Human Kindness.”

What do you hope to achieve through your work in the community?
I would like to see others with time and resources give back to their community. Everyone has unique gifts and talents that would be valuable to others.

Sandra Starr
Tokay High School

Sandra Starr has been teaching science at Tokay High School in Lodi for 16 years. During that time, she has taken on causes both inside and outside of the classroom with a mission of expanding students’ knowledge of their environment. “Each year is a new experience for not only them, but for me also,” she says. In addition to teaching entry level and AP science courses, Sandra has been involved in the school’s Go Green Club, where over the years they have sold reusable water bottles and hosted e-waste collections to raise money to sponsor a well in Africa, organized campus beautifications, and participated in Arbor Day tree plantings, Coastal CleanUp, and Storm Drain Detectives (a program allows for students to engage in citizen science within our community).

Sandra is also a board member for the North Central Valley STEM Center, a part of the Science Leadership team for Lodi Unified, and coordinator for the NorCal Science and Technology Festival in Lodi. The latter is a free student-teacher-community collaborative event started by Tokay student Julie Fukunaga and Sandra, with a mission to engage the community at large in STEAM related education and careers. “One of our past student leaders, Khawal Rafique, said it best when describing why she joined the planning team in year two; she noted that she would see brochures for various summer STEM courses come in the mail, but they were all costly and out of reach,” Sandra says. “When she attended the first NorCal Science Festival as a sophomore, she said it was like a snippet of all of those summer camps rolled into one day with free access.”

Why is your work with kids so important to you? 
Although it may sound cliché’, I feel any teacher’s work with kids is important, because our students really are the future of our community. It’s a great honor and responsibility to support our youth to reach their highest potential.

Tell me about your mission.
There is such a world of opportunity, but if a window isn’t available to provide a glimpse into what’s out there, then it’s hard to know what door to work toward opening.  Our goal with the Science Festival is to provide that window into STEM education and career opportunities.

What do you hope to achieve through your work in the community?
It may be ambitious, but I hope that our festival helps to provide inspiration and opportunity for career success, helps to bridge social divides, and if nothing else, just be a positive moment for the community to come together and play. Afterall, a community that plays together, stays together.




Kristen Spracher-Birtwhistle
President/CEO, United Way of San Joaquin County

Kristen Spracher-Birtwhistle, a fourth-generation Stocktonian, settled into her role as president and CEO of the United Way just over a year ago. Before that she worked as an administrator for The Permanente Medical Group both in the Central Valley and other locations in Northern California. She also founded Advancing Women’s Leadership and The Eleanor Project.

            Concurrently Kristen served on many local boards and agencies, working to make her communities better. “I have been most engaged with work on homelessness and reenergizing United Way’s iconic organization towards what we call Bold Moves. We want to be much more focused on social impact and to create better workplace giving campaigns,” she says. “This is our community’s number one priority and I feel that collectively we can do more together in addressing the prevention of homelessness, substance abuse, mental health, and housing.” It’s not a new mission for Kristen who serves on the San Joaquin County Continuum of Care and was the Chair of the Winter Shelter Planning Task force where the group provided more than 100 new beds for homeless men at Stockton shelters.

            “I am passionate about how a group of dedicated individuals can make a difference,” Kristen says. “This work with United Way allows me to be a part of a greater force that works to improve the lives of both individuals and our nonprofit community.” I get to be a part of one of the most diverse cities in our state and to work as part of a greater whole.

Why are nonprofits important in the community?
I am forever amazed and humbled at the work that our nonprofit agencies do each day like El Concilio, Child Abuse Prevention Council, Family Resource and Referral Center, or Hospice of San Joaquin—to name a few. They are run by some of the most dedicated people I know who are selfless and powerful in their will to help people thrive. To be in their company has been both inspiring and a learning These nonprofits are essentially major businesses, but with a social mission vs. an economic one.

What do you most hope to achieve?
What I hope to achieve is providing a sense of peace  to those who are experiencing homelessness, to work as a facilitator and partner with agencies and experts in helping advance their missions and being seen as someone who brings people together for the common good of others.





Amy Ferrell
Director of Community Impact, United Way of San Joaquin County

Amy Ferrell transitioned from her role as an assistant basketball coach at University of the Pacific (where she earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees) to the director of community impact at the United Way of San Joaquin County in 2017. Amy says she is passionate about working with various organizations and local leaders to help support the community through UWSJC’s two social impact areas; homelessness and education. “That’s the beauty of working at United Way, we get to work with ALL organizations in our community on a daily basis,” she says.

            Amy is embracing a new role within the United Way as Project Manager for the Connected Community Network (CCN) here in San Joaquin County. “The vision is to create a network of community partners who are all working together to coordinate communication and implement processes to provide referrals to address the issues of health, and to collect outcomes,” she explains. The goal of the network will allow agencies in the community providing services to reduce workload and effectively help more people through a strong technology-based system and coordination of services.

Why is your work at the United Way so important to you? 
I am passionate about improving the lives in our community. By working closely with all of our non-profit leaders and volunteers, we help make a significant impact by convening groups of people around a common goal and mission – to make San Joaquin County a better place to live and work.

What is your main mission/objective through your outreach work?
Now more than ever, communities across the country need help. We want to be a part of the solution that will help the societal problems throughout San Joaquin county like homelessness and early childhood education – the building blocks for a good quality of life. To live better, we must all Live United.

What do you hope to achieve through your work in the community?
We know we cannot solve community problems alone, but working with our wonderful partners, donors, and through our United Way network, we can make a difference throughout San Joaquin County by narrowing in our two social impact areas; homelessness and education.

Donna Ng
Donor Relations Director, United Way of San Joaquin

Donna started her career at United Way through a summer youth program more than 40 years ago. Many people know her as the face of the organization, and the voice—often the one to answer the phone when you call the main line. Donna leverages her position with United Way in order to maximize her personal opportunities to give back. In addition to her day job, she partners with community events and projects such as StocktonCon and Grape City Con to provide support for annual events. “It’s a great chance to give back and get the opportunity to help others,” she says.

 Donna sees the bigger picture at United Way, by working with local agencies, her and the rest of her team are able to support local agencies that provide critical services within the community. Overall, that allows for a stronger San Joaquin County. “Throughout my time here, I’ve worked with many great local leaders, businesses, and nonprofit organizations that make it a priority to provide services and support to improve the well-being of our community,” Donna says. “We are truly better when we all work together.”

What is your main mission through your outreach work?
To continue to be an advocate for our community partners and to do all I can to connect people with the services offered in San Joaquin County. There will always be more community needs that we can provide, so we can’t stop here.

What do you hope to achieve through your work in the community?
In the end, it’s all about helping one another.


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