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March/April 2020

Karen Hoffman wants every woman in St. Louis and beyond to have their dreams come true.

As founder of Gateway to Dreams, a non-profit created to help people turn their dreams into reality, she is, quite possibly, the most well-connected person in this region.

In 2015, Hoffman, Suzi Tozer, Connie Houlihan, Kris Caldwell, and Lanette Gereau were brainstorming ideas to promote women.

“We knew that while women wanted to network, they also wanted to make connections, and they like to learn,” she said.

“Our format was that we would do something educational, and also have a heart story,” she said. “Someone who has figured something out, and we call it a personal story. Then we would have an educational speaker, who would discuss their profession or teach the group something.”

Connecting and Promoting Women, launched in May 2016, was the result of those brainstorming sessions of ideas on how to create a community and opportunities for women. For a few months, they held their meetings at Spazio Westport, then decided it would be financially feasible for them to move to the Business Lodge at Chesterfield Mall.

The Impact Awards came about as Hoffman and her board of directors were discussing the many not-for-profits in the St. Louis region, and how they operated under the radar.

“I was running into them and they were doing amazing things, so I went to my board about somehow recognizing these small not-for-profits or people, who were making a difference but many people hadn’t heard about them,” Hoffman said.

In 2018, they put out their first list of nominations.

“We had some amazing people,” she said.

“We found Robyn Rosenberger who does ‘Tiny Superhero’ capes for children facing incredible odds from illness or disability,” she said. “The bright spot in their lives is their superhero capes that they wear when they go in for treatment.”

Among the other recipients were Tracy Berry McGee, founder of SistaKeeper Empowerment Center which she founded in her basement in the Ferguson-Florissant community, and Meredith Seithel Mittelstadt, founder of the Tigerlili Resources outreach program, The Scarlet Line, which fights sex trafficking.

“Tim Ezell was the honorary chair for first Impact Awards, and Maxine Clark, found of Build-A-Bear was last year’s honorary chair,” she said. “We selected “Lisa Nichols for the honorary chair this year.”

Hoffman said she feels “very blessed.”

“There is research that says volunteering can help some people suffering from depression,” she said.

“Someone else’s opinion of us is not who we are.”

Linda Jarrett is a writer whose work has appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Patch, the Women's Journal and other publications. She has also conducted writers workshops as part of the Just Write! Writing Team.

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