New Paltz Chamber of Commerce group awards scholarships to local businesswomen

The New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce has recently founded the WOW organization – Wisdom of Women. Last week, they presented scholarships to several local business owners (L-R, holding certificates): Amanda Lopez, Lauren Fornabaio, Ashley Walker and Yvonne Sewell. Also pictured are the WOW board (top row, L-R): Erica Cerulli, Beth Barry, Kristin Bauer, Julie Robbins, Jen Roe, Abby Paul and Sheila Gilday. Bottom row (L-R): Kathy Prizzia, Lindsay Stevens and Kati Haynes. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

The Wisdom of Women (WOW) networking group within the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce is designed to give local businesswomen the opportunity to inspire and support one another. “We’re women business owners or women in business, and we just recognize what the needs and challenges for us are,” says Kathy Prizzia, former New Paltz Chamber director and current member of the WOW Committee. “We provide tools to help businesswomen in a supportive environment, and bounce ideas off of each other and give business advice.”

The group meets monthly from September through June, taking the summer months off. Each meeting has a different topic, addressing women’s issues in the workplace or focusing on health and wellness information that helps women thrive. “We really look at the whole woman, not just who she is as a 9-to-5 businesswoman,” says Prizzia.


WOW meetings and events are open to all interested women living in the area, not just those who are members of the Chamber. And there is no membership fee, although members of the group who are also Chamber members – which does have its own membership fee – receive a discount on the cost of attending any of the WOW events.

The group was started in 2013 by Helen Gutfreund, former marketing and communications director for the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce. It went defunct for a little while before being resurrected in 2015, says Prizzia, “but we’ve been going strong since.”

Last week, the Wisdom of Women group met at The Would restaurant in Highland to give out their second annual scholarship awards to local businesswomen, to help them expand their business or receive expert business coaching. More than $6,250 was raised last fall at the group’s annual UnGala in order to fund the awards.

“The scholarships came from the idea of thinking about how we can really be effective,” Prizzia says. “We’re looking forward. We’re interested in supporting individuals as well as really trying to contribute and keep our business community strong. You know, we’re a group of women who are grateful for where we are in our careers, and we’re looking to pay that forward.”

Two of the scholarships awarded came with a check for $2,500. One went to Lauren Fornabaio, owner and stylist of L Salon on Main Street in New Paltz, who plans to use the funds to grow her business and host advanced hair education at her salon. The second recipient of the 2019 WOW $2,500 scholarship was Ashley Walko, owner of Infinity Mental Health Counseling on Innis Avenue in New Paltz. Walko was selected because of her integrity, creativity, inclusiveness and trustworthiness as both a business owner and clinician.

Two “jumpstart” scholarships worth $625 each were also awarded. The recipients will receive a year of expert business coaching from a member of the WOW Committee and a sponsorship to this year’s UnGala. One award went to Yvonne Sewall, who holds a teaching license and a real estate broker’s license and is currently in production on a feature-length documentary on the history of Max’s Kansas City (nightspot in Manhattan that became a gathering spot for musicians, poets, artists and politicians in the ‘60s and ‘70s). Amanda Lopez, owner of Soul Tribe in the Cherry Hill Plaza in New Paltz, is the second recipient of the 2019 WOW $625 scholarship. Lopez was chosen for the efforts she makes to bring new and exciting workouts to her clients and for her emphasis on community.

The scholarships were open to women residents of the mid-Hudson Valley who have had a positive impact on their community and workplace and who have a proven commitment to the success of their business.

The recipients were selected based on their applications describing their business and how they would use the funds if received. Suitable uses for the awards would be things like upgrading a website or software, continuing one’s education, expanding a business in a new space or achieving business goals. “We took this very seriously,” says Prizzia. “We had, I want to say, ten applications we considered from local business owners, and decided as a committee. It wasn’t an easy decision, but we’re excited with the ones who were chosen. We’ll circle back with them and check in throughout the year and see how they’re doing, and then report back to our entire organization.”

For more information about the Wisdom of Women (WOW) group and the New Paltz Regional Chamber of Commerce, call (845) 255-0243 or visit

There are 4 comments

  1. Not a good look

    Wow, all white women. I guess the women of color in our community aren’t deserving of support?

    1. Coolidge


      Imagine being so woke that you spend your free time holding a brown paper bag up to pictures on local news websites to see if the recipients of woman’s empowerment scholarships are brown enough for your liking. Truly incredible.

  2. Yvonne R Sewall

    Good afternoon from Yvonne Sewall, one of the scholarship recipients. WOW is a wonderful organization and I was thrilled to receive the Jumpstart scholarship. Just wanted to mention that my prime passion for creating a positive impact in the community is The Max’s Kansas City Project, a 501c3 nonprofit that provides emergency relief to individuals in the performing and creative arts in need, awarding one time grants of between 500-1000 for housing medical and legal aid. Plus we award a teen grant each year to a student in the Hudson Valley to attend a summer program in the arts. This year it was awarded to an art student from New Paltz High School.

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