By MADDY VITALE
Ocean City Free Public Library Board of Trustees President Jennifer Shirk was honored Thursday as one of four 2023 “Women of Wonder” during a luncheon.
The Atlantic Cape Community College Foundation and the Cape May County Women’s Commission host the annual event. In addition to honoring the women for all that they do in the county, some of the proceeds of the event go to support scholarships for students attending Atlantic Cape Community College.
The other recipients were Tracey Boyle-DuFault, executive director of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, Sandra Lockhart and Terri Mascione, both of The Branches Outreach in Rio Grande, and the late Laurie Johnson, who was the executive director of Family Promise of Cape May County until her passing in May.
Shirk, an Ocean City married mother of one, is a best-selling author who volunteers her time to a host of events and organizations. She is also former pharmacist.
She told a crowd at the Flanders Hotel that she owes much of her success to her mother, Helen Simmons.
Her mother encouraged her to go to school to become a pharmacist because “it was a woman-friendly career, was “in high demand and would give her financial stability.”
“I remember my mom sat me down and said, ‘We’re going to pay for your college so that you won’t have any debt, and you’re going to get a good job as a pharmacist because then, you will never have to worry, because no matter what happens in your life, you will always be able to hold your head up high and support yourself,” Shirk said with emotion.
Shirk also acknowledged how special it was to receive an honor that involves education.
“So, it’s extra special to be given an award that advocates education for women so that they, too, can educate themselves and hold their heads up high,” she noted.
She thanked her husband, Jeff Shirk, for his support for her many acts of volunteerism. She has done many of them to make the life of their daughter, Juliette, even better, she said.
“I feel blessed with the support of my husband, Jeff, to be able to use my time and talents in other areas that support education and knowledge like the Ocean City Education Foundation and especially the Ocean City Free Public Library Board of Trustees, where it has been an absolute joy to work alongside another former Woman of Wonder recipient, library director Karen Mahar,” Shirk said.
Cape May County Women’s Commission chairwoman Dr. Patricia Gentile said that the candidates for this year’s “Women of Wonder” were unbelievably talented and special.
“Well, I’m amazed, but not surprised, by the quality of candidates submitted to us this year, and every year, over more than a decade,” she said. “This year, the nominations were so compelling that it was hard to narrow it down to choose just three.”
Like Shirk, the other recipients of the “Women of Wonder” award have long lists of accomplishments.
Assemblyman Erik Simonsen read a proclamation on behalf of him, Assemblyman Antwan McClellan and Sen. Michael Testa, recognizing the recipients for their achievements.
Boyle-DuFault has dedicated herself to the growth and development of the Greater Wildwood community alongside her team of board members, volunteers and staff, according to her bio.
With a 17-year tenure as the executive director of the Greater Wildwood Chamber of Commerce, she has played a crucial role in nurturing local businesses and fostering collaboration with local organizations. The dedication has contributed to the Chamber’s 2023 recognition as the 12th largest in the state by NJBIZ, the bio states.
Sandra Lockhart, operations director at The Branches Outreach, has been at the Branches since its inception, serving first as a volunteer with her husband, Father Ron Lockhart. As Branches changed, so did her role, now serving as the operations director.
Her colleague, Terri Mascione, is program director of The Branches Outreach in Rio Grande. She joined Branches in September of 2015 as a result of a tragedy in her own life. Her son passed away due to an overdose, and she found a way to honor him by caring for those with similar issues.
These women, as well as a recipient in “memoriam” all have special attributes that made them standouts for the high honor, officials said.
The Atlantic Cape Foundation and Women’s Commission created a special “in memoriam tribute” to the late Laurie Johnson, the executive director of Family Promise of Cape May County, “for her many important and lasting contributions to our community.”
According to the bio, Johnson found her calling when she, along with Pastor Ron Crouch, created the nonprofit Family Promise to Cape May County in May 2009.
The volunteer-based program is designed to help families with children who are experiencing homelessness. The primary goals are to provide shelter, meals, and case management until a family is able to find a home.
Johnson served as the executive director of Family Promise of Cape May County until her passing in May 2023 after a long illness, the bio read.
When her husband, Leif Johnson, went up to the stage to receive his late wife’s award, there was applause and afterward, a standing ovation with some people shouting “Laurie! Laurie!”