2020 Light of Dawnn Award Winners

Shantell-minShantell Jeter is the Physical Education Teacher at Boston Green Academy, and anyone who knows her well will tell you that she is not the average PE teacher. In addition to running health and wellness programming for hundreds of middle and high school students, Shantell goes above and beyond to ensure that youth can access their potential and are equipped to achieve their goals. Shantell was close friends with Dawnn and grew up going to the West End House with her, making this award particularly meaningful.  Shantell’s mission to improve her community as Dawnn did led her to work at a familiar place: the West End House. Shantell wanted to serve her community at the place that so many called home, including her and Dawnn. Dawnn’s death was a pivotal turning point in Shantell’s life. “People were shocked at the effect that her death had on the community,” she recalls. She began to question her own purpose in life, and remembers asking herself, “what am I going to leave behind?” Shantell answers that question for herself by being an unsung hero for the youth of the Allston Brighton community. In addition, she organized her peers at the West End House to host a very popular summer event in honor of Dawnn. Understanding that her community needed an avenue to celebrate Dawnn’s spirit, Shantell created The Biggest Fun Ever, a summer family event attended faithfully by over 500 of Dawnn’s family, friends, and neighbors. The event features things that Dawnn loved to share with others: games, dancing, a basketball tournament, and lots of delicious food. As the keynote speaker for the fifth annual Biggest Fun Ever this past August, Shantell charged the crowd to join her in her life’s work: “I want you to think about something that you love so deeply that you can share, and the impact that you can have by sharing it with a young person.”


Aspen Eberhardt is the Operations Director at Greater Boston PFLAG, regarded by their colleagues as a tremendous asset for their commitment not only to the internal operations of the organization but also their advocacy work on behalf of the LGBTQ community, especially transgender and nonbinary people. Aspen pitches in on just about everything the organization does, providing finance, human resources, and development support, in addition to delivering educational programming in schools and businesses across Massachusetts. They’re looked upon by the dozens of young volunteers that support the organization’s efforts as an aspirational leader and trusting mentor. Aspen led GBPFLAG’s efforts on the historic Yes on 3 ballot question campaign, which successfully preserved the civil rights of transgender people in Massachusetts, and is currently advocating in favor of a nonbinary Gender X marker on all state-issued IDs. Sharing their story and struggles personalizes these issues which benefit the entire community, particularly for those who cannot speak up because doing so would not be safe. Aspen always treats others with patience and respect, even when their own feelings and identity are on the line. Aspen’s work organizing youth around on these and other issues is about more than achieving political victories: it’s about meeting LGBTQ youth where they are, empowering them to have agency over lives and stories. As someone who did not have the acceptance of their own family, Aspen knows firsthand the importance of creating communities where all youth feel safe and accepted. “I want to feel like I’m giving back and doing something meaningful,” Aspen says. “ I want to bolster acceptance for LGBTQ people in the greater community, and give other folks opportunities that I did not experience.” Perhaps the best example of Aspen’s community-building comes from Aspen’s memory of the night that they and youth organizers heard that the ballot question had passed. “We had created a connection with everyone who worked with us at the campaign site,” they recall. “When we heard that we won, we just collapsed into each other. It was the most amazing moment.”


Isabel Villela is the Case Manager of the Madres y Niños en Proceso (Mothers and Children in Process) Program at La Alianza Hispana. She provides comprehensive parental coaching for low-income mothers with children ages 0 to 5. Knowing the lifelong impact of early childhood intervention, Isabel advocates on behalf of families so that they can access essential services such as housing, food, medical care, psychological counseling, and legal assistance. Most of the families she serves are immigrants and speak only Spanish. Isabel, fluent in Spanish and an immigrant from Guatemala, is able to quickly develop trusting and culturally sensitive relationships with the mothers and children in her care. In her twenty-two year career at La Alianza Hispana, Isabel has worked tirelessly to better the prospects of young mothers, teenagers, and elders in Boston’s Latino community. She has gained the trust of clients young and old due to her patience and persistence. Isabel never misses appointments and goes the extra mile with clients who critically need her support. “I spend a lot of time working on what they need, setting up support and services for them to achieve their goals,” she says. “I have to be available to them.” Her tenacity in helping others is of great benefit to her clients, particularly given the immense challenges that some of them face. Isabel remembers one client from several years ago that needed someone in their life to go the extra mile. The client, a pregnant woman, experienced an episode of domestic violence and was hurt so badly that she ended up in the hospital with a brain injury. Isabel lept into action, sticking by her side at the hospital every day and arranging for the client’s young children to be cared for. The client eventually recovered enough to return home, but is still battling trauma and depression related to the attack. Isabel is in constant communication with her, aiding her in a variety of ways during her recovery. In the face of daunting challenges like these, Isabel remains an unfailing source of positivity in the lives of the thousands of people she has served while working at La Alianza. “I’m a happy person,” she says. “I always try to be positive, and the people I serve can see that I’m here to do good.”