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The Bend Magazine

Stories of HER

09/29/2020 11:00PM ● By Kylie Cooper
By: Kylie Cooper   Photography By: Lillian Reitz   

Florals & Set Design: Julia Prokhorova, Wild Veggie Bouquet   
Styling & Wardrobe: Alexa Gignac, Julian Gold Corpus Christi   
Hair Styling: Evana Reyna, Olivia Mello, & Melissa Rocha, Riptide Salon
Makeup: Olivia Franco, Haus of LIV   
Set Props: Birchwood Beauties   
Location: Corpus Christi Country Club

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One by one, on a Thursday evening around 6 o’clock, tiny rectangular boxes begin to pop up on my Zoom window. Inside each box sits one of our six HER 2020 honorees. I’ve fixed myself a margarita on the rocks, others have opted for a simple glass of wine, and we all simultaneously move our glasses in the direction of the webcams on our respective computers to mimic the act of clinking glasses. Ah, happy hour in 2020. We share, we laugh, we shed a few tears – virtually. Even though we aren’t physically all in the same place, the powerful energy they each possess is felt in every word spoken through my 13-inch laptop screen. 

Caitlin Chupe, Elena Flores, Beatriz Hanson, Dr. Claudia Ikonomopoulos, Terrie Moore, and Stefany Schade are unique in a plethora of ways. Their talents, passions, and years of hard work vary among industries and focuses. Yet they are all integral in pushing important conversations forward. Be it female empowerment in the workplace, supporting local businesses and creatives, food insecurity, the significance of mental health,  or the value in using your resources to help your community, each one has found her voice and is using it for the greater good. 

CAITLIN CHUPE, INDUSTRY LEADER

I first met Caitlin Chupe two years ago when we co-chaired a committee for the Art Museum of South Texas. She was the brains of our dynamic duo, I was the idea woman. Anyone who works with numbers for a living is like a unicorn in my book – a mythical creature which I do not understand, but find fascinating nonetheless. Hearing Chupe talk about her work will have even the most right-brained person ready for a sudoku puzzle. 

Chupe currently serves as an audit shareholder at Collier, Johnson & Woods, PC. At 32 years old, Chupe is one of the youngest female shareholders in the company’s history. Mind you, the world of accounting is a relatively male-dominated one, and with her leadership role Chupe has made it a point to create opportunities for more women to succeed in the field. And where she leads, others follow. She has this innate ability to rally people to not only believe in the work she’s doing, but believe in themselves, too. 

When I ask Chupe what advice she’d give to young women just finding their full potential, she is undoubtedly speaking to her younger self. Her biggest advice? To say yes. Whatever the position or opportunity at hand might be, to say no because you’re unsure of your capabilities is allowing yourself to fail before even trying. She thinks back to the moment she was asked to become a shareholder and remembers her first thought being that she wasn’t ready. Obviously, she ultimately decided to take it, but it took someone outside herself to show her just how real her abilities and talents were, and how she undoubtedly could take on the position and succeed. So from there, the often overwhelming, yet extremely fulfilling role of audit shareholder began for Chupe and she hasn’t stopped since. 

Not only has Chupe worked her way to the top of her firm, she’s made pulling others up along with her an integral part of her journey. For example, Chupe, with the help of another female shareholder, worked to implement a new system for the company that would encourage working mothers to get back into the office. Said system wasn’t in place when Chupe had her own child, and she made it a priority to help create a future in which young female professionals felt supported by the company when starting their own families. That’s the thing about Caitlin Chupe: Sure, she’s an industry leader because she’s at the top of her field, but even more than that it’s because for her, being at the top means making room at the table for others to sit there with her. 


The Industry Leader in HER Own Words:

What advice would you give women who are looking to break the glass ceiling in the field of accounting?

First, get over your fear of failing. You will make mistakes and you’ll learn from each and every one. Also, do things that scare you or make you uncomfortable. Make everyone else’s job easier by picking up tasks – the more things you pick up the more you’ll learn and the more the people above you will notice you and need you … and the best advice there is: Put your head down and work hard.

What is the importance of seeing women in leadership roles?

I think the more women there are in leadership roles the more young girls will be able to see themselves in leadership roles. I think the more prevalent it becomes, the more we’ll see other girls envision themselves in a similar role. I think it’s really common for us to not believe in ourselves or our capabilities and it takes seeing someone else in a role or position similar to your goal to give you an added boost of confidence. For some reason, it often takes someone outside of ourselves to show support or belief in us for us to really support and believe in ourselves. 

What does being a woman in 2020 mean to you?

I think lately there has been this trend of women really coming together and supporting each other. And that’s been a really interesting shift as opposed to the mindset of there are only so many spots for x and we have to all compete for it. Instead, we’re seeing women lift each other up more and have these moments of, “If I help you reach your goals then I will also get to my goals.” I think that is the most empowering thing about women: that we can lift each other up in that way.    

Who is your role model or someone you most hope to emulate?

That would definitely be my grandmother. She is 93 years old now. She was raised by a mom who made a difficult decision to leave her husband and raise eight kids on her own. She only spoke French, so my grandmother didn’t learn English until elementary school. She worked her entire life and raised three incredible daughters. She really taught us that if you roll up your sleeves, you can get a lot done. She’s resilient, she’s independent. She taught us we can do anything a man can do and probably do it even better.

ELENA FLORES, RISING STAR

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of interacting with Elena Flores in some form or fashion, you’ll understand that she is a bold force to be reckoned with, a guiding light for others to follow, and is without a doubt, whole-heartedly and unapologetically, herself. These are all traits I not only admire about her, but strive to mimic in my own professional and personal endeavors. A lot of you probably do, as well.  

Born and raised straddling the border of the U.S. and Mexico in Eagle Pass, Texas, Flores considers representation and sharing the importance of her vibrant culture to be at the cornerstone of everything she does. She came to the Coastal Bend in 2001 for school and completed her BS in Health Science and Psychology and her MS in Community Counseling. Although she’s worked in the social services field ever since, her natural creative itch needed a scratch. Thus, merely as a hobby, her brand Sew Bonita was born in 2014. 

Since, Sew Bonita has grown into a nationally recognized brand, an outlet for Flores to share her love of all things colorful and representative of her heritage, and a community-centric market event known as Loca for Local. When Flores first created Loca for Local, the market featured six vendors, all of which were creative friends of hers wanting to embark on their first pop-up experience. That number grew to 11 and then to 36 with food trucks and all, and this year in the midst of a COVID-19 world, her genius mind turned the entire event into a complete virtual and curbside experience. If you ask Flores to describe Loca for Local, she’ll tell you it isn’t just a market, but a movement. 

At the root of everything Elena Flores does, you’ll find the utmost belief she has in our community and the creatives who form it. You’ll find a proud Chingona who isn’t afraid to live her life authentically. You’ll find someone who uses her well-earned platform to lift others up. But most notably, at least to me, you’ll find a woman who knows no limits, a woman who will laugh in the face of adversity, a woman who brings such a specific effervescence to this world – one so desperately needed. There’s simply no telling what this woman will do next. 


The Rising Star in HER Own Words:

What does being a woman in 2020 mean to you?

Being a woman now at this age to me means someone who is creating opportunities for herself. That’s something I think I have really learned through experience and time, because 20-year-old Elena was completely different: 41-year-old Elena is a bad ass. I think it means knowing who you are and what you’re worth, the value you bring to this world, and being comfortable in your own skin – and that’s something that has certainly come with age. I believe in the power of women and in the power of unity and the power of sisterhood and I am just so happy to be a small cog in the wheel.

So much of what you do is centered around the concept of supporting local. What do you believe to be the importance of that to be?

The importance is that local matters. This community is small, but has big ideas, and big things are happening. When one grows, we all grow, and I wholeheartedly believe that. Plus, you never know who you are inspiring.

What would you say to young women who are just starting to see their full potential?

It’s something I would tell my younger self: When you have an idea or an itch to do something, just start. Because once you take that leap of faith in starting something, whether it’s starting something new or it’s you deviating from the plan you set out for life like most of us do, just start. Have confidence in that first step you have to take.

What inspires you or motivates you?

You know, I just love making things and I really believe in the power of color. I come from a very colorful cultural background and was inundated with both English and Spanish, different foods, and just colors everywhere. So, I really believe in living a colorful life. My home is super colorful, my business is super colorful. I believe in leaving a mark of not only actual color, but also just being vibrant. I feel like I am a walking box of crayons.


TERRIE MOORE, COMMUNITY VISIONARY

While writing this story, I asked each woman about the importance of seeing women in leadership roles – a question prefaced with the notion that they each possessed such a role in our community. Terrie Moore began her response by saying, “Well, I don’t really see myself as a leader – more a cheerleader.” I smiled, because that is the most true-to-form response for someone like Moore. A champion for community. 

Born and raised in Corpus Christi, Moore has a passion for the Coastal Bend running through her blood. Her vintage and modern local boutique Wildflowers has, at its core, always been a place for local makers and creatives to call home. Moore first opened the shop in 2000, and decided to close its doors in order to focus on raising her four children. She made a promise to herself to reopen the shop when the time was right, and when she did, creating a space for others to shine was the top priority. 

Moore understands the value behind the experience of someone caring about what you do. When a stranger recognizes your hard work or talent, and even more so wants to pay money for it, motivating validation sets in. Wildflowers is a place for not just Moore or even the goods she carries to shine, but for a plethora of locals to find their pedestal and stand proudly on it. 

While it’s true that the way Moore runs her business is a testament to her status as the loudest fan in the bleachers, the way she simply moves through life is another. Are you a local business that just introduced a new membership program? She’s subscribed to it. Have a new community event experience in the works? She’ll be there. Just announced a new brand you’ve been passionately working on? Chances are she’s already reposted it in her Instagram story.  

I remember Moore once sharing with me something she’s always told her kids: “If there is something you feel is lacking in your community, bring it here yourself.” It’s that very mentality I believe to be rousing locals to embark on new ventures and bring fresh ideas to our community. And when they do, Terrie Moore is undoubtedly first in line, ready to cheer you on.


The Community Visionary in HER Own Words:


What are the things that keep you up at night? 

I don't know if it keeps me up at night, but I do worry about the future of our tradesmen and women. I worry that the bricklayer, tile layer, woodworker, furniture builder, painter … doesn't see the real value of their craft; that people stop pursuing their love of working with their hands because society doesn't make those people feel important. Beautifully laid tile is art. A bespoke cabinet can make a room. A gorgeous paint job is everything. Beauty is in the detail and construction – if we want to be surrounded in beauty, we need to value the artist.

What is the why behind what you do?

Giving a platform for other locals and being that cheerleader. That’s really it, that’s the only reason. I had my store about 21 years ago and my kids were little. I had the shop for about one year and I just realized I couldn’t do it. It broke my heart and it was one of the saddest days when I closed the door. I knew one day I would reopen, and so I really look at this as an opportunity to give a space for other moms who might feel the way I felt or other creatives who don’t have a place to sell their work.

It's safe to say you’re one of the Coastal Bend’s biggest supporters. Supporting local is a vital component to both your shop and your daily life. Why is supporting local so important? 

I truly believe it's the small, local entrepreneurs that give a city its flavor and spice! Cities that are filled with nothing but chain restaurants or corporate clothing stores are often boring and predictable. It's the small local businesses that bring a very personal experience to shopping or eating. They are the fabric of our city and we must support them!

What would you say to young women who are just starting to see their potential? 

Don’t be scared. I think fear sets people up for failure more than lack of talent. Because it really isn’t about how talented you are. You’ll learn stuff and you’ll get better the more you do something, and you’ll grow. That’s just how it is. Anything you do, the more you do it, the better you’ll be. But when you start to fear failure, you think, “Well, I can’t do this because I am not good at it,” and that is when you fail.


DR. CLAUDIA IKONOMOPOULOS, MEDICAL HERO

When you hear the words “medical hero,” mental health might not ring the first bell in your mind. However, the importance of the topic is paramount, and is precisely where Dr. Claudia Ikonomopoulos enters the conversation. 

As the Mental Health Services supervisor for the Nueces County Juvenile Justice Center and a Licensed Professional Counselor with Coastal Bend Psychological Associates, Dr. Ikonomopoulos certainly has her hands full, yet she wouldn’t have it any other way. Her passion for helping others, especially at-risk populations, started in high school when she joined a mentorship class. That passion fueled the journey that ultimately led her to a Ph.D. in Counselor Education, and is what continues to fan the flame behind her work in our community to this day.

The work Dr. Ikonomopoulos does is not easy, but she knows just how vital it is. More than 90% of the juveniles she serves have some type of mental health diagnosis, and at the end of the day, it’s her job to keep them safe, provide a secure space for them to feel heard, and see each person for who they are as opposed to just the crimes they’ve committed. Because beyond the crime society perhaps will define them by, this is someone’s child, a complicated person with an individual set of thoughts and feelings and often complex trauma. As a counselor, she’s helping these kids become the best possible versions of themselves and advocating for their success along the way. 

You’ll find a certain sense of intention behind every word Dr. Ikonomopoulos speaks, and more importantly, behind her silence. I suppose it comes with the territory, but the way she has mastered the art of listening is remarkable. She reminds us how crucial it is for everyone to have someone simply hear them out. 

There is a moment during our interview shoot when I ask Dr. Ikonomopoulos who her role model is. She speaks nostalgically of her late grandmother – of her selflessness and how she’d do anything in her power to help others – and ends the sentiment by saying she hopes to one day be even half the woman her grandmother Grace was. However, to me, sitting next to Dr. Ikonomopoulos and soaking up her powerful presence, it’s clear to see she already is.

The Medical Hero in HER Own Words:

What are the things that keep you up at night? 

Did I do enough? Did I miss something or fail to model or lead in a way that is worthy? In the work I do, as well as what it takes for me to be the best parent I can be, I give it my all. Sometimes so much that there isn’t enough left for me. Not so long ago, I woke up to one of the worst calls of my career. I was set to run Beach to Bay, and I was informed that one of my previous clients, who I had worked with that year, had died by suicide the night before. This individual had moved out of Corpus Christi but was struggling with trauma and mental illness for many years, as well as other life stressors. I was devastated and heartbroken for the family. Nothing could have prepared me for this; not my masters or doctoral program, and definitely not my training. Working with the populations I serve means we will lose people. 

What do people need to know about mental health?

Mental health treatment is not just important, it is vital to our health and overall well-being. We must take it seriously and play an active role in order to change the narrative we still see today. Not everyone believes in mental health or supports those who struggle with their mental health. I deal with it every day and that stigma prevents people from getting the help they need. In 2020, people still struggle with being okay, with not being okay.
 
We must all do our part with our family members, people in our friend circles, and the community we live in. Learn the warning signs that someone may be struggling with a mental illness. For those who are having difficulty, just know it is okay to ask for help. We need more federal and state dollars allocated for mental health services, therefore removing the barriers and allowing easier access in all communities. We are losing our future to a death that can be prevented. 

What gives you the most satisfaction, inspiration or joy?

That’s easy: helping others, music, and family. I will always help people whether I work with them professionally or not. I am determined to live my life and use my gifts that God gave me to the best of my ability. When I am looking for inspiration or I need that extra push, I go to my music. I love all genres and music is my medicine. That’s how I wrote my dissertation. Music moves me like no other thing can and I use it in everything I do. When the world gets quiet and I’m struggling to find my joy, it’s my family I need and no one else. Without them I would not be what I am today. 

STEFANY SCHADE, HUMANITARIAN

I am confident in saying that if you were to ask anyone to describe Stefany Schade in one word, they’d say something synonymous with “altruistic.” She brings an unmatched level of care to the table in all she does, and even when presented with unimaginable challenges, the question of “How can I help?” will always be Schade’s first response. 

Schade is the type of person who was president of each extracurricular club she was a part of in high school. Involved in and at the helm of countless non-profits and organizations over the years, Schade has held a handful of positions all aimed toward lending a hand to our community. Currently, on top of owning her own finance advisory business, TorOso Financial Group (which, by the way, she started at just 27 years old), she also serves as the current president-elect of Junior League of Corpus Christi and the chair of the board of Goodwill Industries of South Texas. 

I ask Schade if she ever has a common theme or goal behind her philanthropic endeavors, and she begins to tell me the story of a starfish. If you’re familiar at all with Schade, you might also be familiar with this anecdote. The crux of the tale is that a young woman stumbles upon thousands of starfish on the beach one day, and begins to throw them back into the ocean. An older man sees this good deed take place and points out the sheer volume of starfish means that she couldn’t possibly help each one. The woman responds that if she only even throws back one, it would make all the difference in the world to that singular starfish. 

The metaphor here is obvious: Schade understands there is no way for her to help the entire world, or even her entire community for that matter. But if she can make a difference in one person’s life, help change the mindset of even a single being, or provide someone with the necessary resources to obtain a goal, then she has achieved what she set out to do. That’s the obvious takeaway, but a more obscure understanding of the narrative leads me to a different pillar of Schade’s work. 

After suffering from a traumatic brain injury in 2015, a new mindset found her. She realized she had too many hands in too many baskets and because of this, wasn’t able to give enough of herself and her efforts to anyone. With this newfound sense of clarity, the number of starfish on the beach suddenly became significantly smaller. She realized the value in finding specific causes you’re passionate about and having the space to make a significant impact. And that’s precisely what Schade does. She pours herself into her endeavors and because of this, real help and hope is provided. 

The Humanitarian in HER Own Words:

Where do you think your passion for giving back and helping others comes from?

Well first, it's the way I was raised. God blessed me in so many ways, and it's just not in my nature to sit around and just be. He has a purpose for me, and I want to do what I can to fulfill that purpose by giving back to my community. Everything I did growing up and the way my parents raised me, that all aided me in what I do today through community involvement. Without those roots, I wouldn’t be who I am today. And then after my accident, I had this pivot moment and I realized there were some things that meant more to me and I needed to focus my efforts on those few things rather than spread myself so thin. I wanted to be able to give my best self to the things I was involved in and truly make a difference. Because that is what is important. I don’t do what I do for the accolades, but I love to see when other people rise up and become better because of something I had a hand in. That is exciting and fuels me. 

What advice would you give young women just starting to see their potential?

You know, this is a good question. Well, I am a nerd, like a big nerd, and I would say the best advice I can give someone just starting out is to form some type of action plan. Like actually visualize what you want to accomplish in your mind, and set a goal and set a timeline, and make some type of plan to get there. The plan might not go the exact way you wanted it to; you’ll have to adapt along the way and that’s okay. But you have to visualize what you want to accomplish. I mean literally write it down and then go do it. 

What gives you the most satisfaction, inspiration or joy?

Honestly, it's the simple things. You know, like a refrigerated Lindt Lindor truffle, a great cup of bubble coffee, amazing calamari. But truly, it's seeing people who work hard, people who are good and kind, seeing those people succeed and have great things happen to them and for them, that is absolutely pure joy. Seeing my son being proud of himself for learning something new or doing something hard is so absolutely satisfying. Seeing someone that set a goal, accomplish that goal, despite the odds – pure inspiration. Seeing people truly realize their potential, or just simply realize that they have potential, which changes their whole attitude, that is a wonderful, heartwarming moment.

BEATRIZ HANSON, WOMAN OF THE YEAR

Food banks have been a vital component of communities around the world for as long as they’ve existed. However, in a year like 2020, their presence is more crucial than ever. Since March, our newsfeeds have been flooded with headlines revolving around the stress being put on this community resource. Our very own Coastal Bend Food Bank is responsible for 55 distribution sites in 11 different counties. Pandemic or not, that’s a lot of mouths to feed, and Beatriz “Bea” Hanson is at the center of it all. 

Born and raised in Mexico City, Hanson moved to the States in 1968. She recalls the experience as an isolating one. She knew only Spanish, had left a close-knit family dynamic and a teaching career, and knew practically no one in the Coastal Bend. But Hanson saw possibilities, rather than barriers. Within six months, she had begun to communicate in English and found her first job at the Welfare Office, and from there her love for being a community servant only blossomed. 

Being of service to others is a way of life for Hanson. She knows no different. She tells me the various accomplishments of the strong women in her life and how they all centered around the concept of being of service to others. From her aunt, a once 80-year-old congresswoman well ahead of her time, to her mother and her endearing nature, the joy in helping others is imbedded deep. 

In 1997, the year Hanson first started at the food bank, they distributed 2.5 million pounds of food a year, had a total of seven employees, and used one old, beat-up van for distributions. This year, they’ve distributed more than 13 million pounds of food, have a total of 48 employees, and use an entire fleet of refrigerated trucks. Beyond the daily task of feeding the community, the food bank also provides a plethora of resources like nutrition education, diabetes management classes, and weekend food for children who depend on school food for a meal. 

The reason Bea Hanson is our Woman of the Year goes well beyond the undeniable fact that leading a food bank – always, but especially in a COVID-19 world – is a very real and taxing role to hold. Just as a food bank’s purpose goes well beyond getting food in mouths, Hanson is restoring hope in the hopeless, she’s nourishing souls in need of sustenance, and in a time like this, that’s needed more than ever.

The Woman of the Year in HER Own Words

Who is your hero or person you most hope to emulate? 

My mother, my aunts, a lot of the women in my family. My family was very close-knit and very loving. And my aunts, they were born in the 1800s, quite ahead of their time, but didn't know it. One of my aunts, my father’s sister, ran, was elected, and served as a congresswoman in her eighties. This woman knew no limits, and these are the type of women I grew up with. My mother was the most incredible, giving service person I have ever met. She was my example of what being a servant is. I would love to be like her when I 
grow up.

What advice would you give to young women who are just starting to see their potential? 

You know, fear is something we all experience when a door opens and we are invited to step through that door. But my advice would be to not look at that fear; look at the possibilities. Because the worst thing that can happen is it doesn’t work or you fail, but all that means is you have to start in a new direction. But don’t ever let fear stop you from being and becoming who you were meant to be.

What do you feel is the importance of seeing women in leadership roles? 

I think the importance is that it reinforces the fact of equality, that women are just as capable as men. It just hasn’t ever been recognized in centuries past. But we are now being given this opportunity, and we must take it and shine.

What gives you the most satisfaction, inspiration or joy?

I love to be of service to others, I am inspired, and satisfied when I can make a difference in someone’s life. I love to work out; I feel energized, renewed, and joyful after exercising. I love spending time with my family and seeing my grandsons grow and become who they are. And lastly, my dogs make me happy.