Rebecca Mieliwocki was touted as a creative teacher for students and an inspiration to fellow teachers when the Zonta Club of Burbank honored her as its Woman of the Year 2013 during a luncheon on Saturday at the Castaway Restaurant.
Mieliwocki is a seventh-grade English teacher at Luther Middle School and she received the National Teacher of the Year in 2012. That honor set her on a yearlong exploration, first being honored by President Obama in Washington, D.C., and then visiting 30 U.S. states and nine countries, representing America’s public school teachers.
The honoree credited the people in her life for getting her to where she is today. She has tried to take the positive attributes from family members, teachers, neighbors and friends and woven those into her own personality, she said. But she never thought she was an inspiration to others.
“It is this award that helped me realize that,” she said. “That all of us are so incredibly infectious and influential whether it is your personality, sense of humor, your brain, the love and laughter that comes out of you is infectious. Take all the gifts you are given but make sure to give some back. So I will take this award today and turn around and see who else I can inspire, encourage, lift up or show the way, just like I hope all of us do.”
Luther teacher Traci Fellman recalled how Mieliwocki offers ways to improve the campus and inspires others to try new things. She led the way to spruce up the teacher’s lounge and helped organize the Luther Losers weight loss program.
“Rebecca is always there to make things better and push people outside of their comfort zones,” Fellman said.
Stefanie Enokian, another Luther teacher, said one of Mieliwocki’s greatest assets in the classroom is the way she holds her students’ attention with her humor, accents, jokes and thinking like a 12-year-old at heart.
Enokian remembered a first day of school when a student was comparing her class schedule with another student in the hallway, and said she had a class with Mieliwocki, who was walking behind her. Mieliwocki told her “Oh no, she’s the worst!” The student was surprised when she sat down in Mieliwocki’s class and saw the same blond woman at the front of the room.
Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy presented Mieliwocki with a certificate of appreciation from the city in honor of her leadership, passion and commitment to education.
“Thank you for making a difference in so many lives and your caring contributions to our city,” the mayor said.
Zonta presented Mieliwocki with a bouquet of flowers and a Woman of the Year pin. In addition, President Grace Farenbaugh said a donation of $500 was made in the recipient’s name to the She’s the First Foundation, which sponsors education for girls in developing nations, allowing them to be the first in their family to graduate from secondary schools.
“Teachers work so hard both in and out of the classroom and we know that Ms. Mieliwocki embodies that passion and dedication,” Farenbaugh said.
The Woman of the Year Award seeks to recognize women who are leaders and achievers in volunteer efforts and community service in Burbank. Recipients are those at the forefront of many initiatives and organizations that improve day-to-day quality of life for thousands in this community, by advancing the status of women.
Past recipients attending Saturday’s event were Elaine Paonessa, Marsha Ramos and Lucy Burghdorf.
Zonta Club of Burbank is one of more than 1,200 clubs operating in 64 countries and geographic areas worldwide. The Burbank club conducts many service projects in the community, but members are most proud of the Zonta Wings program, Farenbaugh said. It provides grants to women for academic or vocational training.
“This program provides financial assistance to adult women who have gone back to school or are pursuing vocational training so they can overcome a major setback in their lives,” Farenbaugh said. “As women, we know how difficult it is to back to school when you have a family. We want to help women soar to the next level.”