Clark, Stevens named 2023 Male, Female Champions of Change

Sarah Stevens, left, and Nate Clark pose with their 2023 Champions of Change Awards. The male and female award winners were announced during a Feb. 23 Luncheon and Awards Ceremony. CREDIT DAVE THOMPSON

A woman who empowers other women to share their stories and provides healthcare for the LGBTQ+ HIV/AIDS community along with a top Deere & Co. executive committed to women’s leadership are the Quad Cities 2023 Champions of Change.

In all, seven finalists were feted before a well-attended luncheon and awards ceremony last month at the Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf. The awards, in their second year, were presented by YWCA Quad Cities and its YES SHE CAN series. 

The winners were chosen from the following group seven of finalists, by a panel of judges. 

Female Champions of Change nominees:

  • Linda Guebert, Davenport, a parish nurse manager for UnityPoint Health-Trinity.
  • Laura Mahn, Rock Island, founder and director of Nest Cafe. 
  • Tyla Sherwin-Cole, Rock Island, chief executive director of the Doris & Victor Day Foundation and event coordinator for Gathering of Women/

Male Champion of Change nominees:

  • Brian Doerrfeld, Davenport, owner of Revive You, race director, event coordinator and personal trainer. 
  • Matt Mendenhall, Bettendorf, CEO of the Regional Development Authority (RDA). 

The 2023 event sponsors were: Female Champion of Change Award, Quad City Bank & Trust; Male Champion of Change Award, American Bank & Trust; Host Location, Quad Cities Waterfront Convention Center; Award Sponsor, Edwards Creative; Media Sponsor, Quad Cities Regional Business Journal; Silver Level Sponsor, GreenState Credit Union; and Bronze Level Sponsors, Assured Partners, Shive-Hattery and Tyson.

The QCBJ news team interviewed this year’s winners, Sarah Stevens, and Nate Clark. Read their profiles here:

Stevens’ mission: Helping women live big lives

By Kenda Burrows

Storyteller Sarah Stevens, the founder of the Beautifull Project, spent four years sharing her own story about the heavy weight that women carry around throughout their lives about their weight.

These days her soul-bearing work on the project designed to invite women “back to their bodies” is still empowering tens of thousands of women to live big lives regardless of their size. And it’s also the reason Ms. Stevens believes she was chosen as the 2023 Quad Cities Female Champion of Change by the YWCA of the Quad Cities and its series Yes She Can.

“The Project took direct aim at the weight women carry about their weight because if there’s one place women get bound up, it is most definitely about our bodies,” Ms. Stevens said in the essay she wrote for her nomination for the award.

The Beautifull Project included a podcast, a blog, and a photo gallery that “became a container for the stories women wanted to share,” she said. It’s also aimed at helping women become free and full – which is why she said the Beautifull in the project’s name has two Ls.

“Over the course of those four years, I dedicated every ounce of energy and effort I had to spreading that message and as a result, I got to witness so many women waking up to the truth about themselves and beginning to believe that they, too, could write a different kind of ending for themselves,” she wrote. “It was work that was a pure privilege to be a part of.”

The former healthcare executive is focused these days on her work as the community impact officer at The Project of the Quad Cities. The Moline nonprofit provides support for people living with HIV and AIDS in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Prior to those jobs, Ms. Stevens was the first executive director of Lead(h)er. Through that program, her Champions of Change nominator Jennifer Davis, assistant regional director at Special Olympics of Illinois, said: “Sarah helped connect women with experienced leaders to fuel career and community engagement. As the inaugural executive director, she had the opportunity to build the organization’s signature ‘Strike a Match’ mentoring program.”

Ms. Stevens told the QCBJ that Lead(her) launched with a tiny grant and a scant handful of women seeking mentors. By the time she left, Lead(h)er had more than 900 women involved in its mentorship program.

Ms. Stevens added that work “ignited the fire in me to be supportive of women and to do what I can to invite women to a place of freedom and empowerment and all of the things that I don’t think the world is necessarily encouraging of.” 

She did that through The Beautifull Project. “I think stories stick. They change the way we think about things and so I just held that space for other women to share their stories about their bodies, about beauty and being,” she said. “It was a really powerful and incredible experience.”

It was also exhausting, so she powered down by choosing not to create new podcasts or post personal stories, though the site at remains.

She did not, however, stop promoting women, according to Ms. Davis.

“Occasionally when someone is climbing a ladder of leadership they forget to turn around and help those behind them. With Sarah, her successes are different,” Ms. Davis wrote in the nomination. “She has stacked ladders side by side so that others can join her on her journey. Life is not a competition for her, but a way of life to ensure that we all succeed.”

These days for Ms. Stevens that includes meeting the needs of Quad Citians living with HIV and AIDs. She also still has her sights set on combatting fat bias and size-shaming by those who believe “fat people are lazy” or “have no willpower.”

“I’m trying to destigmatize the word because it’s a word that describes tissue on my body that doesn’t have anything to do with the content of my character and I want more of us to stand in that space and understand that that’s true,” she told the QCBJ.

She hopes her message also resonates with thin women who devote their lives to staying that way. “Our obsession with the size of our body keeps us small,” she said. “It makes less of us available to our work, to the people that we love and I want nothing to do with that anymore.” 

Clark: ‘Be courageous, challenge the status quo’

By Dave Thompson

Nate Clark has this advice for people who see injustice in the world and want to see positive changes: “Be courageous. Our community faces some extraordinary challenges. … It’s the only way to challenge the status quo.”

Mr. Clark, of Bettendorf, the global director, Corporate Social Responsibility for John Deere, and president of the John Deere Foundation, gave that advice after he was named the Male Champion of Change last month during the 2023 Champions of Change event hosted by the YWCA and its YES SHE CAN series. 

The awards are presented to leaders in the community who are “intentionally and dynamically” empowering women and people who are making a positive impact in the community, said  Deanna Woodall, YWCA of the Quad Cities vice president of development and growth empowerment services, during the second annual awards event.

Mr. Clark deserves the honor because he “mentors women on his staff, colleagues and peers, and serves as a champion to their development and success. Nate is a great listener first, and quick to offer his support second. He shines light on women’s successes and will quickly be the one in the shadow,” according to an award nomination presented by Laura Eberlin, John Deere Global Corporate Social Responsibility lead.

In accepting the award, Mr. Clark praised his employer, stating the award is “truly a reflection of John Deere.”

“You find people (at Deere) who want to make the world a better place,” he added.

In addition to his experience with Deere, the Bettendorf man pointed to some of the influences that helped shape his life. Those experiences include working on his grandparents’ Waterloo area farm. When he asked about the jobs he should pursue as an adult, his grandmother told him to work for the post office or find a job with “John Deeres.” (Not “Deere,” but “Deeres.”)

Later in life, in the age of social media, he said he rediscovered the work of James Baldwin, the acclaimed African-American writer, and found more great inspiration.

Mr. Clark said he found much inspiration in Mr. Baldwin’s 1962 essay to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. In that essay, Mr. Baldwin states many people see injustices in the world, but find it difficult to act against injustice. 

Part of that essay states: “Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature.”

In his own essay, written as part of the Champions of Change nominating process, Mr. Clark wrote: “When you invest in women, you make the world better. … We are surrounded by undeniable proof of how investments in women unleash sustainable development on personal, local, and global scales. Let me give you just one proof point – countless studies have confirmed the enormous social, economic, and environmental returns created through basic investments in women’s health and childcare. Yet, all around us, we see the pursuit of gender equality faltering in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and upheaval it has caused.”

In his role with the Deere Foundation, Mr. Clark serves as its principal operating officer with responsibility for directing $20 million in annual grantmaking to nonprofit organizations and programs that enable people to unlock economic, social, and environmental value in and throughout  their lives.

He helped launch the Rayuwa project in Nigeria, for which John Deere was selected by Fast Company as the winner in the Corporate Social Responsibility category of the 2021 World Changing Ideas Awards.

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