Cecelie Owens, Megan Livatino, Liz Brieva and Melissa Clarke-Wharff Receive Toyota Driving Solutions Grant

Newport Beach, Calif., October 3, 2018 — Last night at the ninth annual The espnW: Women + Sports Summit presented by Toyota, espnW and Toyota announced the sixth class of Toyota Everyday Heroes. Toyota Everyday Heroes are individuals making a difference for women and girls in their local communities through sports. The Heroes were recognized on-stage and provided with grants in the amount of $10,000.
“These unsung heroes are creating innovative programs and enhancing their communities through sports,” said Samantha Goot, general manager of media and engagement marketing, Toyota Motor North America. “As a company that fosters the careers of women, Toyota is proud to honor the 2018 Everyday Heroes –  Cecelie Owens, Megan Livatino, Liz Brieva and Melissa Clarke-Wharff – and help further their mission to inspire and empower women and girls through sports.”
The 2018 Toyota Everyday Heroes are:
Cecelie Owens (G.I.R.L.S Sports Foundation – Buffalo, NY)
Cecelie Owens, an educator and native of Buffalo, is the Founder and President of the G.I.R.L.S. Sports Foundation, Inc. (GSF). She founded the non-profit organization in 2007 to make a positive impact on girls in Buffalo through sports participation, mentoring, educational workshops and more, preparing them to be successful in all aspects of their lives. G.I.R.L.S. stands for Goals, Integrity, Respect, Leadership, and Sports – the main pillars of the program. Cecelie involves parents and members of the community to not only have fun, but teach the girls strategies for overcoming adversity, encourage a healthy lifestyle, and promote teamwork.  More than 5,000 girls have participated since the organization was founded. In 1999, Cecelie became the first African-American woman inducted into the Buffalo State College Athletic Hall of Fame and has served as the Director of the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) hosted at Buffalo State College for 10 years.
Liz Brieva and Megan Livatino (Girls Play Sports – Evanston, IL)
Frustrated by seeing girls drop out of sports after middle school, Liz Brieva and Chris Livatino, the Director of Athletics at Evanston Township High School, founded Girls Play Sports. The program is dedicated to fostering leadership skills and confidence in girls through their participation a wide variety of sports. Focused on middle school girls, GPS exposes them to sports with the help of coaches and high school athletes from ETHS. They believe exposure to many sports is crucial for encouraging girls to stick with athletics. Since launching GPS, they have seen a dramatic rise in participation at ETHS, including more girls participating in sports than boys at ETHS.
Megan joined the Girls Play Sports team as Executive Director in 2014. Megan Livatino graduated from Evanston Township High School (ETHS) where she played volleyball, basketball and soccer for four years. She went on to play volleyball at Northwestern University and graduated with a BS in Organizational Studies.
Melissa Clarke – Wharff (Courage League Sports – Des Moines, IA)
Melissa Clarke-Wharff founded Courage League Sports, a non-profit adaptive sports and recreational facility that offers year-round programming for children and adults who aren’t able to go full speed due to a physical, cognitive or emotional disability. After her son Jack suffered multiple strokes when he was eight years old and frustrated by lack of options for adapted recreational activities for kids and adults who live with a disability or a chronic healthcare need, Courage League was born. With over 50,000 children and adults with special needs in Greater Des Moines, Courage League's vision is to have an option for everybody, while offering adapted programs in music, sports, arts and fitness for all ages and abilities.
“These women have proven to be real trailblazers in the world of women in sports and we are proud to honor them this year,” said Laura Gentile, senior vice president, espnW & Women’s Initiatives. “It’s not every day that people selflessly dedicate their time to a cause such as this and we would like to thank them for helping advance this initiative.”
To qualify for a Toyota Everyday Heroes grant, a person and/or organization must:

  • Have been operating as an active, sports-related organization for at least three years;
  • Are currently creating sports opportunities for girls and women in their local communities, and making a meaningful, inspiring impact with quantifiable results; 

Last year’s honorees were Darlene Hunter (Founder, Lady Mavericks Wheelchair Basketball), Fartun Osman (Founder, Somali Girls Rock) and Mira Manickam (Founder, Brown Girl Surf). In 2016, the honorees were Courtney Payne Taylor (Founder, Girls Riders Organization), Tracy Pointer (Founder, GROW/GROW Girl) and Beth Devine (Founder, Philly Girls in Motion). In 2015, espnW and Toyota honored Chrissy Lewis-Summers, founder of Beyond Sticks, and Heidi Boynton, founder of Mini Mermaid Running Club. The 2014 honorees were Dr. Kimberley S. Clay, Monica Gonzalez and Claire Smallwood. In 2013, espnW and Toyota recognized Barb Lazarus, Justine Siegal and Mobolaji Akidoe as the inaugural recipients.

About espnW
espnW is a global multiplatform brand dedicated to engaging and inspiring women through sports. espnW.com, the brand’s content home, offers total access to female athletes and the sports they play, takes fans inside the biggest events, and captures the biggest trends in sports life/style.  espnW also provides a unique point of view on the sports stories that matter most to women and highlights the crossroads of sports and culture. Founded in July 2010, espnW’s content and voices live across digital, television, radio, films, events, educational platforms and social media. The annual espnW: Women + Sports Summit brings together top athletes and industry leaders for meaningful conversations around women and sports, and is the leading event of its kind in the sports industry.
About Toyota
Toyota (NYSE:TM) has been a part of the cultural fabric in the U.S. and North America for 60 years, and is committed to advancing sustainable, next-generation mobility through our Toyota and Lexus brands. During that time, Toyota has created a tremendous value chain as our teams have contributed to world-class design, engineering, and assembly of more than 36 million cars and trucks in North America, where we operate 14 manufacturing plants (10 in the U.S.) and directly employ more than 47,000 people (more than 37,000 in the U.S.).  Our 1,800 North American dealerships (nearly 1,500 in the U.S.) sold more than 2.7 million cars and trucks (2.4 million in the U.S.) in 2017 – and about 87 percent of all Toyota vehicles sold over the past 15 years are still on the road today.  
Through the Start Your Impossible campaign, Toyota highlights the way it partners with community, civic, academic and governmental organizations to address our society’s most pressing mobility challenges. We believe that when people are free to move, anything is possible. For more information about Toyota, visit www.toyotanewsroom.com.

Leigh Anne Sessions
(424) 488-4200
[email protected]

Kimberly Harms
(702) 234-9517
[email protected]

Tara Chozet
(860) 766-2206
[email protected]


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Toyota Everyday Heroes including Liz Brieva + Megan Livatino of Girls Play Sports, Melissa Clarke-Wharff of Courage League Sports and Cecelie Owens of G.I.R.L.S. Sports Foundation were awarded $10,000 grants by Toyota at the ninth annual espnW Summit. 

Cecelie Owens Melissa Clarke-Wharff 001

Cecelie Owens of G.I.R.L.S. Sports Foundation, Melissa Clarke-Wharff of Courage League Sports and Liz Brieva + Megan Livatino of Girls Play Sports were honored as Toyota Everyday Heroes, an award that celebrates individuals making a difference for women and girls in their local communities through sports, at the ninth annual espnW Summit. 

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