They say that to raise a child, it takes a village. But according to local leaders, the same can be said of empowering women to step up and make a difference in their communities.

The theme of "help" was a common thread that ran through this morning's Salute to Women Awards breakfast at Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque. The second annual event, presented by Her magazine, and ImOn Communications and sponsored by Sedona Staffing Services, recognized four Dubuque women for their community impact. Nearly 250 people were in attendance to celebrate their accomplishments.

Michaela Freiburger, program specialist at Dubuque Main Street, was honored as a Woman to Watch.

Demonstrating that "community takes connection," the 30-year-old encouraged attendees to turn around and introduce themselves to those sitting behind them.

"There is great potential that lies in community connections," Freiburger said. "And there are many people in the community who have made a positive impact on my life in ways both big and small. I would not be here without their support."

To other up-and-comers, she also offered a few words of wisdom: "Don't forget that we can do this. And there is so much more to be done."

Natalie Nemmers, a counselor at Hempstead High School, was recognized as a Woman Who Makes a Difference.

The 46-year-old, who was nominated for her work in creating an outreach program for female students at the school, said she found herself at an unusual loss for words and credited much of her accomplishments to her fellow counseling staff, as well as the support of her friends and family.

"Those that know me know that I'm not often speechless," she said, laughing. "This award isn't just about me. I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by such amazing friends, family and staff every day of my life who put up with my crazy humor and stories. They inspire me. And everything they do is like a ripple that goes out into the community. They're making a difference."

Nicole Hutchison, owner and CEO of Statera Integrated Health and Wellness Solutions, received a nod as a Woman of Innovation.

Launching Statera 17 months ago as a place where traditional medicine could align with mind, body and spirit wellness, Hutchison also credited her team with helping make her dream a reality and her husband for being her "biggest cheerleader."

"To be standing in a room full of women is truly beautiful and is a reminder that we can't do it alone," said Hutchison, 47. "I had the vision for a place where health and wellness could come together under one roof, and it has become a dream come true. ... If you have even a whisper of a voice inside you, telling you to do something, listen to it. And reach out to your team of support to help it grow."

The Woman of the Year award was presented to Marina O'Rourke, who serves as the director of Dubuque Academy of Ballet, Dubuque City Youth Ballet and Heartland Ballet -- a legacy she has continued to help flourish through the memory of her mother, the late Tatiana Bechenova, who founded the academy in 1968.

"I always want to push myself out of my comfort zone, and through music and dance, I have received a healthy dose of living on the edge," said O'Rourke, 67.

Like the other award recipients, she cited countless collaborations that helped bring her artistic visions to life on stage, from the work of fellow dancers in the community to her husband, Anthony Rosenow, who assisted in building props and being a "big exhale" in a life filled with production.

She also paid tribute to her mother and closest collaborator.

"She held me up and pushed me further and inspired me," O'Rourke said. "My advice is that if you didn't have a mother like mine, find one."

The event also included a keynote address from Tara Duggan, the president and owner of McDermott Excavating, a company she purchased from her father and has helped grow.

She shared that while it was never her childhood dream to be an excavator, there is no place she would rather be today. And all of it is thanks to help that she received along the way.

"I love being challenged, and I love being busy," Duggan said. "But I was never afraid to ask for help. You have to keep asking for help. It's what brought me and my family back to Dubuque -- a community that honors leaders like the women who are so deserving of these awards today."

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