The YMCA at Virginia Tech celebrated International Women’s Day, which falls in March of every year, by recognizing three International women community members: Alphi Fancon, Manju Batra, and Rejane Pratelli.
The three women were recognized for demonstrating a spirit of perseverance, making an impact in their community, and setting an example of service in the New River Valley.
Serving in a public office is Aphi Fancon, born and raised in India. She pursued a career in city planning when she and her family moved to Florida in 2002. Fancon got her graduate degree from the University of Florida. In 2015, she moved to Blacksburg and is currently working as the Community Development Director at the New River Valley Regional Commission (NRVRC). Her volunteer work in the community has included helping in several programs such as Meals on Main and Welcoming Week with the YMCA, Renew the New, and food drives for Feeding Southwest Virginia and Radford Head Start.
One of the YMCA’s longtime volunteers, Manju Batra is an active member within the international community. Batra grew up in India in an extended family and learned from an early age to be a helper in her neighborhood, just like her mother. She came to the United States in 1972 after getting married. Before coming to Virginia, she lived in Missouri where she was involved with her children’s schools and volunteered at the BW Robinson State School for children with disabilities.
Batra joined the YMCA at VT when the family moved to Blacksburg in 1994. She loves to welcome newcomers and help them make friends with other community members. Thus, she has a sense of fulfillment to help newly arrived international people to settle down as she was once in their shoes and remembers how challenging it was to find her way when moving to a new country.
In the face of adversity, Réjane Pratelli discovered her strength and new path in arts. Born in France, she earned a PhD in plant biology and pursued her research in various countries. She arrived in the U.S. in 2007 and settled in Blacksburg in 2009. In 2013 an aneurysm left her unable to speak and unable to use her fingers for a number of months and brought her academic career to an end.
She turned to art to heal and ground herself. An introductory sterling silver jewelry workshop in Blair Anderson’s studio near Washington, D.C., sparked a deep love and respect for that metal and provided the outlet she needed. After a few years of practice, she fully recovered the use of her fingers and grew both her skills and her confidence.
Through the YMCA’s annual Craft Fair she found that her art was well received. She eventually started her own jewelry business, Anvil, Fire & Time, in 2018. Since then her work has focused on the exploration of textures, using them to reflect the complexity of the human psyche and to fight the pressure society places on all of us, but especially on women. Pratelli has been helping the YMCA since with planning and organizing the annual Craft Fair.
The YMCA at VT also took the opportunity to celebrate Women’s History Month with an open house and presentation on the life and achievements of Lucy Lee Lancaster, who was one of the first five women students at Virginia Tech (1925). She led an active life leading many organizations while working as a librarian and traveling to 52 countries. Lancaster was a board member of the YMCA at VT for many years and before her death bequeathed her house to the organization.