Pictured from left to right, Mahboobeh Shekari, director of finance-YWCA of Bethlehem; Santa Bannon-Shillea, who nominated Ward for the recognition; Carrie Ward; and Stephanie Hnatiw, executive director of the YWCA of Bethlehem.

Carrie Ward, supervisor-Information Systems at PPL, thought she was going to her own performance appraisal on one recent day. The cake and flowers in the conference room caught her off guard, as did the mix of co-workers and community members who were hiding in there.

Instead of a meeting, she found out she had been named by the YWCA of Bethlehem as one of the Lehigh Valley’s three Women of the Year award recipients.

“I was surprised – I didn’t even know I’d been nominated,” Ward said, and admitted the revelation brought tears to her eyes.

She’ll be honored on April 7 at the 41st annual Women and Teens of the Year Award Ceremony in Bethlehem Township. The award recognizes philanthropic efforts and community volunteerism focused on ending racism, and promoting equality and diversity, Ward said.

Ward’s friend, Santa Bannon-Shillea, nominated Ward for the honor because of her volunteer work through PPL and in the community.

Ward has been a PPL employee since 2000, and worked as a contractor for three years before that. She’s a member of all nine of the company’s employee business resource groups, and has served in leadership positions at several of them.

Outside of PPL, Ward serves on the board of Lehigh Valley Children’s Centers, which is a nonprofit childcare organization focused on full day child care in six centers and before- and after-school care in 15 centers around the Lehigh Valley.

She serves as co-chair of membership on the United Way-Women’s Leadership Council — a donor group of the United Way focused on women and children with four signature projects chosen by the members. WLC works to enhance the United Way’s efforts at two community schools (as well as the Literacy Center of Allentown and ProJeCt of Easton), through both financial and volunteer support. The funds donated through the program help to provide in-school, after-school and summer education programs, books, clothing closets, food pantries, and support for reading and science nights with parents and kids.

“Part of the reason we work with kids in school is that a child who can read at the third grade level in third grade has a much better shot at graduating high school,” Ward said. “The earlier you get them into a good learning environment and to appreciate books … those are success factors for being able to read and graduate.”

Over the last two years, she’s taught girls how to give effective presentations as part of the PPL-sponsored training program for girls involved with the Girl Scouts’ Take the Lead event, which honors outstanding women in the community. As part of the training, girls learn to fill all the roles required to manage and execute the annual event.

Ward is also active on the Women’s Summit Committee, a collaborative effort among Cedar Crest College-Women’s Leadership Institute, United Way-Women’s Leadership Council and the Women’s Business Council of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce. The annual event is held in June.

The pull to volunteer started early on for Ward, as a child growing up in Canada. Even as a young Girl Guide (the Canadian equivalent of Girl Scouts), she recognized the importance of giving back to her community.

“Communities need you,” Ward said. “It feels good at the end of the day to help others, change lives and break the cycle of poverty.”