Four Houston Women Making History

Designated by Congress in 1987 to recognize the achievements of women in a variety of fields – science, community, government, literature, art, sports and medicine – Women’s History month celebrates their contributions that continue to pave the way for the next generation of women to continue making history. This March – and every March – we recognize Women’s History Month across the globe. This year was especially meaningful to us at Volunteer Houston for a number of reasons.

First Annual Women’s Her-story Service Project

We are excited to share the impact from our recent Women’s Her-story Service Project that was open to both the corporate community and the community at large. If you couldn’t join us this year we hope you’ll be inspired to join us next year!

Four Houston Women Making History

There are so many strong, kind, [enter your descriptor here!], and graceful women who are setting a positive example for the next generation of female leaders right here in Houston. This year we selected 4 women who have a heart for service in our community. Here are their stories.



Debbie Mercer joined USA FIT as a member in 1997. After serving as marathon training coach, Houston Fit Organizer, National Program Director, and President she eventually became owner of USA FIT in 2020. In 2006, she founded Beyond the Finish Line, Inc. – a nonprofit whose mission was to bring group fitness activities to underserved communities for the purposes of developing good health, nurturing self-esteem while promoting community, and encouraging a deeper sense of spirituality. She is a past board member for Wesley Community Center and for Bel-Inizio. In 2019, Debbie founded the Zip Hers women’s athleticwear line that – through a special zipper design – gives women dignity, convenience, and privacy to an issue all women have while participating in outdoor athletic endeavors when “nature calls”.



Donna Fujimoto Cole founded Cole Chemical in 1980 at the age of 27. After 41 years, Donna has started, sold, invested, and divested many types of businesses in several industries. She has been recognized by the US Small Business Administration and Department of Commerce’s Minority Business Development Agency for quality service and for her leadership and mentorship of other entrepreneurs. She is Co-founder of the Pantheon of Women, a production company that tells compelling stories about strong women and supportive men in film, television, plays and musicals to change not only the way men treat and perceive women, but also how women see themselves. Donna attended University of Texas – Pan American and graduated from Manpower Business Training Institute in Computer Operations and Programming.



Gracie is a native Houstonian having been born into a family of nine in the Fifth Ward of Houston.  Her parents, though not formally educated, insisted that their children obtain the highest education possible, contribute back to the community, and instilled in them the importance of family values. Gracie received her B. A. degree in Spanish from the University of Houston. She is currently the outside General Counsel for the Houston Land Bank as well as a Special Assistant and Consultant to Harris County District Attorney, Kim Ogg. Gracie has been recognized as Hispanic Woman of the Year from The Mexican American Opportunity Foundation, D’Mar 30 Most Influential Women of 2016, and the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018 by Mayor Sylvester Turner.



Vanessa E. Wyche is Deputy Director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center where she provides executive leadership of a broad range of human spaceflight activities including NASA’s Astronauts, Mission Control, plans for human missions to the Moon and Mars, and so much more. A native of South Carolina, Wyche earned a B.S. in Engineering and M.S. in Bioengineering from Clemson University and is a current International Women’s Forum Fellow. She has received two Outstanding Leadership Medals, two Achievement Medals, is a 2014 Women at NASA awardee, and has been recognized externally as a national “2016 Women Worth Watching” honoree by Profiles in Diversity and was inducted into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists at Clemson University in 2019.

Volunteer Houston’s All Female Team

It may not be surprising to know that all five Volunteer Houston team members are female (because 3 out 4 nonprofit employees are female). Nevertheless we are proud of ourselves and the behind-the-scenes work we do to support volunteer efforts among nonprofits, residents and companies. Even though we each identify as female, we are a very diverse group of leaders who bring unique experiences, perspectives, and ideas to the programs and services we offer to the nonprofit sector in our 13-county service area. So, to the #VolunteerHouston team of women who work so hard to support our local nonprofits’ missions, 125K+ volunteers’ interests, companies’ #CSR goals, and – most importantly – each other….Happy #InternationalWomensDay! I appreciate you!