2024 UMA Mission Awards

2024 UMA Mission Award Winners

Sunny Lopez
Retired President & CEO
Bethany Methodist
Glenview, IL

Ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church, Sunny Lopez’s career exemplifies faith in action. Concerned about injustices, poor care, and questionable ethics in several for-profit senior living communities, she became a community organizer at Illinois Citizens for Better Care where she advocated for nursing home residents and informed them of their rights

Her 30 plus year career at Bethany Methodist started as a chaplain - providing worship, education, and pastoral care to residents, patients, staff, interns, and volunteers. During her tenure as Director of Spiritual Care, she developed a seminary program and mentored more than 70 future pastors.

She earned both Masters and Doctorate degrees in Divinity. To support her expanding leadership role, Sunny earned a Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management. In 2019, Bethany Methodist selected Sunny to serve as its new President and CEO. As CEO, Sunny led Bethany Methodist as the organization expanded services, restructured, strengthened its governance and of course, navigated the challenges of the pandemic. She maintained the organization’s focus on its mission to provide exceptional senior living services.


Rev. Deb Pollex
Retired Spiritual Life Coordinator
Spero Family Services
Mt. Vernon, IL

In the 10 years she served as the Spiritual Life Coordinator with Spero Family Services, Reverend Deb Pollex revitalized the spiritual life program to help young people to embark on their own faith journey.

What sets Deb apart is her innovative and artistic approach to teaching and nurturing spiritual growth. She understands that each person has unique needs and backgrounds. She tailors her teachings to meet them where they are in life. Her support, guidance and genuine relationship with each child serve as a testament to her selflessness and dedication.

Through her ministry, Deb knew that building a stronger relationship with God could help with the healing process for children who had experienced various trauma, abuse and neglect. Deb wrote a book of prayers to give to each child struggling to talk to God. "Hey God, I Want to Talk To You, But I Don't Know What to Say" was published in 2020. It serves as a valuable resource for both the youth and staff equipping them with the tools to deepen their spiritual journey.

Beyond ministering to the youth and staff at Spero, Deb also saw opportunities to support other individuals who have experienced trauma. She developed a training program to address the crucial need for trauma-sensitive spiritual care. Recognizing that many well-meaning individuals providing spiritual care may lack the necessary training and understanding of trauma responses, Deb sought to bridge the gap between awareness and action.


Rev. Barb Certa-Werner
Assistant to the Bishop
Wisconsin Conference of the UMC
Sun Prairie, WI

Rev. Barb Certa-Werner has been involved in justice ministries throughout her career. In 1999, she founded Harbor House Crisis Shelter, a trauma-informed homeless family system in Douglas County, Wisconsin. Harbor House began with one building and grew to owning and operating two shelter facilities, a transitional living center with eight apartments, and a five-unit permanent supportive housing project.

Barb's ministry has a significant impact on those served by the Harbor House. She has mentored women into better physical and relational health, helped former residents find jobs and successfully return to their community. Her positive, enthusiastic disposition is contagious.

Barb was called to serve as Assistant the Bishop of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church where she continues to lead community-wide efforts to address homelessness. She established a purposeful collaboration between homeless family needs and community resources through the Anti-Poverty Action Coalition, the Douglas County Addiction Collaborative, and the Douglas County Trauma Informed Care Project.

While serving in the Conference office, she helped found a 12-step ministry, and encouraged churches and clergy to engage in health and welfare services. Barb continues to engage in community mission and ministry. She is highly respected for her passion and heart for those who are marginalized and hurting.