Harrisburg’s Leading Ladies Know No Bounds
WORDS BY M. DIANE MCCORMICK
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
So said Eleanor Roosevelt. She also said, “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” And, “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Harrisburg Magazine’s Wonder Women are those dream believers, candle lighters, and impossible-thing doers. They draw no distinctions between their professional and civic lives. Their work gives hope to others, and that gives them joy. Pursue your passion, they say, and you can make a difference.
Racial Justice Program Coordinator, YWCA Greater Harrisburg
Amanda Arbour always had a passion for racial justice, but her YWCA role planted her among “incredible women of color who have become not just colleagues but friends. Through working side-by-side with them and hearing their stories, these relationships have taken my understanding of racism from a head to a heart level.”
She recognizes the privileges afforded her – for being white, for being Christian, for being cisgender (identifying with the gender on her birth certificate). “I don’t have to think about racism, transphobia, Islamophobia or xenophobia to protect my own well-being or safety,” she says. She challenges others to become an ally – “someone who has privilege, but chooses to stand for and with marginalized communities by taking tangible, ongoing actions to dismantle systems of oppression.”
Her work for the YWCA’s racial justice programs ripples throughout the region, as people are educated, equipped, and empowered to become advocates for racial justice, “committed to the difficult work of dismantling systemic racism.”
The Philadelphia native maintains balance in her life by spending time with the strong circle of friends she has built in the Harrisburg area, blogging about media representation from an intersectional feminist perspective, “and singing karaoke on occasion.”
She hopes to see tangible action result from her work. “Dismantling systems of oppression requires that we reach a critical mass of people who have a depth of understanding and are willing to take risks to confront the systemic racism in our society.
For me personally, I hope to continue to grow as an ally – recognizing and learning from my mistakes, stripping away my own assumptions and biases, and making this work for justice a commitment that I live out every single day.”
Tiffany Chang Lawson
Executive Director of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific
Small business needs help cutting through red tape? Check. Domestic violence victim needs resources? Got it. Gov. Wolf meeting consul generals from the Asian and Pacific region? Tiffany Chang Lawson is on it – coordinating, blogging, event organizing, all toward the goal of a more inclusive Pennsylvania.
“I work on diversity and inclusion efforts with state agencies, especially on how to deliver culturally and linguistically appropriate services so all people have access to state government services,” Lawson says.
Lawson found the post through state Rep. Patty Kim, who knew of her passion for Asian-American affairs. Sometimes, young Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, or AAPIs, tell her they’ve never felt proud to be Asian-American. They crave to feel connected and to learn more about Asian-American history in the United States.
“What motivates me is raising the profile of my community for young people to get into public services and to be more civically engaged,” she says.
As a “one-woman show,” she is trying to figure out “how to be there for my family, my community but most importantly, for myself.” She admits to being a workaholic, driven by the experience of her Asian immigrant mom, a single mother, “to ensure that other children and their parents have greater access to state government services and equitable opportunities to a quality education.”
She loves to read and do yoga, especially aerial yoga. She and her husband, Richard – “The love of my life” – are proud parents of furbaby Willow, a blue-nose American Pit Bull Terrier. “I work hard so my dog can have a better life,” she and her husband say.
She believes in the Methodist creed, “Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, for as long as you can.” To make a difference, she advises, “Start with yourself. Figure out what you love, what sets your soul on fire and go do it!”every single day.”
CEO, Central Pennsylvania Region of the American Red Cross
As a “volunteen” at the age of 12, something like a hospital Candy Striper, Jeri Sims discovered the satisfaction she derives from helping others. A career in corporate America paralleled her volunteer roles, until she finally realized that nonprofits offered a more rewarding professional experience.
When a school board colleague introduced her to the Red Cross, she found her niche within an organization created to “prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.”
“There is no other organization in the world that has the depth, breadth, reach, or impact on so many people locally, nationally and internationally,” she says. Today’s Red Cross not only provides nearly half of the nation’s blood supply, but also offers swim classes, CPR training, fire prevention education and support for U.S. service members and their families.
Day-to-day, she draws inspiration from dedicated staff and volunteers. “It takes a special person with a giving heart to serve people in need at the level that the staff and volunteers of the Red Cross do,” she says.
Sims loves to cook, experimenting with different cuisines and spice profiles. She walks, indoors and out, about 25 miles a week, creating what she calls her “uninterrupted, deep-thinking time.”
When asked what she’d wish for, she would love to say something like “world peace,” but the mother of a three-child blended family and grandmother of a toddler has to be honest. “More time in the day,” is her answer.
“Women must realize that they cannot ‘do it all’ by themselves, so I encourage women, especially young career women who are raising families, to prioritize what is important to them and not to be afraid to ask for help,” she says.
President, African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania, and president, Personal Touch Professional Cleaning Service
When Shariah Brown bought her first home, she thought the job she’d held for 10 years would pay the mortgage. Two years later came a reorganization, and she was laid off.
“I didn’t see the end near,” she says. “I wasn’t prepared.”
But in a way, she was prepared, because the inveterate brainstormer for business ventures had already convinced family members to create a housecleaning service. After the layoff, and with help from friends in the janitorial business, her sideline blossomed into the business where she is now a partner with her younger sister. That business has carved a niche in the white male-dominated construction industry, specializing in post-construction cleanup and residential turnovers.
As president of the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Pennsylvania (AACCCP), Brown evangelizes about the power of entrepreneurism.
“I want to tell others that opportunity is what you make it and that you are not defined by who your boss thinks you are,” she says. “That you can earn a substantial living by tapping into your own passion and drive. That ‘skill’ can be attained. That talent can be learned through practice. That you can turn your hobby into capital.”
The AACCCP’s impact ripples throughout the region. Would-be entrepreneurs learn the basics in Build Your Business Boot Camp. This summer’s Junior Entrepreneurs in Training program inspires Harrisburg School District students to apply their classroom skills to real-life business enterprises.
The opportunity to share what she has learned is her greatest blessing. She is “super-excited” to work with Harrisburg School District students.
“I was thrilled to learn that they have indeed been thinking along the lines of doing business for themselves and that they have good ideas,” she says. “I look forward to giving them some nuggets.”
Vice-Chair, Technology Council of Central Pennsylvania, and co-founder, SO Tactics
What makes a person pursue a winding career path as government attorney, lobbyist, association executive, co-CEO of a social media and online strategies firm, and tech council board officer?
“Keep all options open and explore all opportunities as they are presented,” says Maura Donley. “Taking chances and not being afraid of the unknown helps, too. It might cause a little indigestion, but it’s worth it.”
Helping the younger generation inspired Donley to get involved with TCCP, where the Women in Technology group is establishing a STEM scholarship for women students. At TCCP’s inaugural Women in Technology Gala in June 2017, the Next Gen Award winner marveled at being among so many accomplished women.
“It gave her hope,” says Donley. “It’s great to be a part of an organization that supports women doing amazing things in their professional lives.”
She is the “best aunt in the world” to seven nephews. She is learning French “just because” and would love to learn to code, because she currently knows “just enough to get myself in trouble.” And because it’s not healthy to spend all your time working “or even thinking about work,” she loves to golf, when she can turn off her phone “and just relax. Golf is four hours of fun with friends in beautiful surroundings. Doesn’t get any better.”
Making a difference in the community is a matter of looking around for the “countless ways to give back.”
“It’s not about money,” she says. “Your time can be just as valuable. If you have a particular interest like children, the arts, sports — you’ll find numerous charitable organizations that relate to your own interests.”
Linebackers Coach, Lehigh Valley Steelhawks
Lori Locust loves being told how much her players value her as a coach. She is proud of her time with the Central Penn Piranha, one of the most successful and winningest teams in men’s semi-pro football history, contributing to two championships in her three years there.
“But,” she adds, “I have had times when I am standing in locker rooms, or involved in meetings or running out of a tunnel, and it hits me that no other women before me has been there with my teams, and it’s very humbling.”
In addition to coaching the Piranha, and now the National Arena League Steelhawks, she has coached Susquehanna Township High School football and the Central Penn Capitals, a men’s arena team. Before coaching, the lifelong Steelers fan played defense for a women’s semi-pro football team – a four year-starter, team captain and team MVP, and a league leader in sacks in her last season, before an injury ended her playing career.
She almost turned the car around several times on her way to tryouts for that women’s team. Her love of the game has always kept her going. Being seen as a novelty is the biggest challenge she continues to face, but she maintains a professional demeanor. She believes she has earned all her opportunities through preparation.
“Coach Lo” hopes to help guide the Steelhawks to a championship. She strives to improve as a coach and, ultimately, achieve a position in the NFL.
“Be true to yourself and your passion,” she advises. “Surround yourself with those that provide positive energy, and do not invest time in people or situations that are not of benefit to your overall well-being. Understand and accept that your path to finding your passion and purpose may not be easy, but well worth the journey.”
Alice Anne Schwab
Executive Director, Susquehanna Art Museum
Some people might shy from calling themselves “generalists,” but Alice Anne Schwab embraces the vagueness.
“I like variety in my work, and I can never do the same thing the same way twice,” says Schwab. She is where she always wanted to be, the art history major who has worked and volunteered in the arts and education, and even opened a restaurant, before landing at Harrisburg’s only dedicated art museum.
She and her board – they enable her to do what she does, she says — guided the museum through a rocky financial phase, assuring the institution an anchor role in burgeoning Midtown Harrisburg. In-house education and the museum’s mobile VanGo! bring awareness and expressive opportunities to kids and adults. Each new exhibit offers a fresh perspective, like “Art in Balance,” the pairing of great artworks and muscular motorcycles running through Sept. 17.
“We are a stronger and better society when we consider the arts in history and in our present-day lives,” she says. “I would like to see Susquehanna Art Museum be the art vehicle that makes connections for individuals and whole communities of people.”
Schwab so loves cooking that she offered her culinary services at a SAM gala auction. She hopes to do the best for her family – parents, siblings, husband and blended family of four adult offspring – but admits that, with her long hours, “I have some work to do!”
She recalls advice from an older colleague when she was hired for a sales job, right out of college.
“The hardest door you’ll ever have to open is your own front door,” she says. “In sales, and in life, if you don’t literally put yourself out there day-in and day-out, you’re not likely to accomplish much.”