By M. Diane McCormick
The world is a learning experience.
That’s the collective conclusion of the 2020 YWCA Women of Excellence. They observe. They absorb. When they see a good habit in a colleague, they adopt it for themselves. Volunteering grounds them in community. Travel and adventure open their eyes to new perspectives. Friends and family bring laughter to their days.
The YWCA Women of Excellence represent a long line of honorees whose careers and causes have enriched the region and blazed paths for others to follow.
Retired, Children’s Play Room/ParentWorks, and Success by 6, United Way of Carlisle and Cumberland County
The hospice CNA caring for Lynn’s son told Lynn, “I know you!” After 34 years, the woman remembered attending her favorite “school,” Children’s Playroom, while her mother worked to get her daughter back from foster care. Now, she was a proud mother, modeling a work ethic for her own kids. Children’s Play Room/ParentWorks teaches parents and community members how to break the cycle of abuse. Lynn knows that good things happen to those who do what they love, because volunteering led to jobs in child development. Children’s Playroom co-founder Barbara Adler, with Gail Siegel, shared advice for tackling thorny challenges: Put the child first, and all else will fall into place.
Emerging Leader Award
Senior Project Manager, Latino Connection
“What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Ashleigh turned that question into a mindset, driving her to raise awareness of challenges and disparities in health care for Latinos. She sees her impact in the mobile wellness units she brings to communities, when the eyes of children light up at the sight of the huge vehicle filled with free books and screenings, or the happiness of senior citizens who get answers from their insurance companies. Ashleigh builds her career on asking questions that carve out learning opportunities, and with getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Controller, Hamilton Health Center
One of the best things Kim ever heard was “Believe in yourself. You shine brighter than you will ever know.” To her, it means that each person carries a unique gift that’s meant to be shared. She lives by a code of honesty and perseverance instilled by her parents, and even by the lessons they taught about owning up to your mistakes and pressing forward. The mother of two young children finds that an early morning run with her dog along quiet country roads helps to declutter her mind and remind her to cherish the precious things that can “sometimes get lost in the daily hustle.”
Director of Resource Development, The Salvation Army Harrisburg Capital City Region
Life is about relationships, not stuff, says Kathy. From a career in sales and marketing, she never imagined she would be “the Salvation Army Lady,” but God made it happen, just in time to help lead construction of a new facility and the expansion of programs. She’s still trying to figure out work-life balance, but her daily routine of family breakfast, devotional time, watching the bird feeder, and walking her dogs fulfills her basic need for faith, love, functioning senses, and plotthounds (that’s the breed of her dogs). She tells her daughters, “Do what is right and smart.”
Team Leader, Penn National Insurance
If Heather can inspire someone to pay it forward, she will. That might mean volunteering for causes, or paying for someone’s coffee. Focusing on goals instead of roadblocks helps assure that nothing is impossible, a belief rooted in the Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Her work ethic comes from her parents, who held multiple jobs but never missed an event she was involved in. For Heather, singing equals relaxation. Music has been a big part of her life, providing the avenue for releasing any concerns that weigh her down and freeing her to inspire others.
Dr. Melissa Boltz
Assistant Professor of Surgery, Vice Chair for Quality & Patient Safety, Penn State Health, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Ask Melissa about the impact she’s had, and she flips the question. She prefers addressing the impact others have had on her, professionally or through volunteering with the Caring Cupboard food pantry, whose clients give her “a hundredfold return in the way of perseverance and grace.” Balance comes from focusing on the handful of important things in life. A career can follow two paths, she advises – horizontal, for no change year after year, or upward. Stepping out of the comfort zone leads upward. Doing the right thing, even when no one is watching, can create a powerful chain of actions.
Manager, KPMG LLP
Judy learns from others by making their positive traits her own. She readies herself to accept new challenges by preparing her team members to take her job one day. Through KPMG’s national literacy initiative, she hopes she is giving children the power of reading for learning and enjoyment. Her parents taught her the joy of community involvement, even prioritizing it beside work commitments. When there’s a big job to be done, whether it’s cleaning the yard or helping a person in need, Judy is likely to lead a group toward the common goal by saying, “Many hands make light work.”
Dr. Ivy R. Buchan
President, Helix Strategies LLC
“Create the opportunity you want,” Ivy believes. When she was a young woman, some people dismissed her career dreams, but the ones who believed helped propel her forward. A York College professor encouraged her to get her PhD. McNees Strategic Solutions Group Co-chair Michael Musser helped her start her company, a leadership and fundraising consultant for nonprofits. She pays forward the support she received by offering internships and by working with York College students. “It is humbling to be reminded how green you used to be and that impressive people took time out to answer all your crazy questions,” she says.
Kera G. Daily
Community Liaison, OSS Health
When someone tells Kera she’s not able to do something, she tries anyway – not to prove them wrong, but to prove to herself that she can. Encouraging others to engage in the causes they care about has a meaningful impact on society, she believes. She sees it in her daughter, who has volunteered with her for the Salvation Army and Susquehanna Service Dogs. Kera’s career has been enriched by mentors providing unbiased guidance, and she gives back by doing the same for others. An incredible circle of family and friends offers “support, love, laughter, patience, and guidance. I strive to be to them what they are to me.”
CEO & Co-Founder, Assemble
Whether working with clients or volunteering for the YWCA Junior Board and Girls on the Run, Erin tries to be a friend to all. She strives to give young women, including her 3-year-old daughter, the confidence and independence to chart their own paths. Her parents taught her loyalty and professionalism. Her mother, mother-in-law, and mentors provided role models for achieving more and paying it forward, especially as she launches a new tech business. “The biggest risk in life is not risking,” she says, and following that mantra has paid off every time. Closing the achievement gap, she believes, requires closing the ambition gap.
Retired, Naval Supply Business Systems Center
Wherever she volunteers, Susan pitches in. At Dress for Success, her work helping women build their computer and resume-writing skills has helped some advance their careers. Her parents taught her generosity and inclusion, with lessons from her mother on being an independent woman. Dr. George Flanagan mentored her in the “servant leadership” model that guides her life. In retirement, finding balance means volunteering as much as she likes, “which is great!” Travel immerses her in cultures around the world. Everything happens for a reason, she believes. Life’s ups or downs all keep her on the course she was meant to trod.
Emily H. Edmunds
Senior Counsel, Rite Aid
Finding or being a mentor is a fluid process for Emily. Whatever issue a colleague at any career stage might encounter calls for customized guidance. Emily’s parents taught her to persevere through trials by donning what she calls “my armor,” because “nothing can hurt you when you’ve got your armor on.” Through the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg’s Junior Board, which she helped found, Emily is passionate about volunteering for Camp Reily, the YWCA’s day camp exposing children to summer learning amid wooded greenery. Her daughter, now 1 year old, will also learn the joy of volunteering, experiencing the power of making a difference in the lives of others.
Community Relations Manager, Members 1st Federal Credit Union
Every mom has a saying they repeat to their kids. Sara’s is “There is always a solution.” Look hard enough, and answers emerge. Even the pursuit of life balance became an exercise in setting daily priorities when a friend advised, “You can have it all, just not all at once.” Sara advises navigating the curves of career paths by being curious, taking chances, and being kind. She expresses her gratitude for the well-being of her family by volunteering for causes that support children and families. If you see a group with a goldendoodle hiking a new trail, that’s probably Sara and her greatest joy – her family.
Business Development/Financial Education Representative, Belco Community Credit Union
Once asked to finish the statement “I AM . . .,” Tricia filled in with “giving,” “trustworthy,” and most of all, “blessed.” Instead of focusing on a title or paygrade, she advises finding your “I AM” by identifying your passion and staying true to your character. Her passion for helping others has always manifested in collaborating and educating, and since her husband’s diagnosis with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer, it includes helping others through the battle. “If we are blessed with talents, wealth, knowledge, and time, it is expected that we use these well to glorify God and benefit others,” she says.
CEO, Black Girl Health
Rejections shouldn’t stop anyone from achieving their dreams, says Porcha, who adds, “Every ‘no’ is a step closer to ‘yes.’” Her husband was the God-sent channel meant to help her fulfill her higher purpose, turning her passion into a full-time business and helping her shed the fear of taking risks. As a result, her business has reached millions of women of color, online and through workshops, with education on diseases that disproportionately affect them, including fibroids, HIV, mental health conditions, obesity, and heart disease. Self-care through “me” time at the gym and in the sauna prepares her for the challenges of each day.
Senior Community Relations Consultant, Capital BlueCross
Rhonda knows that she was lucky, growing up in a two-parent household, attending a good school, and having access to higher education – opportunities that many African-American youth lack. Her community service gravitates to organizations filling those needs. As a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentor, she hopes that her advice helps her teenaged “little” – and her own teenagers – fare well in these formative years. When diversions from her goals get in the way, she doesn’t get discouraged but, instead, looks for the learning experience. The best family time means putting away electronics, maybe for a game of cornhole. Rhonda is the proud wife of a U.S. Air Force member and veteran.
Director of Client Services, Perry Media Group
Founder, Black Mermaids
Before you sit at the table where you want a seat, define your worth, Julia says. Consider your strengths. Knowing that lives have value beyond job titles helps prevent ill-considered decisions when things aren’t going right. Julia’s mantra of “Do the work” inspires her to be intentional in service to others. Her mother taught her what it meant to show up for others, and she is always seeking ways to pay forward her blessings by serving on nonprofit boards, teaching, or offering an encouraging word. The memory of her son, Julian, who died at age 17 in 2017, inspire her to honor her truest passions.
Esther M. McGinnis
Executive Vice President, Gannett Fleming
When Esther works with a mentor, the relationship lasts. Her role models continue to shape her career, while her parents were the first to instill a “you can do it” attitude, paired with respect for others. Accept challenges and hold yourself accountable, she advises. “All of us are on a journey, so it is important to understand what yours is.” Walkabouts in the woods help restore balance better than any spa treatment. Curiosity is Esther’s driving force, leading her to take violin lessons, fly an airplane, and accept business challenges that others avoid. Her journey continues, and so, she says, “who knows what I will try next?”
Director of Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
Career mentors taught Kathleen to help others grow through learning, being challenged, and feeling appreciated. Her parents instilled in their children the confidence to reach for their dreams. She’s been lucky, personally and professionally, for opportunities to give time and resources to organizations that support kids, families, and education. Fourteen years of working in New York City taught her that balance is a necessity, so she actively connects with family and friends, walks her dog, and occasionally hides her phone. “You are a better friend, colleague, daughter, and sister when you take time for what’s important to you and find balance in your life,” she says.
Director, Brand Management, GIANT Food Stores
April doesn’t seek balance. Instead, she sets priorities. A colleague once advised treating her kids like her boss – taking time to listen and never being late for a meeting. In volunteering, at work, and as a mentor, she fosters the strengths of others to help them reach their full potential. You’ll find her cheering her kids from the sidelines or heading outdoors with friends and family, although the occasional “me” day provides quiet time for reflection. Each day ends with a thought inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson: “I’m done with today, and did all I could. Tomorrow is a new day.”
Assistant Vice President, Business Development, Centric Bank
If someone asks Molly for a commitment that she can’t honor, she knows it’s okay to say “no.” Her parents and her husband are her sounding boards, offering fresh perspectives on life’s tough decisions. Time for herself might constitute a workout, lunch with a friend, or a quiet hour in the evening. Molly’s plans for achieving goals start with a roadmap, but she has navigators along the way – others who may have faced similar challenges and can advise on next steps and celebrate the wins. “Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance,” she believes, and she applies it to all areas of her life in order to achieve success.
Megan E. Peterson
Director of Equity & Multicultural Affairs, Central Penn College
A student once said that Megan’s impact on others inspired her to pursue a similar career. Such reminders of the lasting value of relationships and mentoring keep Megan going. Priorities set by day and by week set the pace toward yearly goals. So does having an “accountability buddy,” because “it’s easy to lose momentum and make excuses to yourself, but it’s harder to make those excuses to a friend or partner who is cheering you on and holding you to your promises.” Exploring new foods, restaurants, and breweries inspires gatherings full of conversation and laughter with friends and family.
Anchor, abc27 WHTM-TV
The words of Maya Angelou – “Nothing will work unless you do” – inspire Val to reach her highest potential for the betterment of friends, family, and community. Having faith and visualizing success are the keys to achieving career and personal goals. Her “canine kids” offer stress relief and fun. There’s Molly, a trained service dog, learning to demonstrate her skills to raise awareness of Susquehanna Service Dogs and their work helping people live more independently. She trains her other dog for the competitive sport known as Schutzhund. Val savors moments with family and friends, because “time is the most precious gift you can give and receive.”
Director of Marketing, Boyer & Ritter LLC
“Work hard to feed the family. Volunteer to feed the soul.” Fina’s motto explains the satisfaction derived from helping others. She feels like “a small cog in a large number of wheels,” setting a good example, especially for her 18-year-old twin daughters, of balancing work, community, and family. Her volunteer time with Capital Area School for the Arts helps students find the learning options that suit their abilities and interests. Sharing time and talents, she believes, creates meaningful relationships that open doors to new opportunities. With food as “the great unifier,” she’s happy to plan over-the-top dinner menus and entertain “with a glass of wine and great people.”
Sandra Funt Stefanic
Senior Vice President, Customer Interactions, HM Health Solutions, Highmark Blue Shield
Advancing women in STEM careers. Placing people on the autism spectrum in Highmark’s technology organization. Helping children and adults with disabilities access dental care. Sandra sees Highmark as a platform for sharing her passion for giving back to the community. Her father is her rock, teaching her to be the best person, coach, leader, mentor, and mother she can be. “When duty calls, I answer, but when my children and family call, I answer louder,” she says. Serving as a mentor offers opportunities for impact, and she finds quiet time every day to reflect on and cherish the positive difference she has made.
Vice President of Human Resources, PSECU
Interact with Cathy, and she might try one of your admirable traits for herself. It’s about being “open to being influenced.” In turn, she hopes that she reminds others that they are valued, whether she’s offering feedback or a simple smile. A listening ear for those struggling to find their passion and vocation can help them on their way to self-discovery. Cathy cultivates her knack for listening by reminding herself to look at people in their best light, trying to understand their perceptions and struggles even if she disagrees with them. Balance comes through scheduling downtime, “and I rarely give it up!”
Lisa M. Thomas
Vice President, Sr. Branch Manager, M&T Bank
As a girl, Lisa said she wanted to play boy’s baseball. Her parents were supportive but wary. She played into her teens. That persistence drives her leadership and passion about women in the workplace. She advocates for women and families through the Central PA Women’s Interest Network, Project Share, Salvation Army, and United Way. She finds balance in devotion to her grandson, and now, “Oma and Opa” – Lisa and her husband – have a granddaughter on the way. Her advice for those striving for personal and professional goals: Find a candid person to push you beyond what you think you can do.
Senior Consultant, Deloitte
Even the little things of giving back to the community – donating a can of food, or decorating a lunch bag for Meals on Wheels – can put a smile on someone’s face, Marisa believes. Witnessing the strengths of her brother Michael, who has Down syndrome, and grandmother “Tiger Lil,” who battles rheumatoid arthritis, inspires Marisa to volunteer for UCP Central PA and other causes that help all individuals live “life without limits” and achieve their dreams. The avid sports fans cheers on her Pittsburgh teams and the Nittany Lions, and she carves out time to follow NASCAR, which brings memories of special times shared with her grandfather.
Hilary Peery Vesell
Attorney, Vesell Law LLC
With a law degree and a master’s degree in clinical psychology, Hilary writes articles explaining the intersection of the two fields. She hopes the pieces help people who are confronting family law and civil litigation issues (veselllaw.com). She donated dozens of paintings from her family art collection to museums, knowing that her civic-minded father would want to share the artwork that gave him so much joy. Horseback riding creates outdoor time and connection with creatures whose empathy “mirrors back your own feelings.” She supports environmental preservation by volunteering with the Manada Conservancy land trust, whose free educational programs introduce adults and children to the wonders of the natural world.