TUESDAY, OCTOBER 23, 2012
Siobhan "Sam" Bennett*
News Anchor, Co-Host Talk Philly
CBS 3/CW Philly 57
Constance H. "Connie" Williams*
State of Pennsylvania
*Previous Philadelphia Leadership Awards Honoree
6pm Cocktail Reception
7pm Dinner & Awards Ceremony
Thomas Great Hall
Bryn Mawr College
101 North Merion Ave
Bryn Mawr, PA 19010
Women's eNews honors our Philadelphia Leaders 2012, an awe inspiring list of individuals dedicated improving the lives of women.
Valerie Arkoosh is a professor, a doctor, a public health expert and currently president of the National Physicians Alliance, an organization that advocates for equitable and affordable health care for all--which includes dramatically improved access to health care for women of all ages.
Arkoosh learned firsthand about the importance of health care, when she was diagnosed with a thyroid condition at the age of 8 in her hometown of Omaha, Neb.
"My condition really impacted the way I viewed the importance of access to health care. Even as a young girl, I knew I wanted to be a doctor," Arkoosh says.
Arkoosh graduated from Northwestern University in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in economics. She attended medical school at the University of Nebraska and completed her four-year residency at Philadelphia's Jefferson Medical College, specializing in obstetric anesthesiology.
During her residency, Arkoosh recalls that, "Taking care of pregnant women is what really changed things for me. I have seen every way women can fall through the cracks of the health care system; I have seen women who lack access to pre-natal care and contraceptives even when they are working as hard as they can to provide their families with love and support. I never want to give up fighting for these women."
She went back to school in 2007 for her master's degree in public health at Johns Hopkins. There she learned the basics needed to help wake up policymakers about how to improve the U.S. public's health. An outspoken advocate of the 2010 Patient Protection Affordable Care Act, also known as Obama care, she stresses that the groundbreaking bill has changed health care for millions of women.
The new health care law is ending "long-standing discrimination against women and health care; gender rating will no longer be acceptable. It has helped level the playing field for women," Arkoosh says.
Today, as president of the National Physicians Alliance, she continues lobbying for affordable health care for all.
In the future, Arkoosh will continue advocating for female political leadership. "We need women in leadership positions. Female House and Senate members made sure certain provisions were in the [health care law] that were critically important, she says.
Arkoosh will also focus her efforts on preventive care, in hopes to cutting unnecessary spending on health care.
"We need to change the underlying health of our nation," she says.
--By Jenna McGuire
Georgia Berner is president and CEO of Berner International Corp., a manufacturer of air curtains located in New Castle, Penn. Being a female business owner in an industry dominated by men, she has earned her reputation as a trusted leader.
Berner understands how government policy affects business. This is an important election year, with more women running--and leading--for critical Senate and House races than ever before. Berner is working hard to help get more women elected. Women make up 51 percent of the population but currently only hold 17 percent of elected offices, a disparity, she says, we can tolerate no longer.
"The United States of America was founded upon equal rights and opportunity for all. Given that promise, I don't understand how we have not already achieved that," she adds.
Berner became interested in politics very early in life, and her interest and involvement have grown over the years. She is passionate about encouraging and mentoring women to be empowered to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of those around them. Turning that passion into action, she assists women who want to run for political positions in local, state and national elections by working with organizations that provide them with training and campaign assistance.
She actively serves as the board chair of the Women's Campaign Fund, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to dramatically increasing the number of women in elected office who support reproductive health choices for all, and She Should Run, a foundation dedicated to helping women build the skills and infrastructure they need to become more effective leaders in public life.
Berner is also an active member of the Women Donors Network, a community of progressive women who multiply their energy, their strategic savvy and their philanthropic dollars to address the root causes of injustice and inequality.
In the early 1990s, Berner began campaigning for Patricia Carone in a successful run for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Berner later ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the state's 4th Congressional District, but was narrowly defeated. That experience taught her many lessons that she passes down to the determined women she mentors.
"I believe that women should take a stand for power," she says. "I look forward to the day when we can celebrate women for who they are instead of having to fight for their basic rights and the rights of their children."
--By Tara Scott
Nuala Cabral, a rising star of her generation, is an educator, an award-winning filmmaker and an impassioned proponent of media literacy and social activism. She is currently the media production and communications manager at Temple's University Community Collaborative of Philadelphia.
"Media is such a powerful tool. It is amazing how a film can provoke social dialogue and social change," Cabral says.
Growing up in Providence, R.I., Cabral attended a Quaker school that cultivated her interest in social justice and community. Her upbringing also had a large impact on the way she views the world.
"My family was very supportive of me and instrumental in exposing me to different cultures and opportunities. My father was a professional storyteller. I learned that I, too, wanted to tell people's story, through a different outlet," she says.
It was during Cabral's undergraduate education at Spelman College and Tufts University that her feminist consciousness began to materialize. She attended women's studies courses and traveled to San Jose, Costa Rica, on a grant scholarship to help organize a regional conference on young women's human rights. In Costa Rica, Cabral also conducted independent research on the educational experiences of women working on banana plantations. As a senior, Cabral created her first documentary film, "Who's That Girl: Women of Color and Hip-Hop." It received national attention and was broadcast on PBS.
After Cabral graduated, her first job was as a middle school guidance counselor at Sophia Academy, a school for girls in Providence, R.I. Then in 2007, she attended a Women Action Media (WAM!) conference in Boston and it quickly served as a catalyst for her career path.
"I was exposed to all these women and girls who were using media to empower women. I was truly inspired," Cabral says.
She was so inspired, she turned down Brown University to pursue a career in media literacy. Cabral applied to the six-month documentary program at Third World News Reel and was accepted. There she directed two documentaries, including the award- winning "Walking Home," which focuses on issues of street harassment. This film would later win the Speaking Out Award from Art Engine's Media That Matters and connect Cabral to Hollaback! and Stop Street Harassment, leading organizations in the movement to end street harassment.
In 2010 Cabral obtained a graduate degree from Temple University in media studies and urban education; began teaching media literacy classes at Temple University, after-school programs and community colleges; and founded FAAN Mail, a media literacy and activist project.
Through a grant from the Leeway Foundation in 2011, Cabral and her sister Leana spearheaded FAAN's first youth media initiative, Sisters Action Media, a pilot 10-week after-school program teaching female teens how to make media for social change.
"This experience was incredibly rewarding to me," Cabral says. "These girls have so much to say, we just need to give them the tools to do so. I always say, everyone has a story. What's yours? Let me help you tell it."
--By Jenna McGuire
Throughout her career, Eileen Connolly-Robbins has brought attention to the need for more women in leadership roles in board rooms, executive offices, nonprofits and government, while climbing an impressive career ladder of her own.
She is currently the chief operating officer and executive vice president of The Main Line Chamber of Commerce in Pennsylvania and the founder of The Main Line Society of Professional Women.
Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Connolly-Robbins received her associate's degree from Manor College in Business Law and completed her bachelor's in economics at Immaculata University night school while working as a secretary at General Electric.
"I remember this was the first time I became acutely aware of the realities of women and business. I observed that all the women were in low-paying jobs. My boss told me to keep his mug filled with fresh coffee, which was enraging and inspiring at the same time," Connolly-Robbins says.
She convinced General Electric management to accept her into the five-year accelerated Leadership Program, an opportunity that was previously only offered to men. Connolly-Robbins was the first woman to graduate from the company's program and she continued to climb the management ranks.
Connolly-Robbins was offered the director of global operations position at Unisys, which required relocating to different states and overseas. She was the first woman to hold this position and eventually moved on to be the highest-level woman in the division. Still, she saw very few women at the executive level. From there, she made her mark as an entrepreneur starting an e-commerce and retail company, PA Gifts and Awards, until selling it in 2008.
Upon assuming her role at the Main Line Chamber, she launched The Main Line Society of Professional Women to "help accelerate the advancement of women in leadership roles." Since its inception three years ago, the society is 3,800 strong, has sold out 26 consecutive events and is drawing attendees from 137 zip codes.
The society brings together leaders of today with leaders of tomorrow. It provides a forum for empowering women of all generations and professions to learn from each other. The group has open doors for valuable mentoring relationships; it is a catalyst for career opportunities, expands business relationships and develops leadership skills. The society has also provided thousands of dollars and much needed items to local nonprofits.
"It's up to women to show the kind of take-charge risk taking that leadership requires," Connolly-Robbins says. "Getting there is difficult enough…staying there is even tougher."
Connolly-Robbins is in it for the long haul. "Leadership is very exciting; it enables you to help change things from what they are to what they ought to be," she says. "I plan on working with organizations to achieve gender equality in all areas and to continue to help nonprofits spread their mission and achieve their goals."
--By Jenna McGuire
Dr. Marla Gold came of age professionally about the same time as a little-understood virus began to kill gay and bisexual men, then intravenous drug users and one that is now rapidly spreading among heterosexuals, particularly African American women.
And that virus has hit Philadelphia women hard. The city's health department reported in 2009 that over 15 percent of the people living with AIDS were women and more than half of those are older than 40. Two-thirds of the city's women living with AIDS were African American. Unprotected heterosexual contact was reported by one-third of those of the city's women living with AIDS.
Gold has spent her career and her passion trying to reduce the number of infections and provide quality, comprehensive care for those already impacted by the pandemic. In the mid-1990s, she created the first comprehensive HIV clinic in the city, one that provides a broad spectrum of assistance to women with HIV, including full reproductive health services and child care.
Gold's interest in medicine was piqued during her first year at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J. An adviser suggested she consider pre-med and a career was born. While completing her internship, residency and a fellowship at Philadelphia's Medical College of Pennsylvania, now part of Drexel University, she also served as a medical specialist for the city's Department of Pubic Health's sexually transmitted diseases program. There, she worked to establish a system of HIV care for under- and uninsured Philadelphians and addressed the availability of condoms as part of comprehensive health education in the city's high schools.
In 1996, Gold created a multi-site HIV care program, which later grew to be known as the Partnership Comprehensive Care Practice, one of the largest regional HIV clinical programs providing an array of social and clinical services to men and women.
Applying what she'd learned from creating the HIV care systems, in 2002 she assumed the deanship of Drexel's School of Public Health. The school has grown markedly under her leadership. Now she oversees a school that teaches others how to create systems of care, thus multiplying her impact on the care of entire communities. The school's public health faculty and students have impacted maternal child health research and overall community health and wellness.
"I am especially proud of our school's impact on the Greater Philadelphia region," says Gold. "We have combined the right blend of public health science with authentic community partnerships. Our school is based on the core principle that good health is a right to be experienced by everyone."
--By Tara Scott
For more than 50 years, Jen Shillingford's personal passion for athletics has guided her life-long commitment to expanding opportunities for women in sports.
Through her roles as a coach, mentor, athletics director and president of the United States Field Hockey Association, thousands of young women's lives have been transformed by Shillingford's dedication.
She served 20 years as a professor and field hockey coach at Bryn Mawr College. The Pennsylvania women's college now has named its hockey field and prestigious annual award after her. "The Shillingford," as it is commonly known, is presented each year to a member of the senior class who has demonstrated athletic excellence, sportsmanship and leadership.
"During my childhood, women were either secretaries, nurses or teachers. I knew I didn't want to be a secretary," Shillingford says. "I wanted to be a coach and I wanted to be a teacher. From childhood, the die was already cast."
As a child in Wayne, Penn., Shillingford recalls her father was her role model as an active runner and lacrosse player. Further supported by her high school coach, Ethel Encke, Shillingford became involved in basketball, lacrosse and, later, field hockey. After college, she became a member of the 1955-1956 U.S. field hockey team..
"I was very fortunate to have grown up in an area that had competitive athletics for girls and women. It planted the seed of how important advocacy is for women in sport," Shillingford says.
In the late 1970s, Shillingford read the first study on Women in Intercollegiate Sport by Brooklyn College professors R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter and was inspired to begin advocating for female athletes beyond her gymnasium.
After retiring in 1999, she served as the Snell Professor of Health and Physical Education at Ursinus College, where she worked to create the Snell-Shillingford Symposium. Part of the Centennial Conference, one of the nation's elite small college conferences, the symposium addresses the shortfall of female leaders in coaching and athletics administration by bringing together female athletes who have an interest in coaching and pairing them with coach mentors.
Shillingford has been recognized for her work by the National Association of Collegiate Women Administrators and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, and is a member of the Southeast Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.
Today Shillingford continues to educate and mentor through writing for the blog, Women in Coaching.
"I think the greatest accomplishment I've achieved is the number of young women I've influenced," Shillingford says. "Coaching is not about gaining glory for yourself; it's about teaching life skills, if you can influence young women in the right way."
--By Tara Scott
Dayle Steinberg has dedicated her entire professional life to securing reproductive rights for women.
The current president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, Steinberg has been with the organization for over 31 years.
"I feel so privileged to make my passion my vocation. I couldn't imagine doing anything else," she says.
Steinberg grew up in Philadelphia, Penn., in a family that stressed the value of education. "Free thinking was encouraged and we were taught that there should be no boundaries based on gender," she says.
In 1971, a time of incredible social activism, she enrolled at Pennsylvania State University and began taking courses in health care, psychology and women's studies. Steinberg connected with the women's movement. "I was among women who were kindred spirits; we really believed we could make a difference."
Following her undergraduate education, Steinberg attended graduate school at Temple University, where an internship was a requirement. She chose Planned Parenthood and began her tenure in 1978, counseling pregnant women. She never looked back.
Steinberg was director of surgical services from 1986-1992, during which time she designed and implemented the organization's nationally-recognized program that has trained more than 200 medical residents in first-trimester abortion techniques. She then served as senior vice president from 1992-2001, before assuming her current post.
"To ensure that reproductive rights are elevated to the level of fundamental human rights," she says, is the driving force behind her life's work. "Women can't excel in society if they can't control their fertility. They should never be marginalized for exercising their rights."
Today, Steinberg is the face of the organization that serves more than 80,000 women, men and teens through its 13 health centers, its education programs and public advocacy initiatives. She has helped raise significant funding for new health centers and further educational and programmatic development.
"I am constantly surrounded by wonderful, passionate and dedicated people; they inspire me on a daily basis," she says. Referring to the intense public discussion about her organization and its affiliates, she adds, "With a 70 percent approval rating, we know that the public is on our side and counts on us to stand strong. We have the power and the will to protect the health of our communities and determine our future."
--By Jenna McGuire
Leslie Stiles believes there is "power in the numbers."
"Women are 52 percent of the population in Pennsylvania," says Stiles. "If we are going to make things happen, make change for the better of women across the state, we have to empower each other. We do that through inspiration and through education about women's health, business and politics."
Stiles practices what she preaches. She is the founder and current board president of the Pennsylvania Conference for Women, the largest women's conference in the state, offering community and connection, information and inspiration, motivation and momentum.
A University of Pennsylvania graduate, Stiles started her career in marketing, eventually becoming president of her own firm. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, Stiles experienced a new appreciation for the strength of women.
In the early 2000s, she began counseling women who had recently received the same diagnosis. At the same time, Gov. Ed Rendell was searching for someone to revitalize the Pennsylvania Commission for Women, dedicated to identifying and advancing the needs and interests of the state's women and girls. In 2003, Stiles was appointed executive director of the commission.
At the commission, she led efforts to educate women on a multitude of diseases and health issues common to all women, including heart disease, cancer, smoking, domestic violence, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Bilingual, voice-activated health care kiosks, called Women's Wellness Guides, were created and installed in public health facilities, community centers, supermarkets and prisons. One of the kiosks, placed in a women's prison, showed 1,400 visits in a three-month period.
"I believe the kiosks are successful because they allow individuals to self-direct the information they view. The kiosks are interactive so that the users are truly engaged," Stiles says.
In addition to this work, after attending women's conferences in Texas and California, Stiles was encouraged to start one in her home state. The Pennsylvania Conference for Women, now in its 10th year, has educated thousands of women on issues ranging from health care to finance to business.
Stiles is especially proud of the Young Women's Track, which is attended by juniors and seniors in high school. Look around and you'll see a great number of Girl Scouts in the workshops and general sessions.
"When we live in a world that does value equality, I think people will have more successful lives," Stiles says. "And this applies not only to women, but to families and communities."
--By Tara Scott
Darlene Sullivan transcended her passion for dogs into a lifelong career that has helped hundreds of individuals challenged by disabilities live fuller, freer, more independent lives. When Sullivan was just 25, she founded Canine Partners for Life (CPL).
"The women’s movement was all about pointing out to women that we could do it; that we could compete,” Sullivan says. “It gave me the confidence and leadership skills to go out and start a nonprofit."
Twenty-three years later, she is still at the helm of the nonprofit she created, which is dedicated to training service dogs to assist those who have a wide range of physical, neurological and cognitive disabilities.
"My entire childhood was spent surrounded by animals and my parents supported that and allowed me to flourish that passion,” Sullivan says of her youth in Wilmington, Del. “I knew from a very early age that I wanted to work with assistance dogs; I wanted to help people with disabilities."
About 27 million women in the U.S. have disabilities and more than 50 percent of women older than 65 are living with a disability, according to federal data, and the number is growing. Women with disabilities also earn less than men and those without disabilities. Their monthly median earnings were $1,200 compared to $1,470 for women without disabilities and $1,857 for men with non-severe disabilities, also according to federal data.
Sullivan graduated from West Chester University in 1985 with a degree in special education. Since childhood she worked to develop extensive knowledge on how to train assistance dogs for people affected by disabilities. Following graduation she became a special education teacher for three years at The Centreville School in Delaware.
Sullivan's biggest hurdle came unexpectedly; eight years after she founded CPL she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome. To manage her own disability, she turned to the groundbreaking program she herself had designed. Sullivan was partnered with her first service dog 16 years ago. Since then, she has had two successor service dogs: Ripley and Cal.
"It has been exciting and challenging in the nonprofit world. You literally have to fundraise every dollar," Sullivan says. "It has to be one of the most rewarding jobs anyone could have. We are changing people's lives. I absolutely love what I do."
--By Jenna McGuire
Founder, Canine Partners for Life
Letty Thall has worn many hats during her career as an advocate for women and children in Pennsylvania.
She was a member of the Philadelphia police force, vice president of the Pennsylvania Women's Campaign Fund board, cofounder of Women's Way and vice chair for the mayor's Commission for Women. Currently the public policy director at Maternity Care Coalition, Thall is working to improve family-friendly health care throughout the state.
After watching the 1972 Democratic convention in Chicago, Thall's interest in learning about different perspectives led her to join the police force. At the academy, she experienced sexism and segregation firsthand: Policewomen had to sit in the back of the classroom at the academy and male officers were given assignments in various divisions, while female officers dealt with juvenile aid, runaways, child welfare and stolen bicycles. These were realities that her degree in government from the New York-basedSkidmore College had scarcely prepared her for.
"I remember always having a great interest in politics and encouraging people as a child to go out and vote on Election Day," Thall says. "Part of it was recognizing as a child that women were treated as second-class citizens. I have early memories of not understanding why women were not perceived as capable as men."
Thall enrolled in Bryn Mawr College's social work program, during which time she helped Women Organized Against Rape write its first grant proposal to secure funding. She became executive director--the first paid member of staff--as the organization grew. She also cofounded Women's Way, the leading funding, advocacy and education organization for women in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Thall completed her term as vice president of the Pennsylvania Women's Campaign Fund's board in December 2011. The organization's mission is to raise money and support progressive female candidates for the state's General Assembly, regardless of party affiliation.
"In the future, I would love to help more women run and win office," Thall says. "We need to have women running for governor and president. We need women representing us in Congress. We're 50 percent of the population."
For the past eight years, she has worked for Maternity Care Coalition, overseeing the development of community education campaigns, public policy recommendations in maternal health and the monitoring of prenatal care services for low-income families.
In Pennsylvania, small and individual insurance plans do not need to cover maternity and pregnancy can still be considered a pre-existing condition in determining eligibility for coverage. The coalition advocates for state regulations to expand family-friendly health insurance policies through its Insuring Motherhood campaign.
"I plan to continue to champion the need for women's health care and inclusion of all our needs in health insurance," Thall says.
--By Tara Scott
Elected in 2009, Seth Williams, the first African American in Pennsylvania to become a district attorney, has embraced an agenda to reduce violence against women.
"One out of four women will experience some kind of sexual assault in their lifetime," Williams says. "I say this as often as possible, so I can bring awareness to the frequency of this terrible issue."
His life has been extraordinary. As a baby, Williams was placed in an orphanage and two foster homes before his parents-to-be found him.
"I was adopted by a great family and I owe everything to them. My father was incredibly involved within the community and my parents really valued the importance of education," he says.
After graduating from Penn State, Williams attended law school at Georgetown University, graduating with distinction as a Public Interest Law Scholar in 1992. He then joined the district attorney's office and served as assistant district attorney for 10 years. After losing the Democratic primary in 2004 for district attorney, he became inspector general of Philadelphia and was responsible for issues such as investigating corruption, fraud and employee misconduct. Williams was also of counsel at the law firm Stradley, Ronon, Stevens and Young, LLP until his election in 2009.
In the case that won him national and international recognition among women's and children's right advocates, Williams successfully prosecuted Catholic Church cleric Monsignor William Lynn in March 2012 for covering up child sexual abuse. It was the first time a U.S. church leader, rather than a perpetrator, had been convicted.
Williams also has partnered up with community-based organizations and implemented collaborative efforts to bring awareness and preventive methods to the public about sexual assault and domestic violence. He works closely with organizations such as WAR (Women Against Rape) and The Philadelphia Children's Alliance.
"I want to continue to build community action centers within the community," Williams says. "Through these centers, we can educate women on preventive methods for violence and specific tactics to make your environment safer."
--By Jenna McGuire
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WeNews staff reporter