Movers and Shakers, Dreamers and Doers
8 Area Female Powerhouses
Photography by Elena Jasic
Women take on many roles throughout their lives, often times encompassing a plethora of them between the time they wake up in the morning and the time they – finally – rest their heads at night. Here we celebrate a small selection of the leaders, creators, educators and healers of our community, women who show immense passion for what they do – not just in these roles, but in everything.
Patty Kim never planned on becoming an elective official. It just kind of happened. In fact, she originally went to Boston College to study nursing until she decided to switch majors senior year to pursue a degree in communications. She was drawn to the creativity of the major, which lead to a career in broadcast news landing her here in the medium-sized market of Harrisburg, Pa.
“When I was a news reporter, they’d put me on the breaking news stories, the murders, the blood and guts kind of stories, and I’d say, ‘But how about these communities that are making a difference?’ They’d be like, ‘Nice, Patty, but we call that fluff.’ That’s when I realized where my heart was going,” explains Kim, 40.
Her career path certainly didn’t follow a straight trajectory, but Kim sees that as a benefit and is grateful for all the experiences that came between her childhood in northern Virginia and her current position as the 103rd District Democratic State Representative.
“It’s so funny how my anchor skills have helped in this job. If you’re an anchor in a studio and a light blows, you have to keep moving and keep smiling like it didn’t happen. You have to have that poker face where you can’t show weakness,” she says. “In my debates, when there’s a jab, I just put on my anchor face. I heard it, ouch, but I’m not going to let that bother me. It builds inner strength.”
Kim stays heavily connected to her constituents, to the point where her two young children remain unfazed when she conducts television interviews in their front yard or is stopped in the middle of a city street to listen to the issues facing her community.
“What has really hurt my heart when I listen to people is those who silently struggle through poverty. Twenty-six percent of my district lives in poverty. That’s one out of four people. How do we move forward when people are struggling with no transportation, no job? It’s the working poor. It’s the people who are trying to do the right thing, but they just can’t get ahead. They make minimum wage. That’s why I’m working for minimum wage. You can work 60 to 80 hours a week at $7.25, and you’re still not going to make it – $7.25 an hour full time is about $15,000 a year. Add two kids, day care, gas, food, and you’re already in the red.”
Kim’s bill requests a minimum wage raise to $10.10 an hour, the same number that President Obama has mentioned, which would bring the minimum yearly wage up to about $21,000.
“If I get minimum wage passed, they say it would affect 1 million Pennsylvanians, pulling some of them out of poverty,” explains Kim. “People think I’m naïve and that it’s going to hurt small businesses, but put more money in the hands of already hardworking people, and they’re going to put it back into the economy and stimulate more growth.”
Another place she recognizes a need for growth is in female representation in politics, noting that Pennsylvania’s state legislature includes only 17 percent women.
“As a woman, I don’t want to screw up because there is already a stereotype with such few women here. I need to represent my district; I need to bring funding home. I hope to hone in and have that credibility in a man’s world. I want it to be normal to see women as elected officials. I didn’t want to be the first Asian American woman. I mean, its 2014. But if it helps encourage other people and other minorities to be at the table, let’s do it. I just want to empower girls, young ladies, that somebody who can be shy, somebody who can be introverted, can grow into something and make a positive change.”
How does she do it? Kim says that she “talk[s] less and listen[s] more,” so that when it is her time to speak, she has a thoughtful, worthwhile response. She recognizes that she won’t be in this job forever, but while she’s here, she intends to get as much done as she possibly can before stepping aside “to hopefully let another woman take [her] place.”
“We will see changes. We will always be the state capitol. We will always have the beautiful Susquehanna River here. We will always have a core community of young folks who are vibrant, energetic and seeing the big picture,” says Kim. “It’s not going to fail. We have all the foundation to do well. We just have to all come together to make it happen.”
When asked what she’s all about, Shamaine Daniels’ answer is rather simple, yet really quite profound in the larger sense:
“Basically, I’m a woman in my 30s trying to navigate the world,” she answers with a chuckle.
Daniels, 36, is a member of Harrisburg City Council, chair of the board of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition (PICC), the president of the local chapter of National Organization for Women (NOW), a women and gender studies adjunct professor at New Jersey City University, and she runs her own law practice where she specializes in immigration law.
“My thing has always been reducing poverty,” says Daniels, “but I feel like I don’t have a specific line of work. I’m everywhere. There are aspects I like about everything. Sometimes it is easy to get bitter about where you are in your profession, but when I teach and I see these students, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, there was a time I wanted to be exactly where I am.’”
Part of where she is includes her work on city council.
“It was the combination of not wanting a sinkhole near my house, and I also knew I had a skillset that could contribute to how council runs," explains Daniels. "Plus I also had a mini chip on my shoulder that people need to get used to women running for office. Even if I lose, you need to know that women are here.”
A self-described introvert, Daniels is constantly looking for ways to refill her emotional and physical tank that’s often drained by the community work she loves so dearly. She noticed such a push for productivity in her younger days but now she recognizes the importance of enjoyment as well. She makes sure to set aside some time each week where she can “just get to be Shamaine.”
“To be both productive and have joy in your life, you have to be smarter about what you’re going to be productive on," says the Venezuela native. “Sometimes other people will look at me and say, ‘You’re doing all of these things, and that’s great.’ But I look at my life and I think, ‘This feels so unsettled. There’s no huge law firm that just generates income.’ Even with teaching, I’m an adjunct. Next semester the school could say they don’t want me anymore. There’s no stability.”
Daniels, who overall enjoys working for herself, feels lucky to have a solid core of close friends who are there to remind her that when she did have a sense of stability when backed by a large law firm, she really wasn’t very happy.
A side project that does fill up Daniels' often-drained emotional tank is also one that further connects her professional human rights work to her personal interest in the arts community. Daniels, along with her friends Sarah Newman and Mira Johnson, started an art gallery called Uptown Popup as a way to make use of Daniels’ five empty garages. They show the works of artists who can connect their work somehow to immigration, whether its through their own personal journeys or through that of their ancestors.
“Part of the intent with that is to get people to remember their immigrant roots” says Daniels. “I think a lot of the hostility in the discussion about immigration is because people really have forgotten what the process was like for their ancestors.”
During one of her final projects as a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, multi-faceted artist Lisa Bennett knitted herself a blue ensemble that covered her entire body, face and hands included. The general shape of the piece evoked womanhood with its classic dress silhouette. Decked out in her creation, she took a friend with a camera, a sign that read, “Will you be in my picture?” and a whole bunch of courage and strolled down the hustle and bustle of Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.
“A lot of people didn’t think I could see or hear them, so they’d get really close to my face or say really vulgar things to me. I just stayed quiet. I made babies cry. It was an interesting experiment,” says Bennett, 33. “I realized that with a lot of the work I made, I was always putting myself out there but there was some sort of veil or cover, or I would disguise myself. And so I’m still thinking about what all that means. At the time, I wanted to make this connection with people, and yet I didn’t know if I was ready yet. A lot of my work was about that.”
Bennett describes herself as shy and quiet, and photography, especially self-portraiture, gave her the opportunity to explore herself and her growth during an intensely transitory phase of life.
“I knew then that I wasn’t going to look like that forever. I wanted to capture me in this moment of figuring out who I am. The self-portraits I was doing were kind of performative in a way because I was acting out this persona that I wasn’t really portraying. It was always a similar persona, just someone who was more confident and free.”
Bennett has always enjoyed making things with her hands, a trait encouraged by a childhood of crafting and creativity. Sewing and knitting have continually been areas of interest to her, inspiring a collection of stuffed weaponry of which she counts Ed Rendell a fan after he purchased her stuffed weaponry wreath that was part of a Susquehanna Art Museum show. She’s drawn to the utilitarianism of making things for herself and others, from dresses and playful stuffed knives to crocheted and knitted items.
“What’s great about knitting is that if you don’t like it, you can take it apart and start over again. Some people get really frustrated with that, but I’ve taken out entire sweaters before, because they don't fit and I’m going to have to redo it,” says Bennett. “It’s nice to get a second chance; you don’t always get that.”
As far as her photography is concerned, Bennett has moved away from self-portraits while gravitating more towards landscapes and environmental photography.
“I think I got too personal about my work,” she explains. “I thought it was about me personally, and a friend was just like, ‘If that’s what your work is about, I don’t care. I don’t want to know about you specifically; I want to know about how the work relates to everybody.’ It really took me aback. It made me think about things for a long time. I still think about the work that I did back then and the messages that I was trying to send. I think they’re still important to me.”
Bennett also works for the Midtown Scholar where she curates monthly exhibits at the Yellow Wall Gallery.
For more information about Lisa and to see some of her work, visit lisa-bennett.com.
Leeann Rhoades’ driving force in life is her creativity, a free flow of ideas that, while she’s drawn to mixed media arts, she choses not to assign a narrow definition to. Even when she graduated with her master’s degree in illustration from Marywood University, she was expecting to leave school with a specific focus to her artwork. Instead, she came out of that program with every professor telling her that she had a different strength.
Part of that multidimensionality may come from her 20-plus years as an art educator – both as a classroom teacher as well as an administrator and supervisor – a line of work that kept her surrounded by just about every medium imaginable.
“I like to consider myself a facilitator of learning as a teacher, more so not imposing information and knowledge on people but helping people learn how to access their world and process their world and express their relationship to their lives,” says Rhoades, 60. “I would tell kids the first day of school every year, ‘This is the most important class of your life. This class is about you. You’re going to learn about yourself and your relationship with the world, and you’re going to discover your connection to everything in your life while expressing that experience in a visual way. There’s no other class you’re going to take that’s purely about you.’”
Rhoades has spent so much of her life caring for others in the capacity of daughter and mother, the latter of which she considers her proudest accomplishment as she recognizes what “cool creative, independent, awesome kids” she raised as a single mother. She retired early two and a half years ago when her daughter, Kylie, suffered traumatic brain injury in a car accident. Kylie has since returned to her independent lifestyle, and while Rhoades has continued to act as a caretaker for her aging parents, she enjoys the free time that retirement has afforded her.
And yet that educator role remains a common thread in her life as she now acts as a facilitator for SoulCollage, an international program with a goal of aiding participants down a path of self-discovery.
“Through the process of cutting and working with images and putting them together, they learn to realize things about themselves. They might learn this part of their inner personality or some inspiration or archetype or force that inspires who they are as individuals. Over time, for people who enjoy the process, they develop a deck of cards of these collages that are all different parts of their personality.”
Looking forward, Rhoades intends to devote her time to her own artwork – well, besides her time spent volunteering with Dress for Success, facilitating SoulCollage sessions and testing herself physically through activities like survival camping and boxing class.
“I think it’s in my heart and soul to be a creative person – creative in terms of how I live my life with an open mind and a curious eye and also in how I approach my daily decorating and organization of ideas. The creativity informs everything I do,” says Rhoades. “I’m not really sure what direction my work is going to go. Because I have the first opportunity to just do it again, I want to see where it goes. I want to let it evolve. I don’t want to make up my mind.”
Yvonne Echols Hollins
For Yvonne Echols Hollins, 64, the children of Harrisburg have been the continual focus of her life’s work.
Born and raised in the projects at Cameron and Herr streets, she is a proud graduate of the Harrisburg School District before she furthered her education at HACC, Penn State Harrisburg and Shippensburg University. Throughout her professional career, she has worked as an elementary school teacher in the Harrisburg School District, a coordinator of federal programs for Harrisburg Steelton Vo-Tech, a program coordinator for Girls Club Inc., an assistant principal at Harrisburg High – creating a beautiful circle as she worked as an administrator among the walls in which she had previously received her own high school diploma – assistant principal at Central Dauphin East High School, director of secondary education for Central Dauphin School District and assistant superintendent at Central Dauphin School District.
At that point, Hollins retired. Or so she thought. She then earned the honor of being named a distinguished educator by the Pennsylvania Department of Education, a position that sent her traveling to troubled school districts to help with improvement projects.
When that settled down, Hollins went into retirement again. But not for long. The Boys and Girls Club of Harrisburg contacted her in desperate need of leadership as lack of funding – among other issues – threatened to lead to the organization’s demise.
“If the doors were going to close, we were closing the doors on thousands of young people in Harrisburg who need a positive safe place after school and during the summer months. So I was asked to come here as executive director,” she explains.
Since taking the position in 2008, Hollins and her hardworking board of directors have witnessed “blessing after blessing,” including an AstroTurf field donated in 2012 from the Carl Ripken, Sr. Foundation as part of a program in which they built youth development parks in every state.
“When I interact with the children here, they are my life. They are my children. They are our children. What makes my skin crawl is when people say ‘these kids’ or 'those kids’ like there is no ownership,” vents Hollins. “We have a responsibility to our children to build bridges for them to cross, to move them out of areas of poverty, to move them out of areas of crime. Not literally moving out, but giving them the resources that they need in order to make better decisions and to not go down that path. The road out of poverty is very narrow, but the road into poverty is very wide. We have a responsibility to narrow that road into poverty and to widen that road out of poverty.”
And how exactly does the community do that? Hollins advocates for education, stressing to the young people at Boys and Girls Club that “knowledge is power and graduation is a must, not an option.”
The organization’s Berryhill location – a location that risked closing its doors just six years ago – is thriving, and Boys and Girls Club has two other locations in Harrisburg: the John N. Hall Clubhouse near Hall Manor and the Club Without Walls Project at Downey Elementary School. Both extensions of the organization are in the process of expansion.
“We really need to have a Boys and Girls Club center in every neighborhood so that when our children leave school, they have a positive, safe place to go after school and during the summer months in their neighborhood. Then there’s ownership, and everyone is hearing the same language and involved in the same programs,” says Hollins. “Then you have a common thread throughout the city, which could begin to gnaw at the menace that is destroying our young people to crime.”
While reflecting on the plentiful life she’s lead, Hollins notes her blessings over and over again.
“First and foremost, I’m a child of God. I’m a person of very strong faith and commitment, and I know where my strength comes from and I know that all the things that have happened in my life are by God’s grace and mercy.”
For more information, visit bgccp.org.
Ho-Thanh Nguyen will never forget the first meal she and her five younger siblings made in America. As Vietnam refugees recently relocated to Fort Indiantown Gap in 1975, they spoke no English and knew nothing of the American culture. So when Nguyen was given a large box of Minute Rice by her sponsor family, she had no clue what the figures scrawled across the box meant. She cooked the rice just as she cooked rice in Vietnam; she rinsed it, brought it to a boil for about 20 minutes, reduced the heat and continued to cook it for another 20 to 30 minutes. Needless to say, as the siblings sat down to the table to enjoy their meal, they found the rice to be goopy and practically inedible.
“I sat down and cried because that was my first meal in America,” says Nguyen. “We couldn’t eat chicken without the rice. It was the main thing we ate every day. But my sister is smart, so she put it back on the stove, added some water, and stretched the chicken out that we had to make a chicken rice soup. That with the salad was our first meal in America. Now we laugh about it, but it wasn’t funny at that time. It was so sad. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t cook. I could not even read.”
Nguyen, 60, knows first hand the difficulties facing immigrants and refugees who find themselves immersed in a completely unknown culture. She and her five younger siblings – her youngest brother only 4 years old at the time – fled Vietnam on April 29, 1975, leaving behind their parents with no idea that they’d be leaving for good. They spent a week aboard a cargo ship with no food and spent the next month bouncing around to camps in the Philippines and Guam before arriving in Indiantown Gap on June 1. Her role in the family quickly changed from eldest sister to a more parental capacity as she worked to support her family and get her younger siblings through school.
Nguyen held a series of jobs before getting involved with the YWCA of Harrisburg where she helped immigrant and refugee women who were experiencing domestic abuse or sexual assault. Her experiences both personally and professionally led her to form Pennsylvania Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Network (PAIRWN) in 2001, an organization that works to “refer, advocate, network and empower these women to live to their fullest potential.”
“Over here they say that there are equal rights. But we’re not there yet. For American women, it’s hard. Looking at the immigrant and refugee women, it is even harder for them to say ‘I’m equal.’ Equality is not there, and that’s why I’m advocating for that and for the right of the woman,” says Nguyen.
The women of PAIRWN come from all over the world, from China, India and Europe to Burma, Bhutan, Iraq, Pakistan and Congo. The organization meets regularly for story circle and craft circle, events which offer participants the chance to speak with others in similar situations and get to know each other’s cultures.
“We get used to all the different languages. It’s so fun,” gushes Nguyen. “We get women who speak different languages, and it’s just like the song they sing. We respect that and we love it. When we communicate as a big group, we do as English because we don’t know all the languages. And it also helps them to learn English, too.”
Beyond the meetings, PAIRWN partakes in cultural events such as informative plays on the topics of refugee difficulties when receiving health care and the process of coming to America, gallery shows featuring the stories and images of some of the women that are a part of the organization and even a holiday gathering at The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg.
For more information, visit pairwn.org.
Sara Rose Bryant
For yoga studio owner, massage therapist, doula-in-training, herbalist and farmers market organizer Sara Rose Bryant, 31, caretaking has always been a vital part of her life, the heartbeat that pushes her onward and upward especially through the bleakest times.
It was 21 years ago when Bryant was lounging in the padded bed of her uncle’s Ford Ranger pick-up truck alongside her two siblings. They were on their way up to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park outside of their hometown of Seattle when a tractor-trailer went out of control and hit their vehicle, flipping it three times and wrapping it around a tree. Miraculously no one was seriously injured, though Bryant had a large contusion on her hip, her sister, Melissa, had a vein hanging from her leg and her brother, Sam, had a concussion.
Because of the concussion, Sam was given an MRI that lead to the discovery that the healthy 8-year-old boy had brain cancer. That diagnosis weighed heavy on Bryant’s family, especially her parents who were already plagued with alcoholism. And soon after Sam’s diagnosis, Bryant’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I started to sense that there were deeper meanings behind things. I think that was the beginning of finding just a little bit of understanding as to why things were so difficult in my life,” says Bryant. “I’m the oldest of us three kids, so I born being a caretaker. I was also thrust into that role because my parents were not in the best way, and I ended up having to take charge of the ship.”
Sam battled cancer for five years before he died in his then-15-year-old sister’s arms, a traumatic life event that Bryant chooses to see as a blessing on the limbs she now uses in her healing works each and every day. After graduating high school, she went into the work force until she saved up enough money to go to massage school, a decision inspired by her very first massage, encouraged by her recognition that her family members always came to her for shoulder rubs and inspired by the spirit she realized her arms possessed.
“During that program, my mom passed away, so that was yet another super transformational time,” says Bryant. “I was in this really supportive environment that was all about healing, and we were dealing with how our emotional body affects our physical body. That was a big component of the school I went to. I was in a beautiful place to grieve and be held.”
She finished the program in 2003 and later furthered her studies in Thailand and learned Ashiatsu Oriental Bar Therapy, “which is like dancing on your back.” She considers her hands-on work to be an eclectic mix of everything she’s learned over the years, and many times, she trusts that her hands have a certain wisdom that’s almost inexplicable.
Bryant moved to central Pa. in April 2011 to join her partner, Misha Kaschock, not planning on spending an extended period of time here. But soon after, they were offered ownership of Keystone Yoga – where they were both yoga teachers – when the owner’s husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. That studio has now morphed into Yoga Nature. Small business ownership has been grueling but also very rewarding for Bryant.
“It’s very counterintuitive. I’m like the world’s most stressed out person, yet my jobs all involve helping other people. But truly that is one of my biggest gifts because when I show up to be a yoga teacher or massage therapist, I can’t carry that stuff in with me,” explains Bryant. “So I just have to keep trusting. And I’m realizing it’s better the less I try to grip and fight against life. I can go into doom and negative space, but let’s focus on all the things that have worked out. I have to keep trusting and seeing all the different flower petals I’m blossoming out at the moment.”
For more information, visit yoganaturelife.com.
Renu Joshi, MD
When Renu Joshi got into the top medical school in India, some family members questioned whether she should really make the far journey to King George Medical College when there was another medical school – rated fourth or fifth in the country – just minutes from her hometown.
“My dad said, ‘No. She has worked very hard. She got selected into a better school. Why should I send her into a lower level school just because I have to pay a little more money and just because she’s going to be far away?’” explains Joshi. “Both of my parents have always supported me wholeheartedly. They always believed in education. And we were not a rich family; we were sort of a lower middle class family. They spent all their money on education, and they got all four of their children into good career paths. So that’s where my medical career started.”
Joshi, now 51, started her career in pediatrics, but upon relocating to the United States with her husband in 1987, she made the switch to internal medicine since that’s where she found her first residency. She unexpectedly fell in love with internal medicine, which peaked her interest in hormonal issues and eventually led her into endocrinology with a specialized interest in diabetes. She’s now the medical director of endocrinology for PinnacleHealth where she helped improve the blood sugar controls in the hospital.
“Our glucose control has constantly been compared among 200 hospitals across the country, and we are number two,” says Joshi. “It’s a great feeling.”
Joshi considers diabetes to be "a disease of the family," one that affects all those connected to the patient she's treating.
"When I see patients, I almost always want them to come with their significant other or whoever is in their life. If someone is not taking care of themselves and their sugar is high or low, and they say it doesn’t bother them, the first question I ask is, 'Have you ever asked
your wife if she sleeps? Have you ever checked with her to see how she feels?' You suddenly start talking with the wives, and they tell you, 'I’m so scared he’s not going to wake up. I can’t sleep. I’m up five times a night checking on him.' That’s what happens."
Straightforward questions like that are what Dr. Joshi is known for.
“If you ask about my reputation, many people tell me my patients either hate me or love me. Which may not be good, but I guess that’s who I am. I am honest. I don’t beat around the bush. I’m not going to be a sugar-coated, sweet doctor,” says Joshi. “Many people tell me this is the best way because no one else told them like this. If I don’t tell them they may have complications, I’m not doing them any good.”
Dr. Joshi’s honesty allows her to build strong rapport with many of her patients, which encourages them to feel comfortable enough to open up to her. She’s one to make sure that she’s practicing what she preaches. She made a point to add regular exercise to her busy lifestyle when a patient pointed out to her that she wasn’t the only one with limited free time. Joshi recognizes that her patients’ health issues don’t exist in a vacuum; it’s not easy.
“I’ve learned that if somebody goes home and they have so many other stresses in life and you keep telling them they need make food, that’s the least of their priorities. If someone has a sick mother, a sick child at home, forget that. If she can get food on the table from anywhere, that’s important for her. You have to realize that not everyone can do what you want them to do," says Joshi. "Many of the times when I meet with my diabetics, I don’t even talk about sugars. If someone has five stressors in their life, that’s what we talk about.”