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YWCA Greater Harrisburg's Women of Excellence

Class of 2017

Central Pennsylvania has much to be thankful for, including a community of people dedicated to bettering all of the neighborhoods that dot the region. We don’t always have the opportunity to show our gratitude to everyone who contributes, but each year, the YWCA Greater Harrisburg makes sure an elite group of women gets their due. This is the Tribute to Women of Excellence, a longstanding honor that highlights ladies who tirelessly give back.

Mary Quinn, YWCA Greater Harrisburg’s CEO, holds the highest respect for the women her organization exalts.

“We are exceedingly proud to pay tribute to empowered women in our region for the 28th consecutive year,” she notes. “This annual event is a community favorite, as well as our own – a time when we reflect not only on the collective accomplishments of these individuals, but also on the impact they have made on the lives of our neighbors, friends and family. Each honoree embodies our mission in unique ways, and we consider it a privilege to celebrate them all.”

This year’s crowning tribute event will be held at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center on March 23. Sponsors include Signature Sponsor Highmark Blue Shield, Presentation Sponsor PSAV, Visionary Sponsors Boyer & Ritter, Hershey Entertainment & Resorts, Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and PPO&S.

Media Sponsor Harrisburg Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with the 2017 class, posing commonplace and reflective questions aimed at eliciting collective and individual sketches of the 31 award recipients. Enjoy this rare glimpse into their commonalities, unique qualities, wit and wisdom.

They Hail From Near and Far
Although all of the ladies live in the Harrisburg area, many hail from other places. These include neighboring states New Jersey, Maryland, Ohio and New York; East Coast cities like Boston; and a Midwestern Indiana town. Those who grew up in Pennsylvania span the distance from Erie to Philadelphia and every place in between.

Kelley Kaufman may win for the most childhood “homes.” As a member of a military family (Air Force), she was introduced to a new town every two or three years, which she considers an honor.

When asked to describe their upbringings, the words and phrases they chose evoke nostalgia, sincerity and perspective.

Ann Van Dyke called her upbringing in a rural farming community full of relatives who went back five generations to be akin to Walton’s Mountain. Melisa Henson’s memory uses one word to encapsulate the feelings so indicative of growing up: “challenging.” Kimberley Frank’s delightful adventure echoes Joyce Acri’s remembrance of a time that was carefree, happy and loving.

Using imagery, Michelle Furjanic conjured the mixed emotions to which many people can relate: “I lived in a neighborhood with lots of kids. We would spend our summer days outside riding bikes, climbing trees and playing dress-up in a playhouse my grandfather built. Although I have mostly happy memories, I learned at an early age that life isn’t always fair. I have a sister with intellectual disabilities. …Having a sister with special needs helped foster a desire in me to use the abilities I’ve been given to give back into the lives of others.”

Advice for High Schoolers and College Grads
Looking back, the class had great advice for young people just starting along academic and personal paths. Finding a mentor in a chosen field to provide honest feedback is a suggestion in which Stacy Klann believes. As she reminds high schoolers and college students, “Knowing what you excel in is nice, but understanding your shortcomings will help identify the type of people you should surround yourself with.”

Like many of the women, Patricia Higgins wants Millennials and Generation Z to stop trying to fit in and worry less about what other people think.

To those graduating from a university, Parul Luthra recommends staying in touch. Luthra explains, “Follow up with the people who got you through college; that includes those special teachers who saw your potential and gave you the tools to achieve it.”

Ruth Shiffler took a humorous perspective when describing her own high-school years and what she wishes she could change: “I’d be a little bit more of a rebel,” she admits. “I was almost too good of a teenager, and I was constantly planning for the future. I’d go back and try to live a little more for the moment and truly enjoy just being a teen.”

If Jorja Barton could be in school today, she foresees a much different path than the one she took: “When I was in high school, women were directed toward teaching or home economics, etc. I really wanted to be an architect, but we weren’t offered courses like that. I’m glad they do now, so if I could start high school all over again, guess what I would do?”

Other solid advice includes Dr. Karen Scolforo’s idea for college grads to travel domestically and internationally. She believes this will help them gain broader perspectives about the world, as well as understand that our style of living is not the only way. Her counsel was repeated by Casey Stokes-Rodriguez, who went a step further by advising young people to take a solo trip to a new place at least once.

Dr. Eileen Hennrikus focused her guidance in the area of service: “Spend some time helping those less fortunate than you.”

Moments That Matter
All work and no play would make these women dull. Thankfully, their lives are anything but mundane. Many agreed to share heartwarming moments that enriched them beyond measure.

For Patricia Higgins, it was getting married and welcoming her son, 1st LT Andrew J. Elgin, back from Iraq.

Parul Luthra is a Wish Granter for Make-A-Wish and had the privilege of revealing a young man’s wish. At a Luke Bryant concert, the boy had the opportunity to go to a concert and enjoy VIP passes.

Jennifer L. Switzler carefully guided her teenage boys through the loss of one of their friends to cancer.

Lisa Benzie helped a person who needed it, and the individual ended up making a donation to a charity in her name, a pleasant surprise and reminder that giving comes back.

Finding out she was pregnant while on a two-week trip to Ireland was the highlight of Casey Stokes-Rodriguez’s year. And the support of her “ladies’ group” buoyed Victoria A. Reider’s spirits.

Finally, Tonya Lovelace couldn’t contain herself when describing one of her best, recent moments. She was able to be in Vice President Joe Biden’s living room while he spoke passionately about the need to end campus sexual assault and dating violence.

Everyone Needs a Biggest Fan
No one should be without tremendous support, especially Women of Excellence. When asked who would run their fan clubs, they offered several responses. Many, like Kelly Light and Dr. Mary Simmonds, thought it would be a son. Others mentioned moms, dads, daughters, spouses and friends.

Interestingly, two women chose decidedly unusual fans: their dogs. For Ann Van Dyke, it was her Chihuahua, Noodle. Although Amanda J. Lavis did mention her husband as a supporter, she couldn’t leave out her furry friend, Jack.

Funny Moments Domestically and Abroad
Traveling isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, but it can elicit moments that definitely make us “crack up.” Though mildly embarrassing, several ladies shared amusing travel moments that make them laugh. For instance, when Maria Medina was traveling with colleagues, a co-worker spilled coffee on her during a plane ride.

Three other gems include Nicole, Christina and Michele’s tales.

Nicole Reilly: “I made the mistake of traveling in heels. I was walking down the stairs with the rest of my co-workers at the airport, carrying a heavy back pack on my shoulders and a suitcase behind me, when my heel slipped. The weight of everything I was traveling with carried me down a few steps as I tried desperately to grab onto the handrail and save myself. Everyone else looked concerned, but I was laughing.”

Christina Persson: “I had a service at the Hershey Spa in one of the very large soaking tubs that they had at the time. I got myself prepared to enjoy the Hershey’s kisses they leave at the edge of the tub and relax. When the attendant came in to check on me, she asked if I wanted a shower cap. I pointed to the clear plastic covering on my head and told her I took care of it. She looked puzzled and left. It was only after my service was over, and I got out of the tub, that I noticed the ‘real’ shower cap next to the candy. No wonder the attendant was puzzled, I had been wearing a small, plastic trash bag on my head.”

Michele Maxwell: “My husband and I spent our honeymoon in St Lucia. On one of the excursions, we overheard a couple, who was sitting next to us, talking about the town of Lebanon, Pa. We found out the gentleman graduated high school with my husband (they had not seen each other in over 17 years), and the man’s wife used to work with me at a department store, many years ago.”

The Million Dollar Question
What would happen if any of these women received a million dollars? Most said they would travel, pay off debt and give to charities. In addition, Jennifer L. Switzler would buy her parents their dream beach house. Lisa Benzie would use her experience and education as a lawyer to represent those who need help without the burden of financial worry.

For Kathy Sweigert, her million dollars would allow her to do something particularly special. She’d just spend more time with her children.

Wishes for the Future
The future is never very far away, which means that we can change sooner rather than later. For the future, Stacy Klann wants people to find the courage to live inspired lives. Joyce Acri just wants individuals to be kinder to one another.

What’s Sari Stevens’ desire? For everyone to look up from their cell phones and talk. While they’re engaged in discussion, they might want to follow Dr. Karen Scolforo’s ideas and invite shared perspectives as well as appreciate the value of lifelong learning.

Some advice was to the point, such as Dorothy M. Scott’s recommendation to show love and support, and Jennifer L. Switzler’s suggestion that we bring “please” and “thank you” into dialogue more often.

Not surprisingly for a YWCA Greater Harrisburg honoree, Melisa Henson thinks people need to volunteer in service to humanity so they can be the change they want to see. Perhaps she and her fellow honorees can provide the inspiration to make sure that happens.

YWCA Greater Harrisburg’s Women of Excellence, Class of 2017
Joyce Acri – PinnacleHealth Auxiliary
Jorja Barton – Central Pennsylvania Food Bank
Lisa Benzie – Navitsky, Olson & Wisneski LLP
Jeanne Donlevy Arnold – Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center
Kimberley Frank – PSECU
Michelle Furjanic – Penn National Insurance
Dr. Eileen Hennrikus – Penn State College of Medicine
Melisa Henson – Hamilton Health Center
Patricia Higgins – Capital BlueCross
Kelley E. Kaufman – McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC
Stacy Klann – BB&T
Amanda J. Lavis – Rhoads & Sinon
Kelly Light – Morgan Stanley
Tonya Lovelace – Women of Color Network, Inc.
Parul Luthra – Highmark Blue Shield
Michele Maxwell – Hershey Entertainment & Resorts
Leslie Meck – Centric Bank
Maria Medina – Comcast Cable, Keystone Region
Christina Persson – PinnacleHealth System
Victoria A. Reider, Esq. – Cultural Enrichment Fund
Nicole Reilly – KPMG LLP
Dr. Karen Scolforo – Central Penn College
Dorothy M. Scott – Breaking the Chainz, Inc.
Ruth Shiffler – Wilmington Trust
Dr. Mary Simmonds, Legacy Honoree – Andrews & Patel Associates
Sari Stevens – Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates
Casey Stokes-Rodriguez, Emerging Leader – Pressley Ridge
Kathy Sweigert – GIANT Food Stores
Jennifer L. Switzler – Boyer & Ritter LLC
Dr. Lisa Torp – PinnacleHealth Breast Care Center
Ann Van Dyke – Community Responders Network

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