SJ Magazine invited some prominent SJ women to share their thoughts and ideas over dinner at The Capital Grille in Cherry Hill. Our Women’s Roundtable has become an annual event, gathering accomplished women who are always very open, sharing insights they’ve gleaned from personal experiences. It is a night of warm conversation and friendly exchange.
On having it all…
The danger in the question of “Can we have it all?” is sometimes people paint a picture of what that’s going to look like in their life. And then life happens. That’s when you see people feel like their dreams are shattered. When I was 39, I wanted so badly to come to Camden to UrbanPromise, and I had just gotten engaged. My fiancé was my best friend, and he agreed to come to Camden with me. During our move, he was killed by a paranoid schizophrenic client he worked with. So I was at this mountaintop of: at last, everything I wanted. I found the man, and we were adopting and going back to Camden. I was having it all. Then life pulled the rug out from under me. I had experienced grief and trauma before but not like that. I felt my life was over. I wouldn’t have kids. I didn’t know if I could come and do the job. But little by little, I healed. Life’s ups and downs can take us on such a journey. Sometimes we lock on to that thing we think we should have, and that’s the “all.” But sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. – Jodina Hicks
Can we have children? Yes. Can we have a career? Yes. But it doesn’t have to all be at the same time. I knew I couldn’t go and do what I needed to do in politics until my children were the right age to be able to defend themselves, because politics is not always pretty. They needed the ability to articulate my position, and I needed to be able to explain it to them and for them to understand it. We can have it all over an expanse of time, and I’m happy about that. – Pamela Lampitt
I was born in western New York in a teeny, tiny farming town. We lived there for generations. My father was born, lived and is buried on the same road out in the country. My family was very tight. We traveled and sang Southern gospel music when I was a child. I married very young, at 20. My husband and I were in the seminary the next year. I’ve been very, very blessed to be able to have it all. My life has been balanced because my husband and I work together, and we share our ministry. When I needed to go home with the kids, I went home with the kids. When he needed to go home with the kids, he went home with the kids. So it’s a very unique situation in which I find myself. – Alma Cain
There’s an interesting story I heard from a woman who said, “As women, we all juggle a lot of balls. Some of them are glass, and some of them are rubber. And they’re the only two.” So you really hope that you don’t drop one of the glass ones. I think that really is a key factor for all of us: we all live our lives juggling a lot of balls. – Pat Ciarrocchi
On sexy vs. savvy…
One thing I learned from professional women in the world is not that you have to be sexy, but you have to be savvy – savvy enough to know what to do, when to do it, how to do it, how to dress, what not to wear and what to say. You don’t have to be sexy to get to the top, but you do have to be smart, and you have to be able to say no and question. That’s harder than being a bimbo and making it to the top that way. – Gloria Bonilla-Santiago
You have to be appropriate. You have to be relevant. I work around a lot of academics. If you’re an academic, then it’s OK to not do your hair and wear jeans. It all depends upon where you are. You have to be appropriate for where you are. As for the sexy versus savvy: I think there’s a way to be feminine. I’d rather talk about being feminine than being sexy. – Pamela Lampitt
9/11 changed me forever. I was moved to Liberty State Park to do emergency disaster relief and to be a counselor for families. I would take people to Ground Zero and bring them back, be there to hug them, to hold them and to process any kind of paperwork to get their bills paid. There was one woman – I never met her; it was one of these relationships that built over the phone. One month, I didn’t hear from her, so I picked up the phone and called her, and I could tell she had been drinking heavily. I said, “What’s going on?” And she said the police had come that morning to her house, because they were identifying body parts. She said they found his heart. I prayed with her, and I talked to her. These are things you never get over. These are things that change you. – Alma Cain
One person who has helped me is a very practical man. He was drafted for the Vietnam War, received a Purple Heart and went through a lot of racial adversity during the Civil Rights movement. When my husband died, I said to him, “Bob, I can’t do it. I can’t go back. I can’t get out of bed. I can’t get over this. I need some advice.” And he said, “The best advice is just do it. You have to get up. Every day, you get up and do it.” That’s another way of saying time is a healer. You have to take the small steps. And little by little, God shows up, spirit shows up, goodness shows up. – Jodina Hicks
My mother died when I was 29. I had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. She was everything. How was I going to get out of bed? I think what compels you is the person who leaves you. They leave you with a lot of momentum to continue to do what you do. And that’s what continued my momentum. What do you do? You get up in the morning and you just do. You keep on going.
– Pamela Lampitt
I don’t have any children of my own, because I was busy trying to finish my career, and when I wanted to get pregnant, I couldn’t. Then I lost my husband a year later in a car accident. I learned quickly that I was being prepared for something very special and very meaningful, and that was my work. Today I can tell you, I have 2,000 kids, and that’s the best work I’ve ever done.
– Gloria Bonilla-Santiago
My mom always said to me, “It’s good to learn how to type.” So I typed, and I was a really fast typist in high school. I always got jobs as a temp typist in the summers. And then I had this opportunity on the campaign of Governor Tom Kean. I was a college graduate, and I couldn’t find a job. I went in for my interview with the press secretary, and I said, “I know how to write press releases. I’m an English major.” And he said, “You’re not writing them, you’re typing them.” And I remembered those words from my mom back in high school. Then he went on to win, and I had seven extraordinary years as a young woman in the press office of Governor Tom Kean. All because my mother told me to type. So I typed. – Liz Thomas
My mother was hell-bent on me getting a college education. She did not have one. My father didn’t have one either. But my mother said to me, “You have to go to college, because you have to be able to take care of yourself.” She watched her sister become pregnant when she was 16, have a child and have a husband who really didn’t care for her. So she divorced, and my aunt would cry. She didn’t have a way to make a living. But my mom kept saying to me, “If something happens to you and you’re left alone, you must be able to take care of yourself. You must.” – Pat Ciarrocchi
Aging is not for the faint of heart. You have to be strong. You have to have a sense of yourself. You can’t be afraid to evolve. You can’t be afraid to reinvent. However, you do face your mortality as you move from decade to decade. My decade is now in the 60s. I’m 61. When I turned 60, it was a shocking thing. I was reading a doctor’s note, and it said “61-year-old female” as the description, and I’m thinking, “Who is that?” You try to make it feel effortless. And sometimes it is, and sometimes it’s not. You try not to let the noise of youth bother you, and you try to stay focused on who it is that you are. Because really, the veteran status of who I am is greater than somebody else with less experience, it really is. Because I have insight, I have the ability to be able to pull apart elements of stories that a younger person wouldn’t even be able to see, because they have not experienced enough of life or they haven’t talked to enough people.
– Pat Ciarrocchi
A lot of my relatives died at early ages due to medical issues, so I try to prevent those things. When you know better, you do better. Some of the things I was taught as a little girl – not that it was wrong – but certain things I had to change: my way of life, the way I saw myself, the way I provide for my family when I feed them. I try to run half-marathons and stay active. I have three children who play every sport in the world, so I’m always trying to be active with them. When I cook for my parents, because I’m from the South, we eat very hearty. I’ve been trying to transition my dad to a healthier lifestyle. I’ll say, “Dad, try this wheat or multi-grain pasta.” And he’s like, “No, no, no, give me the country pasta.” And I’m like, “What’s the country pasta?” “Give me that white pasta.” It’s about trying to transition. – Tammi Trotter
We’ve faced our mortality through a number of health crises that my husband has been through in the last couple of years. You do face that as you age. And you think, “So I’m not as young as I used to be.” But that’s OK. – Alma Cain
On women supporting each other…
I was nominated for this award in Burlington County, and three or four of my friends were on the selection panel. They came back to me and said, “We didn’t select you. You know, you’ve been married a couple of years” – at this point I’m in my 30s, I’m in year three or four of the chamber job, I’ve worked for two governors, and I was helping my husband at the time start a business – and they said, “You should reapply after you have children.” I said, “What if I choose not to have children? What if that’s not my plan? What if my time is spent doing other things? Oh, I was mad. I was bound and determined to win that award, and when I took it home last year, I was like, “I’m done with you.” That was a true example of how women don’t support each other. It just really turns me off. – Kristi Howell
You know how you get women to support each other? You run a business that’s only full of women. And there was no grand design to that. But we give everybody a lot of room. As a small company – we have seven people, not 70 or 700 – we’re able to allow people to do things with their time and their children and their families and their deaths in the families that couldn’t be afforded somewhere else. But I’ve got to say, it’s wonderful to be in this little world where women all help to pull each other through thick and thin. – Liz Thomas
I want to believe I support women, but there are some women I don’t want to support. I may not agree with their ideology, their way of thinking. I mean, there are women who can be as bad as some men in positions of leadership. Certainly, I do want to see women in positions of leadership. I want to support the first woman president of this country. I want to stand on those issues that are broader. But when it comes to other issues of greed and people who are out for themselves and people who are social climbers – men and women – I’m just not going to support them.
– Gloria Bonilla-Santiago
At the state level, we do not have one female who represents us in D.C. We don’t have a congresswoman, and we don’t have a U.S. senator. How shameful are we with the lack of female representation. And certainly now that we have three seats vacant – or will be vacant – it’s our greatest opportunity to support a woman who can represent us in D.C. – Pamela Lampitt
On the changing roles of women…
Certainly there are a lot more women on-air. And what I’ve seen happen is we went from women who were kind of buttoned up and wearing little glasses with bowties to a more chic-looking on-air presence to younger women now trying to be sexy as opposed to professional and attractive. A lot of these young women coming in are really smart, but there’s this bent toward having the sexiness, which aligns itself more with Hollywood sexiness. And what they’re doing in their personal lives is very different from what I was doing in my personal life at that same time. They are, in a lot of cases, married and having children. When I started out in this industry, nobody their age was married. And absolutely nobody got pregnant. Nobody had children. It was really, really, really rare to have children. – Pat Ciarrocchi
On relationships with other women…
I have the most amazing relationship with two women – my two moms. I grew up in the 80s with two lesbians. One was a Marine. One was a millworker. They’re my mentors; they’re my role models. They lived in a closet their entire lives. I found out that my one mom said to the other mom – and they’re going to be celebrating 40 years together next year; they met when I was 2 – and she said, “If Kristi ever gets picked on or bullied because of who we are, I will leave and come back when she’s 18.” To me, that’s the greatest love a mother could give to anybody.
– Kristi Howell
I’ve had tough times where my girlfriends came to my house and got me out of bed. They weren’t going to let me languish. They were a great support system. I have a great friend who I’ve known since first grade, and we’ve stayed tight. We’re just always there for each other and I think that’s important, to have that support system.
– Elizabeth Ryan
I’ve always had awesome girlfriends, ever since I can remember. But when I adopted my son, some of my friendships shifted – they didn’t think I should do that as a single mom. I found my world very rocked. – Jodina Hicks
I grew up in Nutley, and I met this group of young people at Nutley High School who are my friends to this day. We get together at least once, if not twice, a year. We push everything aside to see one another. My life is an open book with the Nutley girls. – Liz Thomas