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For 7 years now, we have been proud to honor incredible women for all they do to make our communities better. And year after year, we are astonished by the women our readers nominate and the honorees our selection committee chooses. The achievements of these women are clear. Their passion is strong. And their commitment to their life’s work just doesn’t seem to end.

Photography by David Michael Howarth

Francina Pendergrass, Founder/President, Hannah’s House

 

Lifetime Legacy

Francina Pendergrass

Founder/President, Hannah’s House

Years before Hannah’s House opened, the idea came to Francina Pendergrass as a vision. As clear as day, Francina saw that she would someday open a safe, peaceful home to help women in crisis rebuild their lives.

The Sewell resident knew this was her destiny. Since she was a girl, Francina had always been the go-to person in her circle of friends. People naturally sought her out for a pep talk or relationship advice. Still, she had no idea how and when she would make her dream happen.

“For everything there is a time and a season, and that was neither the time nor the season,” says Francina, noting that when she had the vision nearly 20 years ago she had young children at home. She was also passionate about her job as a forensics nurse examiner, providing medical care for victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse.

A few years later, Francina started a family literacy program for incarcerated women at the Cumberland County Department of Corrections. In addition to providing academic help, the program included parenting classes, poetry, and family counseling that helped the women reconnect with their children and families. Many left prison with new skills and confidence, but finding housing was still a stumbling block, she says.

“There were young women who had been on the streets since they were 12 or 13 and now they were 18 or 19,” she says. “When they were released, many didn’t have a place to go and they started losing hope.”

It wasn’t just a South Jersey problem. Through her church, Francina, an ordained minister, participated in missions in Italy and South Africa helping girls and young women working as prostitutes transition out of that life. Then 4 years ago, everything finally came together. Francina found the right space in Gloucester County, funding and the community partners she needed to open Hannah’s House, a 2-year residential program for survivors of human trafficking, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

“We take in women at the lowest point of their lives,” she says. “A lot of them are coming straight off the streets and have nothing with them. When you put someone who has experienced trauma like that into a loving, peaceful environment, you can see them changing and becoming more relaxed.”

“We continue loving them,” she adds, “until they can love themselves.”

 

Susan Shin Angulo, Cherry Hill Mayor

Leadership Award

Susan Shin Angulo

Cherry Hill Mayor

Throughout her career, while Susan Shin Angulo was breaking glass ceilings and knocking down barriers, she regularly channeled the voice of her late father.

“My dad always said nothing is impossible,” says Susan, who is the first Asian American female mayor in Cherry Hill – and New Jersey. “When I was younger, I’d shoot back ‘What are you talking about, Dad, so many things are impossible.’ But when I got into politics, I slowly started believing that.”

Her own immigration story – set in motion when her father fled communist North Korea for South Korea as a child – laid the groundwork. She was 4 when her family immigrated to Philadelphia in 1974.

“They barely knew a word of English, barely had a dime to their name but they had dreams and aspirations and they worked very, very hard,” says Susan, who grew up working in her family’s dry cleaning business. She studied science in college, earned an advanced degree in cytogenetics and then worked in genetic research, pharmaceutical sales and marketing as well as commercial real estate.

Susan wasn’t interested in politics until her young family settled in Cherry Hill. At home one day, she observed the trash truck making the rounds and wondered what she would do if it hadn’t come that day. “If trash wasn’t collected,” she says, “I didn’t know who to call. So I decided to get involved.”

Susan served in several roles on township committees before running for Cherry Hill Township Council in 2010. Her win marked the first time a Korean-American woman was elected to public office in New Jersey. Then in 2015, with her swearing-in on the Camden County Board of Commissioners, she became the first Asian American commissioner in the state. In 2020, she was elected mayor.

“I want to move forward to empower all Asian American girls and young women,” she says. “I tell them if you dedicate yourself to whatever you do, you can do anything. It’s hard work but not impossible.”

Danielle Jackson, “The Hoodbrarian”

Inspiration

Danielle Jackson

“The Hoodbrarian”

Growing up, Danielle Jackson dreamed up all kinds of adventures she’d someday have traveling in foreign lands. And although her family moved around a lot, it was always within city limits. So everything she knew about the world outside of Camden – the one she couldn’t wait to explore – she picked up by reading.

“One of my favorite sayings is: ‘Books allow us to travel when circumstances don’t,’” says Danielle, a lifelong poet and writer. “My best friends tend to be characters from my favorite books. It’s always been my escape.”

After graduating from Creative Arts High School in 2007, Danielle gave birth to a baby boy, who is now a sixth-grader. As a new mom, she spent her spare time reading, writing and also pondering her life’s purpose. She found it 3 years ago when she realized that Camden’s once extensive library system – which essentially was her childhood refuge – was now down to 2 buildings. The consolidation had taken place over the years since she graduated.

That’s when Danielle turned into her alter ego, The Hoodbrarian. Her quest: to provide the tools to dream big. As the Hoodbrarian, she spreads hope, knowledge and the joy of reading. Pre-pandemic, she started by collecting books from friends and relatives to create a mobile lending library she’d take to community events, where she’d also hold story hours to get kids excited about books. When Covid shut down community events, the Hoodbrarian started holding virtual story hours and interactive book clubs for all ages, often featuring guest readers, including local artists and writers.

“Becoming the Hoodbrarian was more an instinct than anything else,” says Jackson. “I just had a feeling this is something that people need. It feeds people’s souls.”

Mary Ann Boccolini, President/CEO, Samaritan

Business Excellence

Mary Ann Boccolini

President/CEO, Samaritan

Mary Ann Boccolini was just in middle school when she realized that people nearing the end of their lives need much more than good medical care. They need comfort, compassion and sometimes a shoulder to cry on – they may even need to hear a good joke.

When she was 13, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. This was before hospice care was established, so for the next 2 years, Mary Ann and her family coped with the physical, emotional and spiritual stress of caring for her mom.

“My mom died peacefully at home, which gave peace to the rest of my family and, on some level, resonated with me when I was thinking about what I wanted to do as a career,” recalls Mary Ann, who grew up in Maple Shade and has a BSN degree.

Specializing in oncology, she worked at several different jobs before landing at Samaritan as director of clinical operations some 25 years ago. At the time, hospice was still an emerging field, and it intrigued her.

“The reality is that none of us will be around forever, and no one is untouched by a loved one passing away,” says Mary Ann, now president/CEO of Samaritan, the largest hospice and palliative medicine provider in New Jersey. “For that reason, what we do is for everyone.”

In the past 10 years, Samaritan has seen unprecedented growth under her direction. Mary Ann has led the organization through the opening of 2 in-patient hospice centers and the development of a comprehensive and growing family of life-enhancing services including: primary care at home, palliative medicine, hospice care, grief support, education and advocacy.

“I am truly humbled just to be trusted into peoples’ lives at their time of need, but it’s not me,” she says. “We are a team and everybody brings their gifts and authenticity to their jobs every day. The real care comes from that exchange with patients and their families.”

Nikita Shukla, Analytics Associate, Clinton Health Access Initiative

Woman to Watch

Nikita Shukla

Analytics Associate, Clinton Health Access Initiative

Growing up, Nikita Shukla assumed she would follow her parents’ career paths and study science or medicine after high school. She truly loved science – still does to this day.

So it didn’t cross her mind that joining Cherry Hill East’s Model UN club would be life-altering. “I liked traveling, debating and learning about the world,” Nikita says. “But I was also involved in lots of science activities, played varsity tennis and my entire trajectory was science-oriented.”

That changed during her senior year in 2013. Her role as the Model UN club’s secretary general ignited a passion for challenging inequities that held back women and people of color. She could envision a future for herself working on the international stage, negotiating treaties and agreements that lift people up.

One of her first big tests of diplomacy was convincing her parents, hard-working immigrants from India, that studying international relations wasn’t a huge mistake.

“It was definitely not a thing that South Asian women went into,” Nikita says. “There were no vocal South Asian women, or any women of color, in high profile diplomacy I could point to.”

Negotiations went well. And with her parents’ blessing, she studied international relations at Tufts University. Summers traveling the globe with internships convinced her that she could make a difference advocating for universal healthcare, youth and women’s empowerment.

Since then, Nikita has worked both in the public and private sectors, including a stint as the youngest program manager at Amazon Alexa, managing business across 7 countries. In 2019, she represented the United States as the Head Delegate at the 2019 G7 Youth Summit in Paris. She is currently wrapping up her work with the Clinton Initiative supporting efforts in East Africa before heading to the prestigious Harvard Kennedy School as a 2022 Pickering Fellow in August. It’s a stepping stone to serving as a foreign diplomat.

“My ultimate dream job would be heading a non-profit helping women and girls in the U.S.,” she says. “There’s lots of issues here that need attention.”

 

Tracy Kettering, PhD, Director of the ABA Center of Excellence, Bancroft

Game Changer

Tracy Kettering, PhD

Director of the ABA Center of Excellence, Bancroft

Back in college, Tracy Kettering wasn’t thrilled when she needed to take a required psychology class. She always considered herself a hardcore science person and the study of human behavior didn’t fit her idea of a serious science.

But the class “Principals of Human Behavior” actually rocked her world – leading her to a volunteer stint at a lab that used science to help children with autism. The experience changed her life.

“Actually seeing the impact that science could have to change behaviors made me realize I wanted to continue working in that space,” says Tracy, a Moorestown resident.

The day after college graduation she left for a job at a clinic for autistic children in Atlanta, Ga. That’s where her passion for applied behavioral analysis (ABA) really grew.

“One family had moved temporarily from Louisiana to help their 6-year-old daughter,” says Tracy. “The girl was having a lot of trouble at home and at school. I ended up staying with her family in Louisiana for a week, training people at her school and helping to get good treatment in place for her.”

She still keeps in touch with the family. The girl, now grown, is a nurse.

At Bancroft, Tracy oversees research, clinical education and supervision initiatives, including an on-the-job program for employees leading to a Master’s Degree from Rider University. An advocate for autism awareness, she trains people in the community – including law enforcement and healthcare workers – to understand neuro-diverse behaviors.

Over the last 5 years, there’s been huge growth in her field – in part because more autism interventions are covered by insurance. At the same time, Tracy says, demand for services is through the roof, and it’s only gotten more dire throughout the pandemic. Training the next generation of ABA clinicians to meet the response is imperative.

“We see how access to good quality services at a young age can change the trajectory of kids’ lives when they are starting to have behavioral challenges,” she says. “It’s important to not wait to start care until it’s gotten too difficult to manage. We want to get started right away, so we really make a difference.”

 


 

Special thanks to our Women of Excellence Selection Committee

Valerie Camillo, President of Business Operations, Philadelphia Flyers & Wells Fargo Center

 

Kris Kolluri, President/CEO, Camden Community Partnership

 

Felicia Hopson, Commissioner, Burlington Twp.

 

Melonie Johnson, (Former) President/COO, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa

 

Monika Williams Shealey, Senior Vice President, Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Rowan University

 

Angela Collins, VP of Experience and Access Center, Virtua

 

Sidney Hargro, Executive Director, The LeadersTrust

How honorees were selected: Over the past few months, readers nominated women they knew who were making a remarkable difference in their community or workplace. Seven prestigious leaders reviewed the nominations and selected 6 women who exemplified what it means to be excellent.

Photography by David Michael Howarth Shot on location at Collingswood Ballroom

Styling by Sarah Gleeson

Makeup by Vanessa Lopez

Hair for Mary Ann Boccolini, Susan Shin Angulo, Nikita Shukla and Tracy Kettering by Alex Keating/Rizzieri Salon & Spa


See our 2021 Women of Excellence! 

May 2022
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