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Honoring the passion, dedication and action of 6 remarkable
South Jersey women

Photography by David Michael Howarth
Shot on location at Collingswood Ballroom

Ivette Guillermo-McGahee, CEO, Allies In Caring

Leadership Award

Ivette Guillermo-McGahee

CEO, Allies In Caring

Born to 2 deaf parents, Ivette Guillermo-McGahee didn’t realize how different her home life was from other families until she started elementary school in her native Mexico.

“Because my parents were not socialized like hearing people, they raised us with a lot of their own ideas and gave us a lot of freedoms,” she says of herself and her 3 siblings. Although she and one of her brothers were born with hearing, the close-knit family communicated through American sign language, learned about the world by reading and found spiritual well-being through meditation.

But then school was like a different planet. Kids spoke rapid-fire Spanish and listened to music Ivette knew nothing about. From an early age, she was her parents’ interpreter. Social invitations were rare, and the isolation stung. The few friendships the family developed were a lifeline, imprinting on her how genuine, human connection can be a guiding light.

“When I see suffering, it is painful for me and I choose not to turn my head,” she says. “My own pain has given me energy to do something about it rather than be indifferent.”

In 2012, Ivette started Allies in Caring (AIC), a nonprofit organization in Hammonton that provides mental health and wellness counseling as well as educational services to people living anywhere from Cape May to Burlington County. Among the staff of 25 mission-driven therapists, 4 are fluent in ASL.

Ivette had an established career in Mexico and was running a successful youth organization when she moved to the United States to study mental health counseling at Washington DC’s Gallaudet University, which specifically serves deaf students. After working in private counseling for several years, she created AIC to help underserved populations.

Lately, her focus has shifted from helping individuals to building communities and leaders. But instead of zeroing in on problems – such as addiction and lack of education – Ivette identifies what’s working and how best to connect people based on their shared interests.

She is also spending more time coaching emerging leaders, specifically those who have been helped by AIC and now want to pay it forward. Among them, she works with a woman who started a domestic violence awareness and prevention group.

“When only 3 people showed up, we encouraged her not to give up. And now this group has 60 members, hosts speakers and has active volunteers,” Ivette says. “She’s running the whole thing. The only commitment I asked of her, and other people I am coaching, is that someday they do the same for others.”

Styling by Sarah Gleeson

Makeup by Vanessa Lopez for Jaylyn Thompson, Brielle Savage & Suzan Nickelson; by Melisa Ortiz/Rizzieri Salon & Spa for Zeynep Yuderi & Marguerite Schroeder; by Jessica Palumbo/Rizzieri Salon & Spa for Ivette Guillermo-McGahee

Hair by Ashley Voit/Rizzieri Salon & Spa for Brielle Savage & Jaylyn Thompson; by Mackenzie Garland for Zeynep Yuderi; by Debra Beach/Rizzieri Salon & Spa for Ivette Guillermo-McGahee; by Tiffany D’Argenzio/Rizzieri Salon & Spa for Marguerite Schroeder

See all of our 2023 Women of Excellence Honorees!

May 2023
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