2020 Women of Excellence
By Kate Morgan

In these most unusual times, our Women of Excellence honorees personify qualities that have been so needed lately: resilience, strength, power. These women remind us that when everything is stripped away, when it seems we’ve lost all the color and all the vibrancy in the world, you can still find beauty. Because excellence exists at all times. Just look. You’ll see.



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Our 2020 honorees were chosen in February of this year by a selection committee. Their original photo shoot had to be cancelled because of the lockdown, so we asked them to join us last month for a socially-distanced photography session. Everyone wore masks and all safety precautions were taken. We are so happy we are able to honor these remarkable women.

Photography by David Michael Howarth • Shot on location at Collingswood Ballroom


Lifetime Legacy

Patricia Egan Jones, Former N.J. Assemblywoman

Patricia Egan Jones’ legacy is docked on the Camden waterfront. In 2000, the U.S. Navy decided to send the most decorated battleship in its history, the USS New Jersey,  to its namesake state as a museum and memorial. Jones, then a member of the Camden County Board of Freeholders, knew exactly where it belonged.

“They wanted it in North Jersey,” she recalls. “But it was built in Philadelphia. The Battleship belonged in Camden.” 

Jones spearheaded the effort to dock the ship on Camden’s waterfront not for the acclaim or credit (although the ship’s pier has been renamed the Patricia Egan Jones Battleship Pier), but because “it was the right thing for South Jersey – period,” she says. That’s what she has done for decades: see a problem in her community and accept it as her responsibility.

“I take these issues personally,” says Egan, whose first project was establishing a preschool that’s still thriving in Barrington today. “I never set out to be a role model. I wasn’t trying to climb a ladder – I just knew I had the power to create change.” 

Jones started on the Barrington Borough Council, then joined the Freeholders in 1998 and was elected County Surrogate in 2001. She went on to a seat in the State Assembly, where she served until retiring last year.  

Jones went from being the only woman in the room to seeing female legislators bring their babies onto the caucus floors. It’s cause to celebrate, she says, but not to stop.  

“Think about women fighting for their right to vote 100 years ago,” she says. “When they cast their first ballots, they thought they had made it. But there is always something new to fight for. We’re in the room, but not enough.”



Felisha Reyes-Morton, Councilwoman, Camden City

For many people with a Master’s Degree and impressive work experience, a home in the suburbs is usually the norm. But for Felisha Reyes-Morton, her happily-ever-after is defined by something much deeper than a suburb. She believes purpose is what makes you happy. Helping others soothes your soul. And growing your community – your home – is the best way to build a life.

“I’m still in Camden because I look to change and shift culture,” says Reyes-Morton, who, at 32, is the youngest member of Camden City Council. “I want to see my community think differently. I want them to have more hope. And I want to provide the resources and the strategies needed for our people to feel empowered to do these things. Really, my heart is here in Camden.” 

Reyes-Morton grew up in the city, raised by her grandmother. Her father was killed when she was 1, and her mother was sentenced to prison when she was 16. “There was a culture where jail or death was expected,” she says. “I’m the eldest of 3, and the expectation was I’d continue that legacy.” 

Instead, she broke it and started a legacy of advocacy and change. 

Reyes-Morton points to Camden’s educational system, with the addition of its Renaissance schools, when she thinks of her greatest impact so far. “And don’t forget about the transformation of North Camden. It was the most dangerous area of the city and now it’s the safest. How does that go a full 360? A lot of hard work, and residents who come together and support, volunteer and push us to be better.” 

But advocacy isn’t always easy work, and she knows that firsthand. “Sometimes you meet people who are so stagnant, so comfortable, so used to their norms, and here I come with a different thought process and a different energy trying to shift things. But when that happens, you have to find the most positive way to get over this hurdle. Because when we can get through challenges, we’ll be doing great things for people and the community.”



Faleeha Hassan, Poet and Author

Faleeha Hassan left Iraq because she had no other choice. The university professor and prolific writer had gained fame as the first woman in the city of Najaf to publish a book of poetry. She was called “the Maya Angelou of Iraq.” But fame had a price.

In 2011, Hassan found her name on a militant group’s hit list. Recognizing she was in danger, she took her 2 younger children and fled to Turkey, leaving behind 2 older kids, who were married and starting families of their own. 

In 2012, Hassan resettled in Washington Twp., not knowing anyone and unable to speak English. She remedied her loneliness by writing – about the fighting and suffering she’d witnessed during the Iraq-Kuwait and Iraq-Iran wars, about the family she’d lost, and the children she missed. She wrote about motherhood and pain and love. 

This year, Hassan published her 25th book. She’s been nominated for a Pulitzer and a Pushcart Prize – some of the biggest honors in the literary world. Perhaps even more impressive, she started writing in English. 

Today, Hassan says she is thriving, and so are her 2 younger children – one a high schooler, the other enrolled at Rowan College of South Jersey. When all 3 became U.S. citizens 2 years ago, she says it was one of the proudest moments of her life. 

But Hassan’s battles aren’t all behind her. She wears a hijab and speaks with an accent, and often that means she’s faced with bigotry and ignorance. 

“I try to not just say, ‘I’m American like you,’ but I also try to smile, because the reason why I face these situations is those people are scared. Not of me, of the difference between us,” she says. “I’ve published 25 books, have a PhD in Arabic language, was a teacher for 24 years. But I don’t have time to explain all these things. This is a ‘them’ issue. I know who I am.”


Business Excellence

Amy Barraclough, Director, Ric and Jean Edelman Planetarium at Rowan University

When Amy Barraclough moved from Texas to South Jersey in 2016 for her new job as the director of Rowan University’s Ric and  Jean Edelman Planetarium, it wasn’t the only major change in her life. 

“I started the position 6 months pregnant with twins,” she says. “So I moved across the country while planning my maternity leave. 

For that first year I was just doing what my predecessor had done, because it worked. But I also knew they hired me to make changes.” 

After the birth of her twins, Barraclough returned to work ready to bring a new vision to life. The planetarium, which was built in 2003, had for many years experienced steady – but slow – growth in attendance at its once weekly show. 

That is, until Barraclough blew the doors off the place, adding 6 additional viewings that spanned the whole weekend, developing unique productions and boosting the planetarium’s presence on social media. Attendance was soon climbing, and special events like holiday-themed, stargazing events were selling out weeks in advance. 

The planetarium’s popularity skyrocketed during the Great American Eclipse in 2017. 

“We figured maybe we could get 500 people there, but that seemed like such an unattainable goal,” she recalls. “We had something between 10 and 12 thousand people show up.”

Barraclough has continued to innovate: After purchasing new computers and software in 2018, she worked with Rowan’s TV and Film department to develop an immersive media production course. Recently, a film created by  students about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon missions was accepted to 4 international festivals. 

Though the pandemic forced the planetarium to close over the summer, Barraclough intends to continue bringing people together under the stars. For her, the sky’s the limit.

“It’s something we all share – anybody can go outside and take a look at the moon or see a planet in the sky,” she says. “Not just in astronomy, but in general. It’s so important to keep questioning, to hold onto a sense of discovery and wonder.”


Woman to Watch

Zaniya Lewis, Founder, “YesSheCanCampaign”

She’s been called the voice of a generation, and 22-year-old Zaniya Lewis confidently accepts that responsibility. Lewis, who has interviewed Michelle Obama and was awarded the prestigious [Princess] Diana Award for her activism, talks to young women about all they can do, how far they can go. And then she helps them get there.

The recent George Washington Univ. grad founded the nonprofit YesSheCanCampaign when she was 18 to help girls entering college who didn’t have the resources students need to make the transition. She got the idea from personal experience.

“I went through a lot of hardships growing up in a military family,” Lewis says. “I had trouble getting into and affording college, and I encountered a lot of racism and bullying growing up a young Black girl in America.”

The nonprofit started on Instagram, where Lewis would share stories of girls who didn’t have access to resources. “I found out a lot of girls aren’t prepared mentally or emotionally to go to college,” she says. “They have trouble finding funding, and they can’t take advantage of opportunities like internships because they’re unpaid. I knew I needed to create a solution.”

YesSheCanCampaign offers a remote internship program during the summer so students can work or take extra classes at the same time. A conference every year teaches students how to apply to college, apply to scholarships and more. They also teach career and college readiness skills to high school students, and a program called “The Climb Tour” takes girls to companies where they tour the facility and sit in on a discussion with company execs.

The nonprofit has reached thousands of students nationwide and has been honored with 5 national awards and 1 international prize. As a new college grad with a degree in political science and a minor in human services and social justice, Lewis plans to go to law school to influence policy and legislation that affects students, women and underserved communities.

“We’ve done a lot of great things,” she says, “and we’re just getting started.”



Game Changer

Stacey Macaluso, Coordinator, Katz JCC Parkinson’s Connection

Stacey Macaluso never imagined that her background as a dancer, dental hygienist and part-time fitness instructor could have prepared her to become a leading voice for people with Parkinson’s Disease. Yet that’s exactly what she is today.

Her fierce advocacy for cutting-edge exercise classes (and more) has helped countless South Jersey families. And to think it all started when she was teaching gym classes in Voorhees, and a dance teacher invited her to sit in on a demo class for people with Parkinson’s Disease.

“It touched me in a way I didn’t expect,” says Macaluso, who almost immediately signed up to be an instructor. “I just found it fascinating that dance could help people in so many ways.”

She brought the dance class to Katz JCC in Cherry Hill and it quickly grew from there. Rock Steady Boxing, a non-contact boxing fitness class for people with Parkinson’s Disease came next.

Those first classes were just the spark. Macaluso has built the JCC’s Parkinson’s Connection into the region’s top resource. She has since added Tai Chi and spin classes, and is working to bring in even more programming – including ballroom dancing and laughter yoga. During the pandemic, she kept the classes going, leading groups on Zoom. Macaluso also gets invited to speak at Parkinson’s community conferences and events. She makes every effort to show up and advocate for the community she feels so connected to.

“At first it felt intimidating,” Macaluso says. “I was among respected doctors, therapists and other leaders in their fields. The first time I realized that I belonged there was when one of the other panelists, a doctor, said ‘if you take anything out of what people said today, you need to listen to the woman teaching fitness classes.’ What I’m giving people is hope every day.” 


How honorees were selected: Earlier this year, readers nominated women they knew who were making a remarkable difference in their community or workplace. Seven prestigious judges reviewed the nominations and selected six women who exemplify what it means to be excellent.

See our 2019 Women of Excellence! 

October 2020
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