Leading Ladies
These influential “Superwomen” are taking bold steps forward in business, philanthropy and the arts
by Bill Donahue, Lori McClure and Leigh Stuart

On the following pages are eight people whose leadership has spurred quality-of-life improvements for those in Philadelphia, its surrounding suburbs and, in some cases, much farther afield.

In areas such as health care, the fine arts, athletics and philanthropy, each of these leaders is an inspiration to others. Each is inventive. Each is inspired and inspiring. Each is bold. And each, it just so happens, is a woman.  

One leads an institution that has become one of the world’s foremost health care systems for children. Another is using the arts as a tool to help others heal from personal trauma. Two are at the helm of organizations that are, in the truest sense, saving lives. And the rest … their stories are equally remarkable.

No matter her circumstances, each of these women has looked past boundaries, sidestepped obstacles and found ways to achieve. Confidence, ambition, tenacity—the members of our Superwomen, Class of 2014, possess all these traits and then some.

Madeline Bell
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia president and COO aims to extend the reach of CHOP’s best-in-class brand of family-centered medicine

In 1983, Madeline Bell was a nurse working the night shift at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). She left “for a while,” only to return in 1995, this time in a much different capacity: management and executive leadership. In 2007, after working her way up the ranks, she accepted a new challenge by becoming the president and chief operating officer of CHOP (chop.edu).

“When I left, never in a million years did I think I would be back in this capacity,” she says. “I loved bedside nursing, but I knew there was another way I could have an impact on a broader scale. I was interested in what went behind how a hospital works … and in setting policy versus reacting to it.”

Since becoming the nation’s first hospital devoted exclusively to caring for children in 1855, CHOP has become an internationally revered provider of family-centered health care, with a sprawling main campus in West Philadelphia and 50 other locations in the surrounding suburbs of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. CHOP has earned its reputation as an innovator and pioneer, and Bell has made it a priority to ensure that CHOP maintains not only its financial strength but also its position among the leading children’s hospitals in the nation. True to form, CHOP shared the No. 1 ranking on U.S. News & World Report’s 2014-15 Honor Roll of the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals.

Bell also wants to make sure CHOP “continues to grow closer to where families live.” In this regard, 2015 will be “a year of new buildings and new beginnings,” she says. At its main campus, CHOP will unveil a 700,000-square-foot outpatient center—the biggest building in its 160-year history—called the Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care, set to open its doors in July 2015. In addition, CHOP will open new satellite locations in the Brandywine Valley, King of Prussia, Roxborough and South Philadelphia, as well as in Princeton, N.J.

“As I look out the window, watching the construction in the works [on the Buerger Center], it feels great to know that we are contributing to regional economic development,” says Bell, who lives in Bryn Mawr. “In addition to being an internationally known [health care system], we’re also a charity, with a foundation to raise money for research and programs to support patients and their families.”

Guiding Bell in all her decisions is empathy for patients and clinicians alike, which she believes stems from her years as a nurse. She continually works to find ways to understand clinicians’ points of view to address any limitations or difficulties they may be facing. Regular lunches with CHOP clinicians, as fact-finding missions, help her gather feedback on how CHOP can better serve its many constituents.

“I always took on challenges and pushed beyond my comfort zone,” she says. “It’s the story of my career. I was not fully prepared [for becoming president and COO], but I told myself, if nothing else, I know it will be a learning opportunity.” —BD

Jamie J. Brunson
Opportunities for “individual and societal healing” take center stage thanks to this accomplished playwright and executive director of First Person Arts

It takes only a moment to feel the compassion and humble heart of Jamie J. Brunson, executive director of First Person Arts. An award-winning playwright named “New Voice in American Theatre” by the Edward Albee Theatre Conference, Brunson is driven by the healing potential that writing and personal storytelling possesses. As someone who has a gift for writing, and who also has firsthand experience with tragedy, she has “learned how to face trauma” through the power of her words.

First Person Arts (firstpersonarts.org), which is headquartered on Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts, was founded as a response to a growing interest in memoir and documentary art. Brunson has expanded that vision by providing a platform for people to tell their personal stories.

Storytelling classes and workshops teach attendees the basic skills needed to start a journey as a memoirist or live storyteller, or even help experience storytellers build upon their experience. An annual festival—this year’s is scheduled for November 4 to 15 at various locations throughout the city—provides opportunities for high-profile artists to perform alongside local emerging artists. “StorySlams,” which take place on the second Monday of each month at World Café Live in University City and the fourth Tuesday of each month at L’Etage in Queen Village, invite competitors to share five minutes of their lives in a room full of people who can appreciate a good yarn. All these points of contact are designed to enhance skills and, more importantly, to enrich lives.

“People want to connect and share their compelling stories right now,” says Brunson.  “We live in a technological world where people want to connect more to people.”

Through the personal storytelling program Brunson facilitates, individuals are provided a safe environment to share their raw experiences and be received unconditionally. Personal storytelling, she says, can be many things: “catharsis for not only individual healing but societal healing as well”; “the catalyst of conversation and understanding” for a number of topics and social issues; and a tool to “create strong dialogue and open conversations that otherwise would never happen.”

She recalls one participant, a disabled man, who had been rejected by his family. He utilized a storytelling group, led by Brunson, to expose his journey of rejection, which resulted in tremendous support and healing for his wounds. “We are a family,” Brunson adds. “We have a core audience that comes out twice a month. We sit around a table and listen, accept and support.”

This, however, is no support group; there is a craft behind the final product. “It is rare for people to come on stage without practice,” she explains. “People need to learn how to put the anatomy of a story together but also learn how to be self-reflective.  

“This program is not about me,” she continues. “I am blessed, honored to be a witness to this humbling wave of raw humanity. Art has to be relevant or enhancing our lives, to make them better. Art can heal and bring meaningful insights and truth.” —LM

Jeane M. Coyle
Whether it’s for her company or the community it serves, the CEO of First Federal of Bucks County excels at adding value

Jeane M. Coyle has proven that she can accomplish a great deal in a short time. Now if she could only find a way to bend the laws of time and space.

“I don’t think I realized how many places, nonprofits and members of business and industry all would like me to spend time with them,” she says of the past year. “I’ve come to learn that no, I can’t clone myself, and I can’t be in four places on the same calendar day. From a personal perspective, it has required a lot of mental and physical energy, but I’m really happy with the job I have.”

On July 1, 2014, Coyle concluded her first year as president and CEO of First Federal of Bucks County (bucksonlinebanking2.com), a community bank with 11 branch locations—soon to be more—serving families and business owners throughout the region. Prior to becoming First Federal’s chief exec, the 30-year industry veteran served the bank in several capacities of increasing responsibility, most recently as executive vice president and chief administrative officer.

Upon Coyle’s CEO appointment, her immediate goals had largely to do with standard performance benchmarks, such as profitability, while maintaining the bank’s reputation as a community pillar. She has, in a word, succeeded.

“First Federal operates under a three-year rolling strategic plan, so there were some advantages of me not being new to the company,” she says. “I’m following that road map, and my goals were related to ensuring we continued down that path. In terms of income and growth, I’m happy to say I was able to surpass those quantitative business metrics.

“I pay a lot of attention to execution, and I go to each business unit and review them to make sure we did what we said we would do,” she continues. “I’m not a person who is focused on the bottom line every day; I focus on the steps to get there, and it’s great because that approach is working.”

In 2015, she’s aiming for “base hits” rather than “home runs,” including planned expansion into the county seat of Doylestown, where the bank does not yet have a brick-and-mortar presence. Although she admits finding the right location in Doylestown has been a challenge, she expects to achieve that goal within a year’s time.

Giving back has become essential to Coyle’s happiness. As the daughter of a man who came of age in a poor West Virginia coal-mining town, she has a deep appreciation for the struggles of those fighting to climb above the poverty line. She serves on the boards of two local organizations devoted to helping the less privileged: the United Way of Bucks County and the Bucks County Opportunity Council (COC). Through the COC’s Self-Sufficiency Program, in fact, a number of unemployed workers have found gainful employment at First Federal.

Coyle, who is married with twin sons, also spends time mentoring the next generation of executives coming up through the financial-services ranks. She does so because she believes she wouldn’t be in the position she is today without the guidance of others.  

“I don’t see a lot of 30- or 40-somethings in senior positions in our industry,” she says. “You have to make it a project within your own organization to find and grow talent. It’s personally important to me. I’m here only because of the people who took the time to mentor and develop me, and I’m very conscious of that.”  —BD

Molly Hayward
The owner and founder of Cora provides life-changing resources to women in Southeast Asia

It is no small accomplishment for one individual to rise above the restrictions of distance and finance to uplift the life of another; but, when such a person creates a business that can uplift more than an entire population of the underserved, it is truly a feat to be revered.

This is just what 26-year-old philanthropist Molly Hayward, founder and owner of the Northern Liberties-based Cora, has done.

The “for profit/for purpose” Cora (corawomen.com) is a subscription-based company offering women in the United States organic Natracare sanitary napkins and tampons that are made from sustainable, zero-impact materials and can completely biodegrade in 30 days. Cora’s model is even more unique, however, because for each box of products sent to a woman in America, a month’s worth of sanitary pads is sent to a young woman in need in India.

Cora is the culmination of a seven-year journey that took Hayward across the globe to countries including Australia, Cambodia, England, Kenya and Switzerland. During her trip to Africa, Hayward met a young girl, who explained that she was not in school because she had her period. This brief exchange made very real the plight of girls in developing nations who, lacking proper provisions, are forced to stay home during their periods, causing them to miss school and fall behind in lessons or, worse, drop out of school entirely.

This problem exists across the world, but after extensive research Hayward chose to partner with Aakar Innovations to help girls in India. “They take an extremely holistic approach to what we’re doing,” she says of Aakar Innovations. She explains that the cooperatives making the hygiene products for distribution are owned and staffed by women, and that these affordable, biodegradable products are made from an invasive plant species that negatively impacts regional biodiversity.

At present, Cora’s distribution hub is in Kolkata, India, but Hayward hopes that in the future, the organization will grow to help more women. “There are hundreds of millions of women in India alone who lack access to any kind of menstrual management products, so there is a big opportunity to do really good work there,” she says. “Menstruation doesn’t have to have a negative impact on a woman’s life.”  —LS

Maura McCarthy
The executive director of the Friends of the Wissahickon helps preserve a vital swath of one of the world’s largest urban park systems

In 1924, a small group of landowners surrounding the Wissahickon Valley came together to start an organization known as the Friends of the Wissahickon (fow.org).  Their mission: “to preserve the natural beauty and wildness of the Wissahickon Valley and stimulate public interest therein.”

Ninety years later, with more than 1.1 million visitors flooding the park each year to bask in the area’s natural beauty and historical significance, the founders’ vision has truly become a reality. With new times, however, come new challenges, and Maura McCarthy has become one of the chief architects helping to ensure a strong, stable future for the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) and the natural resources the nonprofit works to protect.

McCarthy spent her childhood near the Wissahickon Valley, leaving after college to pursue other opportunities. She returned in 2005 to become the director of development for FOW, which is based in Philadelphia’s East Mount Airy neighborhood, where the city and the suburbs meet.  She was promoted into her current post just six months into her tenure.  

Under the leadership of McCarthy and her colleagues, FOW has been able to restore historical structures throughout the park, as well as to eliminate invasive plant species and monitor watershed-management issues, often in partnership with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation and other organizations. Also, through a Sustainable Trails Initiative—a 10-year, $10-million trail restoration project that began in 2007—FOW aims to restore the more than 50 miles of native trails and shape them into an environmentally and socially sustainable system for all park users.   

Trail restoration and other FOW initiatives are done with the help of “countless volunteers” through programs McCarthy has either created or overseen. In fact, she credits the health of the Wissahickon Valley’s 1,800-plus acres to what she describes as “the ethos of the people and the passion for the parkland.” This includes everything from trail crew leaders and trail ambassadors to those who want to provide support to park rangers and lead tours. Although she doesn’t have the exact numbers of total individual participants over the past nine years, FOW’s annual volunteer service numbers have increased from approximately 200 people per year in 2005 to more than 800 last year.   

Besides volunteers, McCarthy has helped FOW accomplish its various objectives by fostering partnerships with not only Philadelphia Parks & Recreation but also the Philadelphia Water Department. In addition, FOW works closely with other locally based groups—the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association in Ambler and the Chestnut Hill Historical Society in nearby Chestnut Hill—on open space and advocacy initiatives.

Recently, McCarthy helped FOW secure more than $1 million in grant awards for use in “stewardship initiatives.” These grants, from the Department of Community and Economic Development and the William Penn Foundation, will fund programs that benefit FOW trails, habitat and waterway, while building out FOW’s volunteer and community-engagement programs. —LM

Jean A. Sachs
The CEO of Living Beyond Breast Cancer uses her passion and creativity to improve the quality of life for women touched by an insidious disease  

From her days as a high school student living on the Main Line, Jean A. Sachs remembers having a keen interest in issues affecting women’s health. This passion would guide her toward a career that has enabled her to affect the lives of countless women in the Philadelphia area and throughout the country.

After college, Sachs worked for causes and organizations devoted to preserving women’s health and wellness, including WOMEN’S WAY and the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She also worked as a legislative aide for Allyson Y. Schwartz—then a Pennsylvania state senator, now a representative in the U.S. Congress. Here, she helped draft legislation that led to the passing of the Mammography Quality Assurance Act, which established minimum standards to ensure that all women have access to quality mammography services as a tool to screen for breast cancer.

Such involvement ultimately led her to Living Beyond Breast Cancer (livingbeyondbreastcancer.org), a Haverford-based nonprofit started by radiation oncologist Marisa C. Weiss, M.D., of which Sachs became executive director in 1996. Each year, Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) serves hundreds of thousands of women touched by breast cancer in Philadelphia and across the nation, through free educational programs and personalized services. For the first six months of 2014, LBBC programs assisted approximately 274,000 women with breast cancer, compared with the 330,000 helped in all of 2013.

“There are a lot of incredible stories of people doing well [after a breast cancer diagnosis and resulting treatment], but we have lost a lot of women as well,” says Sachs, who became LBBC’s CEO in 2008. “There are many better treatments now, and women [with breast cancer] are living longer, but the mortality rate is exactly the same. That’s the hard part of the job, but it is part of it.”

Through increased support from individual donors, corporate partners and grant providers, Sachs has expanded LBBC’s budget to approximately $5 million per year. This, in turn, has enabled the nonprofit to vastly increase its reach and visibility. Earlier this year, for example, LBBC won a $1.75 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in recognition of its programs serving young women diagnosed with breast cancer. LBBC will use the five-year grant to expand programming within its Young Women’s Initiative, which has engaged more than 100,000 young women and their families over the past three years.

Sachs has also connected with the community through in-person initiatives such as the Butterfly Ball and Yoga on the Steps. The Butterfly Ball began in the late 1990s as a way to honor breast cancer survivors. It has also helped LBBC “make friends, raise money and raise visibility,” says Sachs, through corporate sponsorships, individual donations and proceeds from a live auction. Held each fall in Philadelphia, the black-tie gala has become LBBC’s most important fundraising event.

Yoga on the Steps, meanwhile, is held the third Sunday of every May on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The purpose of the event, which also includes an expo, is to educate others about healthy living and quality-of-life issues, while creating awareness and raising funds for LBBC’s education and support resources. The highest attendance so far is 1,700, according to Sachs, and the event has since expanded to other U.S. cities, including Denver, Kansas City and Washington, D.C.

“I’m never doing the same thing ever,” says Sachs, whose mother, Romayne, had breast cancer and ultimately succumbed to lung cancer years later. “I’m on the road a lot, doing events, fundraising. I’m always busy, but I’m making a difference, and I love having the chance to interact with the women we serve. I’m very lucky to have a job with so many challenges and so many opportunities to help.”

Moving forward, Sachs admits to having “a lot of big plans” for LBBC. This likely includes the October 24 “We Can Survive” concert at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. For every ticket sold to the concert—featuring Taylor Swift, Pharrell Williams, Gwen Stefani, Iggy Azalea and others—$2 will go toward supporting LBBC’s initiatives. —BD  

Liz Scott
The co-executive director of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation—and mother of the nonprofit’s late founder—takes the fight to pediatric cancer

Liz Scott and her husband, Jay, endured every parent’s worst nightmare. Their daughter, Alex, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer, shortly before her first birthday. Although Alex lost her fight against the disease in August 2004, at the age of 8, her spirit has not only endured but also inspired others to fund a cure for the disease that claimed her young life.

In 2000, after receiving a stem-cell transplant, Alex told her mother she wanted to open a lemonade stand and raise money to help other kids with cancer. With help from her older brother, she opened her first lemonade stand later that year, raising $2,000. For the next several years Alex and her family continued to host lemonade stands in the front yard of their home, while also urging others to open their own lemonade stands and donate the proceeds to the cause.

This was the beginning of Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation for Childhood Cancer (alexslemonade.org), the Wynnewood-based nonprofit Alex breathed into life. She had an initial goal of raising $1 million, and she died knowing she would meet her goal—and then some.

“When Alex first started this, it was nothing more than a sweet, successful little lemonade stand,” says Scott, whose family is originally from Connecticut but moved to the Philadelphia area in the aftermath of Alex’s illness to be closer to local hospitals. “Then, when she raised more and more money, with the goal of reaching $1 million, we started the foundation and said, ‘Let’s see where this goes,’ and manage it as it comes.”

So far the foundation has raised more than $80 million in the fight against pediatric cancer, which is the leading cause of death by disease among non-infant children in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. In 2015, Alex’s mother suggests, the number should surpass $100 million. Donations fund hundreds of promising research projects and medical trials that may lead to not only improved quality of life for children with cancer but also, some day, a cure.

“If there’s an obstacle keeping research from moving forward, we have grant and support programs to fill in the gaps,” she says. “We fund everything from basic lab stuff through to clinical trials, so we have shown there is a way to get funding for an experienced researcher with innovative ideas. … On the support side, we also have a travel fund. Across the country, there are probably only 22 centers that do these kinds of trials, and it can be very expensive [for families] because there are a lot of extra expenses to incur.”

Scott oversees the foundation’s various external communications, though she spends much of her day simply sharing her gratitude—in her words, “signing thank-you letters, bringing in sponsors, speaking to groups doing fundraisers and making sure people know how much we appreciate what they’re doing.” She admits the work can be “overwhelming at times,” but she is heartened every day by the “so many good things” that happen as a result of the foundation’s work. She receives daily reminders from families whose children now have an improved chance at long-term survival because of breakthroughs funded as a direct result of the foundation’s efforts.

Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation has accomplished a great deal in a short amount of time—likely much more than its precocious founder ever could have imagined. So what’s next?

“We want to put ourselves out of business,” Scott says. “Childhood cancer is so many types of diseases, and we know there are many cures that are so close. In the next 10 years we will see significant progress. In my lifetime I’m hoping we can look back and say, ‘The survival rate was only 75 percent when we started; now look at it.’

“We’re just lucky as parents to have had Alex in our lives and to do this work,” she continues. “Above anything else, we’re incredibly grateful.” —BD   

Tina Sloan Green
This pioneer in women’s athletics continues to set an example as a principal of the Black Women in Sport Foundation

Ask Tina Sloan Green and she’ll say participation in athletics is essential to one’s development, that it contributes to success in other parts of one’s life. She would know.

Sloan Green is one of the co-founders of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit Black Women in Sport Foundation (blackwomeninsport.org). She is also the first black head coach in women’s college lacrosse history, having served as head coach of Temple University’s women’s lacrosse program from 1975 to 1992. In 1982, she won her first national title—the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women crown—and two years later led her team to the first of three NCAA championships.

Her list of life-changing accomplishments, however, began when she was a standout player. In fact, in the world of nontraditional sports such as women’s lacrosse and field hockey, Sloan Green is one of the most decorated athletes of her era, or any era. She started playing field hockey while enrolled at Philadelphia High School for Girls, and she later picked up lacrosse—one of a select few black women playing the sport at the time—as a student of what is now known as West Chester University. She became an All-American in field hockey, and would later be inducted into the West Chester Athletics Hall of Fame.

“I wasn’t planning on being an All-American,” says Sloan Green, also a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and the recipient of the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philadelphia Sports Congress. “I was just having fun.”

After graduating from West Chester, Sloan Green made the U.S. women’s field hockey team. In 1969, she became the first African-American named to the national women’s lacrosse team, and she played on the touring team for four years. At the same time, she was also envisioning a life beyond her playing days. She wanted to coach, to teach. She got a job at a high school in Chadds Ford and started the school’s first lacrosse team. Then something happened that had a deep and lasting impact on her: the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  

From then on, she followed her desire “to make a difference” in the lives of those who needed it most, so she transferred to the city, where her career flourished. She ultimately earned a position at Temple, racking up the wins and the trio of NCAA crowns. She enjoyed what was perhaps the best season of her career in 1988, when she coached the team to a perfect record: 19 wins, zero losses.

“I have a tremendous internal drive,” she says. “I also have a value system, and I thank my parents for that. I’m a competitor and I like to win, but not at all costs.”

After her third championship, she shifted into a role as athletic director and professor. This also provided the footing for the creation of the Black Women in Sport Foundation (BWSF), of which Sloan Green continues to serve as executive director.

Established in 1992, BWSF aims to increase the involvement of black women and girls in all aspects of sport, including athletics, coaching and administration. The foundation helps as many as 800 young women per year, through direct services to schools and recreation centers, as well as scholarships, internships and other opportunities. BWSF’s work, however, looks beyond race and gender to include girls and boys throughout Philadelphia and surrounding areas.

BWSF has entered a new phase, about which Sloan Green is rather excited: succession planning. Although she says she will “always be involved,” she expects a new generation of leadership to be in place within a year. In the meantime, BWSF is in the midst of “The 1,000 Women Challenge,” a fundraising campaign in which it is asking 1,000 women to donate a minimum of $100. By the end of October, she expects to have raised $100,000 to support growth initiatives and ensure that young women continue to be exposed to opportunities in the multibillion-dollar business of sport.

“There are so many ladies I grew up with who were more talented than I am but never had the opportunity that I had,” says Sloan Green, who lives in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood. “With the conferences we’ve held, as well as being able to give people opportunities through internships and scholarships, we do a lot with a little. Advocacy without programs is not effective. You’ve got to have things for girls to do—like I had, like the girls of the Main Line have, like everyone should have.” —BD