Women Changing the World
Fierce females make their mark by healing, inspiring, and bringing people together.
by Bill Donahue

“I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles.”

Audrey Hepburn may have passed away 20 years ago, but her words resonate to this day, in part because they recognize the wonders and challenges experienced in the course of a human life, as well as hope in the face of impossibility.
American women have come a long way in the 102 years since the 19th amendment granted them the right to vote. Still, more change needs to happen—and the women featured on the following changes are ensuring that it does.
From environmentalism to health care, and from community building to culture, these individuals have helped make the world a better place by making change happen, no matter the obstacles that stand in their way.


Force of Nature
“If you love something, you persevere,” says Patricia Allingham Carlson, an artist who has spent her life painting the places, people, and creatures of Bucks County and beyond.



Carlson does not remember a time in her life when she did not make art. As a preschooler, she sat in front of a garden for hours, drawing and re-drawing a tulip until she got the structure correct.
“I was indignant of people who were drawing a tulip as this simple thing with three points at the top; that’s not how they are built,” she says. “I remember working on that tulip all afternoon, and I got it. … I don’t know why, but it was important to get that tulip right.”
Even at a young age, Carlson was self-motivated to create. She found inspiration in her surroundings—namely, the neighborhoods where she lived, in Chalfont, Doylestown, and Glenside. Opportunities to travel with her parents and siblings opened her eyes to different landscapes, cultures, and people.
“My parents were of the nature to buy old homes that were beat, and fix them up and sell them for a profit; they did this a number of times,” she says. “Before I was born, they built homes from scratch. They were able to not have a mortgage, which freed up money to travel. We traveled with a trailer, and my parents, two sisters, and I traveled to every state except Hawaii and Alaska.”
The places known for spectacular landscapes had the greatest impact on her: the Grand Canyon, the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, Maine’s rugged coast, South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.
“What impressed me were the different aspects of nature and geology,” she recalls. “Those places were so different from where I lived, and even the people who lived there acted differently.”
Carlson received no formal guidance in art until high school, when a few teachers at Abington Senior High School nurtured her talent. When it came time for college, she thought she would major in geology, art, or art education. Her college career began at Penn State’s Abington campus, then known as Ogontz, and continued at Temple University’s Ambler campus. She eventually transferred to Penn State’s main campus in central Pennsylvania, where she received her B.S. in art education.
“My timing was off,” Carlson says. “There were no ‘art teacher’ jobs when I graduated, because schools were cutting funding. I went into preschool teaching, which I loved.”
The decision to start a family made her stop working for a time, though she never stopped creating. She also never lost the compulsion to teach. The development of a home-based teaching studio enabled her to share her passion for art with others, particularly children.
For Carlson, art is an immersive experience.
“Sometimes I cannot be ‘in it,’ and if I’m not doing it for a week or two, it begins to ache,” she says. “It’s something I feel like I need to do, and if I’m not I don’t feel like myself or as whole of a person. I think a lot of artists feel that way.”
Study Carlson’s body of work, particularly her dreamscapes and landscapes of Bucks County, and certain words come to mind: haunting, spectral, otherworldly. Her paintings tend to blend vibrant color with layers of shadow, with each evoking an emotional response. She works in watercolor and mixed media, and many of her works implement texture. She often paints from reference photographs, which help her perfect the light and structural components.
Fans of Carlson’s work have discovered her through local galleries, such as M&H Custom Framing and Gallery in Warminster, or through social media; many sales and commissions have come to her through her YouTube channel and Facebook page, “The Art of Patricia Allingham Carlson.” Others learn about her through her awards and accomplishments; last year one of her paintings, “Lights at Night,” won Signature Image honors in the Phillips’ Mill Community Association’s 93rd Annual Juried Art Show.
As some schools continue to diminish the role of the arts in education, Carlson believes more strongly than ever that the creative arts can transform a life for the better—and not only for children. She sharpens her point by saying the world would be a better place if more people took the opportunity to pick up a paintbrush and create, particularly when they immerse themselves in the natural world.
“Art and nature are two major releases for the human spirit,” she says. “For a child, art is an important part of a person’s development, an emotional release, and a way to express the anguish or frustrations with the things we grow up with. As adults, too many of us stop creating. It’s something lacking in our society, especially for men and boys; they’re taught that they are not supposed to fail at anything, and therefore they don’t even try.
“The world adds a lot of noise,” she continues, “and you can feel guilty about what you do, making art, especially when there is so much suffering and anguish. But how does not doing your work help?”
Editor’s note: Patricia Allingham Carlson died in early September, a month and a half after the interview.


Taking Life By the Horns
A desire to “see lions and elephants” outside of a zoo environment put Heather Smith on a path to preserving wildlife and uplifting communities on the other side of the globe.

In 2015, when she raised her hand at a work-related fundraiser to bid on a safari to Namibia, Africa. She took the trip with her husband and then-nine-year-old daughter, and it changed her life. A nurse by training, Smith returned home from the safari wanting to help preserve the habitat and endangered animals that affected her so deeply.
Since May 2016, Smith has led a nonprofit organization called PA Rhino Conservation Advocates, PARCA for short, apart from her full-time job as chief operating officer of the department of neurosurgery at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia. She traces PARCA’s beginnings to a colleague’s suggestion to attend a leadership lecture featuring Dereck and Beverly Joubert, a husband-and-wife team of wildlife conservationists and the founders of the Great Plains Foundation. The Jouberts talked about Rhinos Without Borders, a collaboration between their foundation and an organization called &Beyond dedicated to the survival of wild rhinoceroses in southern Africa.
Although Smith had no previous attachment to rhinos, she felt drawn to the Jouberts’ cause. She promptly hosted a fundraiser to promote the “plight of the rhino,” and wound up raising $10,000 through her network of friends, family, and colleagues.
Headquartered in Media, PARCA accepts donations from U.S. donors to support the work of partners such as Great Plains, Care for Wild Rhino Sanctuary, the Wild Tomorrow Fund, and the Kariega Foundation. These efforts have accomplished several key initiatives: translocating rhinos to safer areas and overseeing their safety; funding the hiring and training of a female ranger; and rhino-dehorning operations to discourage poaching. The nonprofit also hosts fundraisers locally and arranges exclusive safaris to African nations. Such excursions enable others to experience the same awe Smith felt during her first safari.
More recently, PARCA has participated in several positive developments with the Kariega Foundation, a nonprofit trust that works in partnership with South Africa’s Kariega Game Reserve to protect and preserve the Kariega wilderness and surrounding communities by way of ecotourism. For example, PARCA funded the addition of another antipoaching canine, and also bolstered the Kariega Foundation’s Youth Development Program. Lastly, PARCA has partnered with Kariega on a bespoke safari experience that will offer PARCA supporters another trip opportunity to do hands-on work, visit the community, and coordinate “Big Five” game drives.
PARCA has also completed two other important funding projects: one to provide new saddles to the antipoaching mounted unit at the Care For Wild rhino sanctuary; the other to provide rainsuits for 59 rangers at Mkhuze Game Reserve and sniper hats for 57 rangers at Hluhluwe Imfolozi Park for World Ranger Day.
While Smith has deep compassion for the animals, she also considers the trickledown effect caused by poaching. When a keystone species like a rhino is removed from its environment, its absence affects so much more than the animal itself—other fauna and flora, the people who live in the region, and the entire ecosystem.
She also encourages others to get involved in any “greater purpose,” whether or not it involves rhinos. If her experience is any indication, doing so will result in a life and an outlook that is forever changed for the better.
Light in the Darkness
Candace Nola believes the stories we tell have the power to heal the world, even if those stories are about mythological monsters, lycanthropes, and bloodthirsty veterinarians.

Nola has authored widely consumed novels such as Bishop (and a similarly named sequel), Hank Flynn, The Unicorn Killer, and The Vet, as well as stories in numerous anthologies. Her work could be described as vivid and visceral, but also surprisingly tender. While she has written in a variety of genres—dark comedy, splatterpunk, fantasy, mainstream fiction—she has become an increasingly loud voice in independent horror.
Nola understands why non-horror readers might dismiss the genre as too bleak, too gratuitous, or too obscene. That said, she also believes those people aren’t looking closely enough at the message behind the madness and mayhem.
“Horror is important because it represents the complete range of human experience,” she says. “Everything we go through in life can be perceived as a horror story, because life can involve things like pain and humiliation and grief. A lot of love stories are wrapped up in horror, too, with divorce and heartbreak and crimes of passion. All of that can be told in the realm of a horror story. All we do [as horror writers] is maybe add a real-life monster, maybe a little excess blood, maybe describe it a bit more in detail.”
She believes a good horror story has another essential element: empathy.
“People are looking for something they can relate to,” she adds. “We read these stories and see people going through these horrific things, but somehow they manage to survive, and at the end they’re the only one left. In a lot of ways that’s how it helps, because people who have gone through horrific things in their own lives don’t always feel like a hero or a survivor in their own story. At the end of the story they say, ‘I’m not the only one who has felt this way. I’m not alone.’
“There’s a lot more horror writers who have gone through hell and back than you might think,” she continues. “We are generally known to be very kind and compassionate, and we’ll do anything for anyone in our tribe or circle. A lot of us have been hurt, victimized, assaulted, or traumatized, so when we see someone struggling, we recognize it in ourselves. By writing about it, maybe we can process our emotions so we can get out of it—and maybe help someone else along the way. … If something I write appeals to one person, if that one person finishes reading a story I wrote and says, ‘I get that,’ my job is done. To me that’s a win.”
Born in Hookstown, a small town where Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia converge, Nola has loved stories—and storytelling—all her life. She grew up reading the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, William Shakespeare, and Mark Twain. Her parents’ interest in the paranormal, as well as her father’s love of horror films, kickstarted an interest that would later become her true passion.
Nola is not only an author and editor but also a publisher through her imprint Uncomfortably Dark, which doubles as an inclusive community for horror authors and readers. Scary stories represent only one aspect of her life; she has a full-time job, though she prefers not to discuss it, and is a mother of three. She maintains an over-full schedule that seems to require an overwhelming amount of time, talent, and attention, all while fostering a community of kindness and understanding.  
“I find it amazing that every day I get to do all these things I never thought I’d be able to do,” she says. “I’m the happiest now than I’ve ever been. This is what I was meant to do.”


It Takes a Village
Helen Hammes’ road to becoming president of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown, also known as the VIA, began with a simple desire: to help her community.

After retiring from a long career in the pharmaceutical industry, she wanted to devote her time to uplifting others. She joined the all-volunteer VIA and “kept raising my hand,” which brought her into the leadership circle that ultimately led to her ascending to the presidency. She says she feels a distinct sense of honor to “follow in the line of 50 amazing women whose shoes I hope to fill.”
Hammes feels privileged to continue the work begun in 1895, when a resourceful group of 14 women took action to improve the life and welfare of their fellow Doylestown residents. Back then, the pervasive dust coating Doylestown’s roads contributed to significant respiratory problems, and no one seemed willing or able to address the problem—until the VIA came along. Despite the protests of individuals who thought the women should focus their energies on tasks considered more befitting of their gender, the VIA created an effective plan to solve the problem.
This was just the VIA’s first in a long line of significant accomplishments. In the more than 125 years since, the VIA has played a part in transforming Doylestown, most notably through its commitment to health services. It was the VIA, after all, that helped the town endure the Spanish flu of 1918 and later brought about the construction of a hospital that would one day become Doylestown Health.
“The VIA has always been about more than the hospital,” Hammes adds. For example, the VIA offers one-time grants to community efforts, scholarships to high-achieving high school seniors and women pursuing professional careers, and support through its welfare fund for community members with emergent needs.
In addition, the organization is well known for one of Bucks County’s most venerable civic traditions: the Bucks County Designer House and Gardens, which remains a powerful fundraising initiative. Hammes is particularly excited about this year’s Designer House in Perkasie, which attendees can tour in the spring.
“We had a board retreat in June, and we’re now looking at the next 100 years—what we’re calling VIA 2.0,” she says. “We are looking forward to the organization’s evolution. On a personal level, I just want to continue to live the mission set out by our founders by helping our neighbors.”
Hammes, whose time as VIA president will end in June of 2024, encourages other Bucks County residents to get involved. The small group of women who began the VIA has since blossomed into a contingent of more than 300.
“The VIA is always open to women who want to help the community,” she says. “Visit the website. Learn about us. If you’d like to volunteer to give back, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you.”


Fighting for Life
More than 20 years ago, right around the start of the new millennium, Robin Cohen met a woman named Sandy Rollman. Cohen was working as an oncology nurse, and Rollman was her patient.

“I met her the day she was diagnosed—stage IV ovarian cancer—and she was alive for only six months,” recalls Cohen, who was in her 20s at the time. “She was only 32 when she died, and I thought: If it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone. After she died, I had so much fight left in me. … I then met another patient, Regina. As she was dying, I sat down next to her and I told her my dream. It took all her strength, but she sat up, grabbed my shoulders and said, ‘You go out and fight for us.’”
This was the beginning of the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Foundation, a nonprofit based in Wynnewood, co-founded by Cohen and Adriana D’Alessandro (née Way), Sandy’s sister. Its mission: to fight on behalf of women with ovarian cancer, and to provide a voice for women who have been silenced by the disease.
“I wanted to base it on what wasn’t available to Sandy,” she recalls. “At the time there were only two drugs available and one clinical trial. It was difficult to even connect her with a survivor, because no one survived. I knew I could make a difference. The real risk was to not follow what was in my heart. If we helped one person and it lasted a year, I thought that could be a success.”
The foundation has endured, with a mountain of progress to its credit. It organizes events around the country to raise awareness and funds for lifesaving research. It helps patients by way of a host of educational programs and support services, and by connecting patients with survivors. And it has played a part in shining a light on the symptoms of ovarian cancer so it can be diagnosed and treated in its earliest stages.
In addition to her work as CEO of the foundation, Cohen is a vice-chair for the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition and serves on the board of the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance (OCRA). She also works as a full-time oncology nurse at Lankenau.
“Women are living longer, and there are many more treatments than there ever were,” she says. “As large as we’ve gotten—having surpassed $6 million in research grants—it’s still about one woman helping another woman, about helping a woman on the other end of the phone who doesn’t know what to do or where to go.”
Cohen sees the work as uplifting yet difficult, and sometimes heartbreaking, because the fact is that ovarian cancer still claims the lives of far too many; a woman with stage IV ovarian cancer has a five-year survival rate of only 20 percent, according to data from the OCRA.
“Even though it’s hard, I still get to see good every day, and that has been a gift to me,” she says. “The hardest part is the loss; we’re still losing these women, which is like a punch to the gut. Usually, after I lose a good friend, I go for a long walk and think about what she would say to me. ‘If you can save one woman in my memory, you have to try.’ I work with hope in my heart, and they live on in the work we do.”

Change Makers
Meet more women who have made their mark in business, law, and health care.
Sarah Alles and Pamela Gifford
Holland Floor Covering
Amy Begnaud
Begnaud Wealth Management Group of Janney Montgomery Scott LLC
Robin F. Bond, Esq.
Transition Strategies LLC
Missy Boyd and Liz Early
Boyd & Early Family Law LLC
Dr. Rachel Bresler
Doc Bresler’s Cavity Busters
Kate Filiberto
Terry Glebocki
Delaware Park Casino & Racing
Galina Kotovets
Eminence Medical Aesthetics
Ambler Selway
FRS Advisors
Dr. Miriam Ting
Think Oral Implants and Periodontics
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life, September 2023.