Meet 5 Female Leaders Making A Difference In The Lives Of Others

From left: Kathy Baldwin from Mustard Seed of Central Florida, Gisele B. Fetterman from For Good PGH, Sister Tesa Fitzgerald from Hour Children, Michelle J. Murphy from Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit, Shawanna E. Vaughn from Silent Cry Inc.

In honor of International Women’s Day, Delivering Good wanted to share the stories of inspiring women in leadership roles at nonprofit community organizations with whom we are privileged to partner. By providing clothing, food, education, mental health resources and other crucial support to those in need, these five women are harnessing the power of giving back to make profound impacts on their communities and enact the change we would all like to see in the world. Read below to learn more about their influences, motivations and guidance on how women from all walks of life can get involved and even become leaders themselves.

Kathy joined The Mustard Seed of Central Florida as the Executive Director in February of 2013. Her passion to help others improve their lives is evident in her desire to make a difference in the community. In 2011 – 2012 she became a part of the Heart of Florida United Way Resource Development Department overseeing the nonprofit agencies campaigns. She co-founded The Gift of Swimming with Joy McGinty in 2002 and as the Executive Director she collaborated with the medical field, government entities, community leaders, individuals, corporations and other nonprofits to raise awareness of drowning prevention and to raise funds for the underprivileged and children with special needs to learn swimming skills. The Mustard Seed, is the ONLY furniture and clothing bank in Central Florida. We serve families suffering from domestic abuse, drug rehab recovery, homeless transition, fire and natural disaster, medical hardships, returning veterans and the economically disadvantaged.

Kathy on The Mustard Seed and what keeps her motivated every day: “In 2013, this organization was struggling fiscally, physically and reputation wise. The board of directors reached out for my assistance to “pull this organization up by the boot straps”. Knowing that I was capable of creating a new nonprofit from scratch, I felt the desire to put my all into resurrecting The Mustard Seed Furniture and Clothing Bank. Today, The Mustard Seed is a growing and thriving nonprofit.”

Kathy’s thoughts on being a woman in leadership: “I have a passion to help others improve their lives by making a difference in my community.”

Kathy on who influenced or inspired her: “I grew up in a rural community with many siblings. My mother’s passion to help others provided for our family by her work in the social services field. Serving others was a part of our upbringing. She has always been an inspiration and a role model.”

Kathy’s advice to women interested in nonprofit leadership roles: “You must truly believe in the work you want to provide to the community. It must be your passion and done with a humble and selfless demeanor. With your positivity and enthusiasm, the rest will follow. A nonprofit should always demonstrate integrity and transparency.”

Kathy’s recommendation on one thing an individual can do in their everyday life to make a difference for those in need: “Repurpose, reuse, recycle by giving to someone. This gesture will bring you gratification every day.”

Gisele Barreto Fetterman is an access and equity advocate, a hugger and the Second Lady of Pennsylvania. She is the founder of Freestore 15104, where surplus and donated goods are received and redistributed to neighbors in need. The Freestore aims to eradicate food and clothing insecurity and has inspired spin-off locations and the birth of 412 Food Rescue. Gisele is the co-founder of 412 Food Rescue, a community wide effort to end hunger and reduce food waste. 412Food Rescue has rescued over 11 million pounds of food. She is co-founder of For Good PGH, a non-profit that works to advocate inclusion and inspire kindness. Its first initiative, Hello Hijab, has received both national and international praise. Gisele was born in Brazil and emigrated as a child to the US, living as an undocumented immigrant for over a decade. Her work has been featured in the TODAY Show, CNN, NPR and more. Gisele is a Forty under 40 honoree, a Tedx Speaker, and a Jefferson Awards recipient. She is a mother of three and a beloved rescue pup named Levi.

Gisele on For Good PGH and what keeps her motivated every day: “Through For Good PGH, we run a women’s incubator and coworking space as well as provide mentoring and support services. The women we work with are breaking cycles of poverty, they are raising children and they are changing the future of their families. We are so inspired by them.”

Gisele’s thoughts on being a woman in leadership: “All my heroes are women and I will always work to create spaces for the women who will be leading the way next. Every new room and role we enter will make it that much easier for the next woman.”

Gisele on who influenced or inspired her: “It’s a long list that begins with my mother who so courageously left her whole life behind to raise two young kids in America, as an undocumented single mother. Josephine Baker is next. She was so full of grace and strength. Josephine was an entertainer, a civil rights activist and a peacemaker.”

Gisele’s advice to women interested in nonprofit leadership roles: “Follow your pain. Dedicate yourself to what hurts you and what keeps you up at night. Think of how you can make that pain a little less for the next person.”

Gisele’s recommendation on one thing an individual can do in their everyday life to make a difference for those in need: “Overwhelm people with your kindness. Listen to folks and connect with them. Meet them where they are.”

Sister Tesa Fitzgerald began her work with justice-involved families upon launching My Mother’s House in 1986. In 1992, she incorporated Hour Children as a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. Sister Tesa has been named a CNN Hero, a White House Champion of Change, and winner of the Opus Prize. Hour Children’s mission is to help incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children successfully rejoin the community, reunify with their families, and build healthy, independent, and secure lives. To accomplish this, Hour Children provides compassionate and comprehensive services and encourages all to live and interact with dignity and respect.

Sister Tesa on Hour Children and what keeps her motivated every day: Hour Children’s array of prison-based programs and post-release services addresses the multi-faceted and often overlooked needs of incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women and their children. Following their release from prison, women who seek out our services are generally in need of steady employment that offers a livable wage; safe, affordable housing; and reliable, enriching childcare. In addition, during this time, many families find themselves in need of emotional support as they adjust to the realities of daily life together after extended separation. With these basic needs met, we have found that mothers and children are poised to grow and thrive beyond a painful past and build positive, hope-filled futures.

Sister Tesa’s thoughts on being a woman in leadership: “Being a woman in leadership humbles me because so much has been done by and with other women I’ve walked with and envisioned with over the years. Alone nothing is achieved, but together the power of women can dream big and accomplish much!”

Sister Tesa on who influenced or inspired her: “Diana Matson’s dynamism, creativity, good humor and undauntable spirit graced my life at Hour Children for 34 wonderful years! Nothing was impossible and there were no failures- just valiant attempts at building bridges and relationships. The depth of her love and goodness grace me daily. I have a picture of her on my desk that says: When someone you love become a memory, that memory becomes a treasure.”

Sister Tesa’s advice to woman interested in nonprofit leadership roles: “Do it!! Try it!! Don’t let negativity or pitfalls hamper your dreams. Connect to successes-small or large. Move forward and define your own success in networking with visionaries and ordinary people who believe in you!”

Sister Tesa’s recommendation on one thing an individual can do in their everyday life to make a difference for those in need: “Be kind. Look to your neighbor and really see them. Listen with your heart and act.”

A lifelong resident of Southeastern Michigan, Michelle J. Murphy attended Michigan State University where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in English, a minor in Spanish and a Secondary Teaching Certificate, followed by a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Teaching. Her career as a high school educator organically careened into the not-for-profit world and resulted in her current position as Executive Director of Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit. Michelle is also a proud wife and mother of two children.

Michelle on Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit and what keeps her motivated every day: “Variety the Children’s Charity of Detroit simply helps kids—no matter the need—through core programs which provide essential support and services to children with unique and special needs and to those who are disadvantaged or underserved. My journey to Variety Detroit began as so many do—as a mother seeking support for her child. After our daughter was born with a congenital upper limb difference, the experienced team of professionals at the Variety Myoelectric Center provided insight, guidance and state-of-the-art prosthetic support that has truly been life-changing. For 40 years, Variety Detroit has provided essential therapy and myoelectric prosthetic limbs to children, covering the cost for both therapy and componentry above and beyond insurance coverage. Now at age 14, our daughter has used numerous life-like prosthetic hands that open and close to meet milestones throughout her childhood. From tying shoes as a toddler to playing in tennis tournaments as a teen, she has embraced challenge with determination and a smile.

Every day, I witness the incredible results of a literal helping hand. It is a heartfelt reminder of the incredible difference that a single gift can make, and it is a powerful motivator in advocating for the diverse needs of children in our community.”

Michelle’s thoughts on being a woman in leadership: “Each day is a new opportunity to unite the community in creating meaningful change for a child and, as a working mother, I find that professional challenge both exciting and rewarding. As with any charitable organization, it takes an extraordinary number of dedicated board members, supporters and volunteers to deliver such essential support. The best leaders that I have worked with professionally are those who recognize the value of a diverse yet cohesive mission-minded team. We are fortunate at Variety Detroit to have such a team as we work daily with incredibly committed, insightful and resourceful individuals who put their “boots on the ground” to reach our children in need. The mission is a method—and one of which I am honored to be a part.”

Michelle on who influenced or inspired her: “Certainly, there are so many women from whom I draw inspiration. Personally, I value the strength and ambition of my mother—an incredible example of one who always balanced the delicate demands of managing a home, family and work—with both grace and style. I also admire the determination and eloquence of my paternal grandmother who, as a mother of nine, was also an accomplished author. She was well ahead of her time— working while raising a large family.”

Michelle’s advice to women interested in nonprofit leadership roles: “Find your fire—a cause (whatever it may be) that simply cannot be ignored. Learn about agencies and organizations that are working to support your cause and ask the first simple question—what can I do to help? Or, if diving in alone is daunting, find a friend who is involved and tag along. The best way to start is simply to show up, ask questions, share your gifts—and repeat.”

Michelle’s recommendation on one thing an individual can do in their everyday life to make a difference for those in need: “Share the story. We may not always be able to volunteer, attend a fundraiser or make a gift, but we can share the stories of our favorite causes. When we advocate and share, we all benefit. Charities find support, children receive care, and collectively we know that we are not alone in facing our own challenges.”

Shawanna E. Vaughn is the Founder and Director of Silent Cry Inc. A nonprofit organization that focuses on youth affected by gun violence, formerly incarcerated women and young girls. The organization provides a holistic approach to aftercare from gun violence and trauma. They understand that quality of care is the single most significant factor impacting and invoking change, promoting healing from the inside out. They provide incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women a space of compassion and understanding. Silent Cry Inc. is the product of the tears that Ms. Vaughn has shed witnessing horrifying events as a foster care child, while overcoming pain and hardships of incarceration, and through the death of her brother, Albert Phillips Jr., to gang initiation.

Vaughn holds membership with Peace and Justice Studies and Confined Arts Project. She has worked with Columbia University Business School and their law school on prison reform and criminal justice issues. Vaughn is campaigning to enact ‘Shawanna W76337’, a bill at the core of her advocacy, speaking for the disenfranchised and dealing with the mental health of those who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated.

Shawanna on Silent Cry and what keeps her motivated every day: “My life has been a journey that has led me to many places and endless opportunities where I can use my voice for justice and for the people whose tongues are bridled. We understand Your Plight, Pain and Restoration. We use our skill sets and experiences to continuously tap into what is happening with our young people, communities and incarceration transformation. We understand the challenges faced with developing self and overcoming grief committed to a holistic approach with solution that is specifically relevant to your needs. With a passion for spoken word, civic engagement, visual arts and literature are branches that you will see in my labor of work.”

Shawanna’s thoughts on being a woman in leadership: “Leadership is transformative for me because it allows me to be an example for women and girls in marginalized and economically oppressed communities that we can overcome and achieve our greatest dreams.”

Shawanna on who influenced or inspired her: “Fannie Lou Hamer: ‘Tired of Being Sick and Tired’. She is Iconic and the woman I strive to become.”

Shawanna’s advice to women interested in nonprofit leadership roles: “Stay focused on your vision, write everything and be vigilant in your mission for humanity.”

Shawanna’s recommendation on one thing an individual can do in their everyday life to make a difference for those in need: “Give with your heart.”

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