Being a leader in business doesn’t always mean being a boss or CEO. These 33 top women in business—voted for by their co-workers, clients and people in the community—prove that leadership exists at all levels.
By Ashley Breeding, Pam George, Dana Nichols, Natalie Orga, Andrew Sharp and Amy White
@delawaretodaymagazine Meet your 2022 Top Women in Business! #Delaware #womeninbusiness #delawaretoday ♬ dance(256762) – TimTaj
Owner, Brew HaHa!
Those who have met Alisa Morkides likely intuit her as creative, dynamic, soulful—and definitely not someone who began her career as a chemist. While she did spend her first years out of college “toiling in a lab,” she says, it’s not what she would have pursued if given the chance for a do-over. “I wanted to be a writer and a musician, but my parents told me, ‘Science or business if you want us to help pay for college,’” she recalls. Her lineage of nuclear physicists and mathematicians put pressure on Morkides to “prove I was smart,” she says. She hated every minute of it, so she went back for an MBA and CFP and then worked as a financial planner. She hated every minute of that too, she says, but it did pique her interest in one day starting her own business. A trip to Florence in the spring of 1993 changed everything. “I fell in love with the coffee experience—the intimate, family-run cafés filled with personal, eclectic items.…Delaware didn’t have anything like this at the time,” she says. Morkides drafted a business plan for the then-unnamed Brew HaHa! upon her return, only to be challenged by naysayers who told her the idea would never work in Wilmington. But she’d seen it succeed in other U.S. cities and thought, Why not? People drink coffee in Delaware. Maxing out all her credit cards, she opened the first location in a tiny space in Powder Mill Square. The best feeling came when patrons said to her, “This is just what we’ve been waiting for.” Fast-forward to today, and the award-winning Brew HaHa! has nine locations statewide, with the latest opening in Avenue North this fall. Successes and failures (remember those Pennsylvania locations?) along the way have only helped Morkides realize that chasing money and status is a waste of energy. “The key to being happy is finding what you really love and what you’re good at, and believing in yourself enough to go after it.”
Founder, Resilient Soul LLC
Brandy Walker, of Dover, has always wanted to serve others. But at first, she wasn’t sure how. When her father died in 2009 after struggling with substance use and bipolar depression, Walker had an epiphany: She’d help others in similar situations. Since then, she’s become a tireless advocate for mental health, starting her own counseling practice, Resilient Soul LLC, in 2021. Walker also recognized the impacts of mental health on the homeless in her city, and ran for city council with a platform focused on the subject. She’s also co-founding a nonprofit, Delaware Revived, which will include a rehabilitative home and provide resources to Delaware’s homeless population. Walker was appointed by Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen to serve as part of the Ethics Commission and by Gov. Carney to serve on Delaware’s Board of Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Professionals. “Your mental health is just as important as your medical health,” Walker says, “and they go hand in hand.” Walker is determined to help us all take care of both.
Founder and President, The Nature Generation
Amy Marasco, of Lewes, is the president and founder of The Nature Generation, a nonprofit with a mission to foster environmental stewardship in the literary world. The Nature Generation’s board of directors partnered with Salisbury University to create the Green Earth Book Award, the first book award program for environmental stewardship in the United States. The Nature Generation has donated thousands of books on caring for the planet to pediatric hospitals, military bases, schools and more. Marasco is also the president of RethinkIt, a firm that consults with organizations to innovate solutions to their challenges, and serves as the vice mayor of Hillsboro, Virginia. How she manages to juggle it all? “A life of learning, I think, is very important. …Keeping yourself open to new ideas,” she reflects. “I think it’s really important as we get older that we really connect with the younger generations so we don’t get stodgy. So we don’t think, Well, we’ve always done it this way. We have to be open to new ideas and concepts. That gives you energy.”
Co-Owner, Anaconda Protective Services
In 2005, when Nancy Dunfee’s children were small, she and her husband, Don Dunfee, set up base operations in their living room for their new startup, Anaconda Protective Services. “Our employees were in and out at all hours,” she remembers. “It was wild.” With 15 years of experience in insurance before she became a mom, Dunfee was ready to go back to work after staying home with her young kids for a few years. But first, she’d have to prove herself. “Our business is fire-protection, and there aren’t a ton of women,” she says. “Many times, I’d have to say, ‘I know what I’m doing.’ Proving I knew my stuff and that I should be very involved was an early hurdle.” It didn’t take long to show it, because she took over all internal operations. And as Dunfee progressed, someone was paying attention: her daughter. “She’s a nurse who is just finishing up her master’s [degree] to be a nurse practitioner,” Dunfee says. “She wants to open her own med-spa. I guess she’s watched me over the past 17 years and thought, I can do this, too. That feels really wonderful.”
Director, Division of Climate, Coastal and Energy at the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control
Since 2019, Dayna Cobb has worked tirelessly with her team to protect Delaware’s environment, mitigating the impacts of climate change and providing residents with energy efficiency and renewable energy. “The most rewarding part of my job is the impact that our work has—it is huge,” she says. “For example, our weatherization assistance program works with low-to-moderate income Delawareans to make sure that we lower their bills, and some of the testimonials that we hear about how someone is now warm at night, or how they can afford to eat because we helped them lower their bill—that is direct impact. The indirect [impact] that they don’t see is, by us lowering that bill, we’re also lowering their use for energy, which is lowering the emissions.” That helps the environment overall. Cobb tells everyone: “We are saving the world, starting with Delaware. I’m excited to be a part of that work.”
Whitney Family Professor of Accounting, University of Delaware
When Jen Joe was preparing for a career in finance as an undergrad in New York, she had two very different professors. “One told me I had all the brains in the world,” she recalls. “And the other said, ‘If you’re female, and if you’re Black or Hispanic, you’ll never make it on Wall Street.’” After almost eight years as an auditor, during which time she enjoyed teaching new auditors, she began to consider teaching full time. “I was told if I was toying with it, I had to go all in on academia,” she says. “Once I made the decision, I often thought about those two professors—and ensured my classroom was an inclusive space for all.” Joe’s best advice for students preparing to start their accounting careers—particularly women of color—is to take up space. “Never make yourself smaller to make someone else feel comfortable,” she says. “Embrace your experience.”
When Erica Boston was in the fourth grade, she drew a picture of her future self as a landscape artist. The West Virginian never wavered in her pursuit of a gardening career. “I grew up on a horse farm and I loved being outside with the plants,” she recalls. “So, yeah, I always wanted to be in the gardening world.” A 4-H alum, Boston was so confident in her aspirations that she applied to Longwood Garden’s professional horticulture program. The selection process is rigorous. For instance, there were more than 100 applicants for 16 positions. The recent high school graduate was accepted. “It was quite an honor,” says Boston, who lived on the grounds. After graduating, she was a full-time gardener at Dilworth Inn. Guests were so impressed that they asked her to do side work, and her business took off. Except for a short stint in a café, she’s always worked in the garden. “If you love what you’re doing,” she says, “you’re doing the right thing.”
Gertha ‘Gigi’ Jean
Co-Owner, One Way Insurance
If you can’t find Seaford’s Gertha “Gigi” Jean, it’s probably because she’s moving. Again. Since she co-founded One Way Insurance in 2020 with husband Ebens Jean, the company has outgrown its space four times. “We started from scratch with $10,000 of our own money, and that’s it,” Jean says. “It was scary.” Even scarier: Her husband approached her about financing a school supplies and backpack drive not long after they opened. “I was like, ‘With our money?’” Jean says, laughing. “I’m from Jamaica and he’s from Haiti, and we both know what it’s like to need. [So] of course we did it.” Months later, they launched a holiday toy drive, and the couple continues to prioritize community service. “We found each time we sowed into the community, they sowed back,” she says. “That’s why we keep growing.” The only Haitian-owned, multilingual insurance agency in the state, the duo reaches the Spanish- and Creole-speaking communities. “Insurance isn’t fun, especially when all the documents aren’t even in your language,” Jean says. “We go into the communities where we’re most needed. And we do our best to make insurance fun.”
Colleen Perry Keith, Ph.D.
President, Goldey-Beacom College
To Colleen Perry Keith—Goldey-Beacom College’s first woman president—being a leader is about always keeping the best interests of the students in mind. The most rewarding part of her job, Keith says, is “when I get a chance to be with the students and hear them talk about what they’re doing…and what their plans are and what they want to be, and knowing that I’m providing the backdrop against which they can do those things and become that person.” In the four years she’s been president, Goldey-Beacom College made US News and World Report’s rankings for the first time in the school’s 136-year history and has been endorsed as a College of Distinction. A “best-kept secret’’ of Delaware, Goldey-Beacom College has just been recognized for how frequently it helps students move from one economic level to another.
Outreach Manager, Franklin Energy
As a teen parent, Angie Bivens had a lot on her plate, including being in an abusive relationship and caring for an ailing newborn. She searched for helpful resources, including programs that keep the lights on. Today, the Laurel resident is making that process more accessible through Energize Delaware’s residential program. Bivens’ clients include people in apartments and homeowners who want to save money by conserving energy. One focus is on low-to-moderate-income individuals. Another is children. “I teach energy efficiency and green jobs because we need that workforce,” she explains. “Let’s start with the next generation.” Bivens, who calls herself a “unicorn” in the energy services field, encourages women of color to pursue jobs in the sector. “There is a great opportunity in energy efficiency.” The mother of four daughters manages the virtual program Girls Rock!, a subsidiary of Teens in Perspective that teaches leadership skills to girls 12 to 18. She also leads workshops on life goals and parenting for new and soon-to-be parents. In 2017, the active volunteer was named a local Jefferson Award recipient.
President and CEO, El Azteca Group
Hope Lopez grew up in the restaurant world. Now as president and CEO of El Azteca Group, which she opened in 2011 with a business partner, she’s fulfilling her family’s legacy. The group now operates four restaurants: two in Dover, one in Rehoboth Beach and one in Middletown. Lopez handles the creative side, creating a Mexican–meets–Tex-Mex food-and-drink menu at all four spaces. They’re now branching out of their comfort zone to work on 1857 Jackson House, a new restaurant in downtown Dover that will serve “elevated comfort food,” Lopez says. But Lopez doesn’t stop at food. She also created a line of clothing merchandise called Bad Hombre, which she sells at the restaurants. The brand has been used by a private beer label to create a brew for the eateries and now is being used by a tequila company to create a spirit El Azteca can mix into signature drinks. While Lopez takes on a lot in a day, she says she wouldn’t change anything. Her advice to those who want to enter hospitality? “Everything is possible,” she says.
Director of Marketing, Schell Brothers
After making a major midcareer shift, Alyssa Titus has thrived. She moved from running a wholesale apparel company to public relations, and is now the marketing director for Schell Brothers, a major homebuilder in Delaware. Titus, who was named national marketing director of the year by the National Association of Homebuilders in 2021, runs an in-house marketing department of about a dozen people in Delaware, Virginia and Tennessee. One of her big wins was helping brainstorm the idea for Schellville, the enormous free admission Christmas village near Milton, which attracted over 100,000 people last year. (She thinks it could double this year.) While Titus drew on personal business experience in her new career, she didn’t know much about marketing new homes and says she was basically reinventing herself. “I think I spent the first six months asking tons of questions,” she says, and that’s her advice for others. “Ask a lot of questions. Don’t pretend to know things.…The older I get, the more I realize it’s OK that you don’t know everything.”
Special Event Coordinator, Children & Families First
As a full-time event planner who volunteer coaches in her personal time, Steff DiMartine always has everything under control—almost always. During an on-camera pregame show in which she was honored as a 2022 Baltimore Orioles Birdland Community Hero, she learned the recognition came with a $5,000 donation made to Special Olympics Delaware on her behalf. “I cried through that whole interview because that was unexpected,” she says. The Wilmington native has also received the 2021 Governor’s Volunteer of the Year Award. She has raised $150,000 for Special Olympics over the last five years, and in her first year planning events for Children & Families First, she netted $70,000 for the organization’s April 2022 fundraiser. DiMartine wished she worked for the nonprofit, which serves 20,000 Delaware families annually, when she met 2-year-old Amber Benson with spina bifida at a bowling alley in 1993. “She bowled with such passion and spirit. If she could do it, I wanted to be a part of it too,” says DiMartine, citing the relationship as her inspiration to start volunteering. It was two decades before she started working in nonprofit event planning, though. “It’s where I should’ve been all along,” she admits. “I never do any of this for recognition. I do it to see the smiles and the difference that I make. A smile can change the world.”
Owner and Artist, LaFate Gallery
Growing up in Jamaica, Eunice LaFate was inspired by nature. At age 7, she picked up a paint brush—a decision that would bloom into a lifelong passion. She moved to Delaware in the 1980s and opened LaFate Gallery in 1993. The gallery began as a home business and opened as a brick-and-mortar space in downtown Wilmington in 2015. LaFate’s work, displayed on the gallery’s walls, takes on a variety of themes, from nature to women’s rights to social justice. “I take on social issues with my canvas,” the artist explains. She also offers the gallery space for workshops offering such topics as business to grieving to child care. While LaFate took hiatuses from painting throughout her career to focus on roles in education and banking, she always returned to her life’s work. As an advocate for the arts, LaFate aims to teach others about the value of art and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the art world. In September, her gallery celebrated its seventh anniversary. Through the ups and downs of being a business owner, LaFate says it’s important to have a vision, to believe in yourself and to never give up.
Legal Shareholder and President, Benvenuto restaurant
Lisa Johnson says her biggest successes are answered through prayer. Johnson is the legal shareholder and president of Benvenuto restaurant along with Sunset Cove, her primary residence, office and event space, in Milford. She says her connection to God helped her overcome every obstacle on the way to success. “I have learned to step back and say, ‘OK, God, if this is what you want us to do, just make the path straight. Show us everything and let us follow you. If it is not, close the door so we can’t go through it,’” she says. Johnson and her husband Poncho opened Benvenuto in February 2020 and were quickly shut down due to COVID-19 restrictions. Upon reopening, the restaurant saw great success with its approachable, contemporary Tuscan fare created by Chef Jesus Gordiany. Johnson, who also has a background in interior design, puts her touch on every venture, whether it’s Benvenuto’s Tuscany-themed dining rooms or Sunset Cove’s tropical resort flair. Sunset Cove began operating as an event space in June 2016, but has been used for nonprofit organization fundraisers since 2007. Through it all, Johnson says success can come to anyone with passion, determination and a philanthropic spirit. “There is a very important Scripture to remember: Luke 6:38—‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’ This is the way I strive to run my businesses and my life by,” Johnson says.
Executive Director, The Grand Opera House
Perhaps the only thing stronger than Pamelyn Manocchio’s ties to the arts (music has long been “a deep part of my life”), are her ties to her community. Leading Wilmington’s 151-year-old performing arts venue and nonprofit, The Grand, is especially rewarding when she runs into audience members, donors, board members and artists around town. “Talking to people who love the arts as much as I do…that’s probably the best part of the job,” she says. Manocchio has been with the organization since 2006 in various roles, developing programs like Summer in the Parks and sensory-friendly programming for kids with autism spectrum disorder. She took the helm when her predecessor retired in September. “I feel very fortunate to have inherited the staff that’s here and the attitude that we can overcome any challenges,” she says. Manocchio plans to continue to build a diverse program and offer more concert events for teens and young professionals, adding, “We say The Grand is for everyone, but I have a feeling that not everybody knows that yet.”
President and CEO, Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement
Sheila Bravo was comfortable in the corporate environment. She’d worked in brand marketing and oversaw a conglomerate’s household brands, including CorningWare, but travel was hard on the mother of two. When she switched to working for nonprofits, she figured: “I’ve run $400 million companies, it can’t be that hard—wow, did I learn!” Leading the Rehoboth Art League was hard work, but she relished people’s passion for a nonprofit’s mission. While earning a doctorate in organizational leadership, focusing on nonprofit board performance, she became involved with Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement, or DANA. She joined the board, and when the CEO position opened, she thought, This is a nice combination of all the things I’ve done. Bravo says a growing number of women are now leading nonprofits and serving on boards. Success requires good management, leadership and communication skills—plus an understanding of financial management, board governance, and government relations and advocacy. “The more people know about the good work your organization is doing,” she says, “the more support you can generate.”
Director of Organizational Culture & Communications, L&W Insurance
Chelsea Clark’s career path has been uncharted. She “stumbled backward” into the insurance industry 17 years ago, and then last year—as a fixture at L&W Insurance agency—shaped a new position in which she oversees community engagement, internal culture and marketing. Among her charges is providing “awareness and encouragement” for 38 employees’ volunteer work and ensuring their support reaches all Delaware counties equally. “If we’re a small business operating and serving a community and we don’t get engaged in that community, then we’re not doing the best that we can,” she says. The role was a natural fit for Clark, an active volunteer outside the office. “One fed the other,” says the University of Delaware alumna, who contributes her free time to Gals That Give, the WRK Group, Leadership Delaware and Spur Impact as a board member. She credits co-workers and fellow volunteers as her support system. “Avoid being the smartest person at the table,” she advises. “Because, honestly, growth happens where compromise exists.”
President, Rehoboth and Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce
As the go-to voice of Rehoboth Beach, Carol Everhart gets a lot of questions. “Everything from ‘How do you use the parking meters?’ to ‘Where is the beach?’ she says, laughing. “You never know what you’re going to get.” However, there was one thing she could consistently count on: no beach tourism after Labor Day. “Years ago, we used to line Rehoboth Avenue with signs that said, ‘We’ll miss you’ and ‘See you next summer’ as people drove out,” she says. “There was nothing else going on.” That’s why in 1989, after being tasked with bringing people to town long after the Funland Sea Dragon made its last voyage, she organized the first Sea Witch Festival. Only 5,000 people came. “I felt like a failure,” says Everhart, who thought she’d be fired. But then a chamber board member stopped her on the street to say he couldn’t believe the success. “I said, ‘You’re happy?’” she recalls. “I was shocked.” Today, Sea Witch draws about 200,000 visitors over three days each year. “You can do worse than have a job that helps makes people happy,” Everhart says. “And it doesn’t hurt [that] I get to do it near the ocean.”
Owner, Zen Spa Fenwick
Stacey Wetzstein spent the first 20 years of her career in corporate banking, which she found safe but soul-crushing. “When I was about to turn 40, I thought, I can’t do this anymore,” recalls the Sussex County resident. She’d always had an interest in massage and skin care—“When my friends were clubbing in our 20s, I was spending all my money on eye cream and moisturizers,” she jokes, also noting the early influence of her grandmother, whose meticulous skin care regimen and impeccable complexion she remembers well—so Wetzstein decided to get her massage license and go to work at a local spa. Right away she knew she’d found her passion, and a few years in, she entertained the idea of opening her own spa. With her husband’s cajoling, on 11/11/11, she opened Zen Spa Fenwick, a full-service day spa and salon. You won’t find Wetzstein behind a desk giving orders, though—she prefers to be in the treatment room, helping clients unwind and destress, which has been especially meaningful during the pandemic. Her advice to those considering a career change: “If your gut is telling you to honor a different path, try it. If it doesn’t work, go back to what you know. At least you will have given it a shot and won’t have to live with, ‘What if?’”
Ketanya Moore’s family home burned down when she was a child, and she spent some time in a homeless shelter. That experience helped motivate her to make a difference in people’s lives.
Today she runs Community Inspired Actions, a nonprofit she founded with her husband Robert that helps young adults and families, with a special focus on young people aging out of the foster care system. She’s also launched a successful career as a Realtor with Linda Vista Real Estate Services. Moore, who lives in Georgetown, started her real estate journey in March 2021 during the pandemic, and estimates she garnered more than $3 million in sales her first year. She sees her Realtor job as another way to do community advocacy, as she helps families who think there’s no way they could buy their own home. “I love being able to educate, provide resources and then ultimately help them in that journey of homeownership,” she says.
When Jocelyn Pugh was 5, her kindergarten teacher asked what she wanted to do when she grew up. The young student already knew: “I want to be lawyer,” she said. Pugh achieved that dream and more. She’s been a lawyer for about six years, and in 2021 she also founded a business with her mother called ShiningPro Cleaning Services, which services residential and commercial clients in northern Delaware. “I always wanted to be more than an attorney,” Pugh says. “Helping people, that’s what I like to do as an attorney, but that’s also what I like to do as an entrepreneur.”
To achieve her dreams, she had hurdles to overcome. She had never met a Black lawyer, or any lawyer, who could serve as an example to follow, and lacked the family connections other students had. But she persevered, and later served as a mentor to other aspiring lawyers of color. “It was really, really important for me to give back,” she says.
Vice President of Corporate Governance, Chesapeake Utilities
In her role, Stacie Roberts prides herself in helping guide the company’s leadership team, whom she’s led to multiple awards over the past 16 years. With 20 years in the industry, she especially loves mentoring and watching employees grow. “If I can contribute to one stepping stone or milestone in their life’s journey, that is a real privilege,” says Roberts, who also counsels women in corporate leadership to “be authentic leaders, know their priorities, be open to improvement and learning new skills, and enjoy the journey.” She also focuses on those with special needs, sponsoring the company’s DiverseAbilities Employee Resource Group. She’s active outside the company as well, serving on the board of the employment committee for the Arc of Delaware, for example, which advocates for involving people with disabilities in community life.
Bettina Tweardy Riveros, J.D.
Chief Health Equity Officer, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Community Engagement, ChristianaCare
The intersection of law and medicine is where Bettina Tweardy Riveros, J.D., thrives. Having worked for the Carper and Markell administrations, she’s made health equity a focus of her career. She helped implement the Affordable Care Act in Delaware and was appointed chair of the Delaware Health Care Commission by Gov. Markell. When ChristianaCare created the chief health equity officer position, Riveros says she was honored to take on the title. “I was interested in the role as as a seamless continuation of the work to advance access to affordable, high-quality health care for every Delawarean,” she says. “A commitment to health equity is a commitment to ensuring that everyone can attain their full potential for health and well-being, and no one is disadvantaged from achieving this potential because of social position or other socially determined circumstances.” Riveros continues to use her voice to improve health care policies on the federal, state and local levels across the four states ChristianaCare serves. “Simply believe in yourself as strong and smart and capable,” she says. “With a commitment to hard work, discipline and passion, you can accomplish great things and serve others and our entire community.”
Owner, Crab Cravers Food Truck
For Yolanda Parson, the success of her Crab Cravers food truck in Wilmington is about more than just the secret spice—although she does have that. She credits her connection with customers and the quality of her food for the quick popularity of her business, which started in 2020. “I’m a people person,” she says, relating to her customers and having conversations as she serves them top-notch crabs. “I’ll make you want to come back.” Parson is confident about the crabs, flavored with a secret spice developed from Old Bay seasoning and a family recipe with her own twist. What made her unique in the area was a quality crab, she says. It’s like the difference between fast food and a steakhouse—her version is the steakhouse, she clarifies with a laugh. She got lots of advice that she should expand her offerings early on, she says, but she didn’t want to rush. Now she does sell shrimp and other seafood, and hopes to open a sit-down restaurant someday.
Partner, Albero, Kupferman & Associates CPAs
Renee Villano isn’t a counselor, but as a CPA catering to business clients, she’s felt like one lately. “More than ever, it’s a lot more listening, as employers are not only worried about themselves and their families but also how to do right by their employees,” she says. Community-minded at heart, Villano also has a nonprofit niche. “These executive directors are so passionate about their organizations,” she says, “and they look at their accounting from a totally different perspective than my for-profit businesses clients. For-profit clients see their money as their livelihood; nonprofits ask questions about their money like, ‘How can I best safeguard this to protect our mission?’” A mission close to Villano’s heart is Girls Inc., for which she serves on the board. “I hope to give girls courage and confidence early on, so they see their paths clearly,” she says. As someone who also benefited from female mentors, Villano hopes the next gen of businesswomen find their own circle of trusted women and keep it. “I find [that] women mentors offer a nurturing, holistic approach,” she says.
Executive Director, Housing Alliance Delaware
Rachel Stucker has a passion for ending homelessness, advancing housing opportunities, and promoting strong and vibrant communities. “What keeps me going… is that I really, truly believe [the housing crisis] actually could be solved,” she says. “On any given night, for example, in Delaware…there are between 1,500 to 2,000 people, including children, who are homeless, whether they’re sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter somewhere.…I refuse to just accept that.” When she was a graduate student at UD, Stucker began working with the Homeless Planning Council, which later merged with another nonprofit to become the Housing Alliance Delaware. Stucker and her team of 16 operate a homelessness hotline (1-833-FIND-BED) and provide direct services to the state’s homeless population, among other duties. Their funding application also brings in about $9 million annually for homeless services.
Debra Mason, Ph.D.
Deputy Executive Director, Wilmington Hope Commission
Debra Mason, Ph.D., helps men on probation re-enter society after time in prison. This can be an incredibly difficult adjustment for many, especially those who lack support systems and resources to help them get back on their feet, she says. Mason, who is also an adjunct professor at Wilmington University, prides herself on being able to find these resources and bring them to the people she serves. These services include case management, medical care for physical and mental health, and assistance with finding housing or jobs. She has even found resources in the community to help some men start their own business, learn how to build good credit, get their GEDs and more. “They’re talented, motivated, amazing people, but [people] label them and write them off,” Mason explains. “They’re human beings that made a mistake. But they deserve a second chance.”
Director, Georgetown Public Library
Rachel Culver is her own best customer. As a newcomer to library administration—she was assistant director at Georgetown Public Library in fall 2020 and stepped up to director five months later—she is always learning. “That’s what libraries are for, right?” the University of Delaware graduate and current president of the Delaware Library Association points out. “I don’t come into this job or any job thinking I know all the answers,” she says. “So I’ve been blessed and lucky to be able to ask questions, attend meetings and learn a lot about the industry and how to help people.” Culver’s library has 45,000 people coming through its doors annually, and she oversees everything from watering the flowers and securing a six-figure grant that will upgrade a 12-year-old HVAC system to planning events like the annual Summer Reading Kick-Off Party at Sandhill Fields. Her next objective is to build out a room for teens. “We’re offering the programs now. It’d be nice to have a designated space for them,” she says.
Jackie-Joe B. Lindo, DNP, APRN, NP-C
Jackie-Joe B. Lindo’s patients come first. The owner of Lindo Family Health & Wellness Care in Wilmington saw a need in her community for more primary care facilities that were attentive to patients’ whole being. Lindo created an integrative model that brings together a primary care with wellness. This allows patients to come in for their yearly physical while also trying out holistic salt therapy or anti-aging services. Lindo continues to commit to her patients by going back to school to become a physician. She’s enrolled in classes at American University of Antigua College of Medicine and will return to her practice on a per diem basis when she’s not studying in the Caribbean. Lindo says her background as a nurse will be to her advantage as a doctor since she’s used to advocating for her patients and bringing compassion to the bedside. While juggling it all brings challenges, she says the support of her team and family keeps her going. “I felt a strong need, that gnawing feeling in the gut that I had to go for it, so I’m doing it,” she says.
Executive Vice President, Chief Nursing Executive and Patient Operations Officer, Nemours Children’s Health, Delaware Valley
Jane Mericle has worked in the medical field for almost 45 years, both as a nurse and administrator. So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she was able to draw on that experience to lead a staff of more than 2,000 in the Nemours health system through the crisis. “It brought us challenges, but it also made very apparent what high-functioning teams can do,” she says. It required flexibility and communication, because instead of having months to put procedures in place, they had to adjust in a day or two. Mericle has a servant-leadership philosophy: She wants to develop leaders under her to do their jobs. And she’s committed to supporting staff, to the point of coming in regularly at 3 a.m. for Java with Jane, a meeting with night staff over coffee and cookies. Even as a girl, Mericle was drawn to the medical profession, and recalls, “It was a privilege to work with kids, families, the team on this mission…so I’ve been very blessed.”
Senior Vice President, Chief Retail Lending Officer, WSFS Bank
It’s not surprising that Candice Caruso possesses a business mindset. Her grandfather invented the steam hair curlers that ruled the 1990s infomercial scene, and her father oversaw the product’s manufacturing. Her mother was a salon owner until the coronavirus pandemic, and now she runs a home health care practice. Caruso, meanwhile, was 17 when she joined an actuarial firm, where she remained for seven years while earning a degree in marketing with a management minor. She also worked part time at Hollywood Video and Manhattan Bagel. “I was always a hard, diligent worker—always interested in being independent,” she says. Finance came naturally to the Philadelphia-area native, whose job with a management and marketing consultancy firm brought her to Delaware. In 2014, she became a partner in Pango Financial, which helps businesses find funding, and she formed a relationship with WSFS. In 2018, she became the bank’s director of government guaranteed lending. The fintech expert, who’s been featured on Bloomberg Radio and in The Wall Street Journal, always seeks to “lift other women in business,” she says. “I feel rewarded by seeing others succeed.” Her advice to young women? “Network and build relationships,” she suggests. “Understand your worth…and make sure you advocate for yourself.”
Owner, BTS Enterprises Inc.
When Greta Colgan was 4, she rigged a paper clip cord for her toy phone in the hope of getting a dial tone from the wall. Her aptitude for technology has since steered her through a trailblazing career. She was in the first coed graduating class at Lehigh University in 1980 and was “the only woman in the room” as an application engineer with Hewlett Packard and the U.S. Navy, she remembers. In 2006, when Colgan’s peers were eyeing retirement, she entertained entrepreneurship. She leads BTS, providing tech solutions for homeowners, businesses and government agencies such as New Castle County Police and Cecil County emergency operations. Her small-yet-mighty firm focuses on problem-solving and mentorship. “We act as a family and we care about our clients’ homes and treat them like our own,” she says. Something she wants younger women to know: “Those of us who opened the doors are here to teach and mentor,” Colgan says. “Seek us out.”