There’s something special to be said about women who empower fellow females rather than tear them down.
For one organization — the YWCA — promoting integrity, diversity and inclusivity among women has been its mission since its early days in 1858.
Currently, more than 2 million people participate in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States, including the YWCA of Bucks County, headquartered at 2425 Trevose Road, Trevose.
To celebrate its 160-year-old mission, the local chapter hosted its 28th annual Salute to Women Who Make a Difference awards gala on May 16 at Ivyland’s Spring Mill Manor, where 16 women from across Bucks County were honored for achievements in a variety of categories.
One of the honorees was Bensalem’s Theresa Conejo, a registered nurse at Philadelphia’s Nazareth Hospital, who was named the YWCA of Bucks County’s Advocacy and Civic Engagement award recipient. The distinction recognized Conejo for her work with the YWCA and history of strong civic engagement and leadership as a grassroots mobilizer.
“I was very proud to be among such a distinguished group of women. It was really thrilling. They had past recipients there, and then the other 15 women that were up there with me, it was an honor, one that I really cherish,” Conejo said after the event. “It was so cool because a lot of the women who got awards with me were actually friends of mine in the community. They’re doing their part in other ways, so it was nice to be honored with them.”
Conejo was nominated for the award by the Bucks County Human Relations Council, a Richboro-based nonprofit that has been addressing local discrimination since 1996. The letter submitted was one of 16 selected by a YWCA nomination committee. When Kristin Chaplin, YWCA of Bucks County’s associate director, called Conejo to see if she’d accept the award, the nurse happily obliged.
For Conejo, YWCA involvement began in 2007 when she inquired about ESL classes for a friend at Bucks Meadow Apartments, 3131 Knights Road, Bensalem, where the organization houses a Family Center. Here, low-income families can take advantage of everything from homework zones and teen groups to resume writing and foster care recruitment. When the instructor asked Conejo if she’d like to volunteer on her day off from work, she agreed without hesitation.
“It was great. I got to meet a lot of wonderful women over there,” she said. “I made a lot of friends there who I still remain friends with.”
Over the years, Conejo became more involved, participating in YWCA’s health fairs and cultural events, in addition to hosting a session of TechGYRLS, a 12-week exploration of technology for elementary and middle school girls.
“I brought the group to my place of employment and they got an actual tour of how our IT program worked,” she said. “They got to see behind-the-scenes of a hospital, how that was run as far as technology. So it was a nice experience for the girls.”
When Conejo isn’t donating her time to the YWCA, she can usually be found around Bucks advocating for residents.
“I just feel that promoting better life in the community is important, both in political and nonpolitical processes. When people are engaged and they have a meaningful role in the discussion and decision-making in projects that affect them, that makes for a better community, a stronger community,” she said. “You need to develop leadership, form relationships, bring people together, thoughts and ideas together. That’s the way we make change.”
As a member of Mercy Health System’s advocacy team, Conejo helped pass Senate Bill 115, which mandates that all high school students be trained in CPR as a graduation requirement. The bill is on its way to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk to be signed.
Conejo’s work also includes representing the Breathe Free Pennsylvania Coalition, serving on numerous national committees for the American Heart Association, promoting the importance of voting in elections, and launching a diversity committee at Nazareth, where she is studying the community’s ever-changing demographics and how the hospital can better serve them.
Though Conejo never expects any fame and glory for her efforts, she said it’s always an honor when organizations like the YWCA take notice.
Among the other Salute to Women recipients were Penn Community Bank employees Kirsten Palmieri and Jessica Sweeney, who were recognized in the category of Corporate Social Responsibility for their leadership of the bank’s annual campaign for United Way of Bucks County. In 2018, the pair led more than 325 team members to raise $58,855.50 for United Way, with the funds supporting the organization’s programming and community partners such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Bucks County, NOVA and Welcoming the Stranger.
“The Salute to Women Who Make a Difference recognizes women in Bucks County who are making exceptional contributions to their businesses, organizations and communities,” said YWCA executive director Guillaume Stewart. “Through this inspiring and empowering annual event, the YWCA has honored hundreds of women over the years, while raising much-needed funds to support our mission of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.” ••
Visit ywcabucks.org for information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org