Words That Activate Change: Featuring Vanessa Philbert

The Lancaster Chamber strives to provide opportunity for local business and community leaders to share their insight and perspective on a variety of current topics.

This Words That Activate Change series is focused on uplifting voices in our community that encourage dialogue, cultivate transformation, offer thought-provoking ideas, and challenge all of us to be better, be stronger, and, most importantly, be advocates for systemic change within both our community and our workforce.

Our fifteenth article is by Vanessa Philbert, Chief Executive Officer for the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County. Vanessa has been engaged in community-building and non-profit work for the past 20 years. At CAP, she provides leadership, management and vision to the variety of CAP programs and leads community initiatives. Her work at CAP is grounded in a commitment to transform generational poverty into economic prosperity so that all can thrive. Vanessa brings a unique perspective to community problem-solving and economic justice work based on her personal experiences and journey out of poverty. She holds a Masters in Strategic Leadership and Organizational Development from Elizabethtown College and a Bachelors in Applied Psychology and Organizational Development from Albright College.

The Pathway To Prosperity

By Vanessa Philbert

In my life and in my work, I see people who I know are juggling so many of life’s demands. I see them and I know that they have dreams and aspirations, even if those dreams are buried under weight of their present-day burdens. I see people with their grit and resilience on full display. Often these people are women, waiting in the lobby to access support for their families before work begins or on their lunch break. These moments remind me that in Lancaster County, women make up the largest demographic group living in poverty and not just women but their children (singled headed households).

These living portraits remind me of the powerful and resilient women who made a way for me. When I walk in and out those doors, I see my mother. A woman who did everything she knew how to do to provide for our family. She forfeited her dreams to invest in ours, a woman who was tired most days but kept going, nonetheless. I see my Abuela (grandmother) traveling from the island of Puerto Rico with her husband and children to a place she believed was filled with promise and potential. As she secured a home in the low-income housing project in Red-hook Brooklyn, she had to learn to navigate through a new environment and new language. My abuela was never given the opportunity to learn to read or write and even when she left us at the age of 96, her signature was a precise cross she had mastered. I see my sister, who worked full-time at Legal Services on her journey to become an attorney. A place where I spent so much time—observing, helping when I could. I would file and answer calls from low-income neighbors trying desperately to hold on to their housing. There is so much power in our willingness to honor those who created a path for us. I was recently struck by a quote from Oprah Winfrey that said, “Because they were the seed, I get to be the fruit.”

As I continue to navigate my own path, I hold in high regard the lessons learned, lessons which have illuminated the way. What I know to be true is that we all long for “prosperity.” By definition the term means the condition of being successful or thriving. If we can all hold up this shared hope, we also have to recognize that for some of us, access to this pathway comes with challenges and obstacles; some of which were designed hundreds of years ago, which leave us fatigued and sometimes disillusioned. My family was committed to embarking on this journey. They sacrificed, they stretched, they fell down and they got back up because they knew the weight of the journey was too heavy to pass on to the next generation. Even when things out of their control created turbulence; the color of their skin or their native tongue—they persisted towards the opportunity to thrive.

My abuela would often remind us in times of challenge and disappointment to keep forging forward—she would just say “Palante!” which means go forward. One word would ground and reset our course. As we continue to grapple with the realities of 2021 how can you help to establish a new, shared and equitable pathway to prosperity—how can we go forward?

Here are a few reflections:

  • Start by reflecting on your journey.
  • Be curious about the journey of others, especially those who are different from you.
  • Be willing to acknowledge the disparity that exists.
  • Be a champion for change even if you are not the beneficiary.

Maya Angelou wrote a beautiful poem called “To Our Grandmothers” which I thought was a fitting way to close my reflection. The quote is more than an encouragement, it’s a call to action. It says, “I come as ONE but I stand for ten thousand.” May we all see the path to prosperity as holy ground—a place where we represent all those who have come before us and those coming behind us, a path where a beautiful exchange of hope and wholeness moves from one generation to the next.

Catch up on other articles in the series: 

Article 1: Diversity Education & Workforce Development by Dr. Daniel Wubah

Article 2: Celebrating Diversity & Fostering Community by Deepa Balepur 

Article 3: Beyond Pride Month: Celebrating LGBTQ Communities by Todd Snovel

Article 4: Paying The Cost – Learning About Racism And A Call For Business To Invest In Its Eradication by Kevin Ressler

Article 5: My Company Performed Diversity Training. Now What? by Jennifer Craighead Carey

Article 6: Leadership as Confession, Humility, and the Courage to Act by Andy Dula

Article 7: A Call To Advocate For Better Inclusion Of People With Disabilities by Bill Kepner

Article 8: A Taste Of Community And Diversity by Cinthia Kettering 

Article 9: Supporting Sustainable & Local Business During An Uncertain Time by Timbrel Chyatee

Article 10: Creatively Serving our Aging Community By Larry Zook

Article 11: Inspired Knowledge by Vic Rodgers

Article 12: The Veterans Among Us: The Value They Can Bring To Organizations by Brigadier General David E. Wood

Article 13: Fostering An Inclusive Work Environment by Alexandra Jorgensen

Article 14: How To Build A Welcoming Image by By Heidi Castillo and Olé Hongvanthong

Stay tuned for even more perspectives this year as we hear from a variety of local business and community leaders sharing insightful commentary on our society, our community, and our workforce.