Women Leading the 175th

Women Leading the 175th
Women Leading the 175th
Women Leading the 175th

In honor of Women’s History Month, Representative Mary Isaacson has launched the annual Women Leading the 175th recognition program, a program that recognizes and honors the impact women are making across the 175th legislative district. Each of the 2021 inaugural honorees of Women Leading the 175th has been chosen due to the actions she has taken in shaping the future of our neighborhoods and our great City. Each honoree has received a Pennsylvania House of Representative citation formally celebrating each of their contributions. When it is safe to gather again and in future years, Rep. Mary Isaacson plans to make this program a public event that all constituents can participate in.

It is important to recognize and celebrate the outstanding contributions to history made by women in our communities. Remember the words of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who inspires and challenges us daily to “fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

Rep. Isaacson stands in thanks, appreciation and gratitude for their efforts and lasting contribution to their Community, the Commonwealth and all around the world. She hopes each woman inspires future generations of women leaders to both celebrate and treasure their history, but to also make their own.

Jill Betters

Jill Betters has lived in Fishtown since 2007 and has held leadership roles with the local civic association, advocacy groups and charitable organizations. Currently she sits on Penn Treaty Special Services District board and is a Vice-Chair with the local Philadelphia Democratic Committee organization. Jill spent several years on the board of Fishtown Neighbors Association and continues to help her neighbors connect with each other and about neighborhood issues through social media groups. Jill is passionate about planting trees locally with Philly Tree People, where she has been volunteering for nearly 10 years, and increasing neighbor civic engagement through get out the vote and voter education efforts.

Jill holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Villanova University and is in a strategy role with CertainTeed, a building products manufacturer based in Malvern, Pa.

Tori Engelstad

Tori Engelstad has lived in Philadelphia and the East Kensington neighborhood for 10 years. She works for the City of Philadelphia as a Housing Development Officer for the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, contributing to new and preserved affordable housing development across the city. In East Kensington, she serves as the President of the East Kensington Neighbors Association where she works alongside her neighbors building the community step by step by being a voice for her neighbors who need help, preserving historic buildings in her neighborhood, and supporting local businesses. In her spare time, she loves to care for her indoor plants, eat local cheese, and go to Penn Treaty Park with her boyfriend Matt and dog Bruce.

Lauren Rinaldi

Lauren Rinaldi (b. 1983, Brooklyn, NY) is an artist living and working in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia. She studied painting and drawing at Tyler School of Art of Temple University, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Art in 2006. Since then, her work, which focuses on feminist themes and empowering women, has been exhibited extensively in shows throughout Philadelphia and the United States. In addition to her active studio practice, Lauren is a mother, a yoga teacher, and serves as a Democratic Committee Person in the 18th Ward.

Kae Anderson

Originally from Allentown, Kae Anderson relocated to the Fishtown neighborhood after graduating from Haverford College and has called the 175th District home for over 8 years. Drawn to the area by the local art and vibrant music scene, Kae’s favorite neighborhood stomping grounds include The Saint Lazarus bar, Kosta’s, The Barbary, Johnny Brenda’s, HGB Artist Supplies, and the Fillmore. Kae began working at New Kensington CDC in 2013 and started working directly with the local businesses to understand city regulations, organize together, and advocate for the future of the neighborhood. Kae's passion for cooperative economics led her to join the Kensington Community Food Coop Board of Directors in 2015. The community-owned grocery store opened in April 2019, while Kae was serving as Board President. In 2019, Kae worked closely with consultant Renee Gilinger of Business Corridor Solutions to form the new Fishtown Kensington Business Improvement District where she now works as the Director of Operations.

In addition to her work with the Fishtown District, Kae also owns Phant Productions, a media production, music publishing, small business consulting, and event curation firm specializing in the business behind the creative industries.
Find Kae on Instagram at @PhantPhilly or every Wednesday from 8-9 a.m. on WWDB 860AM for Find it In Fishtown Live.

Julie Slavet

Julie Slavet has 40 years of experience in building organizations and serving communities. Born in Boston, she moved to the Philadelphia area and has considered Philly home since 1995.

She became the Executive Director of the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership in 2011, after serving as the District Director for Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz for 6 years, leading constituent services and outreach efforts in a district of 650,000 constituents in Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia. She previously led the Eastern Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce for five years.

Julie has worked at city and state levels of government and for a range of non-profit organizations including the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Boston Community Schools and Office of Energy Conservation, and the Conference on Alternative State and Local Policies. She earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies from Smith College and an M.S. in Public Affairs from the University of Massachusetts. A founder of Indivisible PHL, she has served as leadership for the Jenkintown Community Alliance, Montgomery County Democratic Women’s Leadership Initiative, Hiway Theatre, and Jenkintown Library. She is a Democratic Committeeperson in Philadelphia’s Fifth Ward and serves on the Board of Directors of the Fund for the Fairmount Water Works.

Julie has been married for 35 years to John Walber and is the proud mother of Daniel Slavet Walber and Elizabeth Adeline Slavet Walber.

Murielle McCarthy

Murielle McCarthy moved to Philadelphia with her husband, Scott, in 2016. Murielle was motivated to become politically active after reading Daring Democracy by Adam Eichen and Frances Moore Lappe and hearing Michael Pollack, co-founder of March On Harrisburg, talk about the state of our democracy in Pennsylvania. Now she works with March on Harrisburg, which fights corruption in state government, and with Protect Our Vote Philly, which fights for clean elections in Philadelphia.

She said of her experience, "These groups have shown me that we all can take action that makes a difference when you join a cause that motivates you. I aligned with people I respect and who modeled to me that my voice matters, and that I don't have to be afraid to call out misdeeds and go to the root of the problems and even risk arrest to do that. It's been a learning curve - not only about how our government operates and the various ways it fails to function - but also about how to personally deal with the ups and downs when we advocate for democracy. When it seems overwhelmingly difficult, I remind myself that people came before me and who are currently changing things for the better in demonstrable ways. If they could do it, so can I. With enough of us, we can create a government that makes life better for everyone. It's up to us to decide if we want to be part of that change."

When not working to improve our government, Murielle composes and plays music for guitar, flute, and piano.

March on Harrisburg: https://www.mohpa.org

Protect Our Vote Philly: http://povphilly.org

Murielle's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCA1kD6_MbGQSzpTcrC9EmNA

Karina Gareginovna Ambartsoumian-Clough

Karina Gareginovna Ambartsoumian-Clough, born of Armenian descent in the former USSR, has been stateless since she was eight. In 2017, she helped found United Stateless and now leads the organization, aiming to build and inspire community and human rights advocacy among those affected by statelessness.

Anna Perng

Anna Perng is a disabled Asian American advocate. Throughout her education, she struggled with selective mutism, but did not receive support due to lack of language access for her immigrant parents. Anna served on the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team, the Administration, and was her agency's designee to the White House Interagency Council on Women and Girls. When Anna became a parent to two wonderful children with multiple disabilities, a local community health clinic asked her to help establish a safety net for immigrants with disabilities. For the past 5 years, Anna has organized the Chinatown Disability Advocacy Project, to help teach families in the Greater Philadelphia area about their civil rights and empower them to advocate for change. In 2017, Anna joined the Executive Advisory Committee for a project funded by Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to promote community inclusion. This national project received a second two-year award, starting in 2020. Anna is proud to serve as the project’s Senior Advisor on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. During the pandemic, Anna founded the grassroots Philadelphia COVID-19 Health Equity Coalition to connect health providers and diverse communities to promote vaccine equity.

Claire Robin Adler

Claire Robin Adler is the President of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. She joined the board in 2018 and was elected its President in the spring of 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. In that time, she has helped guide neighbors through the pandemic, connecting Northern Liberties neighbors to city and state guidance and resources. She will be graduating from Temple University in May of 2021 with a master’s in City and Regional Planning and a focus on transportation planning. She hopes to use her education to continue to advocate for and improve quality of life for all those who live in, work in, and visit Northern Liberties. She is also a cheese expert having received her Cheese Professional certification in 2017.

Eleanor Ingersoll

Eleanor Ingersoll is President of the Queen Village Neighbors Association, holding this position since 2017 and serving as a Board Director since 2014. In addition, she chairs the Community Council for Interstate Management and serves on the Board of Directors of the Interstate Land Management Corporation, as well as a committee member for the city’s Historical Bethel Burying Ground Memorial site, located in Queen Village. In each of these roles, Eleanor advocates for the interests of residents as she engages with politicians, agency officials, and police leaders at both the state and city levels.

As a community leader, Eleanor champions civic engagement, hosting public meetings that connect neighbors to governmental and business influencers on important issues that impact residential quality of life.

Eleanor’s eight-year career in broadcast news with NBC, CBS and PBS affiliates transitioned to that of community volunteer and leader when her children entered elementary school. Joining the school’s Home & School Association, she focused on fundraising for student programs. As Chair of Meredith Elementary School Advisory Council, she advocated for collaboration amongst student programming and instruction as well as the needs of instructors and staff. Soon she joined the Friends of Weccacoe Playground to work with parents and the Department of Parks and Recreation to plan and carry out a completely new and more physically accessible playground. Within two years, Eleanor joined and then led Queen Village Neighbors Association’s School and Youth Committee and identified the need for free summer programming. In 2014, as both Committee Chair and Board Director, Eleanor co-founded the Summer at Courtyard Learning Enrichment Program for Kids 5-11. Over the past six years, this program has touched the lives and improved the reading and computer skills of more than 160 children.

A lifelong Philadelphian, Eleanor moved to Queen Village two decades ago and met her now husband on the street where she lived. Today, her family has grown to five, she’s scouting colleges with her eldest daughter, and her commitment to the Queen Village community has never been stronger.

Jeannine A. Cook

Jeannine A. Cook, shopkeeper of Harriett’s Bookshop, for the last 10 years worked as a trusted writer for several startups, corporations, non-profits, influencers, and most recently herself.

In addition to holding a master’s degree from The University of the Arts, Jeannine is also a Leeway Art & Transformation grantee and winner of the South Philly Review Difference Maker and the PACDC Awards.

Jeannine’s work has been recognized by several national and international news outlets including the New York Times, CNN, Oprah Magazine, BET, and Forbes. She is a proud educator and mother with 8 years of teaching creative writing in alternative schools and on city blocks.

Jeannine writes about the complex intersections of motherhood, activism, and the arts and aims to amplify the voices of women authors, artists, and activists through her work now and into the future

Cecilia Moy Yep

Cecilia Moy Yep was born and raised in Philadelphia and has lived in Chinatown most of her life. She attended St. John's School, and later graduated from Holy Redeemer School. In 1947, she graduated from the John W. Hallahan High School. Cecilia began her career at Curriculum Materials where she was a film librarian for 10 years. She has served on many of Philadelphia’s civic organizations.

In 1966, when the Holy Redeemer Church and School were scheduled for demolition for the Vine Street Expressway, Cecilia realized the irreparable damage this would do to the community. She formed a grassroots advocacy group which later incorporated into the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC). The organization's mission was successful as the School and Church still thrive as a very integral part of the community. PCDC, as an organization, has continued to serve and represent the community in matters of urban renewal and community development for the past 45 years.

In 1976, Ms. Yep became the Executive Director of PCDC and was responsible for 235 units of new residential and commercial development in the Chinatown community. Her last development, Hing Wah Yuen, received the national Maxwell Award from the Fannie Mae Foundation for excellence in community development. Among her many projects is the China Friendship Gate, an internationally known project and landmark, erected at 10th and Arch Streets. Although formally retired as Director Emeritus of PCDC, she continues to serve on the Board and many of its committees.

In 1987, she co-founded the Asian American Women’s Coalition (AAWC), an organization dedicated to the advancement of Asian American women through leadership and mutual support. AAWC honored her by establishing a scholarship in her name. The scholarship program raises funds to assist needy Asian American female high school students to pursue their educational goals. This past year the program celebrated its 25th Anniversary and AAWC was successful in assisting 100 Asian female high school students to continue in their educational endeavors.

She was appointed to the first Women's Commission by Mayor Green and reappointed by Mayor Goode. She was appointed to the Nominating Committee for the School Board by Mayor Rendell and subsequently by Mayor Street. Other appointments by Mayor Street were the Transition Housing Task Force, the 21st Century Economic Development Summit and the Philadelphia Advisory Gaming Task Force.

Besides her involvement in community, at PCDC and AAWC, she also serves on the Board of On Lok House for the elderly, as Vice-President. Other civic boards she serves on are the Urban Affairs Coalition (UAC) and its Executive Committee, the Community Advisory Board of PNC Bank, and recently was a trustee for The Philadelphia Award.

She has received numerous awards and was especially proud when, in 1994, she received an honorary degree from Community College of Philadelphia. In 2000, the College presented her with their first Civic Investment Award. Another highlight was in 1996, when the Archdiocese inducted her into the Archdiocesan Hall of Fame for Distinguished Students. She was honored by her Alma Mater, the John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School when they entered her into their Hall of Fame. Among her many accolades is the coveted and prestigious Philadelphia Award.

Cecilia Moy Yep still resides in Chinatown. Although she is still actively involved in community events, she makes time for family. She has three grown children, who she is extremely proud of, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Rachel Mak

Rachel Mak is a nonprofit leader with a passion for meeting the needs of low-income community members in Philadelphia, particularly in Asian American immigrant communities. Rachel is focused on mentoring the next generation of leaders and building the capacity of nonprofits to serve the community for years to come. Rachel was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to the U.S. in 1973. For the past 10 years, she has worked as the Deputy Director at the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), where she helped to build and cultivate programs for housing, small business, youth, families, and seniors. During her tenure, she has helped to double the agency’s revenue streams, staffing, and programs. She also builds coalitions between organizations serving AAPI and immigrant communities. Under Rachel’s tenure and oversight, programs that have flourished include housing counseling, family services, commercial corridor, and OST (out-of-school-time). Rachel provides HUD compliance oversight for PCDC’s housing counseling program, the Chinatown Homeownership Initiative, and administers and supports PCDC’s OST youth program sponsored by the Department of Human Services. Prior to joining PCDC, Rachel was an internal auditor for a financial corporation and for more than 10 years owned and ran a small business. Rachel holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Drexel University and is certified as a Housing Program Manager by the NeighborWorks Training Institute and a HUD certified housing counselor. Outside of the office, Rachel enjoys gardening, quilting, crocheting, and travel.

Carol Wong

Carol Wong is the Executive Director of the Chinatown Learning Center It’s a Keystone Star 4 high quality bilingual preschool and after-school facility that she founded over 27 years ago. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Education from Pennsylvania State University. In addition, Carol received a master’s degree in Early Childhood Education and Director’s Credential Certificate from West Chester University. She also completed a Business Certificate from the government through the Small Business Administration.

As a Philadelphia-area resident for many years, the Philadelphia community is a crucial part of Carol's life. Over time, Carol has served on many boards including:

  •  Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs for 2 terms
  •  Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), which addresses affordable housing and community  development issues in Chinatown
  •  Philadelphia SUNS (Lion Dance & Asian Athletic Youth group)
  •  Asian American Women's Coalition (AAWC)
  •  National Association for Asian American Professionals (NAAAP), Philadelphia
  •  On Lok House senior housing and community center
  •  First Up/DVAEYC Board

Carol believes in helping children and all her students prepare for school and learn life skills. She mentors many children and young adults, helping them bridge and appreciate the best of both cultures and deals with social and emotional skills, as well as academics. Family, community, and friends are very important to her. She enjoys traveling, cooking, and helping others.

Carol has been recognized for her advocacy and community work with several awards:

2016 Asian American Chamber of Commerce Business Award

2016 Global Philadelphia Award for Community Leadership

2017 Voice for Children Award by the PA Assoc. for the Education of Young Children

2017 6abc Asian American Heritage Award

2017 Philadelphia Business Journal Women of Distinction Award

2019 National Association of Asian American Professionals Award

Jacelyn Blank

Jacelyn Blank was born and raised in West Chester, Pa., but is proud to say that her great-grandfather was an original Kenzo back in the early 1900s. After earning her Bachelor of Fine Art at Alfred University in western New York and a brief stint living in Kingston, N.Y., she made her way to Philadelphia, settling in closer to family. Soon after purchasing a home in East Kensington, she fell into the world of special education with children on the autism spectrum. While working full time, she attended Temple University at night to earn her master’s degree in Education and became certified in both elementary and special education. She completed her student teaching at H.A. Brown Elementary School because she wanted to get an inside view of her catchment school knowing that one day her own child would be attending. A few years later, she helped co-found the Friends of H.A. Brown to bring awareness about Philadelphia’s amazing public schools and to fundraise in support of the staff, teachers and students.

As if there wasn’t enough to do already, she was also actively involved in the East Kensington Neighbors’ Association (EKNA) in various board member roles throughout the years. Her first EKNA meeting connected her to a neighbor who invited her to take the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Tree Tender training with them. After becoming trained, she quickly went on to co-found the not-for-profit Tree Tender organization, Philly Tree People, which has helped with the property owner application process and planting of almost 2,000 street trees throughout Kensington since 2007.

After years of not finding just the right job, she chose to open a home daycare so that she could earn a living while staying home with her son. Eventually she joined the team as a teacher at Fishtown’s beloved By My Side Playschool after spending so much time at Playgroup with her son and daycare kids. This amazing connection allowed her the opportunity to co-found the local environmental education group, Nature Heroes. Most recently she became an International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified arborist and is working toward rolling all of her experience and education into one career as the lead instructor of Philly Tree People’s Green Corps, a youth employed Kensington based environmental education program to plant and care for Kensington’s street trees.

When she’s not juggling so many hats, you can find her sweeping up her block, gardening, volunteering at Penn Treaty Park, running around the playground with her son or (when we’re not in a pandemic) singing with friends at Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Open Mic Night.

Megan Smith

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Megan Smith founded Brownstone in 2007, two years after graduating from Temple University. Brownstone is a Philadelphia-based creative agency specializing in storytelling and communicating brand narratives. The agency stands at the intersection of media and public relations, digital and social media, and community and stakeholder engagement to effectively influence consumer decisions, engage internal and external communities, and empower target audiences to act. Since starting the firm, Smith has grown the agency to a full-time staff of six, seven partner agencies, and a current roster of 21 clients that include the Philadelphia City Commissioners, Committee of 70, PECO, the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau (PHLCVB), the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disabilities (DBHIDS), Temple University, University of the Sciences, UnitedHealthcare, Virtua Health, and the 2017 NFL Draft. In 2020, Brownstone was a part of the creative team that launched the citywide #MaskUpPHL creative campaign at the end of July 2020, which led to outdoor mask use in Philadelphia nearly doubling in the month of August. Over the second half of August, around 79% of people on Philadelphia sidewalks were observed wearing masks, while in July, an average of less than 45% were wearing them, per city data. In June 2020, Smith co-founded Better Civics, a nonpartisan nonprofit working to revolutionize civic engagement and voter turnout by changing how we talk about the political process and breaking down the barriers to entry; and in 2021, moved on to continue this work under the umbrella of the Philadelphia-based good government group, Committee of 70 - specifically focused on expanding the organization’s WeVote initiative to a community-level and creating a model for utilizing business corridors to activate residents and connect them to the ways of government. In 2019, Smith was recognized as a 40 Under 40 leader by the Philadelphia Business Journal; in 2017, she was honored as a ‘Changemaker’ by the Philadelphia OIC; in 2016, she was honored by Billy Penn as one of 17 Entrepreneurs Under 40 to Watch and was selected to be a member of Forbes’ Advisory Council on Media; in 2015, she was recognized by The Philadelphia Tribune as one of 10 Leaders Under 40 To Watch and was selected as a member of the international, invitation-only Young Entrepreneurs Council.

Margaret Rzepski

Margaret Rzepski is leader of the 31st Ward in Philadelphia and has served the Democratic Party in this role for years. Peg started volunteering for Philadelphia’s Democratic Party when she was 16 years old and was elected Committeeperson when she was 21. Dedicated to her neighborhood and the working families and children who live there, Peg also helped create and found Cione Playground. Ms. Rzepski has provided constituent services and community outreach for three different congressmen including Congressman Robert Brady and Congressman Brendan Boyle, whom she currently works for as Director of Constituent Services. She also is a member of the Olde Richmond Civic Association (ORCA) and spends much of her free time getting Democrats elected across Philadelphia and Pennsylvania.

 Morrisa Jenkins and Bonkosi Horn

Freedom Apothecary, founded by Morrisa Jenkins and Bonkosi Horn, is a holistic beauty, wellness and lifestyle brand with a retail space featuring a curated selection of non-toxic, independent and women-founded brands for the skin, body and home. On a mission to disrupt not only the beauty and wellness industry but disrupt what community care and wellness can look like, the women of Freedom Apothecary aim to cultivate a dynamic community of women supporting women, amplifying the voices of women of color.

If you want to learn more or support our growth, please visit thier brick and mortar shop in Northern Liberties — fully re-opening March 2021, visit the web-shop to find brands and products you’ll love or join an event.

Native to the Philly area and a graduate of Drexel University, Francesca Galarus recently opened Mural City Cellars, our city's first independently-owned urban winery, with her partner Nicholas Ducos. The couple is sourcing grapes from within a 300-mile radius of their location in Kensington and creating minimal intervention wines expressive of the region with labels designed by local artists. Their CSW, or Community Supported Winery, Membership Program gives back to the city through donations to neighborhood initiatives and the Mural Arts Project. After traveling through South American and Asia and living in New York City and Miami, Francesca is thrilled to be back in the city that instilled her love of all things edible and quaffable and to be a part of the food and beverage scene where she got her start.

Colleen Puckett

A longtime civic activist, political organizer, and connector, Colleen Puckett has served variously as a VISTA volunteer, labor organizer for the AFL-CIO, elected union official at a 1,000-member union local (AFGE Local 1156), and board member at numerous civic and non-profit organizations, including Shot Tower Advisory Council, Philadelphia Forward, Temple Beth Zion Beth Israel, and North Broad Community Coalition. Colleen was president of the board of Queen Village Neighbors Association, where she served from 1995-2005. She was appointed by Mayor John Street to the Mayor’s Gaming Advisory Task Force and served on the Licenses and Inspections mayoral transition team of Mayor Michael Nutter. Colleen founded and chaired the Coalition of Philadelphia Neighborhood Associations (1995-2000), a 24-member coalition of city neighborhoods formed to fight riverboat gambling, which later segued to zoning, L&I, development and other quality of life neighborhood issues. She has been a 2nd Ward elected committee person since 2018 and was elected ward leader in January 2020.

Ariell R. Johnson

A true child of the ‘80s, Ariell R. Johnson grew up on a diet of He-Man, She-Ra, Thundercats and Transformers. This would be the gateway to a lifelong love of super-powers, super-heroes and comics. With the love and support of her family and friends, she turned this passion into a career at the age of 32 when she opened Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Philadelphia, a comic book store and coffee shop hybrid. Amalgam is the only black-woman-owned comic book store on the East Coast.

The Baltimore/Glen Burnie, Md. native was introduced to Philadelphia in 2001 as a student at Temple University. Ariell majored in accounting at Temple’s Fox School of Business and Management, graduating in 2005. She made Philadelphia her permanent home in 2007. She balances her busy work life with knitting/crochet, dance, roller skating and circus aerials … just to keep things interesting. She also loves spending down time with her family, friends and loved ones.

Ariell has a strong passion and commitment to diversity, representation and inclusivity. She uses her shop to highlight and uplift works that are created by and feature BIPOC, women, the LGBTQ community, and other underrepresented groups in the comic book community. Amalgam has garnered national media attention, leading to a host of awards and accolades including Ariell’s 2016 Geek of the Year nomination, 2019 ECBACC Pioneer Award, Anti-Defamation League’s 2019 Jerry Clark Making a Difference Award and the 2020 PACDC Equitable Entrepreneur Award. Amalgam, which opened on Dec, 14, 2015, just celebrated its 5th birthday!

About Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse: Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse is a celebration of geek culture. A place for comic book fans, hardcore gamers, movie addicts, television connoisseurs, and zombie apocalypse survivalists to meet, and with their powers combined, make a positive impact on the world. Specializing in comics, toys and figurines, games, comic-related magazines, apparel, coffee and espresso-related beverages and baked goods. Since opening in 2015, Amalgam has grown in capacity, becoming not only a comic book store and coffee shop, but a true community-oriented safe space hosting a wide variety of events including classes, workshops, book signings, movie screenings, open-mic nights, birthday parties, yoga classes and more.

Venise Castaneda-Whitaker

Venise Castaneda-Whitaker is a Philly native born in Kensington. She was raised in a 2.5 story wooden frame house in Frankford that dated back to late 18th century, and in 2002 she bought a house in Fishtown with her husband. Venise attended St. Joseph's University receiving a B.S. in Psychology and minoring in feminist studies. She later received her M.S. in Counseling with a focus in PTSD. Since her teen years, Venise has been an activist for a multitude of local causes in Philly. In 2016 her love for wooden houses sparked her activism to fight for preserving history being mowed down by overdevelopment in her neighborhood. Venise was mentored and became self-taught in the area of historic preservation. Today, Venise continues to advocate for historic designation and safe construction sites. She has been successful mentoring neighbors in zoning with a focus on building reuse and has worked toward improving local building codes.

She currently works as a Constituent Representative for Council President Darrell Clarke and in her spare time volunteers in a multitude of areas of urbanism including the City of Philadelphia's Citizen Planning Institute, 18th ward Committee person executive 3rd chair, founder of the River Wards Coalition.

Bio credited to DAG