By Erin E. Arvedlund The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Three women -- Denise Uzzelle, Joanna Schwartz, and Ashton Sweitzer -- competed to win a $10,000 bonus in the nationwide "Know Your Value" tour that was opened recently in Philadelphia by Mika Brzezinski, host of MSNBC's Morning Joe.
Asking for raises empowers working gals, Brzezinski believes. Only one came away with the 10 grand. (Keep reading to find out who!)
The winner also earned the unexpected: a serious panic attack; a strange but fruitful jog around the Liberty Bell; funding for her start-up; and an experience she'll never forget.
Two of the three finalists were from Pennsylvania: Sweitzer is from Lititz and Schwartz is from Philly. (Uzzelle is from Texas.)
Sweitzer, 25, opened a boutique, Glitz on Main Street in downtown Lititz, three weeks after graduating from college in 2012.
"I sell accessories, jewelry, handbags, and personalized items. I work as a one-woman show. I do it all," she said in an interview.
"I'm constantly putting my energy into the business. As a sole proprietor, everything goes back into Glitz. With $10,000, I could reinvest."
Sweitzer feels strongly about young female entrepreneurs "not being afraid to go after what we want. I'd like to be able to support young women in Lititz."
"I always had this dream," she said. "I was young and wasn't married at the time. My dad always taught me to start young or wait until you're much older" to open a business. She read books on business such as Brzezinski's and entered the contest.
Schwartz, on the other hand, knew nothing about Brzezinski and her "Know Your Value" tour.
"My mom and dad watch her show. My mom told me, 'You're a shoo-in,' so I entered. I work full time as a children's counselor. But on my own, I've wanted to get my [company] 'Toolbox for Teachers' off the ground." The company would train educators on dealing with the effects of violence.
Kids in Philly and other urban schools "have a huge emotional vacuum, like kids I counsel who see or are affected by homicide. When we send them back to the classroom, teachers are unable to understand the trauma effects," Schwartz said. She came up with a program for teachers helping children learn skills, social-emotional learning, and mindfulness-based stress reduction.
Schwartz, 37, grew up near the Delaware Water Gap and is bilingual in English and Spanish. Last fall, she was approached by the city school district to train 200 teachers, but didn't have the money to build her program.
Before the big day, the women got the works: a personal coach; a stylist's makeover; and a fancy dress. They took the stage in front of Brzezinski, actress and model Brooke Shields, fashion editor Andre Leon Talley, and 500 women at Loews Philadelphia Hotel to make their pitch: Why do I deserve $10,000?
Hours before, Schwartz felt a panic attack coming on. "When I started with my coach, Jennifer Lea, my self-confidence wasn't great. My belief that I would do it was lacking. She kept telling me over and over: 'Say: "I can and I will. I can and I will." ' And then she said, 'Go out for a run.' "
Schwartz slipped into running shoes and sprinted down Market Street to jog around Independence Hall and Old City. Running across the grass, away from the terrifying hotel, she thought about her former mentor, Ike Johnstone, founder of the Bill Pickett Riding Academy.
Johnstone died two years ago. He brought kids from North Philadelphia to Fairmount Park to work with horses and learn about life.
"When he was alive, he listened to my dream, and I knew everything happens for a reason. I pray to him a lot, he was the most tremendous influence on my life," Schwartz thought. She kept running until Seventh and Sansom Streets, but stopped in front of Independence Charter School, the first place she'd become a teacher, in its opening year.
"It reminded me why I was doing this."
She turned around and ran past the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, and back to the hotel. There, she bumped into Tom Roberts, one of the judges. "His advice was, 'It happens to me, it happens to everyone.' The day itself was really stressful. You're on camera the whole time. It was a celebrity vortex."
The truth was, she had already quit her job.
"I had already resigned before I won, because I had such conviction," she recalled. "I talked about my goals and mission and my dream, working with teachers and kids."
Then came the $10,000. She won.
Schwartz's business is in the works. Her website (https://mytoolboxforteachers.wordpress.com) is under construction. Her parents couldn't be prouder.
"My father was crying. And I think it impacted the way [my parents] look at me. Sometimes, it takes someone else to see your value for your family to see it."