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How Mentors Made a Difference In The Lives Of These 5 Women

By Lisa Scheid Reading Eagle, Pa.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) How do you find a mentor and what purpose do they serve? Five Pennsylvania women share their experiences connecting with that special person who had a major impact on their career.


There's all kinds of research about how women can help each other succeed and the overall benefits to a company when they do.

Recently, Harvard Business Review published research indicating that women with an inner circle of close female contacts are more likely to land executive positions with greater authority and higher pay.

The study suggests close connections with other women help women overcome obstacles in the system .

Today we take a look at how close relationships with mentors, informal and formal, made a difference in five women's careers. You can share your mentorship stories on the Reading Eagle Business Facebook page.

Christi Terefenko

Who was your mentor? Sharon Mast, president and founder of Spark Solutions & Support

Tell us about your first meeting: I have known Sharon for a long time and always admired her for her courage on two fronts: first, for leaving a 22-year medical career as a nurse to work in youth development at the United Way and, second, for later forging her own path as a trainer and consultant at her own company, Spark Solutions & Support. When co-founding VOiCEup Berks with my colleagues Christie Botterbusch and Rachel Kuhn, Sharon acted as our mentor and sounding board all the way. Our first meeting with her to discuss our idea for VOiCEup -- an organization to promote service-learning in Berks County by connecting and coordinating meaningful community service opportunities for youth, corporate, and individual groups -- was met with much enthusiasm. Her near immediate response to my email setting up a meeting was "OMG this is soooo cool!!! I will make time to fit you in." Sharon is always like that....quick to listen, help, and support any opportunities that promote positive individual and community growth.

How did she help you? Personally, Sharon helped me overcome the concern about switching careers and taking the leap into a new organization. Like Sharon, I had a 20+ year career in the medical industry. I was a biomedical engineer doing orthopaedic research and wanted to switch directions and apply my experience in clinical research and organizational leadership to work in the nonprofit sector. Sharon not only helped ease my fears with switching careers and co-founding a new organization but also helped guide us through a strategic thought process that would serve to strengthen the base of our organization. She continues to help us in this capacity today.

Best advice she gave you: "Please don't stop and don't question what you are doing just because others [don't understand]... I know when I started my business everyone had an opinion of what I should and shouldn't do ... but I listened to me and the 'voice' within me, and I did it my way. Six years later, I couldn't be happier with how I am doing what I do. I've stayed true to my 'why' and allowed myself to be guided while having a solid sense of why I am doing what I am doing." Like Sharon, I am trying to stay true to myself and keep a solid sense of why I am doing what I am doing -- to help others, especially youth in our community through our programs such as Youth Volunteer Corps of Reading, and make this world just a little bit better. -- Christi Terefenko, Co-founder and executive director of VOiCEup Berks


Chrissy Faller

Who was your mentor? Ramona (Turpin) Turner was the community relations manager for Sovereign Bank (now Santander Bank) when we met about 20 years ago. (She is now Workforce Development Coordinator for Literacy Council of Reading-Berks.)

Tell us about your first meeting: The first time I met Ramona was when she started her job with Sovereign Bank (now Santander) to manage community relations. Her reputation preceded her; and she was as wonderful as I had heard from other people who knew her. We worked closely on internal and external communications surrounding community relations initiatives. Ramona was cheerful, confident, strong and respectable -- just as she is today. She is a genuine person and a true leader who can relate to anyone.

How did she help you? Ramona and I worked on a number of programs big and small. She was always willing to share what she liked about my ideas and guide me in a different direction. She offered her support unconditionally, whether I needed a second opinion for a project or needed advice on how to approach a challenge. Ramona introduced me to her networks, which was especially helpful as a newcomer to Berks County. Professionally, she helped me navigate the nuances of corporate life as a young, ambitious person who wanted to put her best foot forward. Having a reliable, experienced confidante who gave honest opinions and trusted advice played an important role in gaining confidence and momentum.

She had the respect of colleagues of every level of the bank's hierarchy as well as community leaders. In addition to observing the importance of connecting with others on a common ground, Ramona also demonstrated the power of being positive -- even during chaotic days. The circumstances may not change, but your perspective can make all the difference.

Best advice she gave you: The best advice Ramona gave me is to be true to yourself and confident in your decisions. And she's right. Your decisions may not always please everyone, but staying true to your beliefs, ethics and integrity will put you in the right path for the future you want to build.

-- Chrissy Faller, public and media relations director, Anderson Group


Arleny Pimentel

Who was your mentor? Maritza Tapia, owner of Mary's Day Care Center.

Tell us about your first meeting: We first met when I arrived in Reading after college. I went to interview for their school-age teacher.

How did they help you? She gave me my first job! She continually gave me more responsibility (until I was the assistant director) so that I was learning a lot about different aspects of the business -- audits, reporting, grant writing, communication with other professionals, parents, and children.

Best advice she gave you: Document everything! Get everything in writing because you never know when you'll need that information and it's a way to keep yourself and others accountable. -- Arleny Pimentel, Reading School District parent engagement facilitator / Barrio Alegria operations director


Sue Gopal-Gera

Who is your mentor? Melissa Howard, senior vice president, Santander Investment Services

Tell us about your first meeting: Melissa was my trainer when I was first hired into banking some 17 years ago. When I was hired for the teller job, I had no prior banking experience. In fact, we had recently immigrated to the U.S., so I didn't even understand the term "checking account." At the end of training on Day 2, Melissa noticed that I was visibly upset. She asked me to stay for a few minutes after class and checked in with me. I told her that I was going to call HR the next morning to quit because I was just not going to understand the banking system here.

Melissa took the next hour building me up and imploring me to come for one more class before giving up. I used to walk to the training center from our apartment because we only had one car at the time. She refused to let me walk home that evening and dropped me home. Now, I felt obligated to show up to class the next day.

Melissa checked in again at the end of the day and clarified any concerns and insisted that she would drive me home. She did this for the next seven training days and when I took my final assessment on Day 10, I aced the test.

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