By Marianne E. Weaver
When Prince William Living launched its first Influential Women Awards last year, we quickly realized that this topic resonated with readers. Entries poured in, and the issue announcing the inaugural winners was one of our most-read to date. Choosing just five women from the impressive entries was no easy task for the magazine staff.
This year, we invited those first award winners to review the applications and select the 2015 Influential Women. Once again, it was a difficult process, with so many women in Greater Prince William giving of themselves to strengthen our community, leaving their marks on the business world and serving as inspirations to others. However, a few rose to the top: Patricia Bradburn, Sheyna Burt, Kim Hosen, Simeaka Melton and Cydny Neville.
Although each brings different gifts and talents to the table, they all share one common trait: Their passions lie in giving back to their communities, even though all five women are quick to credit friends, co-workers and colleagues.
Congratulations to these Influential Women!
Leading By Example
Originally from Northern Ohio, Patricia Bradburn moved to Virginia in 1957, when her first husband, a Navy officer, was assigned to the Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C. She has been bettering the lives of Northern Virginia residents ever since.
“Pat has not only done good deeds in the past few years, she has done this her entire life,” said Jan Cunard, who served with Bradburn on the Prince William Committee of 100, a nonpartisan group that hosts forums on civic and social topics. “Her empathetic and sympathetic manner in working with people has inspired the best in others. She leads by example, and people are always anxious to follow her lead.”
After a separation from her first husband, five years of single parenting five children and eventually a divorce, she met Air Force Col. Gordon F. Bradburn, a widower with three children.
“We met thru DSW—Divorced Separated Widowed—a group that a couple of [other]concerned Catholics and I formed to serve the needs of single parents … who were not readily embraced by the church at that time,” she said. “We were married Feb. 26, 1977. He was a great guy, my Special Hero.”
In addition to their eight children, the couple had 16 grandchildren and six great grandchildren. The two founded American Stripping Company in 1980, growing it into a multimillion dollar business.
Gordon passed away in 2007. Patricia was hit hard by the loss. “After three years of grieving and coping, I decided I had to go on,” Bradburn said. “I continued going to groups where I knew people, but I found it uncomfortable going out in public alone.”
In 2010, she helped establish the Prince William branch of Widowed Person Services, a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization that offers information and emotional support to the newly widowed. Two years later, she assumed the role of team leader and started scheduling monthly meetings, usually potluck dinners hosted by group members. Each month, 30 to 40 people attend.
“It is hard starting over. Many people don’t know how to go on when they suddenly find themselves alone. Some people cry the first time they come [to a meeting]; it’s uncomfortable the first time,” she said. “We are survivors. We have to tell others that they are here because they are survivors.”
Bradburn also leads by example when it comes to promoting a healthy lifestyle at any age. At 82 years old, she has retired from competitive sports, but not before winning 23 Senior Olympics track and field medals at ages 65, 66 and 67.
Bradburn has also volunteered at a local food bank, collected books for the library and jail and assisted in landscaping a median on Route 234/Sudley Rd.
“I don’t think of it as giving back,” she said. “I think of it as doing what I think needs to be done to enhance this area I live in and enjoy.”
Living Her Passion(s)
“I am an army brat. I was born in Fort Lewis [Wash.], but settled in Northern Virginia by elementary school,” Sheyna Burt explained, adding that with the exception of her time away at college and law school, she’s lived in Prince William since then. “This is where I play, where I live and where I work. I am proud to be here and see [the area] realize its potential.”
Burt attended The College of William and Mary, earning B.A.s in Music and History then a J.D. in 2001. She began her professional career as a law clerk for the Alexandria Circuit Court, and then began practicing insurance defense at a multinational law firm.
Professionally, Burt was checking off all of the boxes required for successful lawyers in the capital region. But that left little time for her to pursue her true calling.
“There was no way I could take two to three hours off in the middle of the day to do something I care about,” she said.
“To have that freedom, that is why I started my own firm.” Launched in May 2013 and located in Historic Manassas, her practice focuses on community association and family law. Burt is a founding member of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women Prince William County Chapter and is currently serving as the Chair of the Policies and Procedures Committee, and is a 2013 graduate of Leadership Prince William. She plays the violin and is board president and concert mistress of the Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra, as well as chair of the Prince William County Arts Council.
“We have 60 institutional and individual members in the council,” Burt noted. “They come together not only to nurture artists, but to help the people of Prince William have access to the arts.”
Burt combines her legal expertise and dedication to the arts in her role as pro bono legal counsel for the World Doctors Orchestra. This international organization allows physicians to share their passion for music, and to spread their belief that healthcare is a basic human right. The orchestra donates all proceeds from its performances to medical aid organizations.
“It is one of the things I am most proud to be affiliated with,” said Burt. “I want to make the world better. I can’t help people who are sick, but I can help charities raise money. I can help them put together a development plan.”
That sentiment, said friend and Leadership Prince William 2013 classmate Gayle Whitlock, is typical Sheyna. “Sheyna believes that nothing is impossible,” said Whitlock, who nominated her for this award. “But it is not her energy, enthusiasm or smarts that make her a great leader and a woman of influence, it is her ability to share her vision and encourage others that makes her stand out. Her dreams are too big to be fulfilled by her efforts alone. She removes barriers, opens doors, and extends a hand so that others may join in and use their gifts and talents.”
Protecting Our Environment
Kim Hosen is the go-to person for environmental issues arising in Prince William. Developers, land-use planners, wildlife managers and educators all seek her counsel. Although she is quick to credit colleagues for their accomplishments, Hosen has made her own mark throughout the region.
“Kim has affected people in Prince William County for many years,” said Charles Grymes, Prince William ConservationAlliance Chairman, noting that in the 1990s, she ran the since-closed Nature’s Wonder World, where she taught after-school environmental education classes. “Adults will come up to her today, with their own children in tow, and tell her how much they enjoyed her workshops when they were kids and how she helped them learn the joys of nature through bugs, frogs, tadpoles and the like.”
Hosen said she has always enjoyed spending time in the outdoors. “It was always my passion from the time I was young,” she said. “I was one of those kids always in the woods.” She didn’t, however, have a set plan to become an environmentalist.
“When I moved here about 25 years ago I was a mom at home taking care of kids,” Hosen said. “I looked around and saw that Prince William is unique environmentally.” She explained that multiple habitat types converge here: the northernmost point where southern plants are seen and the southernmost point where northern plants are seen. “I saw some resources weren’t appreciated. I thought that if I was going to enjoy these areas, then I should join with efforts to protect them.”
Today, Hosen is Executive Director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit watershed organization working to preserve and enhance natural resources through stewardship, recreation, and education. In this role, she has organized numerous public activities that enable local residents to contribute to conservation and learn about their community.
In 2008, she planned the first Bluebell Festival at the 302-acre Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area in Nokesville. Other state and local agencies have since joined to support the event, which offers games, nature walks and other family activities.
Hosen regularly provides critical information to numerous state and local government entities. Grymes said the Prince William County Planning Commission consults Hosen about a full range of issues when considering rezoning proposals. He added that she also led the effort to rewrite the Environment and the Parks, Trails, and Open Space chapters in the county’s current Comprehensive Plan, engaging citizens so the guidance reflects community priorities.
“Kim is often the first and most reliable voice in Prince William to stand up for environmental issues,” Grymes said. “Kim is a steady reminder that good things do not just happen – people make good things happen, and that requires effort. Her dedication is a constant demonstration that people who care can create changes for the better.”
Inspiring Self-Worth in Youth
“I was looking for organizations my daughter could be part of and I couldn’t find one program that was the ‘it’ program,” she recalled. While juggling her family responsibilities and a fulltime job, she founded what would become Rising Above Expectations Youth Services, Inc. (RAE) in 2010.
Based in Woodbridge, RAE, a nonprofit, provides an ongoing mentor and leadership program for youth, focusing on building self-esteem, developing healthy relationships and preventing suicide.
Melton adjusts the curriculum to meet ever-changing needs in the community. In 2013, she incorporated the “Enough is Enough Anti-Bullying Campaign,” which seeks to raise awareness of simple actions that parents, youth, educators and bystanders can take to prevent bullying. She has also incorporated the “Taking Back Our Image Campaign,” which educates young girls about body image, self-esteem and decoding
the distorted images presented by the media.
“I was watching one of the Nickelodeon channels and realized the innocence is being lost,” she said. “I want young girls to determine what their image is without the media telling them what it should be.”
That is the basic principle guiding RAE’s weekend-long I AM WORTH MY PURPOSE Overnight Girls Summer Camp, held in Maryland each May, which typically draws dozens of middle and high school girls.
“They are completely unplugged, and they freak out at first,” said Melton of the camp, entering its sixth year. “But this is so important because with girls there is a sense of wanting to belong to something. And they are often getting the wrong advice from their peers.” Frequently, she said, former campers return to work as counselors.
Melton also owns Simeaka & Company, which furthers the RAE message through speaking engagements and educational curriculum.
“Mrs. Melton has been one of the biggest influences in my life and career,” said Latoniah Johnson, who nominated her for this award. “When I first began volunteering with Rising Above Expectations Youth Services, Inc., I was a nurse’s assistant and because of the influence and encouragement and constant reminders [from Mrs. Melton]that I could do it … I am a Registered Nurse completing my Masters Degree.”
Connecting the Community Dots
“I have a lot of different networks, and I like to bring people together,” Neville said. “One of my catch phrases is, ‘Together we move.’ When people come together we can all serve bigger spokes of the community. I connect people across the community.”
It’s hard to keep track of all the spokes on her wheel. Recently appointed by Governor Terry McAuliffe to the State Historical Records Advisory Board, Neville is also an advocate for single parents, grant writer, blogger, business owner, supporter of homeless families … just to name a few of her roles.
“Empowerment really is her middle name,” said Gayle Whitlock, a friend and Leadership Prince William 2013 classmate. “Where others might not wish to share their personal journeys – or at least not broadcast them – Cyndy owns them unapologetically and uses her challenges as a way to connect and lift up those around her.”
Neville experienced a “transitional” childhood, including a period of homelessness. This inspired her to develop a “birthday bag” drive for Northern Virginia area youth in transition.
“This is the 15th year of ‘birthday bag’,” she said. “When a parent gets a birthday bag, they have everything to make a birthday party – a birthday bag, cake mix, frosting, candles, a party item and a gift.” Bags are distributed through Action in Community Through Service of Prince William, Inc. (ACTS). Last year, Neville said she stopped counting after collecting 70 bags.
This year, collections begin in April, and she is challenging the community to donate at least 100 bags.
“She is focused on service and lifting up the community,” said Whitlock. “She has used her circumstances as a springboard to help and encourage others. As a single mother, she now uses her influence and connections and helps others who may be struggling or feel alone and overwhelmed.”
Neville was determined to expose her son to as many cultural, educational and fun experiences as if they were a two-parent household. Her activities led to the creation of a blog, “Be A Singular Sensation.” The site, beasingularsensation.blogspot.com, greets visitors with the promise to “engage, enlighten, inform, inspire and connect single parents in the Prince William area.” Topics include dating, finance and, of course, parenting. It’s even spun off into a show on Comcast Community Channel. “I am shy, and I hate my voice,” laughed Neville. “But the point
is to let people know about the resources in the community and to shine a light on the movers and shakers.”
Today, she is one of those movers and shakers. Neville also works through her educational and consulting business, Neville Empowerment Network, Inc., to empower others to be engaged in their families, profession and community.
“I believe that we have a lot of people and business here that take their business to D.C.,” she said. “Why? We have all the resources here in Prince William. We just need to realize that.”
Congratulations To Our Influential Women Runners-Up
Dr. Anastasia Williams, MD
Marianne Weaver is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA in English from the University of Pittsburgh, and an MJ from Temple University. She is married to recently retired Air Force Lt. Col. Erik Weaver. Along with their two children they’ve settled into their “forever home” in Gainesville, Va. Her email address is [email protected]