Sylvia Fields will tell anyone, her life “has been a blessing from God, a very special blessing.”
That phrase was among the first voiced from Fields as she took the microphone, moments after being announced the 2017 ATHENA Award recipient.
“I am a long way from South Trafford, Westmoreland County…and it feels great,” Fields told the audience.
Fields is executive director of Eden Hall Foundation. She was presented with the award, which recognizes professional excellence, contributions to the community, and mentorship of other women.
Also recognized was Andrea Stanford, assistant county manager for Allegheny County, but at the time of the October 2017 ceremony was a digital experience product manager for PNC Bank. Stanford received the 2017 ATHENA Young Professional Award.
“The award recipients —and all of our nominees —have demonstrated professional excellence, contributed to their communities and are helping other women and girls to succeed and thrive,” said Allegheny Conference Chief Financial Officer Janel Skelley in a statement.
Under Fields’ leadership, Eden Hall Foundation has granted more than $15 million to initiate transformative change for women and girls. According to the release presented by Allegheny Conference, Fields provides valued leadership to the Women in Philanthropy program with Grantmakers of Western Pennsylvania, the African American Funders Group of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the national boards of the YWCA-USA and World Affairs Councils of America. She has shepherded such successful initiatives as the establishment of Chatham University’s Eden Hall Campus and the Single Parent Scholar Program at Wilson College in Chambersburg. Her support of a study of women in philanthropy helped to create the Women and Girls Foundation. Fields’ personal leadership in fostering a supportive environment for working mothers—influenced by her own rearing by a “strong woman”—has been recognized by colleagues and is a model for other workplaces.
That “strong woman,” of course, is Fields’ mother, whom she mentioned numerous times during her ATHENA Award acceptance speech.
“If there could be such a thing as my voice being heard way up high in Heaven, I would say ‘Thank you’ to that strong and courageous mother of mine who passed away five years ago,” Field told the crowd. “Widowed at age 36 with seven children in 1963, a lot of people would have said, ‘I can’t do it, it’s too much.’”
Fields’ father passed away when she was 8 years old. She told the audience that as a youngster, it was a bizarre feeling that her mother would be “in charge,” eliciting laughs from the audience.
“What I didn’t know,” Fields said, as she thought about all the management classes she’s taken in her adulthood, “was that I was watching management up close and personal (from her own mother). The names weren’t there for what she was doing, but she was exercising classic management practices. And for any of you out there who have burdens that you feel are so hard, and you’re pulling the whole thing, and you’ve got kids and this and that isn’t working—it can be done. Get a grip, it can be done.”
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