Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

To Serve, Inspire: AME Church honors five community leaders during Women’s Day.

Vera Cornish

Angel Fox

Rev. Dr. Brenda Alton

Pat Gadsden


Dr. Siéta Achampong

When Pat Gadsden was young, the strong male role models in her family instilled a sense of equality and strength into her role as a woman.

“They made it clear to me and my sister that women were just as competent as men in the family,” she said. “My dad had no patience with his daughters succumbing to males. We were responsible for ourselves. We didn’t let being female get in the way of anything we wanted to accomplish.”

The African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church holds an annual Women’s Day to “uplift women and recognize the contributions they have made,” said Myra Blackwell, Women’s Day co-chair.

With a theme designed around the mnemonic WOMEN: Worship, Orchestrate, Motivate, Encourage, Noteworthy, this year’s honorees bring a lifetime of servant leadership and substantial contributions to the local community.

“We chose women from the community who embody each category,” Blackwell said. “We want men and young children to see one common theme of consistency and unity, something to inspire everyone.”


Rev. Dr. Brenda Alton, CEO of Brenda Alton Ministries (BAM!), is a community advocate and grassroots organizer. As a child, her elders who served the spiritually and socially poor inspired her to do the same.

As an ordained minister, she founded Holistic Hands Community Development Corp., Teaching Teachers’ Bible Institute, Sweet Love of Jesus Ministries and Kingdom Embassy (formerly Harambee United Church of Christ), where she served for 15 years as senior pastor. Traveling throughout the United States and internationally, she has given her life to building leaders, instructing and motivating people in their gifts and calling.

“Women are being honored for their life experiences, their survival skills, their ability to impart knowledge, and to lead with wisdom,” Alton said. “This is significant to me because I get to share honoring women who are a true life source in their homes and the community.”


Dr. Siéta Achampong, principal of SciTech for 15 years, always knew she wanted to serve youth either as a teacher or a principal. The many awards SciTech has earned, plus her personal awards for her leadership and community involvement, are a testament to her dedication to developing young people.

“It’s important to set aside a day to recognize women,” Achampong said. “Over the years, we haven’t always been equal to our male counterparts. Students need to see women being successful in running a household, serving in leadership positions.”


For all those who personally knew the late Vera Cornish, her recent passing at age 64 came as a shock.

With a prolific and impressive resume of board and committee appointments, speaking engagements, fundraising endeavors, strategic consulting, career fairs, published works, special events, and influential awards, Cornish served the community as a speaker, facilitator and strategist.

Filling a social niche critical to Harrisburg’s demographic makeup, Cornish published the multi-cultural lifestyle publication, The Urban Connection of the Capital Region, produced and founded the Women of Heritage Breakfast, the Access & Opportunity Breakfast Series, and the Access & Opportunity Career Fair. She also served in ministry for almost two decades. She left behind her a large set of shoes to fill.

On a personal note, I attended one of Cornish’s workshops almost 20 years ago. She convinced me to stop focusing on improving my weaknesses, outsource them instead, and imagine how much further my energy could travel by focusing on building my strengths. That game-changing piece of advice is the reason I wisely no longer cook (my family is grateful, too).


As a young person, Pat Gadsden volunteered in her school and as a candy striper for the Red Cross. Those were just seedlings of what would grow into forming the professional training/consulting firm, Life Esteem.

Through her business, Gadsden leads workshops and seminars, administering to businesses, state agencies, colleges, schools and human service organizations. Along with her husband and pastor of Imani African Christian Church, Nathaniel Gadsden, she ministers to the community through the church and through various print and electronic media.


Angel Fox serves as chief of staff to state Rep. Patty Kim. She is also CEO of both Fox’s Wash & Go Laundromat and Tears for Tarina, a nonprofit organization for domestic violence assistance and awareness. In 2011, she lost her best friend and teammate to domestic violence.

“I knew, when she passed, that I had to keep her legacy alive and bring awareness to our community,” Fox said. “I know God has a calling for my life, and he is using me.”

Fox cited her toughest job currently as raising her two boys as a single mother and acknowledged that her community involvement can take time away from them.

“For my boys to see me get this award is well worth it,” she said. “And for my mother and my sister being a part of this, knowing they were my positive role models, it’s an honor.”


Along with celebrating Women’s Day during Bethel AME Church Harrisburg’s regular services, the church provides its congregation with opportunities to expand their knowledge by offering parenting classes and a prayer breakfast specifically geared toward women.

“We’re looking to make a difference in areas we know there is still a need for improvement,” Blackwell said.

Bethel AME Church Harrisburg’s pastor, Rev. W. Ouemonde Brangman, recognized the Women’s Day event as a “way to inspire women to reach their highest potential, trust God through difficulties, and acknowledge the contributions and sacrifices countless women have made.”

“I don’t give back to the community for awards or a paycheck,” Fox said. “So, getting this award is for the community to let others know they can do it, as well.”

The Women’s Day celebration takes place on Sunday, April 26, at Bethel AME Church, 1721 N. 5th St., Harrisburg, at 10 a.m. For more information, visit their Facebook page “Bethel AME Church, Harrisburg, PA.”

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