WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH: Women on the Move in South Philly

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“I’m not in the business of self-promotion,” admitted Dawn Chavous. She’s right: In her field of management consulting, one’s job is to promote others.

But Chavous Consulting, LLC has built a quiet reputation since this Point Breeze resident founded it in 2010. The firm handles event planning and operations, fundraising for nonprofits, strategic planning and community-engagement work. “I take on some government-relations assignments,” she said. “But I don’t let the politics determine my relationships.” Chavous is an WMBE/DBE-certified entrepreneur.

While her father was actually an entrepreneur, an electrical contractor (and a Silver Star and Purple Heart Vietnam vet, she adds proudly), her mother Barbara Chavous was a social worker and an activist.

“Growing up, I remember her working with Wilson Goode,” Chavous recalled.

She studied psychology and sociology at Ursinus College and organizational development at the University of Pennsylvania. “By understanding people and communities, you can accomplish a lot,” she said. While still a college student, she ran President Clinton’s literacy initiative, America Reads.

Even as a high-school student at the Franklin Learning Center, she served as a student rep on the Philadelphia School Board and as Vice President of Philly’s citywide Student Government.

Early in her career, Chavous checked in with her mentor former State Sen. Hardy Williams. He recommended she work with his son, Senator Tony Williams. Right after college, she started working for him as his executive assistant. Over nine years, she worked her way up holding almost every position in his office and eventually becoming his chief of staff.

“It’s been a great experience,” she stated. “I love the fact that I have great team of smart and dedicated people working with me.

“I am also grateful to be apart of so many great organizations such as Black Women’s Leadership Council (BWLC) and the National Coalition of 100 Black Women – Pennsylvania Chapter. I also advocate for moms in the workplace as well as against sexual abuse, harassment and assault. I also believe it is critical for us as a city to address poverty by providing low income families access to health & wellness resources and access to high quality educational options which is why I co founded Sky Community Partners.”

Mayor Jim Kenney appointed her to the Phila Women’s Commission where she serves as Secretary on the Exec Committee.

The list of candidates she has helped include President Barack Obama; Mayor John Street, Mayor Michael Nutter; State Sens. Anthony Williams, Vincent Hughes and Sharif Street; Dwight Evans, Council Member Kenyatta Johnson; and State Reps. Jordan Harris, Joanna McClinton, Jason Dawkins, Margo Davidson, and Steve Kinsey. She has worked with Council members Curtis Jones, Maria Q. Sanchez, Judges John Younge, Carolyn Nichols, Abbe Fletman, Tracy Roman and Timika Lane.

“But I was a committee person before he was ward leader!” she made clear.

“I have more than one skill set and with everything that I do, I like to ensure my work is positively impacting the community.”



The thriving East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, one of the top urban-revival stories in the city, is nothing if not woman-friendly.

It is directed by a dynamic woman, Pam Zenzola – who took over from another executive director, Renee Gilinger, 18 months ago.

But it’s not all about the EPABID’s leadership. “Women’s role is unusually strong on the Avenue,” said Zenzola. Of the 152 businesses on the corridor from Federal to McKean Streets are owned by women, either by themselves or as part of a family or partnership.

Men helped from the beginning, to be sure. State Sen. Vince Fumo and Councilman Frank DiCicco spurred the founding of the BID in 2002 and many men sit on its board.

Zenzola said, “If Fumo and DiCicco hadn’t had the foresight, we would not have this vibrant avenue today. But a lot of credit must be given to those who took it forward. We have one of the lowest vacancy rates of commercial properties of any business corridor.”

Women didn’t wait for EPABID to go into business on the avenue. “Take Rose at Ray’s Happy Birthday Bar,” Zenzola said. “Her family has been in business there since the repeal of Prohibition. They’ve weathered the years.”

Zenzola cited another clan of long standing: “The Zinnis have been on the avenue forever. Maria, the mother, runs a thriving boutique. Then take her daughters. Carolyn has the bridal store; Mary owns A Star Is Born children’s boutique; and Marlowe started P’unk Burger. Mamma Maria, Tre Scalini go way back as well.”

But as a new demographic of younger college-educated people began to settle in South Philadelphia, Zenzola noted, the cultural and diversity on East Passyunk took off. Many of the new shopping offerings were woman-led.

“I look at restaurants like Paradiso,” Zenzola noted. “There’s the Bottle Shop, a beer store, which is owned by women. There’s Escape the ’80s, a game shop I don’t even understand; Mis Demeanor, a hip clothing store; and Tildie’s Toy Store. Women are bringing lots of new energy to this corridor.”

Zenzola grew up in North and Northeast Philadelphia as well as the suburbs. After a career organizing business communities here and abroad, Zenzola settled in South Philadelphia 10 years ago to be near her daughter. She started as an administrative staffer with EPABID, moving on to develop volunteer event planning.

Zenzola’s approach to growing a business community puts the stress on “community.”

“It takes everyone,” she said. “It is a very supportive community. I’ve seen one business owner borrowing a mannequin, one borrowing thread, one sharing an idea. My goal now is to get women on the Avenue to do more networking and know each other.”

Zenzola enjoys going to the fountain on a beautiful night. There she’ll see grandmothers who are lifelong residents happily hanging out with tattooed hipsters.

“I love to stand at the fountain and tell people to take a 360-degree turn and look at the scene around them,” she said. “All this has changed since I moved to this neighborhood.”

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