Salvation Army to Honor Trailblazers at Annual 'Celebrate Hope Annual Luncheon'

Apr 24, 2023




Emmy Award-Winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and Pa. Sen. Vincent Hughes among those honored for their positive impact on the Philadelphia community

PHILADELPHIA (April 24, 2023) — The Salvation Army in Greater Philadelphia is honoring four individuals who go above and beyond for the city at its annual Celebrate Hope Annual Luncheon on Wednesday, May 10, at the Crystal Tea Room in the Wanamaker Building.

The event will begin at 12:00 p.m. and will be proceeded by a VIP networking hour. The Salvation Army aims to raise $300,000 to sustain year-round programming for individuals and families in need. Honorees for this year’s awards include actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, Pa. State Senator Vincent Hughes, and executives Stephen Fera of Independence Blue Cross and Romona Riscoe Benson of PECO.

“The Salvation Army is so grateful and humbled to honor these outstanding individuals who share a passion for serving those in need in Greater Philadelphia,” said Major Tawny Cowen-Zanders, Divisional Secretary for the Greater Philadelphia Salvation Army. “We can’t think of a better group of individuals who exemplify what it means to serve, to advocate, and to love.”

Sheryl Lee Ralph and Sen. Hughes are the recipients of the Doing the Most Good Award for their outstanding community service in helping others be all they can be.

Ralph made theater history as the first African American female to play the role of Madame Morrible in the Broadway musical, Wicked. Most recently, she was awarded an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, Abbott Elementary. Ralph is also the founding director of the DIVA Foundation, which produces an annual benefit concert, Divas Simply Singing, to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS and other life-threatening diseases. This evening of song and entertainment is the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country. Her love for spreading health awareness education touches the lives of many, year in and year out.

Senator Hughes, Ralph’s husband, was born and raised in Philadelphia. He represents the 7th Senatorial District in Pennsylvania and serves as the Democratic Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, a position he has held since 2010. He served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1987 to 1984 before being elected to the Senate in November 1994. Senator Hughes has a career long commitment to providing health insurance for the uninsured and his leadership, public advocacy, and legislative strategy led to Pennsylvania’s full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Alongside his wife, Senator Hughes has been recognized locally and nationally for his work on HIV/AIDS issues and the challenges of behavioral health in the African American community. A believer in breaking down the financial barriers for underserved students in higher education, he and his family established the James Hughes Memorial Scholarship Fund, in honor of his late father, which has awarded more than $1 million in college scholarships to students from challenged circumstances who are talented and want to make a difference. He is a leader in the fight for paid sick leave and in the creation of housing for veterans and survivors of domestic violence.

Stephen Fera, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Markets for Independence Blue Cross, is the recipient of the Others Award for exemplifying an extraordinary spirit of service to others and exceptional service to The Salvation Army and/or community.

Fera is a lifelong Philadelphian currently serving on the boards of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Public Health Management Corporation, Ed Snider Youth Hockey & Education, the Public Affairs Council and Greater Philadelphia YMCA. During his more than 33-year career at Independence, Fera has worked to expand access to care and improve the lives of millions of Americans. He leads government relations, along with community affairs and government markets for the largest health insurer in Southeastern Pennsylvania and one of the largest Blue Plans in the country. He has worked to forge public-private partnerships to improve access to care and to reduce disparities and influence public policy decisions.  

Romona Riscoe Benson, Director of Corporate and Community Impact at PECO, is the recipient of the Eliza Shirley Women in Leadership Award for exemplifying Salvation Army pioneer Eliza Shirley’s dedication to service, community, and faith.

Riscoe Benson develops, leads, and executes strategic corporate and community giving programs, as well as reputational positioning initiatives. Prior to her position at PECO, she served as president and CEO of the African American Museum in Philadelphia and executive director of the PCVB’s Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress. She produced the city-wide PECO Energy Jazz Festival and the first-ever, city career fair focused on hospitality jobs for local students in underserved communities. Riscoe Benson’s passion is shown through 25 years of experience in non-profit, corporate stewardship, hospitality, meetings and conference management, arts management, and public sector work.

Those interested in attending the Celebrate Hope Annual Luncheon or donating to the event should visit the event website. Funds will go directly towards The Salvation Army various programs for those in need in Greater Philadelphia.


About The Salvation Army:

The Salvation Army Greater Philadelphia is a faith-based, comprehensive human service organization whose programs help individuals, families and whole communities lead healthier, safer, and more productive lives. The Salvation Army’s work in the U.S. began in 1879 in West Philadelphia with pioneer Eliza Shirley providing care to local individuals in need. Since then, The Army has held a record of accomplishments stemming from its holistic approach to providing for the needs of the whole individual – physically, emotionally, economically, and spiritually. The Army’s programming serves 166 zip codes through seven community centers and a network of volunteers throughout the Greater Philadelphia region. Programs and services historically include, but are not limited to, the following: shelter, hot meals, counseling, early childhood development, recreational opportunities, music programs, after-school arts and educational programs, job training, activities for older adults, spiritual development, and drug rehabilitation.

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