Salvation Army Celebrates Hope: Q&A with Romona Riscoe Benson
Salvation Army Celebrates Hope: Q&A with Romona Riscoe Benson
A passion for uplifting Philadelphia in need – that’s what Romona Riscoe Benson, Director of Corporate and Community Impact at PECO, has in common with Salvation Army pioneer Eliza Shirley. The Salvation Army’s work in the U.S. started with Shirley’s voyage from England to Philadelphia in 1879 and founding a corps to serve those in by poverty. About a century and a half later, women like Riscoe Benson have picked up Shirley’s torch and continue to make a positive impact for the neediest in the city.
On May 10, Riscoe Benson will receive the Eliza Shirley Women in Leadership Award at the Greater Philadelphia Salvation Army’s annual Celebrate Hope Annual Luncheon. The Salvation Army sat down with Riscoe Benson to learn more about her and to find out what fuels her passion to serve.
What does a typical day look like as Director of Corporate and Community Impact at PECO?
I absolutely never have a typical day. My days range from calls with partners and company stakeholders meetings to engaging with my team on a one-on-one basis and as a group, attending programs and events we sponsor in the community … it’s pretty extensive. We have peer work responsibilities where we engage with our peer operating companies across Exelon. At these get-togethers we identify and share best practices, as well as compare notes about things we are doing around various lines of work.
My role also supports the work happening in our community around gun violence. We support the Civic Coalition to Save Lives and meet with them weekly to discuss and compare notes about hot to stem the growth of gun violence in Philadelphia. We supported the NFL Draft a few years ago when it was in Philadelphia and the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia. We were in coordination with those larger steering groups because in addition to the corporate philanthropy and sponsorship, there’s a lot of demand for our equipment when those large events come into town, and we want to make sure we’re ready. We’ve got a very expansive and important role in our region.
Why is community impact important to you?
One of the reasons The Salvation Army is an important partner for PECO is the strong alignment between the work of both organizations. I direct PECO’s strategy for corporate and community engagement. I head up the corporate social responsibility aspect of the work we do as a company. So, I see myself as a steward of PECO’s philanthropy as it relates to the community. I think those things are really important to share, because for me, community impact goes to the soul of what we focus on in our community work. I think most of what we do supports regional nonprofit organizations that are focused on helping to uplift people in our communities. Most of our focus is on customers, residents, families, children and youth, students that are coming from households or communities that can benefit from our support or the services that are offered through our community partners.
You have experience in a wide range of industries. What is something that they all have in common?
I think all of the hats I’ve worn in my previous roles have prepared me for the job I have now. My nonprofit leadership experience helps me to understand and to support nonprofit organizations in my work. I had a business for 12 years which helps me as we work with area chambers of commerce around the things they are doing. And my arts and culture background helps us with one of our focus areas relating to the arts, creating access to schools for children coming out of Title I schools and for families to have access to the arts. These arts program are all intended to enrich the lives of those we support. I see everything I’ve done as precursors.
How did you first hear about The Salvation Army?
I remember The Salvation Army during Christmas when I was a little girl growing up in New York. I remember people standing at doorways ringing doorbells with the Red Kettle, and so that is an image I have always had with The Salvation Army. As I got older I began to understood better why they were collecting money and the people the organization was supporting. The Salvation Army is one of the organizations we get introduced to as young people, and if we’re curious enough, we find out what it does and why it does it. I’ve always had a warm memory of The Salvation Army and as an adult I have a high regard for it. It’s not easy work.
How does it feel to be the 2023 recipient of The Salvation Army’s Eliza Shirley Women in Leadership Award?
I am grateful for this recognition. I share it with the people on my team, the people in leadership at PECO, and all of those people who helped to mentor me over the years. I have to share this recognition with all of these people who help to make me who I am and help to do the work we are recognized for. I think about the fact that The Salvation Army has been an entity I’ve been aware of for a very long time. I’m very humbled by this recognition. I think there are many people doing many extraordinary things in our community. I just want to be able to raise them up. I hope to continue to do the work that is really expected of me so that I can confirm the recognition of the award as being appropriate.
Why do you think it’s important to have women leaders?
I think we need leaders, and I think our leaders should be diverse. Women have been doing this work for decades, and we should be recognized for the values we have and the contributions we make, just like men. My hat goes off to The Salvation Army to include this as an award that goes to women leaders in our community. I think it’s amazing to be in a place where we can lift up women as being significant contributors to the progress that we make in our community.
What would you say to others who are considering how they can use their gifts to make a positive difference in the community?
I think there are any number of ways to give back. As leaders in the community, especially working at the grassroots, there are typically three things we ask for: their time, their talent, and their leveraged or personal resources. I truly believe anyone can contribute something, and if there is a desire of an individual to make a difference, they can do it. Sometimes people think they don't have anything to offer and I’d say that’s not true. You can always volunteer your time to contribute to the wellbeing of someone else. If there’s something you’re doing that you have an area of expertise in, volunteering at a nonprofit can put that expertise to use in some way. If you can make a nominal donation to an organization, that’s also something. I think we all have the ability and opportunity to do something for an organization or an individual. We just have to get started.
Learn more about the Greater Philadelphia Celebrate Hope Annual Luncheon and how you can support communities across the region here.