CORA Services Inc.’s annual Champions for Children event may not have looked the same this year as in years past, but there was more to celebrate here than ever before.
Founded in 1971, this year CORA is celebrating its 50th year of serving youth and young families in Northeast Philadelphia. This is also the first time CORA hosted its celebration since acquiring Good Shepherd Mediation Program, Philadelphia’s only community mediation center since 1984, last September. GSMP will continue to offer mediation services as part of CORA, filling in a gap that CORA previously did not offer.
Each year, the event recognizes individuals, corporations and students who are dedicated to enriching the lives of children and families. Instead of donning suits and gowns and filling a hall with chatter and applause, this year attendees got to watch the prerecorded presentation from their living rooms as CORA recognized seven champions of 2020.
Celebrity appearances via prerecorded messages included comedian Bob Saget, former Phillies player Jimmy Rollins, U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, Rob McElhenney and Kaitlin Olson from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Howie Day, who sang his 2004 hit Collide.
Civic Champion Award – Sister Charity Kohl, founder of CORA, and Sister Brigid Lawlor, founder of Good Shepherd Mediation Program
To recognize both the anniversary and the acquisition, CORA named the founders of the two organizations as its civic champions of 2020.
The late Sister Charity Kohl established CORA Services as a small family counseling agency. In 1940 she joined the Sisters of Good Shepherd, and later traveled to Alaska to administer juvenile treatment services with the state’s department of corrections. She returned to Pennsylvania and, after the Law Enforcement Assistance Act that made federal funds for support services available, she opened a diagnostic center in Germantown for screening and psychological testing for girls.
With a small state grant, Sister Charity fixed up a horse stand and opened up CORA in 1971. She insisted on using the wellness model, which takes in physical, spiritual, occupational, social, emotional and intellectual dimensions of humans when providing care. The agency grew to service more than 200,000 children and families annually even after she passed away in 2001.
Sister Brigid Lawlor was young when she saw Sister Charity’s work, but was awestruck by her mission. Serving as congregational leader of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Sister Brigid Lawlor founded the Good Shepherd Mediation Program in 1984. She also served on CORA’s board from 1990 to 2000, and when GSMP first started, she considered making it a part of CORA.
“It was too early, but maybe the seeds of this merger started then and now has come to full bloom. I think it was meant to be,” she said.
Currently she works for the Vatican, but remains active on the CORA board of directors and focusing on helping local low-income families as she travels the globe.
Corporate Champion Award – Valentine A. Brown/Duane Morris LLP, and John J. Coyle 4th/Henderson Group
As the current chair of CORA’s board of directors, Coyle is recognized for leadership over the last five years, particularly in the recent months during the pandemic. Coyle assumed the position in December 2019, shortly before the pandemic, not knowing what the future months would bring.
“John has been a rock for this organization and over this past year he has demonstrated incredible skill and leadership,” said AnneMarie Schultz, CEO of CORA.
The Henderson Group, a commercial real estate development company, has also been a supporter of CORA for many years.
As pro bono partner at Duane Morris LLP, Brown ensures that the firm provides thousands of hours of free legal service to individuals and organizations that serve the community. Duane Morris has also helped oversee the leadership transition as GSMP merges with CORA.
In 2020, attorneys performed over 40,000 hours of free legal services for children, parents, the homeless, the incarcerated, veterans, nonprofit organizations, community-based organizations and entrepreneurs.
“We do this work because we know that these children and our children and that this is our future that we’re impacting,” Brown said.
James J. Harron Classroom Champion Award – Jessica Grabon, Mariame Sissoko, and Harrison Mayall-Weiland
Each of these nominees used CORA to help them realize their full potential in and outside of the classroom. With the award, they each receive a $1,000 scholarship.
Before she started using the services, Grabon said she was unlikely to stick up for herself as a student at Benjamin Rush High School. Now a freshman at Temple University, she is pursuing a degree in elementary education and said CORA helped her conquer her insecurities.
As a student at Central High School, Mariame Sissoko saw a need for more mental health awareness for students and young people. She created a group that would talk through their daily stresses, and even helped raise money for CORA. She is continuing her advocacy at Barnard College.
Mayall-Weiland began his recovery journey from addiction at age 15, and is currently a senior at Bridge Way High School, the city’s only school for students in recovery. He is recognized for the wisdom he gained on his journey that has helped him become a leader in the classroom. ••