The Women of Newtown

Article by Ashley Barrett Kanoff

Photography by Joe Dantone, Dantone Creative

Originally published in Newtown City Lifestyle

Megan Benzio -  5th grade teacher at Goodnoe Elementary 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

To treat people with kindness. My beloved grandmother, "Lala" would always tell me to say "please and thank you," and always stick up for the underdog.

What advice would you tell your younger self?

That I can do anything I want if I try hard enough. For years I struggled with low self-esteem, and a lack of confidence. When I was 19, I moved to Colorado to snowboard and climb mountains. My dad convinced me to sign up for community college, so I became a ski lift operator by day, and went to school at night. Gary Cummings, my English Comp professor at Colorado Mountain College told me "I was a good writer.” 

What steps did you take to become a teacher?

I moved back to PA a few credits short of an Associate's degree, still unsure of what I wanted to do with my life. My dad, who was also a teacher, asked me to present one of my 14,000 ft mountain climbs to his 5th grade students. I realized that day that I loved talking to kids. The next week I signed up for the education program Temple University. I ended up on the Dean's List with straight A's and never looked back.

How would your students describe you? 

My students usually say I am fun and different from "normal people."  I randomly speak with different accents, do yoga with books in the hallways with them, I sing full length acapella songs into the microphone, and I give each kid a special nickname. I consider myself a "preacher of knowledge” in my classroom. I start every morning telling the kids how lucky they are to be in a great school district, with a teacher who loves them and believes in them. 

Is there an important message you want to share? 

I feel very blessed to have a career that I absolutely love and that allows me to pay for my true passion, which is traveling. My goal is to show my kids as much of the world as I can. So far they have been all over the US, and to Mexico, Jamaica, Honduras, Belize, Iceland, and Peru. This summer we are going to Costa Rica for 2 weeks. A proud mom moment was this past summer when my kids made it up the 10 mile rigorous hike to marvel at Machu Picchu.


Kathleen McCafferty- The Pro Shop of Newtown

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

One piece of advice that I follow is to build meaningful relationships with customers and people in the industry and community.  It really rings true for a shop in Newtown or any small town. The people who come through the door are wonderful and we have become friends and some even family.  They have watched all three of my children grow up at the shop and even held them while I helped customers. We support each other. Especially right now, in this uncertain time, I know I have the support from customers and others whom I've never even met.  It's heartwarming and I am grateful every day that I have the ability for this to be my career.

What steps did you take to start your own business? 

For me, starting the business was not difficult since my mother ran a successful tennis shop in the space for 25 years.  I loved that store and I always knew this was what I wanted to do. When I took over the shop ten years ago, I changed it completely to a fitness and lifestyle boutique while still operating as a full service tennis pro shop. I had a lot to learn fast but knowing that I could make this shop my own was so exciting.  When you take over something you have to be very careful to keep the existing customers, while gaining new ones. I rebranded and developed an online presence because a brick and mortar shop is so difficult alone. I guess the moral of the story is that if you do what you love and have a passion, everything will fall into place.  

Is there an important message you want to share? 

Give back. I feel that you should always know what is happening around you and in your area and try to be a part of it.  I volunteer when I can and donate to a degree that fits into my budget because the people in your community are so important.  Pay it forward and encourage others to join you and help to make positive changes while selling some super cute leggings! It's all about balance.

Lauren Ziel - Owner barre3 Newtown 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

In college I worked for a brilliant Norwegian inventor, engineer, and entrepreneur named Eyvind Boyesen. The advice he gave me became my ultimate motivation that I've carried with me the last 20+ years. Eyvind advised me to “find a job that you would love doing, even if you don’t get paid for it.” He made a good living and was a successful business owner, a leader in his field, but he was fully motivated by passion not money.

As a college student I struggled to define what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I had changed colleges three times, majors three times, and was about to graduate with a BA in Speech Communication with minors in Writing, PR, and Spanish. I felt so lost while everyone around me seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do. Back then I may have wished for a crystal ball so I could skip ahead- but really, it was my journey, my path that got me to where I am now. All of the experiences, all the wins, fails, all of the people and relationships along the way, got me to where I was meant to be. 

I own and operate my own barre3 studio in my hometown, surrounded by the most amazing people, promoting wellness and positivity, and making a difference. I am most proud today that I am able to know exactly what Eyvind meant. I wish I could thank him and tell him how grateful I am for his wise words and inspiration.  I've found a job I love, that I would do even if I didn't get paid for it. 

What advice would you tell your younger self?  

Ahh, so much! First, your life is a series of choices, choose wisely. You don't have to have it all figured out. It's a journey, you learn the most along the way, so have fun! But you also gotta work for it. Try new things and learn from the failures, don’t skip the struggle. All the steps together get you to where you're going. You don't know if you don't try! Find your passion and choose happiness. 

What steps did you take, or would you encourage someone to take, if they wanted to start their own business?

All of my steps, even the ones I didn't understand, got me to where I am today. It took me a long time to hone in on what really brings me joy, on where my passion truly is- it’s in many places. I don't love just one thing. When you own a business, you wear a lot of different hats, and that’s  what I love most about it. I said it before, and I'll say it always, you gotta work!

Heather Roberts - Sit. Stay. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

Learn something new every day. Constantly set new goals, whether it’s personally or professionally. Whenever you have the opportunity, travel. Travel teaches you a lot about yourself, about different people and different cultures. Being removed from my comfort zone always sparks creativity and new ideas for me. 

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Surround yourself with people who support you and help you succeed but also people who challenge you. The challenge is what builds strength and character. Not everyone has to agree with your point of view. Every person that you encounter creates an opportunity for growth. Whether it’s a positive or negative experience is up to you. Learn and grow from that and move forward. 

What steps did you take, or would you encourage someone to take if they wanted to start their own company like Sit.Stay.? 

Every small business is unique and there are a myriad of ways to achieve success. Putting in the time and working hard is vital to your success.  Owning your own business is not the traditional 9-5 job, you can’t leave your work at the office when you come home. Understand and be prepared that your business will need your attention after hours, on weekends, holidays, and vacations. 

Next, flexibility and/or adaptability.  You have to be willing to adjust your business to changing conditions and be open to new ideas that may take your business to the next level.  Stagnation can be a business killer.

Finally, a strong support system. Surrounding yourself with the right people who believe in you and your business will make all the difference in the world. Never forget why you started this venture in the first place. 

What is your favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part of the job is our philosophy as a small business, we are family owned and operated, but our family extends beyond blood. Our clients and their dogs are our family as well. 

We build strong connections with our clients and we are so grateful for their trust in us to care for their beloved furry family members. Our entire Sit Stay family helps every year to give a wonderful Christmas to needy families in Bucks County, to help fundraise for the Upper Makefield Emergency Services, and to place dogs who need a loving family. These connections and volunteer activities are definitely the most rewarding part of my job.


Tiffany Thomas-Smith, Esquire - The THOMAS SMITH FIRM, P.C.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

Be yourself and never give up!

What advice would you tell your younger self? 

You can be whatever you want to be!

What inspired you to go into your field? Did you always dream of being a lawyer and owning your own firm? 

I knew I wanted to be a lawyer when I was in third grade. I never envisioned having my own practice, although I really enjoy it. I wanted to be an advocate for others.

What advice do you have for women aspiring to be in your field? 

Never be intimidated. Women are strong, powerful and resilient.  

What steps did you take, or would you encourage someone to take if they wanted to go into law, specifically family law? 

Intern with an experienced attorney in the field. Family law is a very unique practice which requires knowledge of the law coupled with the ability to be empathetic, compassionate and firm. Having hands on experience will help you determine if it is the right field for you.

Is there any other important message you would like to share? 

If you do what you love, you will love what you do.

Christine Edmonds - A Love for Life 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

My mom would often say, “We are all here on borrowed time,” in her Austrian accent. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? We all have to try to live our lives to the fullest and try to be as kind to each other as we can while we are on this planet together.

What steps did you take, or would you encourage someone to take if they wanted to start a non-profit or get involved with A Love for Life?

See if there is an organization that closely aligns with your mission, for the cause you care about.  It is so much easier to just devote your time and energy to helping them raise money than it is to start your own non-profit and assume all of the responsibility. We have set up a bunch of Penn Giving Pages that link up directly with the Abramson Cancer Center and researchers Dr. Ben Stanger and Dr. Mark O’Hara and Kevin’s oncologist Dr. Nevena Damjanov. That lets us direct folks to donate with 100% going to where it should. Friends can even use the template to do a Half Marathon, Oktoberfest, a Tennis Benefit, or a Movie Fundraiser. 

If anyone wants to connect with our organization, we encourage them to email to me at christine@aloveforlife.us or connect on social media.  

Facebook:  A Love for Life  Instagram: @aloveforlife_

Our organization is definitely a group effort and runs on thousands of volunteer hours each year. No one makes any money or earns a salary. Elle Kaplan has taught yoga at the Gap and the Pro Shop for the last 8 years. Mary McNamara runs karaoke at the Temperance House. Kevin’s brother Chris handles our taxes and the Bucks chapter of the National Charity League makes all the cookies and breakfast sandwiches for our dragon boat races in September and October. Meg Newell bakes cookies that are available at the Newtown Hardware House, Bobby Gilanyi helps with our website and Trish Linkenheimer organizes our mailing lists, tax lists and inventory. Kevin and Nora’s father, Patrick is our biggest supporter, after losing two children to this disease, his faithfulness is an inspiration.

I know that all the time spent focusing on this cause allows us to alleviate that sense of helplessness that drops when you lose someone that you love. We made a conscious choice not to call our non-profit “The Kevin and Nora Edmonds Foundation,” we wanted this to be for anyone who has lost someone they love.


Lori Gerber D.O. - Refresh Integrative Medicine & Aesthetics

What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 

To always be myself and enjoy the outdoors as much as you can. Life passes you by quickly. There is so much to see and explore in this world that it would be a shame to miss it because your head was down in a phone or you're too busy to get out and enjoy it.

What advice would you tell your younger self? 

I actually wouldn’t tell myself very much as I learned so much with every mistake I made. But the most important thing I learned in life is “don’t stress, just do!”  Live each minute like it’s your last, put in the work and dedication and everything else will fall into place as it should. 

What inspired you to go into your field?

I always loved science as a kid and collected things in nature to keep in a box like butterfly wings and robins eggs. I loved to understand how things worked and wanted to be the one to fix it. During college I met a young doctor, Dr. Ken Fox, who helped me with a bad bout of vertigo. He was a mentor, role model and friend for years and helped me decide which path to take. 

Did you always dream of being a doctor?

Haha! Not exactly. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a veterinarian as a kid. Then I fell in love with painting and drawing and I went to Delaware to be an art major. Obviously, that didn’t stick. I ended up graduating from the University of Delaware with a Biology major and Spanish minor.

What steps did you take, or would you encourage someone to take if they wanted to go into Dermatology, and specifically Regenerative Medicine?

I would say persistence and dedication is key, it’s a long road but very rewarding. A science major in college is the easiest way to get the prerequisite courses for med school. Next step-SATs- and they are tough. I took them twice! Be prepared for a med school rejection. I was rejected and had to apply for the next year after doing a biomedical masters class in the meantime.

Lastly, after residency, finding the path is tough. I found a great fellowship program in Anti-Aging & Regenerative Medicine that helped me to learn how to heal my own personal inflammatory / autoimmune medical issues as well as treat others in a way traditional medicine was unable to do. Now I am able to offer bioidentical hormone therapies, gut & immune healing options, inflammation treatment and other adrenal and thyroid support as well as general anti aging supplement recommendations.

Is there an important message you would like to share?  

Thinking outside the box is just as important in medicine as it is in other jobs and in parts of life. It is so important to continue questioning the norms especially if you don’t feel well and moreover be an advocate for yourself and others that are searching for answers in their health. That is what I do as a nontraditional and aesthetic physician - deconstruct symptoms & aesthetic deficits and reconstruct it into wellness and a more youthful appearance.

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