Penelope Coiner Fletcher
Position: President and chief executive, Lupus Foundation of America Greater Washington Chapter.
Career Highlights: Deputy director, chief operating officer and museum director, Pope John Paul II Cultural Center; vice president and chief operating officer, Capital Children's Museum; director, development and communications, Capital Children's Museum; vice president, finance, Delta Delta Delta Fraternity; convention chairman, Tri Delta; and communications director, Newsletter Publishers Association.
Education: BA, art history, College of William & Mary; certificate, museum management, Getty Leadership Institute.
Personal: Lives in Arlington with husband, Frank. The couple has two children: son Francis, 33, a doctoral candidate in art history at Rutgers University; and daughter Jaime Harmeyer, 29, director of annual giving at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda.
How did you get to where you are?
I began in nonprofits. At the Capital Children's Museum, I discovered that I could combine my interest in organizing and making things run well to benefit others. We worked with a lot of children from all over the city, and we really sought to make the museum accessible to all children from different backgrounds and income levels.
I had taken some time this summer to assess where I was and where I wanted to go and realized what I wanted is to stay in nonprofits, but not necessarily to stay in museums. The question I posed for myself was: What else could I be doing that could motivate me and I would care deeply about? I saw a position of president and chief executive with the Lupus Foundation. It immediately appealed to me because my mother had lupus. She had lived with us for the last 10 years of her life. I had seen firsthand how devastating the disease can be.
At the Lupus Foundation, we reach out to the people in our area who have lupus. We help them find the right physician. We help them find ways to live with what can be a devastating disease. We provide education and sometimes we simply provide the service of being on the other end of the phone and talking to them about their problems.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. It's a debilitating chronic disease that causes inflammation and can cause damage to virtually any organ system. About 1.5 million Americans have some form of lupus diagnosed. And lupus affects women nine times more than men. The other disparity that is unexplained is that it disproportionately affects women of color. All of that is a part of the research that we're working to fund.
One of the effects of lupus is fatigue. A person can look very healthy, but be dealing with the effects of fatigue and intense joint pain. It's a disease that is hard for people to understand because sometimes the person with lupus shows no visible effects of the disease. So it's very hard for an employer to understand why an employee with lupus is having trouble functioning. Sometimes family members don't understand how difficult it can be.
What I'm hoping to do is use my previous experience to improve our fundraising capabilities and to increase our revenues so that we can do more patient support and provide more funding for resources. We are a small organization with a budget of $300,000 a year. But we are part of a larger national organization and our potential is to triple its size within the next two years. One of the first things I did was to move the organization from Virginia into Washington so we are more accessible to our audience. And we can provide services to the greater Washington community more easily.