Every Woman Has a Story. Every Woman Has Power. The Power is in Her Story.

By Tobi Schwartz-Cassell

As I’ve mentioned in past blog posts, one of my philosophies is, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”


Well, that’s exactly what three local women business owners have done. Here are their stories.

Bridget’s Story

Bridget Papagno

By the age of 33, Bridget Papagno had been sick for two years. “I had a fever every day. The lab work and testing were constant, and every time I’d go to the doctor, he’d just order more tests and tell me to come back in three months.”

New medications came with debilitating side effects that were worse than her symptoms. She was at the end of her rope, when she decided to seek help from a holistic practitioner. She began to feel better, but there was one other person she was destined to meet who would help her turn her life around.

The woman, a fellow hockey mom, was Judy Dingler, a psychic medium who teaches Reiki, psychic development, and so much more. She became Bridget’s mentor, as well as her best friend. This immersion into holistic healing made Bridget feel human again, and that’s when she became the Essential Lightworker.

She is now a Reiki Master who both practices and teaches. She even does Reiki on pets. She is also an Integrated Energy Therapy practitioner and a certified Aromatherapist, and as of this month, has taken over the reigns as president of the Holistic Chamber of Commerce, currently Moorestown-Cherry hill Chapter, soon to be Mt. Laurel-Cherry Hill Chapter.

“I now have a new passion for life because of my commitment to helping others. And I now understand that I had to get sick, so I could help others get well.”

Shaheerah’s Story

Shaheerah Fardan-Ali also found her salvation by starting her own business. “I started out baking for family and friends who loved what I did and encouraged me to start a business. Once I made the decision to do it, I needed a name. So, I went through what some would call ‘The Dark Night of the Soul.’

“In evaluating where I was in my life and where I wanted to be, through a period of growth, transition, and unknowing, my business became my ‘diary,’ and my cupcakes became my ‘entries.’ And Diary of a Cupcake was born. I put inspirational messages on some of my cupcakes, because they are my diary entries, too.”

Shaheerah found herself at a spoken word event where she shared her story with the audience. “And I felt this glow come over me and a sense of empowerment and accomplishment.

“If I had not had the shift in mindset that I’d had in the past 3 months, I wouldn’t have had the faith and courage to speak at that event. If I didn’t make the resolution at the beginning of the year to be committed to my work, I wouldn’t have even been there.

“If I had not begun to surrender my day to the opportunities that God sends me every day, I wouldn’t have even booked that event two days before. If I hadn’t been preparing for moments like this, and hadn’t made “the choice two years ago to surrender, to fight, to grow, and no longer allow my fear to overshadow my desire to thrive…

“If I had been so consumed by my fear and self-doubt instead of recognizing the ways that I have been blessed lately, recognizing the messages and opportunities that I have been given…

“If I wasn’t in the rooms that I had been in, meeting the people that I have met recently who, instead of only taking from my cup, would refill mine so we could refill each other’s…Anyway, I am grateful. And I celebrate these sweet moments that remind me that I am exactly where I am supposed to be at any given moment.”

Elise’s Story

Elise Mac-Bello Family

Though Elise Mac-Bello’s business was not born of an illness as Bridget’s was, or a spiritual awakening as Shaheerah’s was, it was born right along with the birth of her second child.

Elise is a chocolatier who owns Saejar Sweets in Willingboro. Her company name is a commingling of her children’s names, Sadie and Jared.

“I’ve always had a love for creativity and trying new things. Making chocolates was one of my favorite ways to de-stress from my demanding career in the nonprofit world. I always wished I could make it my career, but enjoyed doing meaningful work within my community. Then Jared was born, and nothing gave me more joy than being his mom.

Saejar Sweets

“I could no longer imagine the 1.5 hour commute to work, the 24 hour on-call life where I would often leave to deal with a crisis at any given moment, and spent a glorious 7 months with my little guy, wishing it could be forever but needing to bring in an income for our family.”

What was also coming in Elise’s way was fear. “I toyed with the idea of opening my own business, but fear was not something I had yet learned to conquer, so back to work I went.” Until—surprise!—she and husband Thomas discovered that they’d soon be a family of four.

“But that nasty fear kept telling me there was no way I would ever be able to pursue my dreams with two mouths to feed, so I pressed on for 5 more years.

“Then finally, in November of 2018, a door opened that would allow me to get the training I needed to make my passion a reality. So, I said a whole lot of prayers and ran as fast as I could through that open door, thanking God for the peace and passion to know that this would be my next chapter.

“My heart is so unbelievably full! I am surrounded by faith, family and community, which is Saejar Sweets’ Top 3 values, and values we try our hardest to infuse in all we do! Values (along with several others) we are raising our kids to embrace.”

You can meet these three inspiring women at our June 19th “It’s EVERYBODY’S Birthday” Birthday Party! Elise and Shaheerah are our Dessert Sponsors, and you know what that means! Chocolate and cupcakes for everyone! Click here for more info on that event.

So, what’s YOUR story of power? What are YOU striving for? We ALL deserve to have our own story, and when we use our power, it WILL have a happy ending.

Tell us in the comments below what your dream is and how you have, or will, make it a reality using your power.