Remembering the mentor and community that guided me toward success

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Making partner at a large national law firm was one of those major milestones in my life that induced some self-reflection and reminiscing. How did I get here? Who helped me? What forces shaped my life to put me on this path?

For me, those questions all point back to the support of my family, to the Boys and Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, and to my mentor.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

I grew up in the working-class Bridesburg neighborhood of Philadelphia, where most of the kids, including me, believed that what you did after high school was simple: You got a job. Most of us were the first in our families to go to college.

It was the Bridesburg Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia (BGCP) that opened my eyes to a much larger world.

In 7th grade, I started hanging around with a new group of kids at school. They all talked about going to the “club” after school, at nights, and on Saturdays. So I went with them one day to check it out. When I first walked in, I saw a small weight room, a computer lab, and a huge game room with pool tables, ping pong tables, and pinball machines. And I soon discovered more: an arts & crafts room, a ceramics room, a small library, a basketball court, and even an outdoor hockey rink. There was so much there to keep us busy and out of trouble! I went home to tell my family all about it.

Soon I was going to the Club every night after I finished my homework and on Saturdays. I joined the Torch Club, a leadership program for middle schoolers, and then the Keystone Club, for high schoolers. We did community service projects and learned about colleges and careers.

When I was a junior in college, the BGCP unit director asked me if I wanted to work at summer camp again or if I wanted to do something else. I told him I wanted to do something else, so he asked the BGCP chairman if I could work that summer at the law firm where he was a partner. I was very thankful he said yes.

I worked as a floating legal secretary, earning law firm and office experience. When I didn’t get into law school after college, I was able to go back to work at that firm.

Peter Tucci, a partner at the firm, took on a mentoring role for me. I went from his floating secretary to his permanent secretary to his paralegal. He and my family urged me not to give up my dream of going to law school. So I got my certificate of proficiency in paralegal studies from Peirce College, took the LSAT again, and applied and was accepted into the Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. Peter still gave me plenty of work during my years as a law student — tons of emails and stacks of documents to work on over the weekends — so that I could afford to pay my tuition and rent.

High school and college can be a bit of a bubble. You make a few friends and, before you know it, you’re all listening to the same music and talking and dressing alike — even thinking alike. That bubble popped for me the day I began working in law — where I caught my first glimpse of a world much larger than Bridesburg and Temple University. This is not to say that college had not expanded my world — it surely had — but working in a major law firm enabled me to start connecting in my mind the pieces of the global economy. Peter worked on mergers and acquisitions, and he represented international companies looking to expand in the U.S. market. The huge 8- or 9-figure deals that make headlines in the Wall Street Journal entail enormous amounts of time, strategy, and work. But the more I learned, the more I wanted to know.

I have been working with Peter for more than 17 years now. I now see that every advance in my career was at least partly in response to Peter’s urging. He believed in me so I also believed in me.

But I also know that, without BGCP, none of this would be possible. I have remained involved with BGCP throughout the years, because the organization really does change lives and help kids find their paths.

Now that I am able to give back, I sit on the board of directors for both BGCP and Wills for Heroes, the two organizations I believe in most deeply. I am president of the Bridesburg Unit council, and I serve on the Paralegal Studies Program Advisory Committee at Peirce College.

The past year has been an embarrassment of riches for me in my career. I was named an “Emerging Leader” by M&A Advisor and named a “Lawyer on the Fast Track” by The Legal Intelligencer. I was inducted as an honorary member of Peirce College’s chapter of Lambda Epsilon Chi (LEX) Honor Society. And while I was still an associate, I earned the prestigious ranking of a Leading Corporate Attorney from Chambers USA.

And now I am a partner at my firm.

This avalanche of good news has made me even more committed to BGCP and its mission because somewhere, right now, is a kid whose world is about to get a lot bigger.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from many people was not to give up on my dream. I’m glad I listened to them because I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t.

Sandra Romaszewski is a partner at Fox Rothschild, LLP, in Philadelphia, focusing on corporate, transactional, insurance and international matters for public and private companies of all sizes. She is actively involved in her community serving as a director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Philadelphia, Inc., as president of the Bridesburg Boys & Girls Club’s Unit Council, and as a trustee for the Henry Reed Hatfield Nicetown Playground located in Philadelphia.

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