Syracuse University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) was recently created through a merger of the Office of Institutional Research and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. The streamlined operation, located at 400 Ostrom Avenue, serves all members…
‘Time, Talent and Treasure’: Alumna Phaedra Stewart ’91 Gives From the Heart
Maxwell alumna Phaedra Stewart ’91 finds it difficult to look at the world without seeing opportunities to connect with people, raise their spirits and empower them to make their lives better.
A self-described serial entrepreneur (some might say a serial social entrepreneur), Stewart applies this outlook to family, career and philanthropy and says it shapes how she invests her “time, talent and treasure.” Stewart proudly has given all three to Syracuse University since the day she graduated.
“My philosophy is, if you have a dollar, you have 10 cents to share with someone,” she says, adding, “It’s not really about the amount that you’re able to give. It’s more about just giving from the heart, giving cheerfully and … understanding there’s a natural flow to life: you get out of it what you put in.”
Stewart is a Maxwell Sustainer—having donated money to the school in each of the past 10 years. In addition, she recently made a large donation toward the renovation of 119 Euclid, a dedicated space on campus that celebrates Black culture and supports all students. One of the rooms is named in honor of her generosity, despite her humble intentions. “Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have thought I would have my name on a room at a university,” she says.
Stewart also serves on the University’s D.C. Regional Council and regularly participates in alumni events and activities. “If I’m within driving distance of any event for Syracuse University and I’m able to attend, I will definitely attend,” she says.
Stewart, who also earned an MBA from the University of Baltimore, retired after a 25-year career in human resources as vice president of human resources for LifeBridge Health, one of the largest health providers in Maryland. She oversaw HR operations for the largest hospital in the system and led workforce development, employee health, and employee and labor relations for the entire system. She is the founder and owner of Seriously Positive, a multi-faceted company with a mission to uplift individuals and neighborhoods.
Seriously Positive was born from an encounter during a family shopping trip in 2014. Stewart recalls, “My cousin was 8 years old at the time, and my son was 6. We were at the mall, and a young man had on a T-shirt with some words that I thought were not appropriate for anyone to wear in public,” she says. “I said to the two of them ‘Hey, what if we were to put some positive messages on T-shirts and sell them so that kids would have some better messages? Why not fill their heads with positive stuff?’”
It was a family effort from the start: Stewart encouraged the kids to get involved in researching and developing the business operations. Her husband built the website. They all helped with sales, setting up shop at local events and church bazaars throughout Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“I was shocked at how many adults were asking for items in their sizes … and it grew to the point where we started to sell more adult products than children’s products,” she says.
From that seed of early demand grew a series of business ventures under Seriously Positive that reflect her wide-ranging talents, interests and entrepreneurial mindset, as well as her faith. Today, the business includes coaching and seminars, a children’s book and real estate development–all aimed at transforming people’s lives by combatting negative images and nurturing the power of positivity rooted in spirituality.
Real estate development is the most recent endeavor. “I started to notice the number of vacant buildings in the city of Baltimore and blight in a lot of places,” Stewart says. “And I thought, how does a person feel good about themselves? How do they love and respect themselves when this is what they have to look at constantly?”
She began purchasing and renovating vacant buildings with the goal of improving neighborhoods one city block at a time. “My thought was if I could help Baltimore City to change its physical appearance, maybe that would help people to change behaviors,” she says.
Stewart credits her success to the contributions she has made, the networks she has developed and her upbringing. “I grew up with a single mom, and she always was involved in various things, helping out church and organizations.” At age 13, Stewart was volunteered by her mother to work at the Baltimore City Department of Social Services. “It really helped to give me a different perspective of life and a certain level of empathy for other people,” she says. As an undergraduate at SU, Stewart volunteered her time singing in the Black Celestial Choral Ensemble and at the Bishop Foery Foundation.
She encourages young people to give back however they are able. “It doesn’t have to be financial, it truly doesn’t,” she says. “You can give of your time; you can give of your talents. And, and of course, the treasure. They are all a part of the giving.”
Story by Jessica Smith