The Co-Co Founding Story and Team

The Co-Co team met through an intersection of friendship, mission-driven work, and a commitment to making things happen.  The road to launching The Co-Co started with a sense of urgency to create a place to support women at all stages of life and career.  Our goal is to cultivate a community where all women can belong, thrive, and become their fullest selves.

 
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Suzanne Willian

How I met The Co-Co Team

It’s a typical Friday night at the Boxcar in Short Hills. A group of friends meet for wine, pizza, laughter, stories. Lynne, Christine, and I revisit a conversation we’d traveled before… There are so many fabulous women in our area.  How can we support and nurture this amazing talent and energy?

Our usual routine was to have the conversation, agree that “someone should do something,” and go back to our schedules and commitments. But this time the world is different: The Women’s March, ‘Fearless Girl’ in New York, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” and a  flood of charges streaming down on Harvey Weinstein. A few weeks later, Lynne forwards a New York Times article on The Wing, a network of work and community spaces designed for women, to Christine and me with a note, “It’s time.”

My Journey

I was one of two women in my Civil Engineering class at Purdue University. From there I went to IBM, some night school MBA classes at the University of Chicago, and then to Comdisco where I was the only female account manager in New York and rose through the ranks to run the Product Management group.

I retired from corporate life after the birth of my third child but never stopped working. In addition to running a household with an overworked husband, three active kids, and a big sloppy dog, there were committees, boards, fundraisers, etc. I jumped in, learned a lot, and connected with other amazing volunteers.

But as the kids got older, I felt a need to transition back to paid work… What do I want? How do I get there?

The next steps in my journey were illuminated by a friend I’d made volunteering. She recommended me for a job that prompted me to form a consulting practice and pursue professional development around change management, adaptive learning, and coaching.  I developed a consulting niche and a manageable set of beloved clients.

Why Now, Why The Co-Co

It’s Time.  Lynne’s note initiated a series of meetings and conversations on a women-focused community for co-working and co-learning.  In freezing rain, nearly 40 women showed up for our first focus group at Boxwood in Summit. We wrapped up on time, at 9:00 pm, and no one left. We didn’t want to leave the circle of women, empowerment, relationship and possibility.

At the same time,  the “year of the woman” was prompting me to reflect on my own journey. Don’t get me wrong.  No #metoo reveal, but a recognition of the accommodations I made, the isolation I experienced, and the resulting emotional toll.  Looking back, I wish I had cultivated a network of mentors and friends to inspire and support me on my journey of life and career.

A new empty nester, solely focusing on my consulting business would be the path of least resistance.  But the uncharted path towards building The Co-Co captured my heart and imagination. I chose to co-found The Co-Co.

Working and learning alongside The Co-Co team and community is incredibly inspiring.  I am grateful for this experience and feel empowered to take my next steps with an amazing group of women who have my back!

 
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Lynne Pagano

How I met The Co-Co Team

Christine Gilfillan and I have been friends since our 23-year-old sons were in pre-Kindergarten together.  The rest of our kids match up in age, except Christine has an extra one. I was tired that year! Suzanne Willian and I have been friends for 20 plus years as well, mostly from living in the same town.  I was the bridge that connected Christine and Suzanne who have similar temperaments: calm and cool. They would both describe me as their kooky friend--in a loving way! Christine and Suzanne Spero have worked together for 20 plus years.  They were meeting with Lauren for another project and connected all the dots. We all compliment each other, and it seems like we have worked together for years.

My Journey

I so wished The Co-Co existed over the course of my life.  I would have been grateful for The Co-Co first as a new English Major fresh out of Villanova University working for a bank and later when I graduated from St. John’s Law School, was newly married, starting a family, and trying to be a professional attorney.  The pressures of work, three children, and a traveling husband made my decision to eventually become a stay-at-home mom a no-brainer. The pressures of being at home with three children and a traveling husband propelled me to return to graduate school and became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.  The angst and uncertainty of all these life stages could have been lessened if I had a community of women to provide support, insight, laughs and hugs--my mother had no answers for me. She still lies and tells her friends I am a lawyer!

Why now, Why The Co-Co

In December 2017, I read an article about The Wing in NYC and how WeWork invested $30 million for the business to expand.  I called my friends and said, “We need to do this now!”

We are not getting any younger and the need and demand is here.  Women are starting to understand their power and presence. It is empowering and also cathartic.  Someone said to me, “you are going to be 54 before the business is up and running.” I thought, “I am going to be 54 anyway, so I might as well be having fun.”

What can you expect to find in the walls of The Co-Co?  A peaceful, warm space with lots of light. On any given day, there will be people getting things down and figuring things out.  We want the community to feel welcome and at-home when they walk in the door.

What kind of community engagement can you expect?  We are going to have a full calendar of events including lunch-and-learns, entrepreneur gatherings, writers’ groups, inspiration cohorts, career building and career re-starting seminars, as well as fun after work activities... and of course good coffee and conversation when needed.  



 
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Lauren Decker

How I met The Co-Co Team

I was immediately drawn to the idea of The Co-Co.  I said a quick “yes” to Advisory Board member Christine Gilfillan’s invitation to join the first listening event, and it was there that I met Co-Founders Lynne and Suzanne.  My first impression of my now colleagues--this crew likes to laugh and makes things happen! I remember Lynne speaking with attendees at the event and responding to their questions with, “We’re going to get this done for you.”  I was IN.

My Journey

My road to starting The Co-Co started with a dream to live and work in New York City. My mother likes to tell the story of a visit from our home in Pennsylvania to The Rainbow Room when I was about ten years old.  When we got off the elevator, I saw business women hosting client lunches in a light-filled space 65 stories above Rockefeller Center.  “Someday I’m going to be one of those women,” I told her.

About 13 years later, I was a recent Georgetown graduate living in a walk-up on 56th Street and managing advertising partnerships for The Atlantic.  I went on to study marketing and management at Columbia Business School, and I brought home my first child to an apartment on the Upper West Side.  I walked through Central Park to commute to my first role in the non-profit sector at Cristo Rey in East Harlem.

In the fall of 2014, we moved to Summit, NJ, where I could commute to my job in corporate philanthropy at Barclays.  Since that time, I went from occasionally working from home, to leaving my job to be a stay-at-home mom to two young children, to building a new network local to NJ as an independent non-profit consultant.  In this last endeavor, I gained the flexibility I needed but missed the creativity and connection of being part of a team.

Why now, Why The Co-Co

In previous career and life transitions, I had the benefit of tremendous institutions like my college and business school to help me navigate.  In the last several years, I forged my own path through major changes, looking for mentors and supporters along the way. It wasn’t always easy, but it was through this path that I met Suzanne Spero and Christine Gilfillan who opened the door for me to help build The Co-Co.

I know my story is not unusual. The NYC suburbs are a hub of talented women who’ve made all sorts of zigs and zags in their lives and careers to build families and jobs that live up to their dreams for the future and for themselves.

My hope is that The Co-Co will be the place to help members manage these transitions with less doubt and more freedom, so that they can make choices for their own journey with the support and encouragement of other bright, brilliant, fun women who’ve got their back.

I want The Co-Co to be a light-filled space of possibilities, not 65 stories up, but right here in our backyards.  Right here where we can bring our whole selves to work, learn, and have fun.

Advisory Board Members

 
 
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Christine Gilfillan

How I met The Co-Co Team

I am very fortunate to have been mentioned in everyone’s bios as I spoke incessantly about this idea to each and every one of our team members.  I think they finally got tired of listening to me and thought the only way to keep me quiet was to do something!!

Suzanne Spero is the Executive Director of my family’s foundation, and she has been working with us for over 25 years.  Our mission is to improve the lives of those less fortunate with a primary focus on the city of Newark. Lynne Pagano and I have been friends since our oldest children were in pre-school together, over 20 years ago.  We have always talked about working on something together outside of our kids’ schools that would truly make an impact. Lynne introduced us to Suzanne Willan when she was working at the Episcopal Diocese in Newark, and we realized how much we have in common in the not-for-profit arena.  A good friend introduced us to Lauren just as we were exploring The Co-Co concept, and we immediately brought her into the discussions. We all realized that the commonality was helping women to reach their full potential in their lives.

My Journey

My career began after I graduated from the University of Richmond as a Journalism and English major.  I began working in NYC in PR and quickly realized that it was not the women that occupied the senior positions of the firm. We were there for support, and though I learned a great deal,  it was not very satisfying. I was introduced to someone at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. I was very fortunate to do development work for them and then had the opportunity to go back to school to get my Masters in Public Service at NYU.  At that time, my father started our family’s foundation, The MCJ Amelior Foundation, and I took on the role of Executive Director and then President. The foundation is over 30 years old, and I have met so many amazing people who are truly making a difference in this world.  During my journey, I met Tiz Christopherson, who was the Executive Director of NJN at the time. We had lunch one day, and she said to me, “You are going to encounter an amazing potential workforce of women in your life, and it is going to be up to you to help them with their life’s journey.”

Why now, Why The Co-Co

In the past several years, I have met the women that Tiz was referring to.  Many are empty nesters and looking for an opportunity to re-engage. The Co-Co is the place for them to do that.  Many women are transitioning from work to managing a family, and they are looking for an opportunity to connect. The Co-Co is there for them.  The bottom line is that The Co-Co is there for all women wherever they may be in their lives. We are meeting a need and filling a void, and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.  The team has done an amazing job launching The Co-Co, and I am beyond excited and inspired to see where we will go with this. The opportunities for all of us are endless.

 
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Suzanne Spero

How I met The Co-Co Team

One of my favorite parts about serving on the Advisory Board of The Co-Co has been the relationships that I have developed with my partners in this endeavor.  Christine and I have worked together for 25 years and through Christine, I met Lynne Pagano. I was then introduced to Suzanne Willian, who I immediately loved in large part because we share the same name.  At The Co-Co, when someone refers to a Suzanne it will typically be Suzanne Willian, but there are two of us! Finally, I met Lauren about a year and a half ago through a mutual colleague. I then introduced Lauren to Christine who said, “Let’s talk to her about The Co-Co,” and the rest is history.

My Journey

As I mentioned above, Christine and I have worked together for years.  I feel beyond blessed to have worked in an atmosphere that allowed me to grow professionally while raising my two daughters.  I am a Jersey girl through and through. I graduated from Drew University and then moved to DC to work for New Jersey’s only female congresswoman, Marge Roukema.  I have lived in Chatham for the past 18 years, and I work in Morristown as the Executive Director of The MCJ Amelior Foundation. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing women throughout the State but with a deeper dive in the City of Newark.  One of my first projects at the foundation was to develop a volunteer program for young professionals. Christine and I worked together and founded Jersey Cares, which is a thriving program for our community. Over the years, both Christine and I would hear from friends about their desire to go back to work and/or get more engaged in their community.  I agreed to be part of the Advisory Board for The Co-Co as I feel passionate about being able to support women who are looking to strengthen their network, find ways to engage in their community, and be supportive on their journey both professionally and personally. I hope to be able to bring much of what I have learned while currently serving on the board of the NJPAC Women’s Association, Mentor, The Points of Light, and Life Camp to strengthen the work at The Co-Co.

Why Now, Why The Co-Co

The stars seemed to align on timing to launch The Co-Co.  With Suzanne, Lynne and Lauren at a stage in their professional development where they had the passion, leadership qualities, and desire to embark on this business, it felt like the right time to see if we could make this work.  I stand in awe at the amazing plans that have been thoughtfully developed for The Co-Co. I am thrilled to see such an outpouring of support from women throughout the State who want to be part of this community. I am energized by the momentum we have right now in being able to serve such a powerful group of women.  Finally, as a mom of two teenage daughters, I am committed to model for them how creating a community of support for women will be invaluable to them as they continue to grow and develop.