10 inspiring and powerful women offer advice on how to take charge and make a difference
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Helen E. Dragas
Occupation: President and Chief Executive Officer; The Dragas Companies
What makes her inspirational: At the helm of The Dragas Companies since 1996, Helen Dragas has increased company assets more than 50-fold and has won numerous awards for quality and her commitment to the community.
She has been honored with the Humanitarian Award by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities, “First Citizen of Virginia Beach” designation, Habitat for Humanity’s “Dream Builder,” City of Norfolk Blueprint Award for Community Leadership, YWCA Women of Distinction, and Inside Business Women in Business Achievement Award.
She and the Dragas Foundation were recently recognized by ForKids for their work to find sustainable solutions to homelessness in Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.
Her volunteer and board experience spans organizations such as the Hampton Roads Partnership, Virginia Beach Library Foundation, College Foundation Board and U.Va. Alumni Association Board of Managers.
In addition, she was appointed to five statewide boards, including the Governor’s Economic Development and Jobs Commission, State Council for Higher Education in Virginia, Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel Commission. She is the immediate past rector of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors.
What do you feel has been the key to your success? “A great education and incredible support from an amazing and inspiring family. I was fortunate that my parents could afford the cost of a lifechanging undergraduate and graduate experience at the University of Virginia. It opened my eyes and many doors for my future. I’m also blessed with a wonderful family who remind me daily that life deserves our best.”
What has been your proudest moment? “I always feel a sense of great accomplishment when my business creates another high quality, affordable community or when our foundation makes a difference for homeless families. I’ve also learned, however, that it’s less about pride and more about impact. I hope to live a legacy—not just leave one. And that means standing up for principles and policies that reflect our most essential values, even if doing so leaves us open for criticism.”
What’s the best advice you can offer young women? “Follow your heart and your head. They may take you to places that aren’t always comfortable, but are likely worth the trip. Fearlessly believe in yourself, and believe that you can make the world a better place for others. Finally, embrace and lead change—don’t succumb to the hypnosis of the status quo. The world is constantly evolving; find your role in reaching what’s next.”