Women in Philanthropy and Leadership for CCU Establishes the Theresa M. DeCenzo Inspiring Woman Award

Staff Report From South Carolina CEO

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Coastal Carolina University first lady Theresa “Terri” DeCenzo has been recognized by Women in Philanthropy and Leadership (WIPL) for Coastal Carolina University for her dedicated service as the founder and executive director of the organization. During a surprise announcement at WIPL’s 10th annual Celebration of Inspiring Women on Feb. 10, it was revealed that the Inspiring Woman Award that is regularly presented at the event has been renamed the Theresa M. DeCenzo Inspiring Woman Award.

DeCenzo joined Women in Philanthropy in 2007, the same year her husband, David A. DeCenzo, Ph.D., was named president of the University. Shortly thereafter, with input from faculty, staff, students, and community members, she expanded the organization’s mission to include a leadership component and established Women in Philanthropy and Leadership. In 2011, the inaugural Celebration of Inspiring Women and Women’s Leadership Conference was held. The daylong conference features guest speakers from around the country and draws more than 800 attendees each year.

Since its inception, the Celebration of Inspiring Women has honored 47 exceptional women whose lives have made a significant impact in South Carolina, the nation, and beyond. This year’s honorees were Pamela S. Evette, lieutenant governor of South Carolina; Gayle L. Resetar, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Tidelands Health; and Jennifer P. Wilson, chief judge of the Myrtle Beach Municipal Court.

“Through her decade-long work as executive director of Women in Philanthropy and Leadership, Terri DeCenzo has developed a much-needed platform for women to connect, learn, and be inspired to lead the change in their own lives and within their communities,” said Hatton Gravely, director of WIPL. “Terri is a visionary leader who passionately believes in the power of women to make the world a better place. It is only fitting that the Theresa M. DeCenzo Inspiring Woman Award will continue to recognize visionary leaders like her, who work hard and dedicate themselves to the betterment of those around them.”

DeCenzo is deeply involved with the life of the University. She has taken an active role in issues relating to student government, leadership, intercollegiate athletics, and Greek life, among others. She has been instrumental in bringing highly successful women leaders in business, politics, and education to campus to speak and inspire women in the University community.

Since becoming executive director of WIPL, DeCenzo has led the organization to award 281 students more than $300,000 in financial support through a fully endowed scholarship and annual awards. She has secured scholarships for CCU students to attend the prestigious Washington Internship Institute and study Global Women’s Leadership Development, among others.

In February 2016, DeCenzo was presented with the Order of the Silver Crescent by then-South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. The award, one of the state’s highest honors, is given to individuals for significant contributions, leadership, volunteerism, and lifelong influence within a region or community of South Carolina.

In April 2015, the Zonta Club of Myrtle Beach recognized her with its Gold Star Award for leadership and dedication to initiatives that “improve the legal, political, economic, educational, health, and professional status of women and girls.” The Zonta Club is an international organization that serves to empower women through service and advocacy. DeCenzo was among nine area “influential and inspirational women” recognized by The Sun News in March 2016 in celebration of International Women’s Day.

DeCenzo actively participates on the board of directors for South Carolina Catholic Charities. She served on the American Red Cross board for six years and on the Foundation Board for Georgetown Hospital System for eight years, as well as on the Health Advisory Committee for AASCU, Horry County March of Dimes March for Babies (2010 and 2011 co-chair), and was an adviser to the Safe Families Initiative that has established a Family Justice Center in Georgetown County. She has served as chair for the Promise Committee for the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Horry County and is an ambassador for Vision 2020 (a national convention for women in leadership). Additionally, she has worked with a youth ministry, Habitat for Humanity, the Cancer Coalition, as well as Freedom Readers, the PAW program, and Teach My People, an after-school reading program involving CCU students.

A graduate of St. Joseph Hospital School of Nursing and Towson University, she spent most of her career practicing as a critical care nurse.